Government set to grant citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus


bangladesh_indiaThe NDA government is expected to submit a policy document to the Supreme Court regarding granting citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh. The document, being formulated by the Home Ministry, will decide the fate of thousands of Bangladeshi Hindus living in 19 States.

The Centre is expected to submit the document in response to a case filed in 2012 by two NGOs, Swajan and Bimalangshu Roy Foundation, which pleaded that Hindus and persons of other minorities from Bangladesh migrating to India to escape religious persecution must not be bracketed with illegal migrants and sent back.

According to sources, the Home Ministry has had to consider several variables while formulating its response that will decide the fate of thousands of Bangladeshi Hindus living in 19 States. Because the period in question is since 1971, the first variable is the number of Hindu migrants that the case will cover. Second, it has to fix timeframes — in order to argue that Hindus were persecuted in Bangladesh before coming to India; the Ministry has to cite specific events that took place in Bangladesh. This could complicate bilateral ties if the events mentioned happened to have occurred when the current ruling party in Bangladesh was in power.

The petitions demanded grant of refugee status to these persons, which could later be converted to citizenship. It was made clear that the focus of the case was on Assam where animosity towards refugees from Bangladesh is a strong political issue.

However, in July 2013, the Supreme Court made the case into a national issue — the Bench hearing the case made 18 States a party to it, observing that the problem of religious minorities coming from Bangladesh to India was not confined to Assam alone. The UPA government was careful to go slow on the case since it involved the question of granting rights on the basis of religion. The files show that since 2012, the government had not filed any official response to the petition and had not even sent a lawyer to attend the hearings.

Since the NDA came to power in May last year, it has proactively followed the case and, in the words of one of the lawyers involved, made emphatic assurances that it would resolve the matter.