Some organisations in Assam have raised objections to the notification issued by Union Government on September 7 providing asylum to the Hindu Bengalis and other minorities of Bangladesh and Pakistan. Without going into any debate, it is the need of the hour to have a passionate and a humanitarian approach to the issue.
Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) have raised hue and cry over the Government’s Notification of September 7, 2015 interpreting it in their own ways. Akhil Gogoi, KMSS president, who has become the champion of all causes, even counted the number of Hindu Bengali refugees will to be around 20 lakh. These refugees will have to leave Assam, he thunders. AASU has decided to approach the Supreme Court on the issue and seek its intervention. AGP, on the other hand, has cautioned that refugees are a threat to the identity and culture of Assamese people. Without going into any debate, it is the need of the hour to have a passionate and a humanitarian approach to the issue.
The Notification, in fact, speaks of humanitarian grounds to accept Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals belonging to minority community who have entered Bharat on or before December 31, 2014. These minorities have been forced to seek shelter in Bharat due to religious persecution. It is common sense to understand why should Hindus desert their ancestral homes and lands of their native country? They are the victims of Partition of the country by some ambitious and power hungry political leaders of the time.
What the protestors forget is that the basic precinct of Notification is humanitarian considerations. The Hindu Bengalis of Bangladesh live in perpetual fear, a fact admitted by the US Commission on Human Rights in its recent report. During political upheaval, particularly under the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party backed by Jamaat-e-Islam and Islamic Akya Jote, their houses have been set on fire, properties and business establishments looted, lands forcibly taken away and women dishonoured. In order to escape from such atrocities, they have taken shelter in different states. Significantly, no other State has raised any voice of protest. Of course, it is for the Government of Bharat to decide whether Assam alone will have to bear the burden of refugees. It is also true that Assam does not have to open camps to shelter them and provide rations and doles. They have been living in the State for generations, built their houses and employed in State and central establishments, private and public sectors. Besides, they have been contributing towards the socio-economic development, strengthening the cultural bond.
Refugees all over the world, more than 50 million as of date, according to the United Nations report is a ‘humanitarian crisis’. Around 9 million Syrians hit by IS repression and civil war had to leave their homeland and seek shelter in European Union and other countries. It is the worst crisis since the World War II. The European Union countries have agreed to accept them purely on humanitarian grounds. The next door neighbour Pakistan hosts 1.6 million refugees. In Lebanon, one in every five inhabitants is a refugee.
It is also worth mentioning that 10 countries in the world are caring more for the refugees compared to their own population. These countries are Labanon, Jordon, Malta, Mauritania, Chad, Djibouti, Kenya, South Sudan, Liberia and Montenegro. United States of America has accepted refugees from all over the world. Presently, there are between 10 to 15 million refugees from Central and South America in the US. Under international laws and conventions, nations have moral and legal obligation to accept refugees and provide them asylum.
Refugees are entitled to a full and fair hearing and not swift rejection, according to United Nations Human Rights Commission. International Refugee Law aims at protecting persons seeking asylum from persecution. The Refugee Law, notably the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol and Customary International Law apply to all countries irrespective of whether they are a party to the treaty or not. Under Article 1 (A) 2 of 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee has been defined as a person who due to well founded fear of his being persecuted for reasons of race, religion or political opinion is unable to avail himself of the protection of the country and is unable to return to it.
Under Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, a country is under obligation not to return a refugee to a country where he will be at a risk of persecution. It is on the basis of these international laws and conventions that the European Union countries have agreed to share the burden of Syrian refugees. Bharat also hit by refugee crisis is a signatory to these laws and conventions. Besides, the country has its own constitutional protection for providing shelter to refugees.
It is relevant to mention that Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 1950 and Mujib-Indira Pact of 1971 also speak of humanitarian consideration for the protection of Hindu Bengali refugees. The Section 2 (A) of Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act of 1950 has specific provision for the Hindu Bengali refugees from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Not to forget that the retention of Sylhet with Assam could have solved much of the burden of refugees. It was described as a sellout of Sylhet to East Pakistan by Assam Pradesh Congress Committee.
Mountbatten’s plan for Partition of Bharat saw referendum on Sylhet. While Hindus of Sylhet voted for Assam, Muslims by and large voted for Pakistan. No Assamese leaders of the time were found addressing any public meeting in Sylhet in support of retention of Sylhet with Assam. Ambikagiri Roy Choudhury, secretary, Assam Jatiya Mahasabha, went on record to say “…there is no justification whatsoever in the Cachar and Sylhet leaders trying to retain a few Hindu majority thanas of the district with Assam…”
It is also relevant to refer to the case of National Human Rights Commission vs Arunachal Pradesh (1966 Section (1) 7421) in which the Supreme Court of Bharat had warned against any threat to the life of Chakmas who migrated from East Pakistan in 1964. The Apex Court sternly dealt with the ultimatum given by All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) to the Chakmas to leave the State or face death. It told the Arunachal Pradesh government that it is the duty and obligation of the State to protect the “life and liberty of every human being and it cannot permit anybody or group of persons like the AAPSU to threaten Chakmas to leave the State”.
The heart rending picture of Syrian refugees and the Hindu Bengali refugees continue to shake and shock the entire world. The refugees across the world want a dignified existence. In this crisis, humanism alone can save them and this is what the Central Government notification exactly means. To become emotional or aggressive on the refugee problem is a negation of justice and fairity to the victims of persecution.