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The Visibly Invisible Crisis!

With the Taliban returning to Power in neighbouring Afghanistan, India is facing a migrant problem, yet again! Since the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) have been tackling this problem. Although these three South Asian nations have enacted laws to accommodate refugees, the ongoing Afghan Crisis has changed the scenario, as Afghanistan was not a part of British India.

As expected, many Afghans have started taking shelter in India as refugees because of the religious extremism and intolerance of the Taliban Regime. Head of the Afghan Sikh community has already complained that the Taliban forced them to lower the holy flag at a Gurdwara in Kabul. It is to be noted that Gurdwara is a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs, and people from all faiths are welcomed in Gurdwaras. The local media have reported that other religious minorities are also being persecuted by the Taliban fighters. The main Opposition parties in India have urged the Narendra Modi Government in New Delhi to arrange fast-track citizenship for the Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds. The Government of India, too, has started issuing e-visas to asylum seekers, irrespective of their religious faith.

Afghanistan under Taliban control

Meanwhile, the parties in Opposition have also urged the Government of India to repeal the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), saying that if some asylum seekers want to become Indian citizens and to live in this country permanently, it will not be possible because of the CAA. The Indian Parliament passed the CAA 2019 on December 11, 2019. It purportedly amended the Citizenship Act, 1955 by providing a pathway to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians, and arrived in India before the end of December 2014. However, the law does not grant such eligibility to Muslims from those countries, all of which are Muslim-majority countries. Those, who are exempt from the Foreigners Act or the Passport Act, will also be eligible to apply for citizenship, if they arrive in India in 2014. Most importantly, they must provide evidence that they are being expelled or persecuted on religious grounds. Hence, the Afghans, who have taken shelter in India in 2021, might never be considered for citizenship.

People across India had staged protests against the CAA 2019 before the COVID-19 outbreak, as the Act discriminated people on the basis of religion, particularly for excluding Muslims. With Secularism being one of the main pillars of the Indian Constitution, the CAA 2019 is unconstitutional in nature. The Oppositions have strongly criticised the Government, saying that it wants to turn Muslims into second class citizens in India through this Act. The CAA 2019 has spoken of the possibility of granting Indian citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Persians and other people of neighbouring countries, but has remained silent on Muslims. However, Muslims, too, have a long history of persecution of one group by another. Bloody clashes between Shia, Sunni and Ahmadiyya communities and emigration because of this are nothing new in Muslim nations (especially in South and West Asia). Despite this, the persecuted Ahmadis of neighbouring Pakistan cannot apply for asylum in India.

Afghan refugees arrive in India

Muslims, who arrive in India from Afghanistan out of fear or persecution by the Taliban, face similar problem. If three Afghan refugees, including one Hindu, one Sikh and one Muslim, prove that they have been forced to come to India for religious persecution and seek asylum, then the Hindu and the Sikh can apply for Indian citizenship, but not the Muslim. However, discrimination on the basis of religion is contrary to the norms of the Indian Constitution. A Law, which legitimises this sort of discrimination, should be considered unconstitutional. Hence, nearly 150 cases against the CAA 2019 are awaiting hearing in the Supreme Court of India.

Afghanistan India border

Incidentally, India has no clear Refugee Policy! India signed neither the 1951 UN Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol, arguing that the definition of refugees in the 1951 Convention only pertained to the violation of Civil and Political Rights, but not Economic Rights of individuals. Now, the Government of India needs to repeal the CAA 2019 in order to give some confidence to the Afghan refugees. Cancellation of the time limit for getting citizenship (that asylum seekers would have to arrive in India before the end of December 2014) is also required. While granting Citizenship, India should not only consider religious persecution, but also political instability in neighbouring countries.

Watch: Dr Fuad Halim discussing on ‘A glimpse at the History of Secular Afghanistan’:

Let Hospitality turns into Citizenship over time, and each and every person lives with dignity and enjoys equal rights in India, the Largest Democracy in the World.

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