Some of the major mass organisations spearheading movements against the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC or NRC), National Population Register (NPR) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA 2019), in West Bengal, are disseminating sheer lies to misguide Bengali-speaking refugees. The lies peddled by these organisations and their social media celebrity leaders are going to throw most of the vulnerable refugees under the bus when the NRC is executed. Their propaganda will also politically benefit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the party can carry out misleading propaganda to polarise the non-Muslim refugees under its aegis.
The Joint Forum Against NRC (JFANRC) had issued a leaflet in February where the organisation stated: “…the Modi government has passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, in the Parliament, which has granted refugee status only to those from Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have illegally entered from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Those who came to Indian within 31st December 2014, only for them the opportunity is open to apply for citizenship after staying in India for six years. The followers of Islam are deliberately kept away.”
This misleading text was published by the JFANRC in an anti-NPR leaflet that they have distributed in February 2020. It was also recirculated through the writings of other prominent JFANRC members on social media and through their statements in local television channels. This sheer lie has created an illusion regarding the CAA 2019 among the refugees living in West Bengal, who, due to the “illegal migrant” status they have been subject to under the CAA 2003, will consider the official “refugee” status as a blessing, a promotion of status. Such misguiding assertions will drive them towards the BJP, which is promising them Indian citizenship by dangling the bait of CAA 2019.
Does the CAA 2019 promise to end “illegal migrant” status for all non-Muslim refugees?
The answer to the above question is no. The CAA 2019 isn’t promising any official “refugee” status to all non-Muslims who migrated to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Rather, the two-page-long amendment, amended clause (b), sub-section (1) of section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, with the following:
“Provided that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act;”.
The condition laid by this amendment, namely only those “who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946”, doesn’t automatically make every non-Muslim migrant a “refugee” or free them from the “illegal migrant status”.
If we read the CAA 2019 with the relevant amendments made to the Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950, by the Modi regime in 2015 and 2016 respectively, we will see what it means.
The 2015 amendment to the Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950, exempted those who have fled from their countries due to religious persecution, which itself is an ambiguous term, with no clear definition. The initial exemption was only for non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
“(ha) persons belonging to minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution and entered into India on or before the 31st December, 2014-
- (i) without valid documents including passport or other travel documents; or
- (ii) with valid documents including passport or other travel document and the validity of any of such documents has expired:
Provided that provision of this clause shall take effect from the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette.”
The 2016 amendment to the Foreigners Act, 1946, entered Afghanistan as well into the Rules.
Now if we see what the Intelligence Bureau (IB), representing the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which later became the CAA 2019 after excluding the Sixth Schedule areas of ‘Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura and the area covered under “The Inner Line” notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.’ from its scope, we will find that this exemption given to those refugees fleeing religious persecution in their home countries, who have registered with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) upon arrival to India. These people, mostly refugees from Pakistan, who couldn’t have entered without a valid passport, visa and tickets, were provided long-term visas.
The JPC Report’s 2.17 and 2.18 clarifies who will qualify for Indian citizenship through the “refugee” status, and it’s not any non-Muslim refugee from these three countries. Points 2.24, 2.25 and 2.26 of this report shows that the amendment will not provide citizenship automatically but will exempt those who are registered with the FRRO from the “illegal migrant” status and allow them naturalisation after a stay of five years.
In point 2.26 of the report, distinguishing between the legal and illegal migrant, the MHA responded, “Those who enter into India on valid travel documents and are registered with FRRO/FRO and possess valid residential permit/visa have a legal right to stay in India and are termed as legal, otherwise they are illegal immigrants.”
This is clear that the JFANRC statement that all non-Muslim “refugees”––not just those the government consider as refugees due to registration with FRRO––is a misrepresentation of facts and may lead the vulnerable non-Muslim refugees to apply for citizenship by trusting the BJP, which will eventually help the Modi regime to mark them as “foreigners” or “doubtful voters” during the NPR exercise. Moreover, such people will continue to flock the BJP, chasing the mirage of citizenship from the party and end up acting as the pawn of Hindutva fascism.
Did CAA 2019 allow naturalisation to all non-Muslim refugees after five years of stay?
No, irrespective of the claim by the JFANRC, it’s evident from the JPC Report that only those migrants registered with the Government of India and are exempted from the Foreigners Act, 1946, and Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, can qualify for section 6 of the CAA 2019, which says:
6. In the Third Schedule to the principal Act, in clause (d), the following proviso shall be inserted, namely:—
‘Provided that for the person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, the aggregate period of residence or service of Government in India as required under this clause shall be read as “not less than five years” in place of “not less than eleven years”.’. (sic)
In the JPC Report, it’s clearly mentioned by the MHA representative that the government already has the data of such migrants who will be eligible for citizenship. For any new pleading to get a reprieve as a non-Muslim migrant from any of these countries, the applicant needs to provide evidence to prove that he/she was a citizen of any of these countries, that he/she has arrived from any of these three countries to India before December 31st 2014, that he/she had to flee his/her home country due to religious persecution, and that he/she has been living in India continuously since then.
In point 2.19 of the JPC Report, the IB representative informed in unambiguous terms that for any new applicant, it will be hard to prove their antecedents now in any of these countries, and in case they provide such data, the external intelligence agency Research & Analytical Wing (R&AW) will verify such evidence. In points 2.21 and 2.22 both IB and the R&AW informed the JPC that the applications will be verified and scrutinised to protect national security.
Thus, when section 6 of the CAA 2019 is misrepresented to hoodwink the refugees, then it will eventually aid the BJP. As millions of Bengali refugees, especially the Bengali Dalits, will believe that the BJP and the Modi regime is providing them with an option to legally live in India, without harassments and apply for citizenship through naturalisation.
This will, again, make them participate in the NPR exercise without any worry and thereby get disenfranchised. The facts regarding the CAA 2019 used as a smokescreen to disrupt the anti-CAA 2003 movements, to lure the refugees to participate in the NPR trap must be exposed and the vulnerable people must be educated about the nitty-gritty of the law. But is the JFANRC doing anything close to this?
It’s clear that the JFANRC’s claim on non-Muslims from these three countries getting refugee status is factually wrong and can have adverse effects on the refugee movement in 17 states of India. With no clear idea about how the refugees, especially those from East Pakistan or Bangladesh, have been living under the perpetual fear of being deported these organisations are causing great harm to their interests by dividing the citizenship issue into communal lines, exactly the way the BJP wants it. This shall pay a rich dividend to the BJP and its paymasters, but destroy the people of West Bengal and other states.