GRANTING CITIZENSHIP TO BANGLADESHI IMMIGRANTS: A CONTROVERSY
The Supreme Court took a serious view of the “cultural and political” conflicts due to presence of “illegal” Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam, and ordered the Centre for taking steps to deport them.
The court also commented that “political expediency” has “taken over” in Assam, where a “mess has been created” as people were granted citizenship even when they did not come within the protection of the Section 6A of the Indian Citizenship Act.
The apex court observed that the illegal settlers could have been given refugee status instead of granting citizenship rights, as the rights of “our citizens” were being violated due to influx of such people.
India shares its longest international border, measuring 4,096.7 km, with its eastern neighbor Bangladesh. Eastern regions of India like West Bengal, Assam, Tripura are the bordering states.
The flow of migrants to India from Bangladesh dates back to 1947 when many fled to Assam and West Bengal from East Pakistan (current Bangladesh) – especially the Hindus –to escape the wrath of the then Pakistani military. This intensified during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. It is estimated that about 10 million people migrated to India. While many returned after the war, a sizeable number stayed behind.
Migrants who crossed over to India on or before 25 March 1971 were conferred “refugee” status and subsequently granted citizenship by the Government of India. Those crossing the border after this, are largely considered illegal migrants with the case of persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh being an exception.
What’s Behind the Story?
Illegal migrants have been defined in Assam Accord as those who infiltrated illegally after 24 December 1971. However, the stream that infiltrated illegally between 1 January 1966 and 24 December 1971 was not to be deported and was to be given Indian citizenship after a lapse of ten years. No doubt, Hindus required special consideration at the time of Partition and had to be treated as refugees, but this cannot be allowed to continue for ever. Post – 1971 Hindu illegal migrants cannot justifiably claim refugee status.
Measures to stem illegal migration can be undertaken without any controversy but any alternation of status-quo in regard to detection and deportation of these migrants will result in strident assertion of conflicting viewpoints. The “secular” parties and the minorities do not see any danger from illegal migration. They believe that most of the so called illegal migrants are Bengali speaking Indian Muslims and this issue has been unnecessarily blown out of proportion. They fear that in the garb of deporting foreigners, Indian Muslims will be harassed. Thus they are for the continuance of IMDT(The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal ) Act in its present form.The act made it difficult to deport illegal immigrants from Assam. It has been alleged to be one of the main reasons of rapid rise of Muslim population and demographic change in Assam.
On the other hand, the majority community of Assam and the political parties dubbed as “communal” by the “secularists” have a diametrically opposite viewpoint. They are gravely concerned about the large influx of illegal migrants and want their ingress stopped. They also want that the highly discriminating IMDT Act be repealed forthwith. There appears to be no meeting ground between these opposing views. Notwithstanding this, it is in our national interest to work out a mutually acceptable solution to this burning problem, which not only affects the people of Assam but the entire Nation.The furore raised over the attempt by Maharashtra Government to deport 34 Bangladeshis from Mumbai in accordance with the due process of law, underscored the sharp divide in the country over this issue.
International law does not provide for unilateral deportation in defiance of the views of the country to which the deportation is to take place. With the stand now taken by Bangladesh, it will not be possible for India to deport millions of illegal migrants to Bangladesh.
IMDT Act was enacted at the height of the anti-foreigner’s movement in Assam. The large scale violence during the movement including the Nellie massacre, had led to understandable apprehension among the minorities of harassment and victimisation. A large number of illegal migrants had been pushed back in previous years.The Supreme Court of India in 2005 scrapped the IMDT (Incidentally this is an act applicable only to Assam while other states are governed by foreigner Act) as ultra-virus. Rejecting Centre’s attempt to reintroduce the Act, the SC observed, “The earlier decision (the scrapping of the IMDT Act) had referred to the relevant materials showing that such uncontrolled immigration into north-eastern states posed a threat to the integrity of the nation. What was therefore called for was strict implementation of the directions… so as to ensure that illegal immigrants are sent out of the country…”
Team Aspirant Forum