By Ashis Biswas
KOLKATA: In an unexpected turn of events, a section of Christians living in Pakistan has issued its strong endorsement of the new citizenship legislation introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government in India. The small yet commonly persecuted Pak-based Christian community is hopeful that it may be possible for its members to migrate successfully to India as refugees.
A hypothesis of sorts in support of the novel idea in the context of Pakistan was published recently at some length in one of the few journals run by local Christians.
Kolkata-based analysts find the write-up somewhat intriguing, not least because the recent legislation relating to citizenship issues — specifically the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) — recently triggered massive, none-too-peaceful civic protests, in parts of India. Especially the large Muslim community agitated vigorously against some of the CAA’s provisions, which they alleged, specifically targeted their basic rights.
Liberal opinion in India too, had broadly supported the protesters. Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi was excoriated in the Western mainstream media, which viewed the CAA as a highly divisive, exclusionist piece of legislation that was biased against Muslims.
According to the provisions of the CAA Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Sikhs living in neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh could come over to India as refugees if they felt persecuted because of their religion. They could settle in India and become eligible for citizenship after spending six years.
The Act does not include Muslims in this category. Defending the omission, Mr Modi as well as Union Home Minister Mr Amit Shah had repeatedly asserted that all three neighbouring countries had a Muslim majority, so the question of Muslims being oppressed did not arise.
This did not satisfy not only major minority organisations like the AIMIM, Jamat-e-Islami or the AIUDF in India. Major parties including Congress CPI, CPIM), TMC, SP, BSP and RJD also opposed the CAA as being discriminatory against Muslims. Liberals further reasoned that in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, Shias , Ahmedias and other groups/sects within the larger Muslim community were often subjected murderous attacks and otherwise discriminated against. As a secular country by Constitution defined, India could set a noble example by offering its help to such Muslims in distress. However, most BJP leaders vigorously rejected such demands.
The Pak-based Christian author argued that there had always been a steady diaspora of members of the minority groups in Pakistan who quit their motherland, to escape religious persecution by settling down in friendlier countries. In recent years, there had been a major uptick in the number of Pak citizens leaving their homes to seek a better, but primarily safer, life elsewhere.
Most people opted to emigrate to the West, even if this involved adopting illegal means to reach foreign shores, ignoring great risks and life-threatening perils along the way. The lure of earning more money and live in greater comfort was an added incentive.
The trend continues unabated even during the ongoing war in Ukraine, but the steady exodus of war-ravaged Ukrainians to neighbouring Poland, Germany and other countries had made emigration more difficult for Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans . The same was true of thousands of disgruntled/oppressed Afghans, Syrians, Lebanese and Iranians, too.
The author Mr Nazir Bhatti suggests Pakistani Christians could now consider India as a safe haven where they could stay permanently — unless they wanted to move on to Europe or America later.
He stated, ‘The Narendra Modi government in India have provided unique opportunity for true refugees of the region to settle in India under the citizen(ship) law who may be unable to march to Western countries…. It is also very important to make India a safe country for peace and prosperity to stop Muslim terrorism …. Pakistani Christians with sound economic background who suffered from blasphemy laws and life threats from the Muslim majority found refuge in Thailand, Sri Lanka and other Southeast Asian countries, but faced arrests and jails, as they have no international treaties of UN. … Now Christians from Pakistan can go to India and stay for migration to the West.’
He raised a further point by pointing to India’s respectable image as a functioning democracy and its economic progress, in contrast to the situation of Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. Citizens from Muslim countries went to India and some of them made use of its liberal laws to spread terrorism there, he alleged.
According to Mr Bhatti, in most Islamic countries, non Muslims could not aspire for high official posts or recognition, because of their religious background. In Pakistan the minority Commission was headed by Muslims. Muslim judges routinely delivered judgments on marriages/divorce proceedings among Christians, without reference to Christian norms or consultations with local Church authorities on religion-specific sensitive matters!
In India any number of people from non Hindu communities had made their mark in various fields, receiving the highest honour, awards and appreciation from Indians. The minority commissions and other similar watchdog bodies also wielded considerable power and influence, he added.
While his views have aroused some local interest among Kolkata-based analysts, there is a muted apprehension as to whether he had not stepped over the line in dealing with the situation in Pakistan! (IPA Service)