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Proof of religious persecution will be needed
Kalyan Barooah
 NEW DELHI, Jan 11 - Legal trouble for Bengali Hindu migrants, who have taken shelter in India, may not be over as yet, with the Ministry of Home Affairs recommending that those seeking citizenship will have to first prove that they are victims of religious persecution in the neighbouring country while applying for citizenship.

“For others to apply for Indian citizenship under this category, they will have to prove that they came to India due to religious persecution. If they had not declared so at that time of their arrival in India, it would be difficult for them to make such a claim now,” the Director of the Intelligence Bureau told the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was passed by the Lok Sabha early this week and is now pending passage in the Rajya Sabha. The Union Government has accepted the JPC report.

The JPC report said that when asked to state the fate of other people belonging to minority communities who have come to India from the three countries (Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan) under reference due to religious persecution but have not declared so at the time of their arrival in India, the Intelligence Bureau submitted that any future claim would be enquired into, including through RAW before a decision is taken.

Interestingly, so far only 31,313 people have formally declared that they came to India due to religious persecution. The IB Director deposed: “Yes, because they have claimed, they have applied. There will be many others who might have come and they might have already taken citizenship by various means. They might have obtained passport, ration card. All other documents they might have obtained and they might have already registered themselves in the voters list. So, for all practical purposes, they are already citizens of this country. Tribunals are already there to identify if any of them has obtained it by fraudulent means. The Bill is for those who have applied and who have claimed that they have been persecuted in their respective country.”

The Committee then enquired whether all those who had applied would be granted citizenship once the Bill was passed or further verifications would be carried out. In response, the IB Director submitted: “Sir, as and when the Bill is passed, one thing can be thought of is that all those who have applied, who are here for a number of years, we can make one more verification whether during their stay in India if anything adverse has come to the notice of the security agencies whether it is IB, local police, local intelligence and those who have come for any activities or there is notice of any activities which is prejudicial of the nation, their case can be scrutinised. But that we will examine separately.”

When the Committee desired to hear the views of RAW, its Joint Secretary deposed in evidence: “... our only concern has been that the agencies, which are inimical to us should not have a legal framework within which they can exploit our situation and infiltrate their own people into our own country. That is a matter of great concern for us.”

The Committee enquired whether it was absolutely necessary to confer citizenship on the migrants as conferring political rights had larger implications and whether it would be prudent to accord refugee or temporary resident status to the migrants.

In reply, the MHA submitted as under: “Conferment of citizenship to foreign migrants living in India with valid documents ensures more facilities and power to exercise franchise and feel their responsibilities towards the nation. Since India is not a signatory to the UN Convention, 1951 or its Protocol of 1967, it may not be prudent to treat them as refugees if rules permit that they could be allowed to acquire Indian citizenship.”

On the same issue, the Legislative Department submitted: “The proposed Bill does not directly confer citizenship on these persons, it merely provides these persons the opportunity to be considered for the grant of certificate of naturalisation. It has become necessary to exempt these persons from being treated as ‘illegal migrants’ in order to ensure that they may avail of the opportunity to be considered for naturalisation under Section 6 read with the Third Schedule to the said Act.”

In response to another related query, the MHA apprised as under: “As of now, illegal migrants have not been conferred with Indian Citizenship. However, after enactment of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, it will enable illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to apply for Indian Citizenship under Section 5 (1) (a) (Registration) and 6 (Naturalisation) of the Citizenship Act, 1955. Application is required to be submitted through the District Authorities.”

When asked whether India has ever taken up the issue of Hindu minorities being persecuted in the neighbouring country, the Ministry of External Affairs informed that in case of Bangladesh, the Government has from time to time highlighted the responsibility of the Government of that country to protect the interests and promote welfare of its citizens belonging to the minority community.

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