Indian Groups Protest Bill to Grant Citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus
By Maaz Hussain November 19, 2016
As religious violence targeting Hindus continues in Bangladesh, many Bangladeshi Hindus said they feel increasingly unsafe in the Muslim-majority nation, and they are planning to move to Hindu-majority India.
Several Indian ethnic groups in the Indian border state of Assam, however, said they would not allow Bangladeshis to settle in the area, which has for decades been a destination for migrants and refugees from Bangladesh.
"The attack on the Hindus is still continuing in Bangladesh. In fact it has peaked in recent weeks," Shipan Kumer Basu, president of Bangladesh's Hindu Struggle Committee told VOA this week.
"Many of them want to leave Bangladesh. And, neighboring Hindu-majority India is the only safe destination where they (feel they) can escape (to)," Basu said.
Manjit Mahanta, an Assamese indigenous movement leader, cited the 1985 Assam Accord, which views anyone entering the Assam region from Bangladesh as illegal.
Mahanta said Bangladeshi Hindus would not be allowed to be "dumped" in Assam to "destroy" it.
"Following the independence of India, Assam took the burden of hundreds of thousands of Hindu and Muslim refugees who landed here until March 24, 1971," Mahanta, a Hindu leader of Asom Songrami Mancha, an indigenous political group, told VOA. "But the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who came over or are still arriving after that period until 1971 will not be allowed to settle here."
Violence against Hindus
In Bangladesh, where Muslims make up more than 90 percent of the country's 160 million people, Hindus have long alleged they have been victims of religious persecution. Beginning last year, anti-Hindu violence has been on the rise in the country.
Hindu community leaders in Bangladesh said 32 Hindus have been killed this year and allege more than 550 Hindu temples or prayer places have been vandalized in religiously targeted attacks.
Most recently, some Islamic groups organized anti-Hindu protests in Bangladesh's Brahmanbaria district after a local Hindu youth allegedly posted on Facebook an altered image of the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, a Muslim holy site.
Muslims in the groups demanded a public hanging of the youth, then vandalized 17 Hindu temples, ransacked more than 100 Hindu households and wounded more than two dozen Hindus.
Since Wednesday, protesters in Brahmanbaria have set on fire two Hindu households and vandalized several Hindu idols.
Bangladesh Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said security agencies were investigating the attacks in Brahmanbaria and expected arrests to be made soon.
Hindus in the area, however, said they are still scared.
"The attacks have peaked since last month with the hooligans regularly setting fire on Hindu households and vandalizing the Hindu temples and idols," Nehar Sarkar, a Hindu resident of Brahmanbaria, told VOA.
"Attacks are taking place while police and paramilitary forces are deployed in the area. The government has clearly failed to halt the attacks on us," Sarkar said.
India's Citizenship Act, passed in 1955, defines as an illegal immigrant any foreigner who enters the country without valid travel documents or one who stays beyond the permitted time.
A proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act, which is currently under consideration by a committee in India's parliament, will make Hindus and other religious minority immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh eligible for Indian citizenship.
Indian Hindu groups that support Bangladesh's minority Hindus have welcomed the amendment proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
Bimal Mazumder, president of India-based Bangladesh Udbastu Unnayan Sansad, which supports Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants in India, said the Bangladeshi Hindus fear for their lives and are desperate to flee that country. He told VOA that after the recent incidents in Brahmanbaria, they "are more terrified in Bangladesh and ... seeking to flee Bangladesh."
Despite support from some groups for the Bangladeshi Hindus, anti-immigrant groups in Assam say they will continue their fight against illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
More than two dozen Assamese ethnic groups started a statewide protest in Assam against steps to amend India's Citizenship Act.
Indigenous group leader Dilip Bora, president of an Assamese literary body Asamiya Sahitya Sammiloni, said that although Bangladeshi Hindus may be facing persecution in Assam, illegal immigration shouldn't be allowed.
The Indian government's step to amend the Citizenship Act is biased against Muslims because it aims to keep the Muslims out of its ambit, Bora, a Gauhati University professor, said.
"In a country like India which follows a secular Constitution we cannot follow a policy welcoming the Hindu immigrants and placing a bar on Muslim immigrants. It's a totally communal policy and we stand against it," he told VOA.
Assam-based local Muslim community leader Hafiz Ahmed said that BJP-led governments in India want to work only in the interest of the Hindus.
The government "does not want to pay attention to the problems of other religious communities, like Muslim and Christian," Ahmed, who is the convener in Assam of All India Secular Forum, told VOA.
"Now, when the bill to help the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants get Indian citizenship finally becomes amended, the religious harmony in the Assamese society will be disturbed," Ahmed said. "I also fear that it could also lead to religious riots between Hindus and Muslims."
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