Wednesday, February 21

Weaponization Of OCI and Blacklisting: Modi Government’s Crackdown On Critics Abroad

Edited by Aishwarya Krishnan

A recent report by Article 14 has revealed that the central government led by Modi has cancelled more than 100 Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards over the course of nine years, and blacklisted several others. As per the report, Indian embassies are tasked with monitoring and prohibiting entry to those who individuals who have spoken, or even tweeted, against Modi, his policies and Hindutva.

Created in 2005 under the Citizenship Act of 1955, the OCI allows foreign citizens of Indian-origin or foreigners married to Indian citizens to enter India without a visa, work, reside and hold property and more.

According to RTI responses, between the year 2014 and May 2023, over 100 Overseas citizen of India (OCI) cards have been cancelled. Based on the Article 14 report, the targeted individuals revealed that there was a pattern of punitive action for speaking against the Modi government and its policies.

Three people of Indian origin were blacklisted for tweets against Hindu nationalism and expressing their solidarity with the farmers during the protests between 2020 and 2021, as stated in a report by Article 14.

Writer and activist Amrit Wilson, a member of the UK-based South Asian Solidarity Group, was accused of being involved in “multiple anti-India activities” and participated in “detrimental propaganda” against the Indian government, endangering the sovereignty and integrity of the country. However, the 82-year-old’s response in December 2022 was found “unsatisfactory”. Soon after, her OCI status was cancelled.

Following a writ petition filed by Wilson, the reasoning behind the punitive action given was attributed to two tweets and an article written by Wilson criticizing the Modi government in response to the farmers protests in 2020. Her petition is pending in the Delhi High Court with the next hearing scheduled on February 26.

However, the weaponization of OCI laws against these citizens is not a recent phenomenon. Back in 2014, Christine Mehta’s OCI status was revoked. Mehta, a researcher at Amnesty International India, was deported after her research study reported on alleged human rights violations by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2019, Aatish Taseer found out that his OCI status was cancelled citing allegations of the journalist concealing his father’s Pakistani origin. Notably, Taseer had written a critical profile of PM Modi in TIME magazine around the same time.

“As the Indian government closes space for dissent in India, it is now looking to silence those outside of India’s borders,” said Hindus for Human Rights’ Sunita Vishwanath, as stated in Article 14.

Journalist and US citizen Angad Singh was deported from an airport in New Delhi without reason. On a visit to meet his grandparents in August 2022, the OCI cardholder filed a plea at the Delhi High Court, following which the government issued an affidavit stating that Singh had been blacklisted in March 2021. The affidavit cited Singh’s documentary titled India Burning, an investigation into the threat of Hindu supremacy on Indian Muslims being relegated as second-class citizens. Singh was accused of anti-national propaganda to defame India.

The government justifies such actions under section 7D of the Citizenship Act, citing reasons such as disaffection to the Constitution or endangering sovereignty. In April 2021, 80 overseas citizens of India challenged the section 7D in the Supreme Court, questioning its constitutional validity and the arbitrary powers of the government to revoke OCI status.

Notably, in 2019, the government’s amendments, including adding a religious element to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – expediating citizenship forms of non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – also included an amendment to section 7D, which empowered the government to cancel OCI cards based on any violations of the Act. Further, the cardholder could also be blacklisted, prohibiting any future-entry into India.

These are some of the many stories of OCI cardholders who have been blacklisted or their OCI status cancelled based on vague accusations of anti-India activities. The Modi government’s crackdown on critics abroad raises questions about freedom of expression and the right to dissent.

The cancellation of OCI cards and blacklisting of individuals abroad not only silences dissenting voices but also creates a climate of fear and intimidation among Indian-origin individuals living overseas, affecting their ability to travel to India and maintain connections with their homeland.

As the debate continues, it remains essential to ensure that legitimate dissent is protected and that individuals are afforded fair treatment and due process, regardless of their views.