Defiant for Seven Hours Then Back to Obedient Self
Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, for long a career diplomat, showed an uncharacteristic trait of defiance one morning on his Twitter Handle, announcing that the Rohingya Muslims in Delhi will be shifted to flats built for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in Bakarwala in West Delhi. What took everyone, including the Rohingya Muslims in Delhi (about 1100), by surprise was that Puri is part of a government that has branded the Muslim refugees from Myanmar (nearly 40,000 in India) as ‘infiltrators’ and, hence, eligible for early ejection from their shelters in Delhi and elsewhere in India.
Did Puri signal an unbelievable change of heart by the government? Yes, you would have said after reading the full text of Puri’s Tweet which said: ‘India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge in the country’, and added that India respected the UN Refugee Convention 1951 and provided refuge to ‘all, regardless of their race, religion or creed’.
These words would have provided some relief to the Muslim refugees from Myanmar who had escaped from near certain death and torture. .
Of course, there are many in India who want the Myanmar refugees to feel safe in India even as the prospects of their return to their homes look very bleak. The current government of India, however, considers these ‘illegal immigrants’ as a big security threat. But Puri had a further surprise in store when he said that the decision to shift the Rohingyas to flats with all amenities will ‘disappoint those who make a career out of spreading canards on India’s refugee policy, deliberately linking it to CAA (Citizens Amendment Act)’.
But the Minister was soon eating the crow when all that he had said was dismissed by the Home Ministry.
The Amit Shah-led Home Ministry issued a ‘clarification’ that there was no plan to shift the Myanmar refugees from their present address. The Ministry took a dim view of a ‘secret’ attempt by the AAP government of Delhi to give ‘permanent’ residences to the Myanmar refugees.
Offering no explanation for his earlier Tweet, Minister Puri meekly bowed to the ‘clarification’, saying that it presented the ‘correct position’. The ‘canard’ spreaders were a little confused and the Myanmar refugees were not only confused but fearful as a political war erupted between the BJP and the Aam Admi Party.
Both accused each other of hatching a ‘conspiracy’ to settle the ‘infiltrators’ and ‘illegal’ immigrants.
Since the military started its anti-Rohingya campaign in Myanmar in 2017, about one million have sought shelter outside their country. Many came to India where most of Rohingya Muslims trace their origin. The military dictators of Myanmar are not willing to take them back; countries like Bangladesh where the majority of Myanmar refugees have fled, host them unwillingly.
A point that often gets mixed up for lack of official clarity in India is whether to use the term ‘illegal immigrants’ or ‘refugees’ for the Rohingya Muslims; the Sangh Parivar adds to the confusion by calling them ‘infiltrators’, likening them to the terrorists pushed across the boundary by Pakistan.
Minister Puri’s claim of India opening its doors to ‘all’ who seek refuge, regardless of their religion, flies in the face of government’s decision to grant Indian citizenship quickly to only non-Muslim refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The Myanmar refugees cannot expect much relief from Indian courts either. About a year ago, the Supreme Court had dismissed a plea seeking deportation of Myanmar refugees. The government of India had informed the court that it would not allow Delhi to become the ‘capital of illegal immigrants’.
The government can get rid of the ‘illegal immigrants’ only by either succeeding in its efforts to deport them to their mother country—nearly impossible at this stage—or by forcibly pushing them back into their country—perhaps more impossible.
Just some months ago, the government of India found itself in an embarrassing situation when Mizoram turned down its appeal to block the entry of refugees from across the border (Myanmar). The state government was also asked not to provide food and shelter to the refugees from Myanmar who were not Muslims but part of a Mizo tribal clan.
The government of India, its image already smeared because of constantly shrinking space for dissent, will suffer more damage if it refuses to be sensitive to the problems of the Myanmar Muslim refugees. It may not be necessary to house them in properly built flats but they cannot be subjected to discrimination after acknowledging that India respects the UN Convention on Refugees###.
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