Citizen Amendment Act

Ruining internal and external relations


December 15, 2019

/ By / Mumbai

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Protests in Assam

Protests in Assam

With nearly half of India burning after the Citizen Amendment Bill was passed, what will be its impact on the ties between its two friendly neighbours –Bangladesh and Afghanistan?

The Citizen Amendment Bill (CAB) that was introduced on December 9 in the Lok Sabha has faced protests ever since. Thousands of people gathered on the streets against what they call is a move that violates the constitutional provisions of India and its commitment to secularism. On December 11 when the bill was finally made into an Act by Parliament, Assam and parts of the Northeast were literally burning. Curfew was imposed, army was called in and internet services suspended. The protests have now taken over the whole of India and the most affected region by it is eastern India and the national capital.

Protesters burned five trains, three railway stations and tracks, and at least 25 buses on December 14 in West Bengal during the agitation against the amended Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), while an oil tanker driver was killed in Assam’s Sonitpur district. The Act has not only created a divide within the country but has nearly soured India’s relations with its two friendly neighbours- Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

As soon as the bill was passed Bangladesh’s foreign minister A K Abdul Momen and home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal cancelled their scheduled official visits to India. Bangladesh’s foreign minister was to be in New Delhi from December 12-14 to attend the 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue and the 11th Delhi Dialogue scheduled to begin on December 13, while the home minister was to be in India from December 13-15 and was scheduled to travel to Meghalaya and Shillong to attend an event on the War of Liberation of 1971.

“What they are saying in regards to torture on Hindus is unwarranted as well as untrue. There are very few countries in the world where communal harmony is as good as in Bangladesh. We have no minorities. We are all equal. If he [Amit Shah] stayed in Bangladesh for a few months, he would see the exemplary communal harmony in our country,” Momen told a national daily of Bangladesh.

“India has many problems of its own and as a friendly country we hope that India will not do something that affects our friendly relationship,” remarked Momen.

The Sheikh Hasina government is unhappy with the mention of Bangladesh, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, by home minister Amit Shah in Rajya Sabha, while saying that CAA was necessary because of the atrocities committed on minorities, especially Hindus, in the three Islamic states.

During the debate on CAB in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Shah had accused Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh of persecuting minority communities, especially Hindus, Sikh, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis. He even tried to balance his statement against Bangladesh by praising Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her father for treating minorities well and blaming Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leadership for atrocities.

As per reports Hinduism is the second largest religious affiliation in Bangladesh, with around 14 million people identifying themselves as Hindus. After India and Nepal, Bangladesh has the third-largest Hindu community in the world. In 1951 Hindus formed 22 pc of the population in Bangladesh. However, after the 1971 Liberation war continued to decline and currently they form 8.96 pc of the population, as in the months leading up to the 1971 war a majority of Hindu population quit what was then called East Pakistan and moved to India.

According to Census 2011, around 5.5 million people in India had reported their last residence outside the country which is roughly 0.44 pc of its total population. Of these, 2.3 million (42 pc) came from Bangladesh and 0.7 million (12.7 pc) from Pakistan. The number of immigrants from Afghanistan was low at 6,596. The major immigrant flows have been recorded during and after Partition and the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

Sources in Bangladesh administration said the move by India to bring the CAA will have serious consequences. Some have predicted that it might lead to harassment of minorities in order to grab their property, while others say that this might lead to a mass migration of Muslims towards Bangladesh.

Former foreign secretary of India Lalit Mansingh has said that, “In the present situation, it is not so much as to how Bangladesh is reacting to the Bill but to remarks during the passage of the Bill. That I think has somehow affected the sentiments of Bangladeshis.”

Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, told an Indian media, “Do not club us with Pakistan and Afghanistan who are known for fundamentalism and terrorism. Sheikh Hasina, our prime minister, has always said that our soil will not be allowed to be used against India.”

Commenting on whether the move goes against the “secular” credentials of India, Chowdhury said, “I will not comment in any way on the judgement of those who have made the law. But here is a concern not only in India but outside also that India is known for its secular image and has stood for it. When you exclude a certain community in the name of religion then it goes against your own secular credentials and your constitution that stands for equality of all religious beliefs.”

It was on December 16, 1971 when Indian military forced Pakistan Army to surrender after 13 days of war, thus liberating Bangladesh from Pakistan. Bangladesh celebrates it as Victory Day whereas India celebrates this day as Vijay Diwas.

Relations with Afghanistan

Ever since its independence Afghanistan has been India’s friendliest neighbour and both the countries have actively worked towards further improving trade as well as cultural ties between them.  However, with the CAA even Afghanistan raised objection to Shah’s comment of reported religious/racial persecution of minorities in Afghanistan.

The Afghan envoy Tahir Qadiry in an interview with an Indian media said, “In the last few years, since the fall of the Taliban Afghan people and government, especially this government, has been respecting the minorities, like the Sikh community, our great brothers and sisters as we have in Afghanistan”.

“We have huge respect for them, we have seats for them in parliament, seats in the lower house as well, we also have their representative at the presidential palace,” he added.

If India’s ruling party continues with its unruly remarks about its neighbours, then the friendly neighbours will be left with no choice but to protect their political culture and national honour at the cost of their relations with India.

However, in an effort to show their support the Afghani government has launched a scheme where no visas will be required by Afghan origin Hindus and Sikhs who are living in India to travel to Afghanistan  as the country has granted long term permits and national identification cards even if the citizens have taken Indian passports.

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