'Double-edged' Citizenship Amendment Bill will turn Bangladesh into Pakistan, say country's prominent Hindus
Prominent Bangladeshi Hindus have criticised the NDA government’s determined bid to push through Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, stating that the move may pave the way for Bangladesh to become an Islamic theocratic state like Pakistan
Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, undermines the generations-old struggle of minorities in Bangladesh to establish their fundamental rights in the country
If passed, the Bill legal could be used an excuse by a section of people to drive out the religious minorities from Bangladesh to India
The Bill will also put Bangladesh’s democracy in danger and may turn the country into a theocratic state like Pakistan or some other West Asian countries
NDA, however, has justified the Bill stating religious minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are being persecuted by dominant Muslim community
Prominent Bangladeshi Hindus have criticised the BJP-led Indian government’s determined bid to push through the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, fearing the move may pave the way for Bangladesh to become an Islamic theocratic state like Pakistan and some of the West Asian countries. Their criticism of the Bill echoes the anger being felt across the North East in India.
Debapriya Bhattacharya, a leading development economist in Bangladesh, says, "This legislative action will have negative implications for our religious minorities. If one of the motivations of the amendment is to give legal protection to the minorities of the neighbouring countries, this may end up doing exactly the opposite. In fact, it will further weaken the position of the religious minorities in their respective countries."
Bhattacharya, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to World Trade Organisation and United Nation offices in Geneva and Vienna, compares the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, to a double-edged sword: “The religious minorities, in general, and the Hindus, in particular, have been struggling for generations to establish their core fundamental rights in Bangladesh. The legal measure will undercut their resolve to fight the prevailing discrimination and dilute their long-term stake in the country's future. Besides, this legal measure will be used as an excuse by a section of people with vested interests to drive out the religious minorities from Bangladesh to India."
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, seeks to grant Indian citizenship by naturalisation to people of six religions — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan provided they have been residing in India for at least 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship and for six of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period.
The government justifies the move on grounds that these people are being persecuted by the dominant Muslim community in the three South Asian countries.
Presently, there is no fool-proof mechanism to determine the antecedents of illegal immigrants and the place and duration of their stay in India. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the India-Bangladesh border across Assam is largely porous.
Moreover, these people have been offered immunity from being imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 — the two main laws under which foreigners are declared illegal, if they were present in India on or before 31 December, 2014.
Echoing similar views, Rana Dasgupta, general secretary, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, a leading platform for minority communities in Bangladesh, says, “If this Bill be passed in the Indian Parliament, then Bangladesh’s communal and fundamentalist forces will be more inspired to drive away the minorities with a view to grab their land and properties, even without any compensation. The Bill will also put Bangladesh’s democracy in danger and may turn the country into a theocratic state like Pakistan or some other West Asian countries."
Consider the gradual erosion of minority population in then-East Pakistan, or modern-day Bangladesh, since the Partition. In 1947, the minority population in then-East Pakistan was about 30 percent. In 1970, the figure came down to about 20 percent. And, in 2011, according to Bangladesh Population Statistical Bureau, the percentage of minorities — Hindus, Buddhists and Christians — has come down to about 10 percent.
“The Bureau stated a year ago that the Hindu population has increased by about 2 percent over the last 5 years. Going by that figure, the minority population (in Bangladesh) is about 11.7 percent,” says Dasgupta.
Pankaj Bhattacharya, president of the Oikya National Awami Party (Oikya NAP) and a leading pro-minority rights champion in Bangladesh, says, "The Bill passed in the Lok Sabha smacks of discriminatory and divisive politics, which goes against India’s secular fabric. The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, could have a serious negative impact on Bangladesh. It also carries the risk of provoking persecution against the minorities in Bangladesh by the Muslim majority community. The Bill could trigger negative reactions among Indian Muslims as well. And, that the Bill has sparked off widespread protests in Assam is emblematic of this apprehension.
"We cannot also ignore the fact that even after 48 years of Bangladesh’s independence the political narrative continues to get caught in a tug-of-war between whether to follow the ideals of an Islamic Pakistan or to create a secular liberal republic. Bangladesh’s liberal, progressive and secular sections of the society and the media, along with the Hindus, Buddhists and Christians, have managed to keep the fight alive despite Pakistan’s repeated attempts to Islamise the country,” he adds
A 1971 Liberation War veteran, Pankaj, however, sounds optimistic: “Eventually, humanity and equality will triumph. The democratic forces will have to rally around each other to ensure that religious fundamentalism is not used as a tool to influence voters for the sole motive of capturing power. One hopes India’s secular public won’t let this Bill become a law."
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