The citizenship amendment bill (CAB) seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there. In order to acquire citizenship in India, one needs to go through a naturalization process. One of the criteria of naturalization is that the concerned person has to live in India, or work in the Central Government for 11 years. What this bill does is that it reduces this period to six years for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But they still have to go through the process of naturalization.
North Eastern states are opposed to it and therefore taken out of the purview of the bill. Congress and some other opposition parties have objected to the bill mainly on the ground that it excludes Muslims as beneficiaries. But it may be recalled that on December 18, 2003, former Prime Minister and Congress MP Manmohan Singh, who was then leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, had spoken in the Upper House in favour of giving citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh who had taken refuge in India because of persecution.
In the Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh who was yet to become country’s Prime Minister had said, “After the partition of our country, minorities in countries like Bangladesh have faced persecution, and it is our moral obligation that if circumstances force people, these unfortunate people, to seek refuge in our country, our approach to granting citizenship to these unfortunate persons should be more liberal.”
Assamese also are against the bill. But what many may not know is that even a Tarun Gogoi led Government in Assam had sought Citizenship for persecuted Hindu Bengalis, Buddhists who migrated from Bangladesh’ in the year 2012 when both Centre & State was ruled by Congress.
The then CM of Assam, Tarun Gogoi had submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on April 20, 2012, pleading that religious minorities who had to flee due to discrimination & religious persecution at the time of partition, should not be treated as foreigners & given citizenship.
Even much earlier on November 25 in 1947, Congress Working Committee had passed a resolution similarly urging citizenship for refugees from Pakistan. To quote ‘The Congress is bound to afford full protection to all those non-Muslims from Pakistan who have crossed the border and come over to India or may do so to save their life and honour.’
(Ref. India’s struggle for freedom: Select documents and sources by Jagadish Saran Sharma – Vol 3 p 835)
In an article ‘Congress must fulfil its promises made to the Hindu refugees’ by Bishu Duttachoudhury in Barak Bulletin dated December 4, 2018, this and other similar promises made to the refugees from Pakistan by Gandhi, Nehru, Prasad and Patel on different occasions have been elaborately mentioned.
The point to note is that these people were citizens of undivided India and they were forced to flee their own homes for saving their lives after being subjected to atrocities on the grounds of religion. They are different from the migrants who left Bangladesh / Pakistan for economic reasons. Every logical mind should therefore urge the Centre to grant citizenship to all such people, taking into consideration historical reality and the humanitarian aspect.
Why breach promises?
The writer is a long-standing commentator on contemporary issues.