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Govt Eases Citizenship for Minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan & Bangladesh

New Delhi: The Centre has issued a gazette notification lowering citizenship registration fees for minority communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 100.

This comes at a time when the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which plans to give citizenship to all ‘illegal migrants’ from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan barring only Muslims; is drawing huge criticism for being ‘unconstitutional’.

This drastic reduction in the fees specifically for minorities has been made via an amendment to the Citizenship Rules of 2009. The minorities will include Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.

Pradeep Bhattacharyya, a Congress Leader and a member of the Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Committee discussing the bill, said that the move to remove ‘Muslims’ from the ambit of the bill was a later ‘planned move’ of the government.

“When I was the Chairman of the Home Standing Committee in 2015, this issue had cropped up before us in the face of the large influx of migrants in the border areas of Assam, Rajasthan and other areas. It was decided that something needs to be done to address this growing problem,” he said.

According to international media, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar are one of the most persecuted sections of population in the world. Though Rohingyas often travel from Myanmar to Bangladesh, they end up taking refuge in Assam, Delhi, Jaipur or other Indian states and stay with bare-minimum facilities at refugee camps.

Mohammed Salim, a CPI (M) leader from West Bengal and a member of the Lok Sabha parliamentary committee discussing this bill said that it has opened a ‘Pandora’s box of problems’.

“Some of the people in the committee have questioned that the people who come to India with valid visa & passport from these countries often overstay but have these people ever approached their embassies or the central government complaining about the religious persecution they are facing? The answer is a ‘No’,” he said.

While the government deliberates on whether to grant Brahumdagh Bugti asylum and as Baloch Nationalist leader Naela Qadri Baloch hopes for a Baloch government in exile, this new Citizenship bill raises questions of ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘uncertainty’, Salim said.

“I had raised this point at a committee meeting that in the face of this bill, how the government is pushing for the Balochi freedom? Doesn’t a bill like this defeat the entire purpose of such a foreign policy move?” he said.

However, BJP MLA from Rajasthan, Surendra Pareek, who had last year opposed the move to rehabilitate Bangladeshi migrants from Jaipur, now doesn’t seem to mind the position taken by the new bill.

“I think this is an absolutely correct move. Look at Pakistan and how they treat the Pakistanis with respect but that is not the case with the minorities. Hence similar move should be in India as well. I do not agree that this violates the constitution in any way (sic),” Pareek said.

Bhattacharyya says that this tussle between the aggrieved people and the government could be resolved by targeting the persecuted population and not only the ‘religiously persecuted’.

“I had intimated the chairman of the committee that instead of ‘religious persecution’ it should be persecution in general. This discrimination would be completely violative of the constitution and would create a lot of problems for the Muslims who fearing the growing problem of terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan take refuge near Rajasthan and other areas,” he said.