India has historically been the land which has provided refuge to those who were persecuted, and we have prided ourselves over it. Even the post independence history favors the narrative. Not only do we consider our guests very highly which is even reflected in the Tourism Ministry of India’s words “Atithi Devo Bhava”, we actually went to war with Pakistan over the refugee crisis in 1971. The Rohingya Refugee crisis which has been making round in the news bulletin recently, has now brought the refugee question back in the forum. The government stand is hailed as insensitive by some while, rational by others. This article tries to analyse the policy of the current Modi government on the matters of refugees, year by year.
Rohingya refugee issue is not the first time the issue of illegal migration has come up before the current government. The conviction towards the migrants date back to 2015, when the government policy reflected commitment to protect the persecuted immigrants. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan assured Hindus refugees from Pakistan in the state that the Narendra Modi government will complete all the formalities to ensure that they continue to live legally in India. He went on to declare that, “As long as Shivraj is in Madhya Pradesh, no Pakistani Hindu will be asked to leave the state. Modi’s government has decided that Hindu refugees will continue to stay permanently in India and for the purpose all necessary legal formalities will be done.”
The Union Cabinet in July 2016 approved proposals for extending several benefits to “persecuted” minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh living in India on long-term visas. As approved by the Union Cabinet, the beneficiaries can buy property for self-occupation or use in self-employment. They are allowed free movement within the State of their stay, and can get their long-term visa papers transferred from one State to another. They can now take up self-employment, buy property, open bank accounts and get driving licences, PAN card and Aadhaar.
The Union Cabinet note said that “The Centre has taken several measures in the past two years to alleviate the problems of the persecuted minorities from the neighbouring countries who have been living year for long.”
The commitment of the central government could be seen in the further action in which a bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha with regards to change in citizenship laws which would enable such “persecuted” immigrants to be the citizens of India. Specifically, The Bill proposes to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. PRS India, a policy review think tank in its analysis of this pending bill noted that “The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.” Although, with all the fall outs(if any), the efforts of the union do reflect India’s long standing commitment towards safeguarding the weak and protecting the persecuted.
Coming to the current issue, the Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots there that go back centuries, with communities marginalized and occasionally subjected to communal violence.
As reported by the Hindustan Times on August 13, 2017, the Union home ministry said the rise of terrorism in last few decades has become a serious concern for most nations as illegal migrants are more vulnerable to getting recruited by terrorist organisations. “These illegal immigrants not only infringe on the rights of Indian citizens but also pose grave security challenges,” the communication, sent last week, said. The Centre has said illegal immigrants ‘like Rohingyas’ pose grave security challenges as they may be recruited by terror groups, and asked state governments to identify and deport them.
The same news article reported that The UNHCR’s India office said that the principle of “non-refoulement” – or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger – was considered part of customary international law and binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not.
“As far as we are concerned they are all illegal immigrants They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is illegal migrant will be deported.” said Rijiju, a high-profile minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, as reported.
It is said that a man’s character can only be judged at times of crisis, this must be same for nations. While the stand of the Modi regime was humanitarian & commendable in 2015 & 2016, the recent stand seems quite contrary to India’s long standing traditions. While the benefit of doubt should be given to the government and lets assume there must be a strong reason for 180 degrees of change in stance. While a group of illegal immigrants are being rewarded with citizenship, the other is being denied even temporary stay, only untill violence and persecution ends and peace is restored. The ground for such treatment being offered is stated as “Security Threat”. Question is, what is the basis of this two worded, easily pronounced, easy on ears and majestic to mind (as all powerful nations repeatedly use it to wage foreign wars, so why not we!) and very convenient justification? Has some incidence happened in recent past indicating the same? The said ministers have mentioned “intelligence report” supporting the threats, which are the easiest to say and get away with as those need no publication or proving. The question needs clarification, whether the religion of refugees has anything to do with the treatment and (presuppositions and possibly prejudice) we are offering them? The proposed citizenship amendment for the benefit of the refugees expressly identifies them with their religion, which have been expressly named, except Islam and Muslims. Do our legislators firmly believe that Muslims don’t face persecution anywhere or don’t need protection, even after United Nations has called the Rohingya crisis “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”? Why is there even a “Rohingya crisis” and “Rohingya question” and not a severe “human rights crisis”? Is the assumption of security threat has anything to do with actual and reasonable facts or are we simply prejudiced as a nation and society?
The analysis is strictly based upon the reports of following sources:
The Hindustan Times