Parliament of India overwhelmingly voted for the Citizenship /amendment Bill, CAB, yesterday, among serious apprehensions raised by the opposition parties. India’s partition was on religious grounds, Pakistan opting to be a Muslim nation, while India preferred to remain secular. The time immemorial tolerance towards other communities and religious faiths continued unhindered for several decades.
The first challenge came with the persecution of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh, who arrived in hordes as refugees, shifted to camps in several parts of India, the majority assimilating with Bengalis of West Bengal. Then there was Bangladesh Liberation war, where locals mostly Bengali Muslims fought the Pakistani army and their Razakars. It was a great human tragedy as millions were raped and killed by a vindictive Pak army before their defeat at the hands of Indian army in 1971.
Millions of Bangladeshi refugees took refuge in West Bengal and Lower Assam. No one was forced back, and very few went back, given the then weak economy of Bangladesh. However, the demography stood altered, causing much resentment with the Assam political parties which agitated for years together, turning Assam into a disturbed area. An accord was signed between the GOI and the AASU during Rajiv Gandhi’s government to identify the foreigners, under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court from 2013.
A State-wide National Register of Citizens was updated in 2019 in which 1.9 million failed to make it to the list. Surprisingly bulks of this were non-Muslims; Hindus and Gorkhas. The outcome of the Assam NRC has put the government in a profound embarrassment, and a way out was conceived in the form of CAB, providing citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and other non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Bill also says that the provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution.
Next, the Bill is likely to be passed by Rajya Sabha and will get the President’s assent too. Will it clear the hurdle of the Supreme Court is a question! In the meanwhile, a famous godman has demanded the inclusion of Sri Lankan Tamils in the list of beneficiaries.
What needs to be noted is the economic status of each of this country. The influx of people from Bangladesh was huge when its citizens could not get jobs, shelter and food. They could quickly get jobs as farm labourers and for other menial jobs all over India. Today the scenario is different as the economy of Bangladesh is improving substantially. It may so happen that many of these economic refugees might return to their homes, without the need to push back.
Successive state governments in West Bengal have been milking the large vote bank of committed refugees. The West Bengal CM is vociferous and leading the protest against CAB, which if implemented, is bound to disturb the lives of millions in the bordering districts of Bengal and put to peril the election prospects in the border districts. To label the economic refugees all under the bracket of instigators of violence would be a miscarriage of justice.