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Refugee law for trans-border indigenous people

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  11 Sep 2015 12:00 AM GMT

By Vikram Rajkhowa

The decision of the Central Government, on humanitarian ground to exempt Bangladeshi 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 stay in India without such documents or after expiry of those documents, as the case may be, has stirred up a hornet’s nest in Assam, with Asomiya Jatiyatabadi organization like AASU, other organization like KMSS voicing against it and organizations like AKRSU, CKRSD and others representing trans-border indigenous ethnic community in favour of it.

The problem of Bengali (Hindu) refugees from Bangladesh and that of indigenous, aborigil and traditiol communities of South Asia like the Koch-Rajbongshis (Rajbanshis), the Rabhas, the Dimasas, the Garos, the Khasis, the Mizos, the Meiteis, the Mech and others, be it Animist, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian etc., residing in Bangladesh are different and will need to be looked at from a different perspective. Like the Bengali Hindus the above mentioned indigenous communities are in minority in Bangladesh vis-a-vis the Bengali Muslims. But unlike the Bengali Hindus the people from the said indigenous communities do not share the same language, literature, ethnicity, racial background, history, culture, etc like the Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims. The historical fact is that, Bengali tiolism could not keep the Bengali people united, as they got divided on religious line, i.e., Bengali Hindus and Muslims; otherwise for all other matters they are one and the same class of people. Whereas that is not the case with the above referred indigenous communities, as within Bangladesh society, they are the ‘minority within minority’ and the position of such indigenous communities is far worse than the Bengali Hindus as these indigenous communities are persecuted on the basis of their Religion, Race and Ethnicity and form the most backward, margilized and persecuted class of people in Bangladesh.

And like the Banjulang (Aborigil) People of Australia, the First tion people of Cada and the Red Indian people of United States etc., the above referred indigenous and aborigil communities had been dwelling in this region since time immemorial and can be safely termed as the first tion People of the South-Asian region. But after the emergence of modern tion State, these First tion people were subjugated, particularly during the colonial rule of the British, who bifurcated the boundaries of the First tion states and created separate provinces or integrated them within the boundaries of new tion states. This in turn led to the division of the same class of people across tions, making these indigenous communities as trans-border communities.

Presently, the Indian legal framework has no uniform law to deal with the refugee issue, particularly that of trans-border indigenous communities; the outdated Foreigners Act (1946) is the current law consulted by authorities with regard to refugees and asylum seekers. But the primary and most significant lacu in this law is that it does not contain the term ‘refugee’; consequently under the Indian Law, the term ‘foreigner’ is used to cover aliens temporarily or permanently residing in the country. This places refugees, along with immigrants, and tourists in this broad category, depriving them of privileges available under the Geneva Convention.

Despite this fact, according to the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) and supported by figures from United tions High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), in the year 2007 itself, India offered refugee status to around 110,000 asylum seekers from Tibet, 100,000 from Nepal, 99,600 from Sri Lanka, 50,000 from Myanmar and around 35,000 from Bangladesh. However, it is pertinent to mention that, none of those people granted ‘refugee status’ in India belongs to or has linkages with traditiol indigenous communities of India. And assuming that some indigenous people may fall within those granted ‘refugee status’ from Bangladesh but the same will not come to light in the absence of a separate identification process for the indigenous communities, thereby depriving these indigenous people of benefits like grant of land to set up housing, educatiol institutions and other socially useful programmes and institutions etc.

Possible way out – (i) Ecting a tiol Refugee Law for the Trans Border Indigenous People of South Asia having linkages with similar class of indigenous people in India, (ii) To have a separate ‘Task Force’ (like the one for Sindhi and Bengali people) for Refugees and Asylum seekers belonging to the Indigenous communities, (iii) In the North-Eastern states and in North Bengal, refugee and asylum status (including settlement) should be granted only to people belonging to Indigenous communities of South Asia having linkages with similar Indigenous communities on the Indian side. This aspect is important to safeguard the interest of indigenous communities of this region, as is evident from the developments in Tripura, where the Bengali Hindu migrants made the indigenous people of Tripura minorities in their own homeland and in North-Bengal the indigenous Koch-Rajbanshis are on the verge of becoming minorities in similar manner. The Bengali (Hindus) who have come to India from Bangladesh due to religious persecution can be settled in the rest of the country with each state sharing the responsibility.

(The writer is Advocate, GHC & NGT, M: 9435048258, E: vikramrajkhowa@hotmail.com)

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