Source: – Swarajya Magazine

R: Hello this is Rishabh and you’re listening to Swarajya Indepth.

Rohingya Muslims are often referred to as Bengalis in Myanmar for their roots in today’s Bangladesh. A significant number of them were taken to the Arakan region by the British as indentured servants during colonial times.

J Sai Deepak, Hello and welcome to Swarajya.

J: Thank you.

R: Why should in your view, the Rohingyas be deported?

J: Just a few factual clarifications (R: Okay.) One, this is not a public interest litigation that we have filed nor have I filed in my name. I am not the petitioner in the matter. The petitioner actually is Mr. Prashant Bhushan, who filed a petition a few days ago, opposing the move of central government to deport the Rohingyas from India, especially from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where there’s about 40,000 Rohingya, that’s the estimated number. At least that’s the official number, we don’t know if that’s the exact number, and in the name of Indic collective which is registered trust Chennai, the intervention application has been filed. In the petition, filed by Mr. Prashant Bhushan which is to say effectively, that they are asking the court to give us an audience, in the petition filed by Mr Prashant Bhushan.

Okay.

Now as part of this Intervention application, what Indic collective speak, is the deportation of Rohingyas from all parts of the country, certainly from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. So that’s the factual position.

R: Why should they be deported?

J: The position of Indic collective who I represent in the court, has been that illegal immigrants, especially from let’s say groups who are capable of posing a security threat to India, must be deported, that’s point number 1. That’s the principle position that we’ve taken. And this is not limited to the Rohingyas. In fact, this is our position even in respect to over the 6 crore Bangladeshi illegal immigrants who are in the various parts of the country, and not just the North East today. (R: Okay)

And given what Assam as a state has seen over the years, where it has completely lost its roots and what was promised as a particular state, I’d say reneged, we don’t want other parts of the country to go this, and at the same time as far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, the supply is all aboard because demographics has already played a huge role in the politics of this particular state, and it has also resulted in the forcible expulsion and eviction of Kashmiri Hindus. At a time when demographics is playing such a huge role in the political mix of this particular state, it doesn’t make sense for India to welcome and import and rehabilitate and settle 40,000 people in this particular state, when Hindus and Indians from other parts of the country don’t seem to have the same rights as Kashmiris enjoy in other parts of the country.

So, one is a problem in principle in allowing these people to settle in any part of the country. Second is our objection in them being allowed to settle especially in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. And so this is our position. And while there are people who say that India must welcome the so called ancient traditions, open its arms to immigrants andpersecuted communities from other parts of the world, we must be very very real about what our priorities are, what our national interest is, and we must take into account the potential security threats that this kind of influx of immigrants can lead to. And this is not something I think is the opinion of the just the common person (R: Okay), several people who’ve been served in the armed forces and have been part of the intelligence apparatus havealready come out with the statement.

For instance in the morning I read a tweet, by General Ata Hasnain, it was clearly said, that a stateless people is more vulnerable to radicalisation and as a tool of proxy war, by anyone whose interest are inimical to India and who sees India as an enemy (ok) and there are credible news report which clearly show or at least claim that Lashkar is looking at this particular group as a potential group for radicalisation, for use against India for obvious reasons (ok) therefore all these peace claiming at the head of India, I don’t see why is it that we must breed for another terrorist  and another rebellion, uprising to take place at the same vulnerable hotspot which is Jammu and Kashmir, when we can prevent it at this stage and nip it at its bud. So that’s my position, or that’s the position of the Indic collective.

R: You’ve spoken about this threat, but there’s no tangible evidence, the Rohingyas being involved in any activities. So isn’t this more of a (J: Right) personal threat?

J: There’s the problem. I sometimes fail to understand why is it that when a perception is held out, or whenever a statement is made these days, the immediate retort is –“Where is the evidence, where is the data?”  Of course data is important, it’s not enough- because in the absence of data, any statement can pass out as an axiomatic truth, and it’s possible for people to couch prejudices as truth.  So I completely understand where you’re coming from. Be that as it may, when it comes to issues such as national security, I think prevention is more important than allowing some problem or certain issue to fest up. And India can’t limit itself to just a myopic vision, where we just think of three years hence or four or five years hence or ten years hence. We must draw lessons from what has happened since the 1970s where the systematic influx of Bangladeshis in the country has ensured that several indigenous people, and not just of a particular community, we’re not just talking about Hindus if you ask an Assamese Muslim today, who is indigenous to this particular country, he will be the first person to object to the settlement of the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in India, because they have borne the brunt of it. For instance, one of the petitions in front of the Supreme Court, with respect to the eviction of, or the deportation of the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, the primary petitioner is an Assamese Muslim Utahir Hussain. Let’s not give it this a communal colour, of course there’s a problem with the entry of people coming from a certain backgrounds, for the simple reason that History is supposed to teach us a few things, and I just have to ask myself a simple question – Why is it that India, which is still a developing country, with a huge paucity of resources, and hungry, starving population already to feed (Right), that all issues that dissent us already, why is it that we’re opening our doors to so many more people? We are not an America, which is itself opposing this kind of immigration, we are still an India when it comes to our economic status and several parameters of human development.

So I don’t think we are in a position to welcome more people, we already have 6 crore illegal immigrants and still counting, because there’s no policy as on date, which stops the influx of these people, and we’re still adding to this number. So I think it’s going to be a crucible which is inflammatory in nature (OK) and History will judge us for not having stopped this at this point of time. If the government is serious about it then fantastic, if it’s not then I think it’s time citizens spoke up and stood up for their rights because at the end of the day it’s not an issue that’s going to affect only one part of the country (Hmm) Bangladeshis earlier were restricted only to the North- East but today they are in all parts of the country and certainly even the capital, OK and they are barely 40 kms away from Prime Minister Modis constituency which is a place called Bhadohi

So I am just saying what could perhaps be seen as a state centric issue or limited to one particular state, will become a pan India issue in the future.

R : Right

J: (Voice unclear)

R: Moving on from that point, isn’t there a distinction to be made, between migrants and refugees? Bangladeshis are, do come from a state that recognizes them as citizens (Right) and they choose to migrate to India for better opportunities. (Right) Refugees are, they aren’t recognised as citizens, Rohingyas aren’t recognized as citizens in Myanmar.

J: See, that’s a legal decision to be made where we can split hairs, on who’s a refugee and who’s an illegal immigrant, who already has a citizenship bestowed upon him by let’s say a country of his origin. Point is, whether it is an illegal immigrant or a refugee (OK) the effect is that India stares at a potential security threat.  So I am going more as aeffects rule that as opposed to what are the origins and what are their statuses under respective international conventions and definitions. (OK)

My position is not based on whether or not they are illegal immigrants or refugees, my point is that they are not the citizens of this particular country, they don’t belong to this particular land, they don’t have any right as far as this particular country is concerned, except let’s say some rights under Article 14.

Be that as it may, we also have a Foreigners’ Act, and we are not signatory to the International Convention of Status of Refugees, 1951. Nor we have signed to the subsequent protocol of 1957. So if law is what we wish to discuss, as on date India does not have a legal obligation to settle, or to re-habilitate or to welcome or to keep welcoming these people. That’s the state point. So if we wish to discuss law, this is the position.

R: OK

R: You know the law better than I do, since we have, we have seen getting refugees getting refugee status in India, being allowed to live with a certain civility such as the Tibetans and the Sri Lankan Tamils (J: Correct) . So is this opposition solely to the people of the Islamic faith? I am not saying this In a communal lens, more to do with the problems faced by the Islamic people and the radicalisation of the Islamic faith. So is it, is this opposition only for Muslims?

J: Let’s look at it this way, I’m happy with questions being asked because this is an honor at least for people who want to communalise this particular issue. Today we are in a situation, where whether we agree with it or not, whether we like it or not, and despite all claims of being politically correct, the fact of the matter is Islamic terrorism is real threat which affects major flashpoints in the country- in the world. Ok. And I think India has borne the brunt of it much earlier in the world. (Right) So I think that’s a lesson India must draw from.

Secondly if somebody were to ask me a question from a religious standpoint, I’ll be very very blunt and say, that I don’t say who doesn’t belongs to this particular country, I’ll certainly come to a positive answer to this question which is to say, there is a concept of Indic faith. It’s just to say that Hinduism, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, so on and so forth, these are people who belong to the Indic family from a civilizational standpoint because, see there’s a civilizational aspect, there’s a legal aspect, there’s a civillitarian aspect, so I am touching on the civilizational aspect (OK).

So India is a natural home for people belonging to people belonging to Indic faith. I am not saying it’s not a home for others, that’s a negative statement to make, I’m simply saying that this is a natural home for these people (OK). Therefore it’s not wrong for us to have a magic carpet policy wherein we say that people who’ve otherwise belonged to this particular part, for centuries and who’ve always lived here, and who belong to this particular Indic tradition, shall continue to find refuge in this particular part of the country. And this, I think the government’s recent notification on long term visa, specifically captures this particular principle, in the form of requirements, as to who can settle in this country, and what kind of persecuted minorities can hope to find some kind of an asylum, or refuge or shelter in India.

Now to answer the question as to whether we have a fundamental problem with people coming from an Islamic background, just look at this. We had the KokraJhar riots, right? (Right) And thanks to the Rohingyas issue, in 2011 we saw what happened at Azad Maidan, right? (Okay.) And there are people who are trying to make an attempt to somehow communalise this particular this particular issue, and I might as well say this, there is also a demographic game at play (Okay.) Because at the end of the day, today the indigenous population in Assam has come down to less than 50% or it hovers at 60%, or even less than that. Okay. And the consequences are there for everybody to see, Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus, both. (Right). Okay?And we don’t want, let’s say History to repeat itself, in other parts of the country when there are active reports coming out that this particular community is been seen as an instrumentality or a tool of war, for proxy war against India,(Okay) then India must be on guard.  What stops India from funding their rehabilitation in other countries?What stops India from giving them shelter or any other, providing material resources, to build shelter in other places. Why do we have to take it upon ourselves to take this responsibility and contribute to the creation of a free living space, a Lebensraum, so to speak.

R: Taking your point a little forward, you’ve spoken about the Indic tradition and how it encapsulates Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains etc. Would you be in favour of allowing those Khalisatani migrants who left to Canada and Australia?

J: If they have a secessionistmind-set, if they have an India mindset, notwithstanding the fact they come from an Indic tradition so to speak, they should not be allowed on this particular soil and importantly (OK) Khalisatanis as opposed to non- Khalistani Sikhs (Okay) subscribe to a very different worldview. They don’t see themselves as part of an Indic tradition at all, Okay? (Right) And that’s where the divergence is on a theological standpoint, at a theological level. Okay. So since the question was about Khalistani Sikhs, so I am very clear that those people who subscribe to that ideology see themselves as part of very different worldview, they don’t subscribe to the Indic civilizational narrative.

R: Okay.

J: Non Khalisatani Sikhs, as long as they seek refuge in India, India must welcome them, India must protect them. I would say this for Sikhs from Afghanistan, Sikhs from Balochistan, Sikhs from Pakistan, and Sikhs from any part of the world.

R: I am glad you mentioned you mentioned Pakistan. I had another question that deals with, certain community that came out of Punjab, united Punjab in colonial India. They are the Ahmadiyyas. (Right) Would you also hold them to the same scrutiny? Because they are considered non- Muslims in many Muslim countries, where they go through persecution.

J: Whether they see themselves as part of the Islamic faith, or the rest of the Islamic community see them as part of Islam, my question would be, what is their theological position with respect to Indic faith? What is their position with respect to the worldview India subscribes to, and our way of life? Or ways of life, since there is  more than one. An if it is at a fundamental level antithetical to what we stand for, then what-notwithstanding the fact that the Islamic community doesn’t see them as Muslims, I don’t see why is it that India must welcome them. Going by a hard line, a Sunni, or a Wahabi, or a Salafist position (Right), Shias are also not Muslims, they are not true Muslims, right? (Correct)

So would be extend the same logic and say Shia Muslims from any part of the world, regardless of what threats they may pose to India’s national security, they must be welcome. Let’s be very clear, we are not talking about Muslims in India, we are only talking about a community which comes from outside of India, someone who’s been a part of this country, someone who’s lived in this country, regardless of how he arrived at the shores of India, has ultimately managed to reconcile his worldview, his religious standpoints to what India stands for, to what this country has always stood for. Okay? (Okay.)

Let’s ask ourselves this basic question, and I’ll take this to the most uncomfortable level possible. What do you make of Jews (okay.) because Jews are obviously not part of the Indic tradition. For me what has held is, I’ve not come across a single instance, since we are talking about data evidence that Jews have been held responsiblefor secessionist movements or for fermenting sectionalism in the country where they’ve lived as minorities. Notwithstanding a very fundamental, theological divide between Judaism or Abrahamictradition in a particular sense and the Indic tradition. The fact of the matter is, in the millennia that they’ve lived in India, they’ve not caused any trouble, they do not believe in creating trouble for those whose way of life or whose faith is completely at loggerheads with theirs. They prefer to be left alone and as long as nobody interferes with their way of life, they have not created any trouble. I would not use the same standard or the same yardstick for others.

For instance when we welcome, when we opened our gates for the Bangladeshi immigrants in the 1970s after the war and after the creation of Bangladesh (Right). We did not think that after 30 years, it would come to a point where large parts of the border areas would be lost to these communities, with the indigenous population crying for help. And regularly at the receiving end of law and order issues, and much more than law and order issues, organised terror, organised crime and what not.

I would ask myself Do I want to see indigenous communities in India going through the same fate as Bodos or whoever it is in the KokraJhar riots or if they are disenfranchised or if they are deprived of their dignity, then who should be held responsible thirty years hence, (Okay) for allowing this particular community to settle, in the name of grand old tradition of India.

It’s time that India fended for itself and spends on its national security and priorities first, before going by this so-called universalist position, which I don’t think has worked well for it in the last few years.

R: Thirty years from now, we may have Bangladeshi practically submerged, where would the Bangladeshis go then? It’s closest brethren lives across the border in India.

J: I am so grateful for this question, I understand. So assuming that global warming happens results in rising sea levels, and we find Sri Lanka and Bangladesh submerged, would we be open to Sri Lanka and close to Bangladesh? That’s the question, correct? I would say that India should stop, let’s use the word  pussyfooting around for what it stands for and completely give up the so called non-alignmentmovement position that it has taken in the past, and must craft for itself a different policy, give to itself a specific identity, and in accordance with that define what its foreign policies are, and what are its positions with respect to refugees depending on where they come from, and what their origins are.

And I would be very very clear about one position, that if India wishes to welcome any of these groups in the future, then they must be subject to certain conditions, and they must be held responsible for creating any trouble, and you might perhaps cast a few more onerous obligations on them than you would on let’s say people coming from the Indic faith. I am very clear about these positions and even if it comes across as politically incorrect, I am not so liberal, so be it. But be that as it may, the influx of a foreign group is going to pose a threat- today, tomorrow, 10 years 15 years down the line, to indigenous entities and indigenous people. Then India must clearly identify it needs to throw its weight behind those people who are indigenous to this particular land. And as long as it does not have the particular view, and it decides to take a universalist position, then it could have thrown to the wings its obligations as a sovereign state, which are just to protect the borders of its country, the people of its country, to provide resources first for the people of the country and then to anybody else. So even if it is a calamity, I would only ask myself one question- why should India be the only entity which takes responsibility for all these people. China is about 5 times the size of India, and it certainly can accommodate these people, why can’t China do it, it’s a better place to do it, it has the resources to do it. (Right) And why can’t Pakistan do it, why can’t other countries do it, why is it that other countries in the Afghan region or the Pak region don’t come together and address the issue commonly, to see how is it that they can handle the issue of Rohingyas?  Why is it only India’s burden? Rohingyas are not the Indian people’s burden.

R: Just a small correction there, the Rohingyas didn’t start flooding into India till Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia, and Thailand closed down their borders, naval and land (So?)

So isn’t this – J: If other countries, especially people who share their religion, share their faith have closed their doors, why is India taking upon itself the responsibility of welcoming these people. Can it guarantee the safety of the people in the future who might be raped, plundered, killed or looted by these people who come. Who shall those people hold responsible when they go through these things?

R: I’m sorry, isn’t this is a line very similar to the one Trump took with the Mexicans, like we don’t know that these people are rapists or looters or plunderers.

J: Even if Trump had not been elected and such a person had never existed in the history of this world, I would have taken the same position, regardless of who endorses this position, regardless of which dictator, which which person endorses this position (Right )we are entitled to take this position, in the interest of our country, in the interest of our future generations, to whom we owe our primary responsibility to.

R: Though my question was, since they’ve entered India already, and we made the mistake as a nation, we made the mistake of not rising up to the problems faced by our neighbours, not realising that there would be this problem that would arise, there exists no tangible evidence. Can’t we simply do the humane thing and secure our borders and let them live in peace? At least for these 40,000 people.

J: I understand what you’re saying, I understand what you’re saying. So there are 2 issues- one, what do you do with the people who’ve already come, two, how do you prevent more people from coming in? (Correct) Okay.  I squarely hold the intelligence apparatus of this country the current dispensation of the country for allowing things to come to such a farce.

The fact that 40,000 people have managed to come right under your noses, in a state where you’re one of the holders of power so as to speak. It really speaks volumes of how important is national security on your list of priorities. If it is really important, it’s not just a waste of foreign policy, you need to ensure that the homeland is safe from any kind of threat. And therefore, since the government has made the mistake, we shouldn’t expect the people of this country to bear the brunt of it in the future. As far as 40,000 people are concerned, let’s break this down to what this actually translates to. 40,000 God knows how much this number will mushroom to in the future, what kind of impact will it have on the creation of a votebank in the future,what kind of impact will it have on the creation of a demographic challenge to the part in which they’ve settled in. Because this is precisely the problem that West Bengal was facing under the communist regime. When the communist regime started pampering illegal Bangladeshis, giving them ration cards and what not, resources of all sorts , cultivated a vote bank and today it has come to a point where the people of West Bengal can’t even celebrate their festivals with freedom. (Right) Okay.

So perhaps there’s no evidence today, maybe there won’t be evidence for the next 15 years, maybe not in the next 20 years, but in 30 years when this population would have mushroomed to a certain number, what do you do then? So I would draw parallels with principles of environment protection (Okay) where typically you don’t look for evidence for something to prove it as devastating to the environment, you go by a preventive concept. So looking at preventing something, without necessarily needing to have evidence that it is going to be potentially toxic to the environment, so I would apply the same kind of principles even to the national security, for the simple reason, it’s not exactly a science, this is not exactly maths, and, no, if anybody’s guess whether this number of refugees will go down or go up. It can perhaps even go down (Correct). Be that as it may, you should position yourself from the standpoint of asking, am I ready for the worst? And that’s how I would actually pitch, let’s say national security policy. So I am no expert in national security, I am just voicing my opinion as a lay person who has some degree of qualification to speak on some of these issues, I am trained as a lawyer, and I am interested in some of these issues.  Be that as it may, the point is I am sure that there are a thousand people better qualified to speak on this subject.

But as a lay person someone who’s interested in ensuring that the country doesn’t change for the worst, for the future generations, we must have clear a policy which is not mushy, which is not  squeamish, in the hope  of coming across as politically correct and liberal , doesn’t put in harm’s way the country’s future. (Okay) Especially with respect to those parts of the country over which somebody is laying claim, more than one people. For instance Pakistan and China already seem to be laying claim over parts of Kashmir. We are allowing settlements of people who could again create trouble and who could end up pawns in the hands of Pakistan or China.

My only point is this and I think this needs to be set, Kashmiri Hindus and Indians from the rest of the country do not seem to have access to buying land or anything else in parts of- in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. But we seem to be open to welcoming, (unclear voice) we seem to be open to welcoming Rohingyas and what not under the sun. All of one particular hue. And tomorrow this could end up becoming ground for Islamo-fascism or Islamism and a second wave of Islamism, as far as Kashmir is concerned, and things could spiral out of control, not that they are particularly in control today. I don’t think we should add anything to the mix.

R: Fair enough. I would like your opinion as a lawyer on this. One of the points made with regards to Rohingyas living in Jammu and Kashmir is that Kashmir is governed by Article 370, it has its own constitution, which allows foreigners to come in, whilst not allowing Indians to do the same. As a lawyer, how can you solve this as an issue, without touching on this article, this very touchy article?

J: To be very honest, as far as this particular issue is concerned, I have not applied my mind to this aspect of the question. But be that as it may, I am just spitballingbased on what I’ve understood of Article 370, based on what I’ve written about it in the past, (Okay) Which is just to say, Article 370 is perhaps only a question of the special relationship between that state and the rest of the Union, but this does not in any manner alter the Union’s responsibility with respect to the state qua third party. So for instance, the fact that it remains an undisputed territory of this country has been our position with respect to Pakistan, not just Pakistan, also with the rest of the world. Therefore the Union’s right, responsibility, power, obligation and duty to ensure that such state is free from influx of foreign immigrants, illegal immigrants or refugees continues to be the same as any other state.

The Union may have a different equation with the state of Jammu and Kashmir than it has with say the state of Tamil Nadu. But that’s an internal question.

But when you from an external prism, that is you from a third party standpoint who is neither the Union nor the Kashmir, India or the union has the same responsibility, the same right with the state of Kashmir as it has with respect to the state of Tamil Nadu. It has the same right with respect to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and all these states, as it has with Kashmir. So otherwise, if going by that logic, the state of Kashmir, God knows, I mean God forbid with that kind of a dispensation, could invite Chinese willingly and Pakistanis to settle in Kashmir, and India would have absolutely no say in it. Right? Simply because Article 370 allows the state of Kashmir to allow any of these people to settle, purchase property and what not.

R: I don’t think they are allowed to purchase property but they are allowed to work and live freely in Kashmir.

J: Let’s assume for a moment that Chinese are allowed to work and you give permits to Chinese. Can the Union of India not have a problem with so many Chinese being present in Kashmir, or so many Pakistanis being present in Kashmir? Of course it has a problem, it can have a problem, it has a right to have an issue with it.  Article 370 does not curtail India’s right as a Union to interfere with who comes into the state of Jammu and Kashmir, from the rest of the world.

R: On that slightly onerous note, thank you so much for speaking to us, Sai Deepak. It was truly a pleasure to hear you views and opinions on this very important matter. There are a lot of Indians who haven’t been focusing on this unfortunately. Thanks a lot.

J: My pleasure, my pleasure. Thank you.