A day after the Lok Sabha passed the highly contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that seeks to grant citizenship for immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on the basis of their faith, editors in Bangladesh have criticised the Bill on various counts.
Zafar Sobhan, Editor of the Dhaka Tribune and one of the country’s leading voices on regional affairs, told The Quint, “Minorities are more secure in Bangladesh than in India today.”
Countering Home Minister Amit Shah’s claim that non-Muslim Bangladeshis were fleeing religious persecution, Reaz Ahmad, Executive Editor at the Dhaka Tribune, emphasised that the migration is “mainly to seize economic, commercial and employment opportunities.”
Here are the arguments put forth by these two Bangladeshi editors on the CAB and how it impacts relations with our neighbour to the east.
Zafar Sobhan: ‘Non-Muslim Migrants Looking For Better Economic Prospects’
Zafar Sobhan: The unspoken sub-text of the Citizenship Amendment Bill is that India is a Hindu nation. It is the ultimate triumph of Jinnah's two-nation theory. The real problem for Bangladesh is where does that leave us. Unlike Pakistan, we have long prided ourselves on being a secular country that tries to respect minority rights. And India should ask themselves that question about Bangladesh, too. It is in India's interest to have a friendly, secular state on its eastern border.
But if India re-imagines itself as a Hindu nation, what impact will that have on Bangladesh, especially if the plan includes pushing Muslims into Bangladesh? It’s a question worth considering very carefully. It would certainly be disastrous for Bangladesh. But I believe it would be equally ruinous for India, and I am surprised that this is not better understood among the powers that be in New Delhi.
Is it fair for the Indian government to say that the primary reason for non-Muslim people to migrate from Bangladesh to India is that they are fleeing religious persecution in Bangladesh?
Zafar Sobhan: No, it's not. Especially under the current Awami League government, minorities are doing better in Bangladesh than ever before. Is there still religious persecution? Yes, sadly, this remains a fact of life in the sub-continent, in India as well as Bangladesh, to say nothing of Pakistan. But minorities are more secure in Bangladesh than in India today, to use one measure.
For the most part, non-Muslims migrate for the same reason everyone else does: To better their economic prospects. Is security an additional factor for non-Muslims? That’s fair to say. But it’s not fair to portray Bangladesh as unlivable for Hindus.
Is the Indian government’s stand through this Citizenship Amendment Bill likely to be viewed favourably by Bangladesh, given how Home Minister Amit Shah has spoken disparagingly about the condition of minorities in Bangladesh?
Zafar Sobhan: The rhetoric is unfortunate. This Bangladesh government is the best friend India has ever had. Similarly, no Bangladeshi government has done more for minority rights than this one. It would be nice if this were recognised and acknowledged.
Would you say that Home Minister Amit Shah’s argument, “Can there be atrocities against Muslims in Bangladesh? Never!” is accurate?
Zafar Sobhan: I would ask him whether there can be atrocities against Hindus in India. We know what his answer to that would be.
Reaz Ahmad: ‘BJP Govt’s Narrative Neither Logical nor True’
Reaz Ahmad: The narratives given by the BJP and Indian government leadership to justify such a bill is neither logical nor true. It is not fair at all to say that primary reason for non-Muslim people to migrate from Bangladesh is religious persecution.
Whatever trans-border movements of Bangladeshi and Indian nationals do take place is firstly, reciprocal (meaning it happens both ways – from India to Bangladesh and from Bangladesh to India), secondly, it’s mainly to seize economic, commercial and employment opportunities.
For example, according to Indian external affairs ministry of India, over 10,000 of its nationals are living in Bangladesh and most of them are engaged in businesses and jobs including that in Bangladesh's ready-made garment sector. However, unofficial estimates put the number of Indians doing jobs and trades in Bangladesh anything between 1,00,000 to 5,00,000.
Likewise, possibility of some Bangladeshis living and doing income generating activities in India in any given time is always there. But to claim it to be happening because of religious persecution in Bangladesh is an unfair statement.
The Hindu revivalism policy now being perused by the current Indian government can have some impact on Bangladesh's minority community in the long run. I heard a rational Indian voice Mr Shashi Tharoor terming the day of the bill passage as a 'Black Day' for Indian Constitution. I second him and like to add that such State policies would only give rise to communal hatred and mutual distrust.
Dividing people in the name of religion has never been a good idea, it will never be. Indian government will do its citizenry a better service by addressing the issues of its own religious minority being persecuted in different regions including those in Kashmir.
I'm afraid there should not be any reason why India’s stand on the Citizenship Amendment Bill be viewed favourably in Bangladesh.