As the Citizenship Amendment bill (CAB) which promises to provide citizenship to persecuted minorities from the neigbourhood; was being introduced and debated in the Indian Parliament, Pakistan spoke against the move. A country that has cleansed it minorities and whose minority population figure stands at dismissal 3.5 compared to 23.5 per cent, during the partition, does not have the qualification to speak on the matter.
Notwithstanding the Nehru-Liaquat Ali Pact that promised protection of minorities in each other’s country, there is a steady reduction of minorities in India’s immediate neighbourhood and many religious minorities have fled to India. In Bangladesh, the minority population that stood at 21.3 in 1971, is now reduced to a mere 8.5 per cent. The religious minorities are often subject to discrimination and their property is grabbed after categorizing them as ‘vested’ properties. It needs to be noted that in India, the minority population that stood at 9.8% post partition, has steadily grown. This reflects the relative treatment of minorities in India and the countries in its immediate neighbourhood.
After partition, various legislations were passed in Pakistan to disenfranchise the minority population. Separate electorate system was introduced so as to segregate and reduce political salience of minorities in electoral politics. The State institutionalized discrimination against the minorities and barred them from contesting for the post of President and Prime Minister of Pakistan. In October this year, the Pakistan National Assembly blocked a bill brought by a minority Christian Member of Parliament belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party seeking to correct the constitutional wrong by a voice vote.
Apart from Hindu, Christian and Sikh minorities; the second amendment to the Pakistani Constitution declared the Ahmediyas as non-Muslims. Since 1984, after a separate electorate system was introduced, the Ahmediyas who are termed as one of the most persecuted minorities, were required to vote as non-Muslims. As a result, the community has boycotted the polls. Interestingly, in the judgment in Allah Wasaya versus Federation of Pakistan (Writ Petition 3862 of 2017), a Judge of the Islamabad High Court suggested the need for Ahmadiyas to add ‘Qadiani’, or ‘Mirza’ to their name to distinguish themselves as Ahmadiyas. All these minority communities are often accused of blasphemy and are dealt under Pakistan’s severe blasphemy law that mostly leads to the death sentence.
Blasphemy is often used as a weapon to browbeat the minorities and settle scores with them even in ordinary disputes. There are forced conversion of religious and other minorities in Pakistan.
The Shias, who are Muslims but of a different sect, are discriminated upon and attempts are being made by religious fanatics in Pakistan to declare them as non-Muslims. Extremist organisations have demanded that Pakistan be declared a “Sunni Islamic State” and the Shias should be banished from Pakistan.
Not just the religious minorities, Pakistan’s treatment of its own nationals be it the Bengalis of erstwhile East Pakistan or the Baluchis and Mohajirs speaks volumes about the nature of the State that has institutionalized discrimination. It even refused to accept the ‘Biharis’ living in UNHRC camps in Bangladesh since 1971 who want to be repatriated to Pakistan.
It is therefore, surprising that a country, which has a dismal record in treating its minorities is speaking on India’s decision to provide non-Muslim refugees who have fled to India, with Indian citizenship. Earlier, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan orchestrated a vitriolic campaign as the National Register of Citizens (NRC), conducted at the direction of Supreme Court of India identified 19 lakh people who could not provide documents to prove their Indian identity. However, these people have the right to appeal against their non-inclusion.
Since 1947, there is a steady inflow of minorities living in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh into India. These poor refugees have fled their countries as they are not secure. They also face exploitation by anti-social elements in the country of their birth.
The proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill is designed to provide these religious minority refugees a legal basis to stay in India and allow them to access to all facilities as Indian citizens enjoy.
Script: Dr. Smruti S Pattanaik, Strategic Analyst on South Asia