OPINION
Refugee se refugee mile, kar kar chotte haath
Punjab is Silent as India Wakes Up to Talk of Refugees, Migration, Issues of Citizenship
- S PAL
Punjab is Silent as India Wakes Up to Talk of Refugees, Migration, Issues of Citizenship



 Indian national media’s top story finds no mention in Punjab newspapers, TV
 
PUNJAB IS A land of the refugees. Certainly, a large number of refugees. Partition meant that millions were displaced, and forced to trudge their way into the Indian Punjab, Delhi, Jammu, parts of Rajasthan and elsewhere. Often they landed wherever they thought their relatives would help them, or wherever trains took them, or army trucks dumped them.

On the morning of Monday, July 30th, millions of people in India found themselves in a similar situation. Fear and the spectre of doom loomed over the lives of lakhs of people who have only known India as their home, and as the clock ticked and the Registrar General of India announced that names of around 40 lakh people were not in final draft of the dreaded National Register of Citizens, Punjabis were perhaps the only people in India who should have been empathising the most.

Instead, a deafening silence marks Punjab. Not a single Punjabi newspaper thought it fit to find some space on the front page for the explosive development. Punjabi Tribune and Ajit did not spare a single square inch for it. A number of seminars and goshthis in Punjab in the 24 hours preceding the development did not even allude to the fate of these potential refugees even as lakhs feared that they will be rendered stateless.
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As Punjabis learnt to their great dismay in 1947, factors such as the dance of history and geography can trigger sensitivities and dumb logic when a populace is fed on a concoction of mob-approved ideas of citizenship, identity, and immigration.
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In comparison, most national news television channels carried the news with great prominence. Almost all channels had major debates on the issue on Sunday evening. It was the leading front page story in almost all national newspapers on Monday morning or found a lot of coverage on the inside pages. By noon, Indian Parliament had exploded with it. Mamta Bannerjee was in a rage.

While we should talk about this peculiar approach of the media in Punjab, as also about the concerns of the aware sections of the Punjabi community, but right now, we need to pay attention to what's happening in distant Assam.
 
Citizenship in any times is a complicated idea, and it mainly predicates on who must be excluded. Talk of Assam being taken over by illegal Bangladeshi migrants has been rife in the northeast for a long time and the narrative is especially being propelled by the ruling BJP.

As Punjabis learnt to their great dismay in 1947, factors such as the dance of history and geography can trigger sensitivities and dumb logic when a populace is fed on a concoction of mob-approved ideas of citizenship, identity, and immigration.

Punjab went through it, Assam is going through it – albeit many realities are different. India is updating its six-and-a-half-decade-old National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Citizenship Act, 1955, is being amended to selectively regularise some categories of illegal migration.

We are now citizens of a country which is actively looking for aliens from among people living here for decades, many of them born here. 

Punjabis who came from Pakistan must know that they are Indian citizens only on the force of Article 11 of the Constitution that empowered Parliament to regulate citizenship by law, and as a result of which the Citizenship Act was passed in 1955. 

Under Article 6, anyone who migrated to India before July 19, 1948, from territory that had become part Pakistan, automatically became a citizen if either of their parents or grandparents was born in India. Those who entered India after this date needed to register themselves. 

In 2004, Parliament was told that there were 1.2 crore illegal immigrants in India, of whom 50 lakh were in Assam. Then came talk of "international Islamic fundamentalism” (Sarbananda Sonowal vs Union Of India & Anr, July 12, 2005). The first draft was published on December 31, 2017, and the names of 1.9 crore of the 3.29 crore applicants were incorporated.

A new law and changes to the 1955 Act sought to permit members of six communities — Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian — from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan eligible for citizenship if they had entered the country before December 14, 2014. 

Many in Assam fear that "illegal Bangladeshi Hindu migrants" will bring about a demographic change. India is now openly discriminating against Muslims only on the grounds of religion, which is prohibited by Article 15(1) of the Constitution.

The country's top media is agog with news coverage. National television is focussing on it in a major way, but in Punjab, no one is squeaking. A senior journalist who interviewed veteran Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal 24 hours before Assam woke up to the fateful July 30 morning, did not even refer to the issue. 

 

Prateek Hajela, NRC state coordinator; Sailesh, RGI and Satyendra Garg, joint secretary (NE) of the Ministry of Home Affairs while releasing the final NRC draft on July 30, 2018

 
Meanwhile, journalists in Delhi and in Guwahati remained focussed on July 30 morning as the second and final draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens was finally released by the Registrar General of India at the NRC office in Guwahati. 

New Delhi despatched 220 companies of Central Armed Police Forces. Police were on alert to mitigate any untoward incident. Television cameras remained pitched in front of the homes of Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. 
 
Most television channels in India had live coverage of the release of the final draft. Not a single Punjabi news channel even mentioned the development even as Registrar General Sailesh said, "The process has been completely transparent, fair, objective and meticulously carried out. Around 40 lakh people do not find a mention in final draft of NRC. 2,89,83,677 out of 3.29 crore applicants are eligible."
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Punjabis have seen the political maturity of people when they are rendered non-citizens. That kind of maturity led to the largest massacre of people anywhere on the planet as a result of partition of land.
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Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal has said he will free the state of illegal immigrants. 

"We believe that updating the NRC is an important tool to identify illegal migrants. We also believe that a flawless NRC will be the primary security shield for people living in the Barak-Brahmaputra Valleys, the hills and plains of Assam," he was quoted as saying in an interview to a leading national newspaper.

Sonowal said 50,000 officers and other state government staff were deployed for this draft. The hurry is comparable to the way Radcliffe was asked to work out the Partition of Punjab with outdated maps and little clarity. 

Already, top Indian government officials are saying people need not fear as they will not be put in detention camps. You can well imagine how much fear will be there among the population when talk of detention camps is in the air. 

When Liz Mathew of the Indian Express asked Sonowal about what he was doing to deal with the insecurity and fear among people, he said, "I have confidence in the political maturity of the people of Assam."

Punjabis have seen the political maturity of people when they are rendered non-citizens. That kind of maturity led to the largest massacre of people anywhere on the planet as a result of partition of land.

Sonowal is claiming that law and order situation will be controlled and he has reviewed it well. "The Centre has provided all possible assistance to the state. Meanwhile, social media cells are actively working to stop the circulation of rumours and fake news."
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We made a lot of noise when they sought to evict some Sikhs from Shillong. We are absolutely silent when they are about to evict millions from India. What defines us, pray?
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One is reminded of Lord Mountbatten's assurances that aircraft will be in the air and tanks will be out in the streets if rioting started as a result of Partition. Mountbatten repeated those assurances time and again to people of the stature of Nehru and Patel.

Eventually, not a single aircraft took off, not a single tank rolled into the streets. We all know of families that were rendered incomplete because a member was killed in the riots. We all know of many refugee families that took decades before they could start living with dignity.

Some of those wounds still hurt. Some of the colonies still carry that name. In Delhi, when I lived for sometime in Lajpat Nagar, I was told it is a refugee colony. In Ludhiana, people still refer to the area diagonally opposite to the bus stand as Jawahar Nagar Refugee Camp.

Today, India is proactively hunting its own people to identify the "foreigners." The Akali Dal is an alliance partner of the BJP. Top journalists do not even ask questions to an Akali supremo about what is happening in Assam, and how do they view their alliance with BJP in the context of lynchings? 

The Indian Express' headline of July 30: ‘Will they deport us? Was born here, don’t know anywhere else’ stabs any Punjabi in the heart, reminding one of what we did to each other in 1947, depending upon what our God was called.

Now, NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela has stressed that that those who do not find their names in the NRC draft "will not be sent to detention camps.”

Thank you so much. Even if you had directly ordered them to be lined up and shot, a single bullet to the head, I am not sure if newspapers in Punjab had found any space for it on their front pages, or if editors had asked senior politicians a single question about it.

We made a lot of noise when they sought to evict some Sikhs from Shillong. We are absolutely silent when they are about to evict millions from India. What defines us, pray?

The silence of the graveyard marks the thought processes now as you walk through Punjab's streets, lined with signboards announcing numbers of IELTS-graduating kids they sent to Canada. The newly-minted refugees in Assam should have no hope from those who have left the old refugee tag far behind. They are busy becoming refugees in another land, via IELTS.

You have a choice. Just as any news bulletin anchor says after any significant story, "let’s move on.” You can move on to the shenanigans of a Kejriwal or a Sukhpal Khaira, or whether Sikh women riding two-wheelers should be wearing a helmet or even a debate about whether a girl named Kirenjit by her mom should suffix Kaur. These are exciting debates. Or you can move on to a little sobering debate about the silence of the refugees of the not so recent past.
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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