Ci­ti­zen­ship Bill aims to give dig­nity de­nied to Par­ti­tion vic­tims in east

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - All That Matters -

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

this pol­icy of de­nial. In hind­sight, he was right.

Fi­nally, the prob­lem was com­pli­cated by the or­gan­ised in­flux of Mus­lim Bangladesh­is into both As­sam and West Ben­gal for both po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic rea­sons. Con­se­quently, there arose an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion be­tween Hindu ‘refugees’ who had es­caped re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion and ‘in­fil­tra­tors’ who had crossed the bor­der ei­ther in search of liveli­hood or to add to vote banks.

It is in this larger con­text that the panic over a Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Cit­i­zens in West Ben­gal has to be viewed. Decades of ne­glect and po­lit­i­cal in­dif­fer­ence to their plight, not to men­tion the grim strug­gle for sur­vival, has made Ben­gali refugees jumpy and vul­ner­a­ble to fear-mon­ger­ing. Ma­mata Ban­er­jee’s clever but to­tally con­trived cam­paign that Hindu refugees are in im­mi­nent dan­ger of be­ing de­ported to Bangladesh is aimed at un­der­cut­ting the BJP’s grow­ing sup­port in the state. While not based on any real­ity, it preys on the in­for­ma­tion deficit over the NRC ex­er­cise in As­sam and the refugee sense of vul­ner­a­bil­ity. No of­fi­cial agency in West Ben­gal has ever threat­ened the Hindu refugees with ex­clu­sion but nei­ther has there been any­thing sub­stan­tial done to re­move their anx­i­eties.

Un­like the north where the ex­pe­ri­ence of Par­ti­tion and re­set­tle­ment has been the sub­ject of public de­bates, there has been a con­spir­acy of si­lence over the cir­cum­stances that led to lakhs of Ben­gali Hin­dus flee­ing to In­dia. The Ben­gali in­tel­li­gentsia in par­tic­u­lar has been loath to dis­sect the rea­sons, cir­cum­stances and ex­pe­ri­ences of the com­mu­nal di­vide be­tween the two Ben­gals. Nei­ther the Great Cal­cutta Killings and the Noakhali ri­ots nor the sus­tained per­se­cu­tion of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in East Pak­istan and Bangladesh has been deemed worth­while con­ver­sa­tion sub­jects in a ‘sec­u­lar’ en­vi­ron­ment. So much so that even Taslima Nas­reen re­mains per­sona non grata in Kolkata for rais­ing awk­ward is­sues. The mis­er­able plight of refugees in makeshift camps has been ex­plored by Ben­gali film­mak­ers but the rea­sons why these peo­ple be­came refugees have re­mained un­ad­dressed. It is as if one morn­ing in 1947, West Ben­gal and East Pak­istan just hap­pened.

The pro­posed Ci­ti­zen­ship Amend­ment Bill will be the sub­ject of a fierce de­bate in the com­ing days. But the au­to­matic grant of ci­ti­zen­ship to those who fled the post-Par­ti­tion per­se­cu­tion in the east will at least end the lin­ger­ing un­cer­tainty among those who chose In­dia to live their way of life. It will give lakhs of peo­ple the dig­nity and recog­ni­tion de­nied to them for so long.

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