The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is likely to be tabled in Parliament in this running week. That it will be passed is a foregone conclusion. What, however, is important is to understand its nuances and see how it will benefit the Nation.
It is quite apparent that people who were forced to migrate to India from neighbouring countries due to persecution on grounds of religion will be the biggest beneficiaries. Maximum concentration of such people is in Assam, West Bengal and some other states of the North East but the new legislation will have an impact on society across the country and quite extensively in Punjab.
Partition of India was on communal basis and it resulted in Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab suffering the most. Sikhs lost to Pakistan their major pilgrimage centres like Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur Sahib among many others. The situation caused such a huge emotional upheaval that getting reconnected with the Gurdwaras in Pakistan forms a part of the Sikh Ardas (prayer). The people of Punjab, especially the Sikhs, can never shed their bond with their own kith and kin across the border. Hence, such Hindus and Sikhs who are being persecuted due to their religion and are unhappy in Afghanistan or Pakistan, are being welcomed with open arms to India. There can be no doubt about the fact that Pakistan ultimately aims at getting rid of Sikhs and Hindus totally even as it sponsors a Khalistani movement from its soil. India needs to be aware and sensitive to this situation.
A poignant incident related by Rajinder Bansal, a known poet and litterateur, gives a clear perspective to the actual dimension of the problem at hand. On one occasion while on a train to his home town in Abohar in Punjab he had, as his co-passengers, a family of four. He got into conversation with them and got to know that they were Hindus from Pakistan. On being asked about the condition of Hindus in Pakistan they said that in places like Lahore even celebrating their festivals is a problem and they have to go to Sindh to celebrate. The father of the family further added that the condition of minorities, especially Hindus, started deteriorating after the Pakistani defeat in the wars of 1965 and 1971 with even the converted Hindus being targeted and looked upon with suspicion.
Rajinder Bansal further adds that what was more disconcerting the fact that the young boy identified himself with a Muslim name. His father then explained that at home the boy is called with his actual Hindu name but for the outside, especially school, he has been given a Muslim name. This he said is a trend with most Hindu families.
Rajinder Bansal, on the basis of this very moving narration, holds forth a conviction that all families of Pakistan who are being persecuted on religious grounds and wish to migrate back to India need to be facilitated in every manner possible. He further feels that a strong Citizenship bill would go a long way in timely migrations and assimilation of such people into the national fold.
Since 1965 one lakh refugees have fled from Pakistan to India. They came here for a better life but the same has been eluding them for want of total acceptance and identity. They have been here for years on end but are not getting citizenship due to complex procedures and documentation. Only a few thousand from Pakistan have been granted citizenship. Though their life and faith is no longer jeopardised they have become a people without a nation, they work as unorganised labour force, live in camps that are unauthorised, cannot buy property or plan the future of their children well.
There is a need to differentiate between such people who have come to India due to religious persecution being a minority community and those who have entered the country illegally, mostly for economic reasons. The former have to be fully integrated in the Indian society since their move is of a permanent nature.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) will enable provision of citizenship to people belonging to the six minority communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. As things stand now, these individuals are no longer considered illegal in the context of the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, ever since two notifications of the Home Ministry were issued in September, 2015 and July, 2016. These are the erstwhile citizens of the aforementioned countries who were ‘compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution,’ and those who had come to India before December 31, 2014, as defined in Home Ministry notification of September 7, 2015. They would be provided Indian citizenship under naturalisation after ‘the aggregate period of residence, or services to a government in India’ after spending six years, instead of the earlier caveat of 11years. CAB will merely formalise what is presently work in progress so far as the government is concerned.
There are other routine benefits that will accrue to the normal citizen once CAB is in place. The system of acquiring passports will be streamlined, something that is of great importance in modern times when more and more Indians are travelling to foreign countries and especially so from Punjab. Formalisation of citizenship will also assist in the distribution of welfare packages and subsidies by the government for which the process of direct transfer is gaining acceptance very fast.
There is no law which is perfect and changes after implementation remains a dynamic process. The same template will apply to CAB too in the long run. For the moment there is a need to correct a monumental wrong that is being done to a segment of our own people, many of whom are from Punjab, and this is exactly what the bill, in its present form, is designed to achieve. To oppose it just for the sake of opposing and to raise insecurities where none need to exist is quite unnecessary.
(Jaibans Singh is a political analyst, columnist and author)