CAA And The Problem Of Immigrants

Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

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The Indian Government has recently notified the Rules under the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA).

The CAA gives fast track citizenship to non Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh who entered India on or before 31.12.2014. Critics of the CAA say that the exclusion of Muslims from those who will get its benefit is discriminatory, and hence violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

They contend that many Muslims also fled from those 3 countries because of persecution e.g. Rohingyas from Bangladesh, many Muslims who were persecuted in Afghanistan by the Taliban, and Ahmadis, who though not regarded Muslims in Pakistan, are regarded as such in India.

The real reason for excluding Muslims is that Muslims do not vote for the BJP, and hence the BJP does not wish to give them citizenship, as that will make them voters.

The problem, however, is that many Bengali Muslims had migrated from Bangladesh (known as East Pakistan before 1971) to Assam many decades ago, some even before 1947, seeking a better life.

Assamese Muslims

The Assam Accord, 1985 provided that those Bengali Muslims who entered Assam after 1971 will be deported to Bangladesh, but it was found impossible to implement this, particularly when Bangladesh said it will not accept these people.

Now the CAA and NRC (National Register of Citizens) makes hundreds of thousands of Bengali Muslims living in Assam for decades with their families stateless. They had no doubt entered Assam without any papers, and without following any legal process, but that was 50-60 years ago, or even longer.

Now by hard work they have built a small house and a small business in Assam. They have children and grandchildren who were born in Assam, and have never been to Bangladesh, and know no one there. As stated before, Bangladesh has declared it will not accept them.

So should they be thrown into the sea?

I submit it is a humanitarian problem, not just a legal one.

A similar problem has arisen in Pakistan.

About 2 million Afghans entered Pakistan as refugees after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and have been living in Pakistan for 40-45 years. They are now being evicted on the pretext that they are terrorists

Afghan migrants gather at the Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan in November 2023. Pic Courtesy: Hussain Ali/Anadolu/Getty Images

These Afghans no doubt came into Pakistan without following the legal process, but when bombs are falling near one’s head one will fly for his life, and will hardly bother to follow the legal process.

Now these Afghans have by hard work built a small home and a small business in Pakistan. They have children and grandchildren, who may never have seen Afghanistan. What will they do there?

I submit that humanitarian considerations demand that such Bengali Muslims who had entered Assam decades ago, and Afghans who have been living in Pakistan for long, should be granted citizenship by India and Pakistan respectively.

These countries should follow the example of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 passed by the US Congress which gave citizenship to Mexicans who entered USA without documentation before 1st January 1984. punjab

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Assam and West Bengal: BJP’s contradictory stand on CAA in two neighbouring states

ਉੱਲੂ ਨੇਤਾ ਅਤੇ ਭੇਡਮਈ ਵੋਟਰ

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Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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