Ever since the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed by the Parliament of India on 11 December 2019, the country has seen various protests opposing a humanitarian act which was passed with the motive of providing refuge to persecuted minorities from our neighbouring Islamic countries. Ironically, neither those protesting against the legislation nor the spokespersons of the ruling party who were defending the legislation tried to put forward the views of the leaders from the era of Partition on this matter.
When we try to look at the views of the members of the Constituent Assembly, we will come across a unique member of the first cabinet of Independent India in Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee. He tendered his resignation in order to oppose the laxity of the Indian government in protecting the minorities of East Pakistan who were being subjected to unimaginable atrocities at that time as a result of an extensive anti-Hindu pogrom. His first speech delivered in the Parliament on 19th April 1950 after resigning from the Union Cabinet, against the Nehru Liyaquat Pact, shows the reason behind the necessity of the Citizenship Amendment Act:
“I have never felt happy about our attitude towards Pakistan. It has been weak, halting and inconsistent. Our goodness or inaction has been interpreted as weakness by Pakistan. It has made Pakistan more and more intransigent and has made us suffer all the greater and even lowered us in the estimation of our own people. On every important occasion, we have remained on the defensive and failed to expose or counteract the designs of Pakistan aimed at us. I am not, however, dealing today with general Indo-Pakistan relationship, for the circumstances that have led to my resignation are primarily concerned with the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, especially in East Bengal. Let me say at once the Bengal problem is not a provincial one. It raises issues of an all-India character and on its proper solution will depend the peace and prosperity, both economic and political, of the entire nation. There is an important difference in the approach to the problem of minorities in India and Pakistan. The vast majority of Muslims in India wanted the partition of the country on a communal basis, although I gladly recognise there has been a small section of patriotic Muslims who consistently have identified themselves with national interests and suffered for it. The Hindus, on the other hand, were almost to a man definitely opposed to partition. When the partition of India became inevitable, I played a very large part in creating public opinion in favour of the partition of Bengal, for I felt that if that was not done, the whole of Bengal and also perhaps Assam would fall into Pakistan. At that time little knowing that I would join the first Central Cabinet, I along with others, gave assurances to the Hindus of East Bengal, stating that if they suffered at the hands of the future Pakistan Government, if they were denied elementary rights of citizenship, if their lives and honour were jeopardised or attacked, Free India would not remain an idle spectator and their just cause would be boldly taken up by the Government and people of India. During the last 21/2 years their sufferings have been of a sufficiently tragic character. Today I have no hesitation in acknowledging that in spite of all efforts on my part, I have not been able to redeem my pledge and on this ground alone – if on no other – I have no moral right to be associated with Government any longer. Recent happenings in East Bengal have however overshadowed all their past woes and humiliation. Let us not forget that the Hindus of East Bengal are entitled to the protection of India, not on humanitarian considerations alone, but by virtue of their sufferings and sacrifices, made cheerfully for generations, not for advancing their own parochial interests, but for laying the foundations of India’s political freedom and intellectual progress. It is the united voice of the leaders that are dead and of the youth that smilingly walked upto the gallows for India’s cause that calls for justice and fair play at the hands of Free India of today.
The recent Agreement, to my mind, offers no solution to the basic problem, the evil is far deeper and no patchwork can lead to peace. The establishment of a homogeneous Islamic State is Pakistan’s creed and a planned extermination of Hindus and Sikhs and expropriation of their properties constitute its settled policy. As a result of this policy, life for the minorities in Pakistan has become “nasty, brutish and short”. Let us not be forgetful of the lessons of history. We will do so at our own peril. I am not talking of by-gone times; but if anyone analyses the course of events in Pakistan since its creation, it will be manifest that there is no honourable place for Hindus within that State. The problem is not communal. It is essentially political. The Agreement unfortunately tries to ignore the implications of an Islamic State. But anyone, who refers carefully to the Objectives Resolution passed by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and to the speech of its Prime Minister, will find that While talking in one place of protection of minority rights, the Resolution in another place emphatically declares “that the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and special justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed”. The Prime Minister of Pakistan while moving the Resolution thus spoke:
“You would also notice that the State is not to play the part of a neutral observer wherein the Muslims may be merely free to profess and practice their religion, because such an attitude on the part of the State would be the very negation of the ideals which prompted the demand of Pakistan and it is these ideals which should be the cornerstone of the State which we want to build. The State will create such conditions as are conducive to the building up of a truly Islamic Society which means that the State will have to play a positive part in this effort. You would remember that the Quaid-e- Azam and other leaders of the Muslim League always made unequivocal declarations that the Muslim demand for Pakistan was based upon the fact that the Muslims had their own way of life and a code of conduct. Indeed, Islam lays down specific directions for social behaviour and seeks to guide society in its attitude towards the problems which confront it day to day. Islam is not just a matter of private beliefs and conduct.”
In such a Society, let me ask in all seriousness, can any Hindu except to live with any sense of security in respect of his cultural, religious, economic and political rights? Indeed, our Prime Minister analysed the basic difference between India and Pakistan only a few weeks ago on the floor of the House and his words will bear repetition:
“The people of Pakistan are of the same stock as we are and have the same virtues and failings. But the basic difficulty of the situation is that the policy of a religious and communal State followed by the Pakistan Government inevitably produces a sense of lack of full citizenship and a continuous insecurity among those who do not belong to the majority community”.
It is not the ideology preached by Pakistan that is the only disturbing factor. Its performances have been in full accord with its ideology and the minorities have had bitter experiences times without number of the true character and functioning of an Islamic State. The Agreement has totally failed to deal with this basic problem.
Public memory is sometimes very short. There is an impression in many quarters that the Agreement recently made is the first great attempt of its kind to solve the problem of minorities. I am leaving aside for the time being the disaster that took place in the Punjab; in spite of all assurances and undertakings there was a complete collapse of the administration and the problem was solved in a most brutal fashion. Afterwards, we saw the gradual extermination of Hindus from the North Western Frontier Province and Baluchistan and latterly from Sind as well. In East Bengal about 13 million of Hindus were squeezed out of East Bengal. There were no major incidents as such; but circumstances so shaped themselves that they got no protection from the Government of Pakistan and were forced to come away to West Bengal for shelter. During that period there was no question of any provocation given by India where normal conditions had settled down; there was no question of Muslims being coerced to go away from India to Pakistan. In April, 1948, the First Inter-Dominion Agreement was reached in Calcutta, dealing specially with the problems of Bengal. If anyone analyses and compares the provisions of that Agreement with the recent one it will appear that in all essential matters, they are similar to each other. This Agreement, however, did not produce any effective result. India generally observed its terms but the exodus from East Bengal continued unabated. It was a one-way traffic, just as Pakistan wished for. There were exchanges of correspondence; there were meetings of officials and Chief Ministers; there were consultations between Dominion Ministers. But judged by actual results Pakistan’s attitude continued unchanged. There was a second Inter-Dominion Conference in Delhi, in December, 1948, and another Agreement was signed, sealed and delivered. It dealt the same problem – the rights of minorities specially in Bengal. This also was a virtual repetition of the first Agreement. In the course of 1949, we witnessed a further deterioration of conditions in East Bengal and an exodus of a far larger numbers of helpless people, who were uprooted from their hearth and home and were thrown into India in a most miserable condition. The fact thus remains that in spite of two Inter-Dominion Agreements as many as 16 to 20 lakhs of Hindus were sent away to India from East Bengal. About a million of uprooted Hindus had also to come away from Sind. During this period a large number of Muslims also came away from Pakistan mainly influenced by economic considerations. The economy of West Bengal received a rude shock and we continued as helpless spectators of a grim tragedy.
Today there is a general impression that there has been failure both on the part of India and Pakistan to protect their minorities. The fact however is just the reverse of it. A hostile propaganda has been also carried on in some sections of the foreign press. This is a libel on India and truth must be made known to all who desire to know it. The Indian Government, both at the Centre and in the Provinces and States, generally maintained peace and security throughout the land after Punjab and Delhi disturbances had quietened down, in spite of grave and persistent provocations from Pakistan by reason of its failure to create conditions in Sind and East Bengal whereby minorities could live there Peacefully and honourably. It should not be forgotten here that the people who came away from East Bengal or Sind were not those who had decided to migrate to India out of imaginary fear at the time of partition. These were people who were bent on staying in Pakistan, if only they were given a chance to live decent and peaceful lives.
Towards the end of 1949, fresh events of a violent character started happening in East Bengal. On account of the iron curtain in that area, news did not at first arrive in India. When about 15,000 refugees came to West Bengal in January 1950, stories of brutal atrocities and persecutions came to light. This time the attack was directed both against middle class urban people and selected sections of rural people who were strong, virile and united; to strike terror into their hearts was a part of Pakistan’s policy. These startling reports led to some repercussions of a comparatively minor character in certain parts of West Bengal. Although these were checked quickly and effectively, false and highly exaggerated reports of so-called occurrences in West Bengal were circulated in many parts of East Bengal. This was clearly done with official backing and with a sinister motive. In the course of two to three weeks events of a most tragic character, which no civilized Government could ever tolerate, almost simultaneously broke out in numerous parts of East Bengal, causing not only wanton loss of lives and properties, but resulting also in forcible conversion of a large number of helpless people, abduction of women shocking outrages on them. Reports which have now reached our hands clearly indicate that all these could not have happened as stray sporadic incidents. They formed part of a deliberate and cold planning to exterminate minorities from East Bengal; to ignore this is to forget hard realities. During that period our publicity both here and abroad became hopelessly weak and ineffective. This was partly done in order to prevent repercussions within India. Pakistan however, followed exactly the opposite course of action. The result was that we were dubbed as aggressors while the truth was the reverse of it. During these critical weeks, although there were people who were swayed by passions and prejudice, vast sections of India’s population were prepared to leave matters in the hands of Government and expected it to take stubborn measures to check the brutalities perpetrated in Pakistan. At that hour of crisis, we failed to rise equal to the occasion. Where days, if not hours counted, we allowed weeks to go by and we could not decide what was the right course of action. The whole nation was in agony and expected promptness and firmness, but we followed a policy of drift and Indecision. The result was that in some areas of West Bengal and other parts of India, people became restive and exasperated and took the law into their own hands. Let me say without hesitation that private retaliation on innocent people in India for brutalities committed in Pakistan offers us no remedy whatsoever. It creates a vicious circle Which may be worse than the disease; it brutalizes the race and lets loose forces which may become difficult to control at a later stage. We must function as a civilised State and all citizens, who are loyal to the State must have equal rights and protection, irrespective of their religion or faith. The only effective remedy in a moment of such national crisis can and must be taken by the Government of the country and if Government moves quickly, consistent with the legitimate wishes of the people and with a full sense of national honour and prestige, there is not the least doubt that the people will stand behind the Government. In any case, Government acted promptly to re-establish peace and order throughout India. Meanwhile Muslims, though in much lesser numbers, had also started leaving India, a good number of whom belonged to East Bengal and had come to West Bengal for service or occupation. Pakistan realised the gravity of the situation only when it found that on this occasion, unlike previous ones, there was no question of one-way traffic. Since January last at least 10 lakhs of people have come out of East Bengal to West Bengal. Several lakhs have gone to Tripura and Assam. Reports indicate that thousands are on their march to India today and they represent all classes and conditions of people.
The supreme question of the hour is, can the minorities continue to live with any sense of security in Pakistan? The test of any Agreement Is not its reaction within India or in foreign lands, but on the minds of the unfortunate minorities living in Pakistan or those who have been forced to come away already. It is not how a few top-ranking individuals in Pakistan think or desire to act. It is the entire set-up of that State, the mentality of the official circles-high and low, the attitude of the people at large and the activities of organisations such as ‘Ansars’ which all operate together and make It impossible for Hindus to live. It may be that for some months no major occurrences may take place. Meanwhile we may on our generosity supply them with essential commodities which will give them added strength. That has been Pakistan’s technique. Perhaps the next attack may come during the rainy season when communications are virtually cut off.
I have found myself unable to be a party to the Agreement for the following main reasons:
First – we had two such Agreements since partition for solving the Bengal problem and they were violated by Pakistan without any remedy open to us. Any Agreement which has no sanction will not offer any solution.
Secondly – the crux of the problem is Pakistan’s concept of an Islamic State and the ultra-communal administration based on it. The Agreement side-tracks this cardinal issue and we are today exactly where we were previous to the Agreement.
Thirdly – India and Pakistan are made to appear equally guilty, while Pakistan was clearly the aggressor. The Agreement provides that no propaganda will be permitted against the territorial integrity of the two countries and there will be no incitement to war between them. This almost sounds farcical so long as Pakistan troops occupy a portion of our territory of Kashmir and warlike preparations on its part are in active operation.
Fourthly – events have proved that Hindus cannot live in East Bengal on the assurances of security given by Pakistan. We should accept this as a basic proposition. The present Agreement on the other hand calls upon minorities to look upon Pakistan Government for their safety and honour which is adding insult to injury and is contrary to assurances given by us previously.
Fifthly – there is no proposal to compensate those who have suffered nor will the guilty be ever punished, because no one will dare give evidence before a Pakistan Court. This is in accordance with bitter experience in the past.
Sixthly – Hindus will continue to come away in large numbers and those who have come will not be prepared to go back. On the other hand, Muslims who had gone away will now return and in our determination to implement the Agreement Muslims will not leave India. Our economy will thus be shattered and possible conflict within our country will be greater.
Seventhly – in the garb of protecting minorities in India, the Agreement has reopened the problem of Muslim minority in India, thus seeking to revive those disruptive forces that created Pakistan itself. This principle, carried to its logical conclusions, will create fresh problems for us which, strictly speaking, are against our very Constitution.”
Thus it is clear that India has a moral duty to protect the Hindus and other minorities in the neighbouring Islamic countries as a result of the promise made to them on behalf of the Government and People of India at the time of partition. CAA is only the first step in this direction. India, in fact, has a moral duty to take necessary steps to ensure that Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, are having a life of dignity and honour by taking necessary steps against the respective governments of these countries which have till now been silent on the targeted attacks and discrimination against their minorities.