Swinging between hope and despair, Hindu, Sikh refugee families from Pak, Afghanistan

Soon after Centre notified the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) on January 10, a hope emerged for several Hindu and Sikh families who had come from Pakistan and Afghanistan years ago and made Punjab’s Amritsar their home. For them the law promised the fruitful culmination of their wait to become Indian citizens.

However, the Punjab Assembly, on January 17 adopted a resolution against the CAA urging the Centre to repeal the new law “to avoid any discrimination on the basis of religion in granting citizenship and to ensure equality before law for all religious groups in India.”

The resolution has left such families a discouraged lot. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) local office bearers have been in close touch with such families.

“There are around 20 to 30 such families who had come from Pakistan or Afghanistan and are waiting to become Indian citizens. They have high hopes from the CAA but are discouraged after Punjab government passed resolution against CAA. The state governments have no authority over the CAA, but they play an important role in the paper work required to get citizenship. Punjab government should look at the plight of such families,” said RSS general secretary Neeraj Nyer.

Contacted, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar Himanshu Aggarwal, however, said: “No refugee has come from Pakistan or Afghanistan in recent times to stay in Amritsar. No such case has come after CAA was passed by the Parliament”.

“We haven’t received any notification related to CAA from Centre or state government. Right now we have been processing the requests for permanent citizenship of India according to the old provision available in the law,” he added.

According to sources, 15 to 20 applications of refugees demanding permanent citizenship of India is on the record of district administration. No oath taking ceremony for making refugees Indian citizens has been held in Amritsar for more than last two years. For the refugees, the wait tio become Indian citizens, seems to have just turned longer.

Budh Ram Sharma, who lives in Pishori locality recalls how he landed in India. “We were living near Peshawar. The Taliban terrorists had entered our area following US action in Afganistan. We were forced to pay Jaziya. Taliban made it impossible for us to live there. I had property worth Rs one crore in Peshawar. I sold it for Rs 15 lakh. I had relatives in Delhi and we came to meet them in 2008. We were 30 members in the family and we never went back. We were granted visa for one year and we get it renewed every year,” said Budh Ram Sharma.

Shiv Kumar, who runs a workshop in Jahazgarh locality of Amritsar, said, “Our ancestors decided to stay in Pakistan. We were not facing any hardships there but most of our relatives were in India. My family decided to come to India for better life. We came here in 2005 and are still waiting for the citizenship. We are hopeful CAA will make us Indian citizens”.

“I am tired of this procedure of getting visa every year. Security agencies keep suspecting us. Anyone can come and investigate us. CAA has been cleared by the Parliament but I am still not Indian citizen,” added Harbhajan Singh, who too had come from Peshawar with his family in 2007.

Surbir Singh, who was two years old when his family left Afghanistan in early 90s, said, “My family was told to leave Afghanistan. They were told that our country was Punjab and we should go to Punjab”.

He said, “There are seven Afghan families in Amritsar and 25 Pak Sikh families. We all had applied for citizenship under the old provisions in law after 11 years of living as refugees. I don’t know anyone who got citizenship under the old law.”

Surbir Singh, who now runs a tyre repair and auto parts shop in Jahazgarh market, and others had earlier met Amritsar deputy commissioner to thank the government for the new citizenship law. “DC had told us that he will do everything to provide us citizenship as soon as possible. We are sure that government will keep its words,” he said.

Asked about the anti-CAA protests, Surbir said, “How can I comment on that when I am myself not a citizen”.

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