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