The Narendra Modi-led government of India has reportedly cancelled over 100 Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards over the span of nine years, Article 14 reported quoting details collected through RTI.
This information was obtained through right-to-information responses from the home ministry. In addition to these cancellations, an undisclosed number of people of Indian origin have been blacklisted, effectively being barred from entering the country.
Indian embassies and consulates are now taking on an increasing role in monitoring and preventing people who criticise Modi, government policies, and Hindutva, even extending to those who express dissent through tweets.
This points to a growing trend of the government scrutinising and taking action against people based on their opinions and expressions, raising concerns about freedom of expression and dissent within the Indian diaspora.
According to the report, a London-based writer and activist Amrit Wilson received a letter from the high commission of India in November 2022, accusing her of “multiple anti-India activities” and engaging in “detrimental propaganda” against the Indian government. The 82-year-old, who holds overseas citizen of India (OCI) status since 2017, was given a mere 15 days to explain why her OCI status should not be canceled.
The OCI, established in 2005, allows foreign citizens of Indian-origin or foreigners married to Indian citizens certain privileges, including visa-free entry, residency, work, and property ownership in India. Born in Kolkata, Wilson moved to London in 1961 and became an active voice on racism and labour rights related to South Asian women. She acquired British citizenship in 2009.
At least two people revealed that their OCI status was canceled, effectively barring them from returning to India, the report said.
Additionally, three people of Indian origin were blacklisted for expressing dissent against Hindu nationalism and supporting farmer protests between 2020 and 2021.
The ministry of home affairs India, in response to an Article 14 query filed in June 2023, disclosed that the government under Modi, canceled at least 102 OCI cards between 2014 and May 2023. Over 4.5 million people worldwide hold OCI status.
Despite the magnitude of the issue, many in the diaspora were hesitant to speak out due to fears of repercussions from the Indian government. Interviews with those who did speak revealed a consistent pattern of punitive action for criticising Modi, his government, or its policies. The cancellation process seemed to largely ignore responses to “show-cause notices,” with little room for appeal, except for a rare and costly court decision.
Article 14 sought a response from the ministry of home affairs regarding the cancellation process of OCI cards, but as of now, there has been no official response.