‘Partition, not religion, should decide citizenship claims’

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GUWAHATI, JUNE 7: In Assam’s Barak valley, alternative voices of support for the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 is emerging from leaders of both Hindu and Muslim communities. They said the bill should include ‘victims of Partition’ irrespective of their religion as the prime basis for citizenship. The bill in its present form seeks to grant citizenship to religious minorities-Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Citizenship on the basis of religion will not be able to withstand constitutional scrutiny as India is a secular, democratic republic. If the Government is really serious, then make Partition the basis of granting citizenship, not religion. Then I think the constitutional problem will not crop up,” history researcher and writer based in Barak valley, Sanjib Deb Laskar, said.
Citizens’ Rights Preservation Committee Assam (CRPCA) secretary general Sadhan Purkyastha questioned the necessity of the bill, saying that when there are laws and provisions to settle Partition victims there is no need for the bill to grant citizenship on the basis of religion. “Many people from Pakistan and Bangladesh were settled and rehabilitated under the existing laws dealing with Partition victims,” Purkyastha said.
Congress legislator of North Karimganj Assembly constituency, Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha, said he had made it clear during the joint parliamentary committee (JPC)’s consultation in the Barak valley last month that ‘Partition victims’ and not religion should be made the basis of citizenship.
“This will help to overcome the difficulties of religion as a criterion for citizenship. By giving primacy to religion the present bill does not address the citizenship issues of people who want to take citizenship in India,” Kamalakhya said.
He argued that the bill talked about proof of persecution suffered by the religious minorities as one of the criteria for citizenship. “How can a person migrate to India because of persecution? The bill in one way is not addressing the real issue of the people who had actually suffered because of Partition,” he added.
Ataur Rahman Barbhuiya, secretary, Nadwatut Tamir- a forefront Islamic socio-cultural organization in the valley- said he does not oppose anyone from getting citizenship on humanitarian grounds, but it should not be because of religion.
“The bill is nothing but a political gimmick, and a prescription to divide people on communal lines. Making Partition victims the basis will help in uniting Hindus and Muslims. I am doubtful if the bill would be passed in Parliament on the basis of religion,” Barbhuiya said.
Barak valley has seen one of the largest displacements of people after Sylhet was merged with East Pakistan in 1947 and the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. A large section of the population in the valley was tagged as doubtful voters whose citizenship was being questioned. By including ‘Partition victims’ as the criteria, the citizenship issue faced by many who entered the valley between 1947 and 1971 can be solved and at the same time the flames of communal divide can be doused.
The bill was one of the promises of BJP in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2016 Assembly elections. It was placed in Lok Sabha in 2016, but faced opposition especially from Trinamool Congress MPs in Parliament. Later the Bill was referred to the 30-member (20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha) JPC to seek views from different individuals and organisations.
The Brahmaputra valley is up in arms against the Bill as it sees a threat to Assamese identity by allowing people from Bangladesh to seek citizenship. (TNN)