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Amended Citizenship Bill

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  13 Aug 2016 12:00 AM GMT

For some time now, lawmakers in India have had to think of amending the citizenship laws in order to take care of the Hindu minorities in neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. One reason for this, of course, was the rapidly declining Hindu population in both Pakistan and Bangladesh within 69 years of Partition. It is perhaps important to take note of two significant facts relating to the fate of Hindus in these two countries. The first is that the Constitution of India provides for the “rights of citizenship of certain persons who have migrated to India from Pakistan” under Article 6. Article 6 applies to Bangladesh as well considering that present Bangladesh is what used to be East Pakistan. The second significant fact is that both West Pakistan (the Pakistan of today) and the East Pakistan (Bangladesh) had significant Hindu populations. West Pakistan had a Hindu population slightly in excess of 13 per cent. Today the Hindu population of Pakistan is less than one per cent. East Pakistan had a Hindu population of around 34 per cent at the time of Partition. Today, the Hindu population of Bangladesh is below nine per cent. There is very little need to describe the enthusiastic measures adopted by both these theocratic countries to either convert the minorities to Islam or to force people of minority religions to migrate elsewhere. One can visualize that Article 6 of the Indian Constitution was put in place because the framers of our constitution could well anticipate what might happen to Hindu minorities in both West Pakistan and East Pakistan. Article 6, therefore, stipulates that “Notwithstanding anything in Article 5 (which defines the Indian citizen), a person who has migrated to the territory of India from the territory now included in Pakistan shall be deemed to be a citizen of India at the commencement of this Constitution if—(a) he or either of his parents or any of his grandparents was born in India as defined in the Government of India Act, 1935 (as origilly ected); and (b) (i) in the case where such person has so migrated before the nineteenth day of July, 1948, he has been ordirily resident in the territory of India since the date of his migration, or (ii) in the case where such person has so migrated on or after the nineteenth day of July, 1948, he has been registered as a citizen of India by an officer appointed in that behalf by the Government of the Dominion of India on an application made by him therefor to such officer before the commencement of this Constitution in the form and manner prescribed by that government: Provided that no person shall be so registered unless he has been resident in the territory of India for at least six months immediately preceding the date of the application.” Strangely enough, regardless of the very motive of Partition in 1947, the Muslim population of India ironically is greater today than the total population of Pakistan.

This is a fact that has not unduly worried Indian leaders. But what is bound to be a source of major concern for India is the way minorities (especially Hindus) are treated even today in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. And what makes matters slightly difficult for India today is the fact that India has proclaimed itself to be a secular country as well. This status of India may not seem to go very well with India’s present and legitimate concern for the fate of the minorities (especially Hindus) in its neighbouring theocratic countries. At the same time, India cannot choose to remain unconcerned, since Hindus persecuted in any country will have no asylum of any kind anywhere else except in India or Nepal. In view of this situation, India will need to find ways of looking after Hindus (and other minority groups) persecuted in theocratic countries for the very accident of their birth as Hindus or Christians or Buddhists. So what the government of India is planning is the grant of citizenship to such persecuted and harried minority citizens of theocratic countries.

However humane, magnimous and compassiote such objectives might be, it will not do to bring in amendments to the country’s citizenship laws without also keeping in mind what such changes in the citizenship laws are likely to do to the demographic structure of certain parts of our country. The largest migration as a consequence of the amended citizenship laws will be of Bangladeshi Hindus to Assam. Many of them are already here without any travel documents. They will only have to inform the government of their presence. It is imperative for the government of India to give due thought to what such amendments to the citizenship laws of the country can do to its demographic structure. The amended citizenship laws might simply result in the virtual liquidation of a State that goes by the me of Assam or Asam and of the Assamese people. Is that fair to a segment of the Indian population that is bound to be reduced to a minority in their own State? It is, therefore, imperative to ensure that the mere proximity of the largest migrating group of Hindus (because they constitute the largest minority group of Bangladesh) does not permanently change the demographic composition of Assam to make the Assamese minorities in their own State. As such, it is imperative that the amended citizenship law makes a clear provision to ensure that all the newly created Indian citizens do not migrate to just one or two States of the Indian Union, thereby creating major demographic problems for States like Assam and the other north-eastern States. While there are good reasons to provide Indian citizenship to people persecuted in neighbouring countries merely for the accident of their birth, there must also be provisions made to ensure that all such newly created Indian citizens do not throng to one or two Indian States and are encouraged to spread out to all parts of the country.

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