One Norm for All Aliens
The Centre’s decision to regularize the entry and stay of Hindu Bengalis who migrated from Bangladesh comes as a blow to the people of Assam who have borne the brunt of large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh over the decades. In fact, the Centre goes a few steps farther in deciding to exempt Bangladeshi and Pakistani tiols belonging to minority communities who have entered India on or before December 31, 2014 from the relevant provisions of rules and order made under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946, in respect of their entry and stay in India, without such documents or after the expiry of these documents as the case may be. Whether the Union government is really empowered to make such arbitrary and off-the-cuff provisions in respect of migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh is a matter of dispute, considering that such provisions run counter to Article 6 of the Indian Constitution that stipulates the “Rights of citizenship of certain persons who have migrated to India from Pakistan”. Article 6 sets a cut-off date for such migrants from Pakistan to India. That cut-off date is the 19th day of July, 1948. Considering that the Indian Constitution did make a provision for migrants from Pakistan, the Assam Accord signed on August 14-15, 1985 oversteps the provisions of our Constitution in setting a separate cut-off date for migrants from East Pakistan/Bangladesh to Assam. It will be recalled that the six-year long Assam Movement against illegal immigration of foreign tiols into the State was a movement against all illegal immigrants regardless of their religion. The cut-off date of March 25, 1971 for all illegal migrants stipulated in the Assam Accord was thus a pragmatic approach to the large-scale illegal migration from East Pakistan/Bangladesh that had already taken place. There was absolutely no justification for making special provisions on the basis of the religion for such migrants, considering that the religious minorities of East Pakistan/Bangladesh, persecuted by a theocratic state, had already migrated to India or elsewhere. In 1985 (38 years after the partition of India and 14 years after the creation of Bangladesh), there was little justification for making special provisions for the religious minorities of East Pakistan/Bangladesh since almost everyone suffering from persecution in theocratic states because of their religion had already migrated to safer and more tolerant climes. Besides, by proclaiming ourselves as a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” we had honestly abdicated our privilege to be a safe haven for all Hindus anywhere in the world persecuted by intolerant regimes. In fact, when India was partitioned in 1947 on the basis of religion, it might have been perfectly legitimate for India to proclaim itself as a Hindu state. At that point of time, given the very reason of India’s partition, no one would have blamed us for becoming a Hindu state. However, considering the traditiol liberalism and tolerance of the Hindu majority, India has become the chosen home of people of diverse faiths over the centuries. It was this liberalism and catholicity that prompted India to become a secular republic rather than a theocratic state after Partition. And having chosen to become a secular republic, India no longer had any special responsibility of protecting persecuted Hindus anywhere in the world. If anything, it was Nepal (that called itself a Hindu state until recently) that had the privilege and responsibility of providing asylum and protection to persecuted Hindus. To be thinking of providing asylum and protection to Hindus from Bangladesh and Pakistan in the year 2015—68 years after Partition—would create the general impression that we had suddenly decided to make room for thousands of Rip Van Winkles who had woken up from their sleep after almost seven decades. It would certainly be fair to ask all Hindus from Bangladesh or Pakistan who want to become Indian citizens now, what they had been doing all these 68 years. The other related and pertinent question would be whether the rest of India would be willing to accept Bangladeshi and Pakistani Hindus who want to migrate to India now. There is every reason to fear (as former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta does) that the Centre could well be planning to make Assam the dumping ground for all Bangladeshis. It is also reasoble to suspect that this sudden decision to regularize the entry and stay of Bangladeshi Hindus in India at this point of time arises from pressure exerted by West Bengal to regard all Bengali-speaking people as Indians. This is an attempt to foist a fallacy on us that Indian citizenship should not be denied to anyone who speaks an Indian language. We now have Bengali spoken in India as well as in Bangladesh, just as Punjabi is spoken both in India and Pakistan. Such examples are numerous in Europe as well as in other parts of the world. French is spoken both in France and Belgium, just as German is spoken in both Germany and Austria. We also have English spoken in Cada as well as the United States. Language cannot be a determiner of political boundaries.
What is of far greater importance for India to insist on enforcing practices that underscore our complete faith in secular ideals. For many years now we have had the UPA government and the Congress flirting with pseudo-secularism. It is time we decided on being honestly secular in our conduct and policy-making. One of the ways of going about it is to implement a uniform civil code and a complete ban on laws that are not our own. For instance, it is important to deny the right to polygamy to any religious group in India since this is a secular country. There is no denying that polygamy routinely practised by migrants from Bangladesh has seriously disturbed the demographic structure of Assam. We cannot allow this non-secular practice to be continued without committing collective demographic hara-kiri. These are far more important issues that need to be addressed now.