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Attempt to whip up tension around Bangladeshis, Rohingiyas shows Govt of India's "insensitive" approach

By Adv Masood Peshimam*
Union minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju recently said that the Rohingayas living in India don’t have the status of refugees but are illegal migrants, who would be deported once their details have been prepared. The statement shows how insensitive has Government of India become towards a community, bulk of whose population is of Indian origin.
Rohingiyas are descendants of the plantation workers, taken by the Britishers to Burma during the colonial rule. This can also be illustrated by a visit to some of the Khoja Muslim households, many of whom have returned from Burma and settled down in Karimabad, Bhendi Bazar, Mumbai. Some of these Burmese Khoja females even today wear typical Burmese lungees, and carry with them imprints of Burmese ethos and culture.
Rohingayas fled from Myanmar or Burma due to extreme persecution they were subjected to by the Myanmar army and the government. Violence against them was so brutal that the US Holocaust Museum, which had conferred award to the country's president, Aung Sui, withdrew it early this year. She silently reconciled to the brutal massacre of the Rohingayas, which drew the ire and condemnation across the world. It is unfortunate that those in the corridors of power in India have a different logic to apply on what essentially is a humanitarian crisis. It is treating them a threat to the security of the country.
The minister has found their involvement in “illegal activities”. Due to their economic deprivation, some of them may have been involved in such activities, but these are exceptional incidents, and cannot be cannot be thrust upon the entire community.
While nobody in the government is shedding tears on one set of people, there is a move to accommodate Hindus persecuted in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While Hindus persecuted in these countries do deserve strongest sympathy, in a complex situation, in these countries, Muslims too are not spared. In Afghanistan every other day worst terror attacks take place on Muslims. In Pakistan the situation is not any different. Even children are not spared during terror attacks. In Bangladesh liberals are not safe, despite all tall talk by the Sheikh Hasina government.
Governments in these countries cannot escape their responsibility of providing safety to minorities from their hawkish attitudes. Why only government, even people in these counties are required to provide security to Hindu minorities.
It is strange, indeed, that while the Government of India is ready to accommodate Hindus persecuted in these countries, and is contemplating even a law for this, there is an attempt to exclude Muslims. Would that law not run contrary to the secular spirit of the Constitution? Would the approach of the present government not run contrary to Article 15 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth?
Amit Shah, Kiren Rijiju
Thousands of peopled from former East Pakistan thronged to Assam in search of shelter from barbaric brutality of the Pakistani army. We supported these refugees, who were subjected to unprecedented atrocities. How we welcomed them can be illustrated by the emotional outpouring of poet-intellectual Harindranath Chattopaday, who in the Ismail Yusuf College in Mumbai was seen waxing eloquence in fostering bond between us and the vulnerable people of East Pakistan. His poem “Hamar Sonar Bongla” embodied the extreme fraternity and love between the people of our Bengal and Bengalis from across the border.
However, with the passage of time, the scenario has changed and the same Bangladeshis, who were once our darling, are being hated. It is the same Bangladeshis who have become the bone of contention in Assam.
Assam has seen fierce move to oust Bangladeshis. The situation against the illegal migrants or even Indian non-Assamese aggravated to such an extent that one of the worst massacres of Muslim Bengalis took place in Nelly. The killing operation of Muslims, mainly women and children, continued unabated for six hours on February 18, 1983 under the very nose of the so-called secular administration, which left the world stunned. It was one of the worst cases of brutal massacres in human history. Police was informed of the impending tragedy, but it looked the other way. It goes to the credit of prominent journalist Arun Shouri to bare the truth about the horrific grotesque loss of life.
The fact is that anti-Bangladeshi agitation played a major role in whipping up hatred and deep sense of resentment, leading to the to the gruesome massacre. The hawks in Assam took the anti-migrants agitation to a feverish pitch, creating a violent turmoil. The hatred against Muslims was so intense that even the supply of water was blocked in protest against the chief ministership of Anwara Taimur. Ironically, decades later, Taimur’s name does not find itself in the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC)!
The Congress, which earlier capitalised on the votes of these immigrants, felt no compunction in politically flirting with the violent agitationists against the “illegal immigrants or outsiders”. It was Rajiv Gandhi who signed an accord with the All-Assam Students’ Union. The Assam Accord gave all the required legitimacy to the violent AASU. Such was the diabolical approach of the government.
Mandated by the Supreme Court, the draft NRC, which was meant to find out genuine Indians and detect illegal immigrants, so as to weed them out, has excluded about 40 lakh people, or nearly 10% of the population, most of them Muslims, leading to new humanitarian crisis. The future of those who are proposed as illegal immigrants is uncertain. Those left out of NRC are facing a precarious situation with the likelihood that their rights could be jeopardised. Yet, AASU is jubilant; it even distributed sweets. What sort of sadistic pleasure is it to smile at some one’s tragedy? Meanwhile, BJP Present Amit Shah, blowing his own trumpet of implementing the Assam Accord, said that Bengali migrants are intruders and would be a strain on the rights of the natives.
No doubt, part of the problem lies in the fear of demographic changes. In the name of the lurking fear citizenship, the credential of Indian Bengalis and other nationals have also been put to question. Not less significant is the fact that there is widespread discontent over the NRC draft, as genuine citizens are also missing from the list. The possibilities of discrimination in today’s communal atmosphere can’t be ruled out.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has made it clear that the exercise being conducted under its aegis to identify the alleged aliens residing in Assam would not stop, but nipped the fear of any immediate fallout for those who have not made it to the NRC draft, saying that no coercive step would be taken against them. In the light of the direction of the apex court, the response of the implementing authorities should not be structured on the basis of discrimination and coercion. Notwithstanding apex court directions, fear psychosis and extreme vulnerability continues.
In the teeth of the simmering crisis, Bangladesh has refused to accept these alleged aliens. Any aggravating of the plight of illegal migrants, mainly Muslims, has the potential to generate widespread discontent and would destabilize the current political establishment in the neighbouring country.
The basics question is, is it fair to strip the people of their citizenship on the basis of the cut off date of 1971, as these people have remained for pretty long in India? The issue is onerous, leading to chaos and disruption in the life of ordinary people. It is a human rights issue, which cannot be brushed under the carpet in the name of interests of natives and painting alleged or real aliens as devil.
---
*Based in Kalyan, Maharashtra

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