Indian government’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which led to massive protests last year, is haunting it once again after the mass exodus of people from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover.
Its contentious religious clause of granting citizenship only to non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh is coming in the way of accepting Muslim friends, who over the years were seen as “Indian assets” in the war-torn country.
While almost 92 countries have opened their doors to Afghan asylum seekers, India has limited its rescue mission so far on communal and religious lines. Although India is a secular and democratic republic, it has chosen to rescue and give refuge to only Hindus and Sikhs.
“India has even betrayed the Muslims and the Pashtuns who have helped run its various establishments in Afghanistan for many years,” Ravi Nair, Director South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) told The Friday Times.
Nair also said that even the support staff at the embassy and the consulate in other cities have been abandoned. The staff that had helped India run its establishments in Afghanistan has been left to fend for themselves. Only a handful of people, who have held India’s closely guarded secrets have been rescued.
Successive Afghan governments have largely sided with India against their neighboring Muslim nation Pakistan, even before Independence in 1947. During the days of the freedom struggle, Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, a social reformer and a freedom fighter from Uttar Pradesh, was given refuge by the then Afghan government. He was even allowed to form the first provisional government of India in Kabul in 1915. He was provided support and a conducive environment by the then Afghan establishment.
Freedom icon Subhash Chandra Bose during his great escape from Calcutta in 1941 took shelter in Afghanistan before reaching Moscow and then to Germany. Despite pressures from the British government in India, the then ruler of Afghanistan Zahir Shah looked the other way and gave temporary asylum and passage to Bose.
India on its part has so far failed to reciprocate this generosity, extended by former Afghan rulers to Indians. Experts blame India for lacking a vision, its flawed citizenship act and lack of a refugee policy for the mess that it has created as it left Afghanistan.
Even European countries, which have had a hostile relationship with the Taliban, continued to run their embassies in Afghanistan to help Afghan people. On the contrary, India shut down its offices, leaving behind several thousand people stranded – those who had helped them in the country.
It is said that the basic rule of Pashtunwali is being a good host and the Pashtuns live by these principles. They have acted as good hosts to India.
Even European countries, which have had a hostile relationship with the Taliban, continued to run their embassies in Afghanistan to help Afghan people
On the contrary, India in the current times has betrayed them and has failed to realize that the Sikhs and Hindus who have been rescued are also Pashtun. And that this good host can also be good at settling its scores.
Back home in New Delhi, thousands of Afghans are seeking refuge and citizenship. But their future looks bleak in the absence of any refugee policy.
The CAA was amended to provide citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The act says that all immigrants who have reached India by December 2014, shall be given Indian citizenship.
Now the government has dropped hints to extend the 2014 deadline to accommodate non-Muslim immigrants who have recently arrived. No formal decision has been taken so far, but it looks obvious that new entrants will be granted citizenship in case they choose to stay in the country.
Despite protests against both inside and outside the Parliament for ignoring the Muslim community, the government argued that Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are all Muslim dominated countries where the non-Muslims faced persecution.
At a time when India wants to project itself as a global guiding power, the biases that it showed in hosting hapless Afghan refugees do not give it any standing in the world. Nair also believed that New Delhi’s pick and choose non-inclusive policy stands on its way from becoming a compassionate power.
UNHRC Against India’s Discriminatory Policy
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had also called this policy discriminatory. Against the population of 1.3 million people, India has less than 300,000 refugees. At a time of this global crisis, the need is to look at the CAA and have a domestic refugee law.
“CAA should be freed from selective religious persecution, selective countries. It should be holistic and accommodating,” said Fazal Abdali, Director of Human Rights Law Network.
Abdali also added that more than amending the CAA, what India needs is a proper refugee policy. There are refugees from countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal who have been living in India for years but have not been granted citizenship, because India lacks the basic framework of hosting, absorbing and adopting the refugees. The absence of identity has often left refugees in India in limbo, who often end up living in poverty or spending years in jail because of a lack of proper documentation.
The crisis in Afghanistan should be an eye-opener for India. It has made the world realize that a refugee is a refugee and is not to be taken in or left out because of the religion he follows or the language he speaks. The loss of a homeland is the same for one and all.
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi.