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India-Bangladesh Bhai Bhai, But Only Hindus Please

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By Karthik Shankar:

Your neighbours could very soon become your (constitutionally mandated) brothers and sisters. If the government’s move to grant citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh in 18 states takes off, we could see an influx of people streaming into the country through our porous borders. It’s clear that this move is politically motivated, both to appease the party’s staunch conservatives as well as to continue the BJP’s advantage in the 2016 Assam elections.

For representational purposes only
For representational purposes only

Yet, the issue of giving citizenship to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants has been a divisive topic in our country, especially in Assam where they have been blamed for a demographic and political divide. The question is, how this is going to stop Assam’s demographic changes? And the answer is, in almost no way. The anti-Bangladesh sentiment in Assam is not one of Hindus vs Muslims, it’s an age-old concern over illegal citizens infiltrating our land that just has the additional cloak of religion. The Assam Accord also explicitly states that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who arrive after 1971 are to be deported.

Moreover, giving citizenship to just one segment of Bangladesh’s population is problematic. The ghost of the Nellie massacre still haunts Assam more than two decades later. When Indira Gandhi gave four million Bangladeshi refugees Indian citizenship, the ethnic cleansing that followed claimed the lives of more than 2000 people according to official sources (Journalistic reports speculate the real number could be as high as 5000).

Such a move continues the BJP’s divisive rhetoric. By reducing immigration into essentially one of Hindus vs Muslims, the issue is re-contextualised in terms of religion instead of immigration. The idea of religion being used as a basis to grant citizenship, without assessing other factors is ludicrous. Of course, most people who stream into India illegally do so not for nefarious reasons, but because they are marginalised in their own societies. This oppression can be economic, which explains the migration from Bangladesh to Assam, ethnic, as in the case of the Sri Lankan Tamils, or political, which is the case for Tibetans in exile. Religious persecution is just one facet of many forms of oppression, and in our secular society we cannot single out one religion for special treatment.

There’s also the supreme irony of the Modi-led government taking such a stance when the Gujarat riots happened under his watch. Just imagine the furore if the victims of religious violence in Gujarat were offered citizenship in Pakistan!

If the government is really serious about protecting embattled refugees, why not make a political statement by giving exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen Indian citizenship, something she has been clamouring for. After all, hers is the quintessential tale of right to free speech being quashed by extremist elements. Then come the Muslims who have borne the brunt of targeted terror attacks. Al Qaeda attacks on the Shiite minority have become increasingly common in recent years. Doesn’t that count as religious persecution?

There are also other historically oppressed refugee groups in India – the Tibetans and Sri Lankan Tamils. If any process aims to abet easier citizenship for refugees, shouldn’t it become wider to cover such groups as well? If the government is serious about India becoming a Mecca for refugees, then we should ratify the 1951 Convention Relating To The Status Of Refugees (CRSR). At the very least, it would be constitutional.

Still we live under a government that is trying very hard to burnish its Hindu credentials. For all you know Nitin Gadkari might come up with the offer of citizenship in return for religious conversion. Whoever said ‘Ghar Wapsi’ was done with?

You must be to comment.
  1. Manas

    Compelled to comment after reading this. Nicely worded, and quite eloquent, I must say! Of course, the credentials of the writer points to his political outlook. And even though I do not subscribe to such an outlook, I must say that he has made a valid point in the third last para of this piece. That said, I must also add that continuous flow of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh will eventually break this nation of ours apart. (Explaining this will take an article.)

  2. Adv. Anand Pande

    The worst part of Pseudo-Seculars in India is that moment anything is done for relief of Hindus of Pakistan or abangladesh where they are persecuted they start frowning, beating their chests… Well we need to understand that for Bangladeshi Muslims or Rohingya Muslims they have 53 Islamic nations to intake those refugees but for Hindus only hope is India or Nepal…. And moreover its a harsh and crude fact that wherever Hindus become minority those regions make attempt to disintegrate from the Union. So even in Bangladeshi or Pakistani Hindus are granted Indian citizenship it will not harm the integrity of Nation unlike Muslim Bangladeshis.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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