Citizenship Bill ray of hope for Afghan Hindu, Sikh refugees : The Tribune India

Citizenship Bill ray of hope for Afghan Hindu, Sikh refugees

NEW DELHI: After losing two of her sons in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan, Jaswant Kaur had to flee the country 10 years ago with her family. But little did she know that her struggle for a life of dignity would begin in her “natural homeland”, India.



New Delhi, January 6

After losing two of her sons in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan, Jaswant Kaur had to flee the country 10 years ago with her family. But little did she know that her struggle for a life of dignity would begin in her “natural homeland”, India.

Kaur, her grandchildren and daughters-in-law are among the thousands of Hindus and Sikhs who escaped persecution in Afghanistan to find safety in India, but are now left running pillar to post for citizenship. The process to get citizenship is long with a wait of about 12 years or more. Rife with red-tapism and complicated procedures, one has to run office to office to complete requirements.

The challenge is bigger for Kaur, in her early sixties, as her family is an all-women household. Her third son was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Jalalabad in which prominent members of the Hindu-Sikh community in Afghanistan also died in July last year. “Compare this to the situation in Europe and western countries where Afghan refugees get residency in five years,” said Manohar Singh, Delhi president of Khalsa Diwan Society.

Kaur lives in India on a visa which is to be renewed after a couple of years. Recently, the government introduced a long-term visa but made the procedure even more complicated. The procedure now requires refugees to get guarantee of two Indian citizens who will be responsible if an applicant is caught in a crime or violation of regulations, Singh said.

Unlike in the US and several European countries where children born get local passports, Afghan refugees have to get Afghan passports for their children even if they are born in India, Singh said.

Extremists have stopped minority communities from trading and employment unless they convert to Islam. Looting is rampant and women can move only in burkas, he alleged. Children face verbal assaults and attacks in schools, thus many left education in between, he claimed.

However, for Kaur all may not be lost. She may have a glimmer of hope with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to ease the citizenship process for people from minority communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who are coming to India in the wake of discrimination faced by them.

Following the Jalababad attack, the wife of Jaswant Kaur’s third son, Thirpal Kaur, also joined her mother-in-law in West Delhi with her four children four months back. A Joint Parliamentary Committee will submit its report on Monday in which it is likely to recommend introduction of the Bill. The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant Indian nationality to people belonging to minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12, even if they don’t possess any proper document.

The Congress, TMC, CPI(M) and a few other parties are steadfastly opposing the Bill claiming citizenship cannot be given on basis of religion.

After the report is submitted in the Lok Sabha on January 7, it is to be seen whether the Bill could get through during the winter session of Parliament, which comes to an end on January 8, sources said. Various members from Opposition parties are asserting that citizenship is a constitutional provision and cannot be based on religion, as India is secular.

An Opposition MP said if the Bill in its present form comes into effect, it will nullify the Assam Accord under which anyone entering the state illegally after March 1971 should be declared a foreigner and deported.

A large section of people and organisations in the Northeast have opposed the Bill, saying it will nullify provisions of the 1985 Assam Accord, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of illegal immigrants irrespective of religion. — PTI

Major drop in population

  • From a population of 2.20 lakh in Afghanistan, number of Hindus and Sikhs has now come down to 5,000, according to estimates of India security agencies
  • About 25,000 Sikhs and Hindus managed to escape the violence during 1992 civil war with the help of then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh 
  • But only estimated 35 per cent of the refugees have been able to get citizenship  
  • Despite being well qualified, the refugees are not able to find jobs because of their Afghan passports

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