Right time to correct historic wrong by amending Citizenship Act

Bharat is a civilization of more than 6000 years that has lived and flourished and it geographically included Afghanistan, Pakistan , Nepal ,Bangladesh and Myanmar since ages.

Written by December 11, 2019 17:32

India is home to the largest refugee population in South Asia. In addition to others, it ironically comprises large number of Hindus and Sikhs also. These are Hindus and Sikhs who stayed back in Pakistan post-1947 believing the assurance given under Nehru-Liaqat Pact. But Pakistan and then later Bangladesh turned into a theocratic state. The Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis suffered the religious persecution at the hand of the state itself.

Thus most of them have moved here. Unofficial estimates put their number anywhere between 15 million to 20 million. Many of them have been here for years but without citizenship rights due to cumbersome procedures. It is time to give them a legitimate status. One must understand, however, the historical context to ensure that the issue doesn’t get mired in a communal discourse.

Citizenship amendment bill

Bharat is a civilization of more than 6000 years that has lived and flourished and it geographically included Afghanistan, Pakistan , Nepal ,Bangladesh and Myanmar since ages.

A peek into the history tell us that the British divided this nation in the name of convenience of administration. This later on led to formation of Pakistan in 1947 on the basis of two nations theory. This partition resulted in one of the greatest migrations in human history. Some seventy-five thousand women were raped, and many of them were then disfigured or dismembered. More than fifteen million people had been uprooted, and between one and two million were dead. And for those who stayed back life had not been easy.

To all those who have cultural, genealogical and civilizational ties to Bharat but decided to stay back in Pakistan post-1947, their very existence has been at stake because of their religious belief. Their temples have been desecrated or converted into government offices in Pakistan. Molestation and abduction of Hindu girls, demanding of huge ransoms in kidnap cases, and frequent arrests of Hindus on false charges have become commonplace in Pakistan.

Amit Shah - Lok Sabha --

Many of the approximately 2 million Hindus in Pakistan are compelled to pay regular ransom in exchange for the physical security of their families. The convention is that no job higher than a clerk’s post may be obtained by a Hindu.

Many Hindu Not to forget the human rights report on kidnapping of young girls and their forced conversions by Maulvis with political affiliation . The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan itself has found and investigated many cases of forced conversion and kidnaping. The Commission’s latest report mentions the case of the sudden and unexplained disappearance of two teenage Hindu sisters, Reena and Raveena, on the eve of Holi highlighting the problem of forced conversions, forced underage marriage and ill treatment of non-Muslim minorities especially Hindus in Pakistan.

According to a report titled ‘The Unequal Other’ in Pakistani publication, ‘The News International’( March 26, 2019), “At least 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are forcibly converted each year – 25 percent of these conversions take place in the Umerkot district of Sindh – shows how little attention is paid to the rights of our minority Communities”.

Hindus biggest minority in Pakistan

According to a report in another Pakistani media outlet Geo News on March 28, 2019, on The disappearance of Raveena and Reena, “There is no law in Sindh banning forced conversions where most of the Hindu community lives. In 2017, the Sindh government rejected a bill tabled to outlaw the practice of forced conversion and to make it a punishable offence” .

The plight of Hindus in Pakistan can be understood from the fact that the population of Hindus in 1947, at the time of Partition, was 15 to 24 percent. It had been reduced to 1.6 percent in 1998 . In Bangladesh, too the decline has been steep. In Afghanistan, there has been massive exodus of Hindus and Sikhs and hardly a few hundred Hindu or Sikh families are left there. The destruction of Bamiyan Buddha is itself sufficient to tell the story about the status of non-Muslim minorities in Afghanistan.

For all these persecuted minorities, Bharat is their ancestral and hence natural home. When their way of life is itself at stake, there only hope to find a home is in Bharat. One must not forget that their very existence is at stake because of their religious beliefs.

Citizenship amendment bill

An amendment in the current Citizenship Act of Bharat has been long awaited to correct the historical wrong. Prior to this amendment, migrants from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh who entered into India without valid travel documents or if their documents has expired are regarded as illegal migrants and ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship under section 5 or section 6 of the Act will be exempted from adverse legal consequences.

The amended Act would ensure that these minorities who have suffered religious persecution in the three neighbouring countries as mentioned above and hence sought refuge in Bharat are granted citizenship of Bharat in a hassle free manner.

(The writer is a PhD in sociology and an amateur historian.)