Critics Complain of Harassment After India Revokes Visa Privileges

Dozens of Indian-origin academics, journalists and others say they have been denied the right to visit India because of their criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist government.
India Revokes Visa Privileges:- Dozens of Indian-origin academics, journalists and others say they have been denied the right to visit India because of their criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist government.[VOA]
India Revokes Visa Privileges:- Dozens of Indian-origin academics, journalists and others say they have been denied the right to visit India because of their criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist government.[VOA]

India Revokes Visa Privileges:- Dozens of Indian-origin academics, journalists and others say they have been denied the right to visit India because of their criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist government.

While not denying the actions, the Modi government says the people in question had their visa privileges revoked because they indulged in "anti-India activities" — an accusation the banned individuals rejected.

Their cause has been taken up by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, whose Asia director said in a report this week that the government's actions "show the authorities' growing hostility to criticism and dialogue."

"The authorities seem intent on expanding politically motivated repression against Indian activists and academics at home to foreign citizens of Indian origin beyond India's borders," said Elaine Pearson.

The barred critics were among 4.5 million people around the world who hold Overseas Citizen of India status, which is granted to individuals who are of Indian origin but not citizens of the country. Anyone holding an OCI card is granted multiple entries to India and a lifelong visa for any length of stay.

Since Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, came to power in 2014, an increasing number of Indian-origin foreigners have been denied access to India. From 2014 to May 2023, Indian authorities canceled 102 OCI cards.

The HRW statement noted that many of those who had their cards revoked were academics, activists and journalists who are known as vocal critics of the BJP's political philosophy.

"In some cases, the [Indian] authorities have openly cited criticism of BJP government policies as evidence to revoke the [OCI] visa status," the HRW statement said.

Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research in Sweden who had his OCI card revoked in 2020, told VOA the government's "accusations … that I indulge in 'illegal activities inimical' to the interests of the sovereignty, integrity and security of India is nothing but fiction."

Swain said he challenged the cancellation, and in July 2023, the Delhi High Court quashed the government's order, "for its failure to provide any evidence" of anti-India activities.

"In August 2023, the government canceled my OCI card again," he said.

"I am an academic, and it is no secret that I criticize the policies of the Modi government through writing opinion pieces, speaking to the press and commenting on social media," added Swain, who teaches at Uppsala University in Sweden.

"The Modi government is using my case as an example to instill fear among diaspora academics, discouraging them from criticizing its anti-democratic and anti-minority policies."

Last month, Indian authorities barred Nitasha Kaul, an Indian-origin British professor at the University of Westminster in London and an OCI card holder, from entering India to attend a conference on the Indian constitution.

At Bangalore airport, the immigration officials denied her entry following "orders from Delhi," she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

IMPORTANT: Denied entry to #India for speaking on democratic & constitutional values. I was invited to a conference as esteemed delegate by Govt of #Karnataka (Congress-ruled state) but Centre refused me entry. All my documents were valid & current (UK passport & OCI). THREAD 1/n pic.twitter.com/uv7lmWhs4k

— Professor Nitasha Kaul, PhD (@NitashaKaul) February 25, 2024

"The officials informally made references to my criticism of RSS, a far-right Hindu nationalist paramilitary from years ago," she wrote. RSS, or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is seen as the ideological mentor of the BJP.

"In addition to this, they have called me jihadi and a terrorist. There has been a vast amount of deliberate disinformation suggesting that because my work is critical of the ruling party in India, that makes me pro-Pakistani," she said.

British anthropologist Filippo Osella, a professor at the University of Sussex who had visited India for 35 years in connection with research, was turned away from Thiruvananthapuram airport in Kerala state, where he was going to attend a conference on coastal communities.

"I later learned that I had been permanently blacklisted from ever entering India again," Osella told VOA. He said that many research collaborations are now being "jeopardized by unjustified deportations and blacklistings, which are becoming all too common."

Modi's ruling BJP acknowledges the cancellation of the OCI cards but defends the practice.

Those whose cards have been canceled "make a nefarious and negative campaign against a political party that has been duly elected by the people of the country. They aim to malign and tarnish the image of the nation and the ruling party," Delhi-based senior BJP leader Alok Vats told VOA, speaking in Hindi. "These people should not be allowed to enter India."

But Angana Chatterji, an anthropologist at the University of California in Berkeley, said the Indian government aggressively tracks and targets many who speak out against its policies and those who dissent against Hindu nationalism.

The Indian government "propagandizes the myth of 'India shining,' to position its majoritarian beliefs as beneficial to the national interest and security," said Chatterji, who in 2019 testified before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding human rights violations in India-administered Kashmir.

"The Modi-led government camouflages its heightened militarism, casteism, exclusionary changes to the law that privilege Hindus, violent governance of vulnerable communities, especially Muslims, and its sacralization of India as a Hindu state." VOA/SP

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