New Delhi: When Taliban took over in Afghanistan, they shot a Sikh businessman’s brother dead with a dozen bullets; when some Muslim men got upset at Indian sports star Virat Kohli’s stellar performance in a cricket match once, they raped and killed a girl of a Kohli family in Pakistan. The victims of religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, now living as refugees in India, narrated agonizing stories like these and more on Tuesday, while pleading the protesters across India to not oppose Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that grants them citizenship, identity and dignity.
The Act which came into effect on December 12, this year, grants citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian community members who fled from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and took refuge in India by December 31, 2014. Over 30,000 refugees living in India, fall under this specific category and will benefit from the Act.
Opposition and activists have called the law “communal” and “discriminatory” against Muslims in India. Many opposed to the law have been protesting, in many cases violently, across India. Over two dozen people have been killed in clashes with security forces. At many places, public property has been ransacked and burnt down by protesters.
At a dialogue with victims of ‘atrocities of Pakistan’ organized by refugee rights groups and parliamentarian Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, held at Constitution Club on Tuesday, many refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan, who have been living in several parts of India for decades, appealed to the opposition to empathize with their plight.
Holding her new born-baby, named ‘Nagarikta’ (citizenship) after CAA, Meera ji who lives along with hundreds of Hindu refugees from Pakistan in Delhi for last several years, recounted the injustices and persecution, the members of the minority community in Pakistan suffered. “We were treated as second class citizens in Pakistan. We had hoped that we will find a life of dignity in India but it has been a long struggle here because of the denial of citizenship. I beg the protesters not to oppose the CAA which will finally grant us our fundamental rights,” she said with a lump in her throat.
Recalling the hardship he and his family faced on their arrival in India as refugees after they fled Afghanistan, Pyara Singh said, “Those protesting against CAA wouldn’t know my pain of having seen my brother shot dead by Taliban in Afghanistan. We used to have a good life and business until they took over. We paid ‘jaziya’ under them. Shias went to Iran, Sunnis went to Pakistan. Where were Sikhs and Hindus supposed to go if not India? We fled with nothing and we still have nothing. Those who are protesting don’t have to worry about food, shelter and clothes. They don’t know when I got here I didn’t even have Rs 100. We have been struggling for our survival here.”
Threatening to run counter-protests if the protests against CAA didn’t end, Pyara Singh said, “We don’t understand why they are opposed to our citizenship rights? Is it because we didn’t pelt stones and burn public property here in India? We will come to the streets if protests against us did not stop.”
Dayal Das, who fled from Sindh in Pakistan in 2013, said the minority community in Pakistan was not even allowed to cremate their dead ones. “Muslim neighbours would say that cremation caused stink. We were not even allowed to drink tea in cups in hotels and restaurants. We were treated like animals and we lived like slaves. No one likes to leave his home but we chose to take refuge in India because we will escape humiliation and torment. It hurts to see people protesting against the law which will give us some respite from the struggle we have faced here as refugees,” he said.