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HomeOpinionsCitizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019: For all persecuted, against none

Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019: For all persecuted, against none

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Research Scholar, Centre for Inner Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Write for various newspapers and portals including Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran (National Edition), Prabhat Khabar, Rashtriya Sahara, The Pioneer, DailyO etc.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, seems to have become a bone of contention between the government and the opposition with Congress moving to Supreme Court against the bill. The biggest charge that the government being accused of is religious discrimination. In this regard, the opposition within Parliament, many organizations and columnists outside Parliament and internationally, the International Commission for International Religious Freedom and the United Nations Human Rights Commission being the latest one, put the government and mainly Home Minister Amit Shah in the dock. The Bill has been passed by both the Houses, the Lok Sabha (lower house) and the Rajya Sabha (upper house) the Bill has also got President’s assent.

The present Act will bring amendments in earlier law on citizenship. The bill talks of granting citizenship to people from Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian communities displaced from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. According to this, whoever has come to India on or before 31 December 2014 belonging to these communities and has lived for five years, will not be considered illegal. Amidst all these controversies, one thing that needs to be understood first is why there is a necessity for amendment of the Citizenship Act of 1955 and for that we will have to peep into the history of subcontinent. Since the partition of India in 1947, the persecution of minorities started in Pakistan, which continues till today and this is front of the whole world. At the time of partition, the number of Hindus in present-day Pakistan (then West Pakistan) was about 14 percent, the same number has come down to 1.5 percent. This small number has to suffer torture every day and are living in pathetic condition.

United States International Religious Freedom Commission’s annual report of 2019 also mentions the crimes against minorities in Pakistan, which includes forced conversion of people of these communities to abduction, forced marriage and rape of women. The situation is same in Bangladesh. In 1951, there were about 22 percent Hindus in Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) whose number had come close to 6 percent by 2011. India has raised its voice at international level against persecution of Hindus from time to time. In 1963, Vijaya Laxmi Pandit raised the issue of how Pakistan is persecuting Hindus in her speech at the United Nations. But even after all this, our governments and international agencies did not take any concrete step in order to protect them.

Even today, the condition of minority communities in these countries is not hidden from anyone. All this is in front of the whole world and different human rights organizations have done the work of putting it in front of everyone. Due to fear of being persecuted, a large number of people from these communities have migrated to India because they have no other way. In such a situation, this act is also a proper initiative to give justice to all those exploited and it would be completely wrong to consider it as religious discrimination. This Act will provide citizenship and fundamental rights mainly to the oppressed minorities from these three countries in India and will not in any way withdraw these rights from the present citizens.

An issue has been raised that as the amendment doesn’t include Muslims so it is discriminatory toward them but, here we need to understand that in the three countries mentioned they don’t have any problems on the ground of religion. They are not being persecuted on the basis of religion so they don’t need such protection. There is also a matter of how many refugees India can accommodate. The world is also facing a crisis in the Middle-East leading to migration of large number of people, mostly Muslims, from there to different countries. If Muslims are also included in this, then the number of refugees India is able to accommodate will increase considerably as people from Middle-East may also come via Afghanistan and Pakistan. Europe is in front of us as a clear example of what an unmanaged number of refugees can do.

Also, the Muslims don’t have fear of persecution like these communities. They may migrate for a better future perspective. For example, a major reason for Bangladeshi infiltration in India is the employment and other amenities of life found here, it would be like giving legal recognition to the intrusion if Muslims are included in this act. This act will also work to pressure the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to get the rights of minorities.

Had the previous governments taken these steps and taken concrete steps on this, thousands of people living as refugees in our country would have already got justice. Well today when Parliament has passed this act, we should welcome it with open minds.

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Research Scholar, Centre for Inner Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Write for various newspapers and portals including Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran (National Edition), Prabhat Khabar, Rashtriya Sahara, The Pioneer, DailyO etc.
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