July 05, 2020
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The Laws Of Refuge

While steps are being taken to provide citizenship to Hindu minorities from different countries, Muslim minorities who fled government persecution are being treated with utter disregard.

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The Laws Of Refuge
The Laws Of Refuge

The BJP led-NDA government's decision to allow Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals to reside in India, despite the expiry of their visas, is being lauded as a step towards recognising rights of immigrants in the country. The move, ostensibly based on humanitarian considerations, allows 'minority communities' of both countries to continue staying notwithstanding the lack of valid documents.

Over 95 per cent of the minorities in both countries are Hindus who sought shelter in India after being subjected, or witness, to religious persecution in their home countries. The Narendra Modi government is also planning to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to ease the citizenship process to this segment of the population. However, it is argued that the impetus behind this move is the BJP's allegiance to the Hindutva ideology. An Indian equivalent of the Israeli 'Law of Return' that facilitates Jews from anywhere in the world to settle in Israel, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has also proclaimed that India is 'natural home' to Hindus from across the world.

BJP leader, Amit Shah, too took up the cudgels to envisage India as a Hindu rashtra by promising citizenship to Bangldeshi Hindu refugees in Assam, if the BJP came to power in the states Assembly polls this year. This, despite the 1985 Assam Accord the result of a prolonged anti-foreigner movement to avoid exploitation of the regions limited resources by keeping a check on inflow of refugees promising to deport any person who entered the country after midnight of March 24, 1971.

While this cut-off date for citizenship led to large number of people being caught in a stateless limbo after fleeing religious violence, it is important to note that religious persecution alone cannot be the sole means for entitlement of citizenship. India's citizenship laws do not discriminate on the basis of religion.

Intriguingly, while steps are being taken to provide citizenship to Hindu minorities from different countries, Muslim minorities who fled government persecution in Myanmar are being treated with utter disregard in India. The National Human Rights Commission had recently taken suo motu cognizance of media reports alleging harassment of Rohingya Muslim refugees in Tamil Nadu. Forced to move from one place to another by locals, they are unable set up even make shift camps in parts of the state. Faced with imminent eviction by Indian authorities, a group of Rohingya Muslims have now set up a camp on the outskirts of New Delhi.

Even as India has been open to large number of refugees from across the world including Tibet and Sri Lanka, it lacks a clearly defined path to recognise their rights and provide citizenship or repatriation. Over 60,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees having been living in 100 camps across Tamil Nadu for decades now. Even as the war ended over six years ago, refugees continue to languish without a way to either be integrated in Indian or to safely return home. Proposals submitted to the Indian government over a year ago, to ensure minimum livelihood to refugees once they return home, are yet to be acted upon.

The lack of a concrete domestic asylum framework in India has led to a situation where citizenship to immigrants and refugee protection are based on ad hoc policies, largely at the behest of the political executive in India.

This is a web exclusive and does not appear in the print version of the magazine.

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