The rendra Modi government has decided to regularise the entry and stay of ‘persecuted’ Hindu as well as Sikh, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Buddhist refugees fleeing Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Union Home Ministry has now brought out a notification, exempting such refugees who have entered India on or before 31st December 2014, from rules and regulations under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and Foreigners Act, 1946. The Centre’s move has triggered vehement protests by the AASU, AGP, KMSS and other socio-political organisations in the State. Being a sigtory of the 1985 Assam Accord, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) feels the NDA government’s decision now renders the accord dilute, if not null and void. Vowing not to accept any foreigner, Hindu or Muslim, entering Assam after March 25, 1971 — the AASU is now reportedly planning to challenge the Centre’s notification in the Supreme Court, where a case against illegal migration into Assam is proceeding. The AGP, the political child of the Assam Accord, has termed the Centre’s decision an ‘act of betrayal’ with the ‘BJP starting its brand of vote-bank politics to label foreigners in terms of religion’. The KMSS says that the notification puts the ‘additiol burden of more than a million people’ squarely upon Assam. Meanwhile, the State BJP has come out in support of the stand consistently taken by the saffron party earlier — which argues that ‘if persecuted Hindus cannot come to India, where else can they go to?’ After all, it is all very well to say that India is a secular country which does not differentiate between religions, but it does happen to be a Hindu-majority country. So if Hindus are fleeing ‘religious persecution’ in Bangladesh or Pakistan, surely India has to be their destition across the borders — so goes the logic of the Hindutva parties.
Should the religion of refugees weigh as the primary criteria for a tion to open its borders? In a world where large parts are still cursed by ethnic cleansing and commul pogroms, the religion of refugees is not a factor that can be swept under the carpet as a regressive idea or unseemly topic for discussion. The present refugee crisis in the Middle East spilling over into Europe provides a telling if tragic example. Waves of refugees in millions are fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq, desperately seeking life, liberty and a better future elsewhere. The enormity of the crisis is staggering, its effect likely to last for years — the European Union has warned. Germany is bearing the brunt of this human wave, while countries like Austria and Hungary are taking a hard-line. Britain and France have made modest if not totally idequate offers to take in refugees. The islands of Greece are chock full of refugees coming in boatloads. But several EU countries are saying they cannot allow their societies to be over-run by foreigners and see their infrastructures and economies collapse. The US has been noticeably cool to the entire problem, trotting out its argument that refugees need to be ‘resettled’ in their own countries of origin. The UN has estimated that about 11 million people have been displaced in the Middle East, and the budget for this year alone to resettle them will amount to a staggering 7.5 billion dollars. Turkey too has been unwilling to open its borders but it is now on the defensive over a heart-rending photograph of a drowned three-year old Syrian Kurdish child washed up on one of its beaches. This one, searing image gone viral on social media has brought home to the rest of the world the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the Middle East. But it has also put the spotlight on Gulf and Arabian countries which should have come forward to share the burden of refugees who are predomintly Muslim. In fact, Saudis and Syrians are considered almost brother-people, yet Saudi Arabia has been distancing itself from the civil war in Syria.
The truth is that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are petrified of refugees bringing in ‘political contagion’ which would make them unmageable in future. In spite of the fact that most of the present refugees are Muslim, these countries mostly ruled by morchs and emirs, will not tolerate any fundamentalist contagion to cross over their borders and create problems for them in future. So these countries are pleading that they would rather contribute to the UN and other intertiol agencies to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees like the Palestinians earlier — a stand rather similar to that of Washington. Meanwhile, alarm bells are ringing in some European countries that IS jihadists are reportedly slipping into their borders along with refugees. This in turn has put right-wing and xenophobic parties up in arms, demanding tiol borders to be sealed. Thus the religion of refugees has become a matter of paramount importance to the countries they are heading for. It is deeply sad that terrorist organisations like the Taliban and IS have raised a question mark over entire waves of Muslim refugees fleeing intolerance, persecution and hellish oppression by their co-religionists. In this backdrop, will the present Indian leadership take a pragmatic or an enlightened view about the refugee problem? It is well known that Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan have been oppressed for long, many of them forced to convert. The unspeakable atrocities on Chakmas by Bangladeshi razakars in the Chittagong hills drove these hapless tribals into Northeast India, creating problems for states like Aruchal Pradesh. The entire Indian sub-continent is still paying the price of the bloody partition in 1947. Considering the religion of refugees seeking shelter in India is not a factor to be dismissed on the grounds of liberal humanistic ideals. But it also comes with the great danger of making religion the sole, over-riding factor of our polity and society, thereby leading to a closing of the Indian mind.