Syed Ali Mujtaba, Ph.D. – 11/1/2006
In the cacophony of jingoistic nationalism against the Bangladeshi infiltrators many Bengali Hindu refugees that had migrated to India during the 1947 Partition are being targeted for lack proper documentation and face the specter of deportation to the place they had left some sixty years ago.
In 2001, the BJP government in Uttaranchal had denied domicile certificates to the Bengali Hindu refugees settled in the state since early fifties. Some moneylenders turned land mafia even grabbed their land with the help of police and officials. After demonstrations by some social organization, the state government reluctantly started investigation and made some arrests and dismissed few officials.
This was not an isolated incident against the Bengali refugees who were victims of the division of Bengal in 1947. In 2004, twenty-one such persons were deported from Navrangpur district in Orissa. The BJD-BJP combine government also served deportation notices to more than fifteen hundred people in Kendrapara district of the state. A strong protest by the Utkal Bagiya Surakshya Committee forced the Patniak government to keep its order in abeyance.
The same story moves to Maharashtra where recently in Arsha Tehseel of Bhandara district fifty-two Bengali refugees were arrested but later released with a fine and personal bond to submit all documents relating to the citizenship rights. All district collectors in Maharashtra have been instructed to collect the data of the Bengali refugees residing in the state. The collectors in turn have issued a circular that all such persons to submit their citizenship documents within a month, failing which they would be liable for deportation. This has created anxiety among number of Bengali refugees that had settled in Bhandara, Chandrapur and Gadchirauli districts of Maharastra since fifties.
The 1955 Indian Citizens Act clearly states that all those who migrated to India in wake of country’s partition are entitled for citizenship and their children would become natural citizens of the country. This raises the question why such persons have been denied the citizenship rights in the country?
In order to understand this problem one has to look at the pattern of the settlement of the Partition refugees in India. The majority of the refugees that had come from West Pakistan were either Punjabis or Sindhis. Most of them belonged to the Hindu upper caste and were given money and land at low rate and were settled in the big cities of India. They were the one who were the prime beneficiaries of evacuee property left in India by the Muslims migrating to Pakistan. Such people today hold the lions share in the development of the country and are enjoying the benefits of the ‘Shining India’.
On the contrary, the ‘Delhi Durbar’ did not treat the Bengali refugees who had trekked from the East Pakistan so generously. Baring the Bhadarlok or the upper caste Hindus who were all adjusted in West Bengal, the rest was shunted to remote and undeveloped areas of the country. Since such people did not matter in the vote bank politics; no one came to put their names in the register and gave them citizenship rights. Their children who all were born on the Indian soil too were denied any such rights. Most of such people were poor and uneducated and did not hanker for a piece of paper that would testify them to be Indians. Now such persons are being clubbed as Bangladeshi infiltrators and faces specter of deportation from India.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by the Parliament in 2004 has further weakened the case of the Bengali Partition refugees to acquire the citizenship rights. The bill clearly states that under no circumstance the Bengali refugees can get citizenship rights in India and even their children would be treated as illegal migrants.
The Ambedkrites calls this a conspiracy of the upper caste Hindus to punish the followers of the B.R Ambedkar who mostly came from Kholna, Jassor, Barisal, Dhaka and Faridpur region from where Jogendranath Mandal had got Ambedkar elected to the Constituent Assembly. Since these Bengali refugees belonged to the low caste they were deliberately settled in undeveloped locations and the state governments instead of rehabilitating, discriminated them due to the yawning language divide.
Some organizations off late had taken up the issue of discrimination against Bengali Partition refugees and had even organized a three-day national convention in Nagpur in September 2005. They also had raised this issue at some international forums and protested against the new citizenship amendment Bill passed in 2004.
However, the fact of the matter is that the problem is not as simple as identifying the Partition refugees and giving them citizenship rights. The 2004 Citizenship Amendment bill if rigorously implemented is reported to affect an estimated two crore Bengali refugee believed to be living in India. It’s beyond anyone’s comprehension how such large number of people could be pushed across the border and whether Bangladesh would accept them as its citizen.
There is no denying the fact that some concrete measures needs to be taken to address the problem of Bangladeshi infiltration in India. However, there is a need to distinguish between the Bengali Partition refugees and those who have come much later in this country. While the first category remains to be identified and be given the citizenship rights, an accurate demographic study needs to be done for the second category and a humanistic solution should evolved to tackle this problem.
It portends that if this issue is not tackled tactfully there is every reason to believe that India would remain sitting on the powder keg waiting to be ignited by those scheming to capture political power in New Delhi. Countrymen better watch out for the next Ayodhya like movement that seems be built around the Bangladeshi infiltrators in this country.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at [email protected]