“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan
The problems and crises of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities all over the world are a legitimate issue with great concerns as well as of late, a matter of strategic importance. Democratic Nations-States across the globe as well as international organizations like UN, EU, etc. have made serious efforts towards legal institutional mechanisms via Acts/Covenants/Declarations, etc. by setting up Commissions on Minorities, Human Rights Commissions, etc. aiming at redressal of legitimate concerns of both national and international minorities.
India, the world’s largest democracy with the greatest diversity, cannot be an exception to this. In fact, unlike most Nations-States with exploitative colonial legacies, India has faced double whammy of history’s greatest bloodshed over traumatic partition on communal/religious grounds. What followed post-1947 years was mutual distrust and animosity upon religious minorities by the mainstream majority on both side of Radcliffe Line. Unfortunately, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, even Sardar Vallabhai Patel did not act upon the sagacious counsels of Dr BR Ambedkar who, writing on ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’ called for equal and mutual exchanges of population of religious minorities across Radcliffe Line to their respective national homelands i.e. Muslim minority in India to West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Hindu minority or Indo-religionists (Sikhs, Buddhist, Jains, etc.) in West and East Pakistan to India. Consequently, the ‘religious minority question’ over which undivided India was divided into Islamic State of Pakistan (areas with Muslim majority) and democratic Republic of India (areas with Hindu majority) remained unsettled till date. Though bilateral diplomatic efforts were made under Nehru-Liaquat Pact of April 8, 1950 for protection of religious minorities in each side of the border and even though India fulfilled almost all legal/institutional requirements with real commitment under the international agreement, religious minorities in Islamic Pakistan faced State-sponsored religious persecutions aimed at ethnic cleansing of the entire stock. While Muslim minority flourished with numerical growth turning India into a non-Islamic State with world’s second largest Muslim population after Islamic Indonesia, Hindus and Indo-religionists, on the other hand, reduced to micro-minorities in today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh; facing existential religious identity crises with targetted killings, forced conversions, desecration-cum-demolitions of places of worship, etc. But the so-called secular-liberal-leftist intelligentsia, who are always vocal on minorities’ rights in India, have no time to read the real ‘minority reports’ of persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh or elsewhere.
As a manifestation of continuing State-sponsored genocide of religious minorities in the two Islamic States, it is but obvious that for Hindus-cum-Indo-religionist minorities there that they will naturally choose none but India to emigrate for survival. Hence, over the years, thousands of religious minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh flee to India for safety via either legal or illegal ways. Indian Government is both morally and legally (Nehru-Liaquat Agreement) duty-bound to protect the minority communities of these Islamic States, lest they will be literally devoured by Islamic fundamentalists wolves there.
Unlike Congress or others, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made its stands clear on giving both religious asylum and granting Indian citizenships on priority basis to the persecuted Hindu and other religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. – both as it’s known ideological Hindutva position from erstwhile Jan Sangh era as well as in its election manifestos. BJP-ruled States of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have already given temporary shelters, jobs, etc. for the resettled Pakistani Hindus, Sikhs, etc. But due to legal compulsions of existing principal Act i.e. Citizenship Act of 1955, permanent citizenships to these illegally emigrated religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh cannot be given. Also, even granting long term visas to them is no solution as they cannot go back there again.
It is, due to this reason that Narendra Modi Government brought the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which seeks to amend Section 2 under Third Schedule of the principal Act which legalizes the hitherto illegally emigrated six minority religious communities viz. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to India with minimum six years (reduced from earlier eleven years) of living continuously, from now onwards; not to be treated as ‘illegal immigrants’. This will enable them to apply for Indian citizenship, which they could not do so far due to mandatory eleven years of permanent residency in India, although almost all of them want to settle in India permanently. This is the sole purpose of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 for which a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) has been established to solicit public opinions across India, especially in Assam and Northeastern States which, due to existing precarious demography with tribal population, have genuine grievances against the proposed amendment bill.
Public opinion and popular sentiment of the indigenous/Khilonjia people of Assam and NE States are strongly against any move by the present BJP government, both at the Centre and States, to resettle Bangladeshi or Bangla-speaking religious minorities here. Governments of Maghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have already taken official stands on opposing this Bill. The ruling BJP government in Assam as well its regional alliance partner Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which came under severe criticism for their Maunvrat over this Bill, which promised to protect Jati-Mati-Bheti i.e. protecting Khilonjia identity, land rights of Khilonjia and their settlements. Of late, AGP officially has opposed the Bill but the BJP said that it will make its official position on the Bill only after the final completion of ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) works as it will empirically reveal the real religious/linguistic demographic compositions of Assam.
Meanwhile, JPC should convey Modi Government, mainly three serious concerns of Assam and NE States on the proposed Bill viz. firstly, precarious demographic and linguistic concerns of these States with tribal population, secondly, in these States, particularly Assam, refugees of 1951 and 1971 have already been resettled rendering it with overburdened demography, and thirdly, it will be against Assam Accord of 1985 under which all those, irrespective of religions, who emigrated here after March 24, 1971, will be treated as illegal immigrants. These genuine concerns must be respected.
We, the Khilonjia/indigenous people of Assam must also shed our hypocrisy and double standard of showing our “concerns” for declining Assamese-speaking population, while not teaching our children to speak Assamese at home and sending them to English medium convent schools. Also, popular sentiments must have legal-rational basis and not emotional only. To protect religious identity of the Khilonjia population of Assam which is facing imminent threat of being wiped out from their own land due to massive illegal immigrations from Bangladesh, the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system, as exists in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, should be made compulsory here with state-of-the-art border management. To conclude, if the religious persecuted minorities of neighbouring countries are to be given Indian citizenship, they must never be resettled in Assam or Northeastern States.
Sourabh Jyoti Sharma is an Assistant Professor at Department of Political Science, DK College (Gauhati University). He can be reached at email@example.com