Is Government of India's Hindutva thrust behind its alleged refusal to provide asylum to 36,000 Rohingiyas, forced to flee Myanmar in the wake of the 2015 insurgency, and currently living in different parts of India – and the reason is, all of them are Muslims?
It would seem so if the new Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is any indication. While Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, says that the Central government is “concerned” about the Rohingiyas “at a humanitarian level”, the Bill, say well-informed sources, seeks to do “just the opposite.”
It is seeking to amend the definition of “illegal immigrants” by excluding under its ambit “minority-religious individuals” such as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from “Muslim-dominated countries” – specifically Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
A recent commentary says, “If the motive of the government is to protect religiously persecuted people in the neighbourhood, the question of why they are ignoring the Muslim community is inevitable.”
Forced to migrated to several other countries in much larger numbers following the 2013 riots in Central Myanmar (Burma) they risked their lives, sailing in small boats, to reach Bangladesh, several South-east Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The change in the Bil has been made, it is suggested, in the garb of relaxing the requirements for Indian citizenship to “illegal immigrants”. The problem, it is suggested, is not with the flexibility of the rules, but the applicability of the amendments on purely religious lines.
The Citizenship Act of 1955 denied citizenship rights to any illegal immigrant. It defined an ‘illegal immigrant’ as a person who (i) enters India without a valid passport or with forged documents, or (ii) who stays in the country beyond the visa permit.
The Bill, however, reduces the requirement of 11 years to acquire “citizenship by naturalisation” to only six years of ordinary residence for such immigrants. "This means that a Hindu from Pakistan can cross the border illegally and claim Indian citizenship after six years", says an expert.
The Bill, according to this expert, is a “furtherance of the BJP’s election promise to grant citizenship to Hindus from Muslim majority countries” in its 2014 parliamentary election manifesto, in which it declared India to be a natural home for persecuted Hindus.
During an election rally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “We have a responsibility towards Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. India is the only place for them. We will have to accommodate them here”.
This is not the first time that religion is being made the consideration for the conferral of citizenship. According to legal experts, a veiled reference to religion can be found in Article 6 and 7 of the constitution. Article 6 confers citizenship to people who migrated to what is now India after the announcement of partition, whereas article 7 grants citizenship to individuals who migrated to Pakistan after the announcement of partition but returned to India later on.
Those included in the second category had to go through an elaborate process of registration before they could be awarded citizenship rights. Although neutral on the surface, it is suggested, these provisions have deep religious markers attached to them.
While article 6 was directed towards Pakistani Hindus who had moved to India, article 7 implicitly referred to the Indian Muslims who had left India during the violence of partition but wanted to return to claim back their lives, livelihood and property.
Keeping a similar view, it is suggested, the Congress government at the Centre enacted the Illegal Migrant (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983, which provided for the detection and expulsion of illegal immigrants from Assam – all of them Bangladeshi Muslims. Here, “the word illegal immigrant was a thinly caped reference to the Muslims who had entered the state”, says an expert.