Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday defended the Citizenship Amendment Act by citing the examples of singer Adnan Sami, who was granted Indian citizenship in 2016, and writer Taslima Nasreen, Hindustan Times reported. Nasreen, who fled Bangladesh due to religious persecution, is officially a citizen of Sweden, and lives in India on a residency permit.
“Three hundred and ninety one Afghan Muslims and 1,595 Pakistani migrants were given citizenship from 2016 to 2018,” Sitharaman said at an event in Delhi to promote the citizenship law. “It was during this period in 2016, that Adnan Sami was given citizenship, it’s an example. Taslima Nasreen is another example. This proves all allegations against us are wrong.”
Sami, who was born in Lahore, arrived in India in 2001 on a tourist visa. His Pakistani passport issued on May 27, 2010, expired on May 26, 2015, and was not renewed. Subsequently, Sami applied for Indian citizenship, and it was granted on January 1, 2016.
Nasreen, who is a Swedish citizen, fled Bangladesh in 1994 because of death threats from Islamist fundamentalists. She has been living on a residence permit in New Delhi since 2004. Nasreen, in a tweet, had praised the Citizenship Amendment Act, but said it should include persecuted Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, as well as atheists.
Sitharaman said in the last six years, 2,838 Pakistanis, 914 Afghans and 172 Bangladeshis, including Muslims, were given Indian citizenship. “From 1964 to 2008, over four lakh Sri Lankan Tamils were given citizenship and 566 Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were given citizenship till 2014,” she added.
The minister said states such as Kerala and Punjab, which have passed resolutions against the Citizenship Amendment Act, were merely making a political statement. She said they cannot refuse to implement the law since that would be unconstitutional. The finance minister added that the Act had been enacted to provide a better life to refugees, and not take away anyone’s citizenship.
“People who came from East Pakistan [now Bangladesh] settled at various camps in the country, they’re still there,” she said. “It’s been 50 to 60 years now. If you visit these camps, your heart will cry.”
The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11 and signed into law by President Ram Nath Kovind on December 13, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. In Northeastern states, demonstrators feel the Act will erode their ethnic identities by granting citizenship to foreigners on religious grounds.
At least 26 people have died in nationwide protests against the law – including 19 in Uttar Pradesh alone.
On Saturday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the citizenship law amendments were unnecessary. However, she added that both the Citizenship Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens were India’s internal matters.