Why doesn’t India stand up for rights of its Diaspora?
Rajeev Srinivasan |
June 12, 2008 | 03:46 IST
Nand had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of history three times.
And so he died, shackled, untreated for diabetes, in a prison cell in
a legal immigrant and green card holder, made the mistake of applying
for United States citizenship. This was rejected on a technicality (a
misdemeanour charge about domestic violence), and he fell into the
Twilight Zone of the penal system.
Without recourse to due process, he was incarcerated and essentially, subjected to judicial murder in a privately-run prison.
is startling because it seems like a huge miscarriage of justice, the
sort legal immigrants to the most open and free society in the world
should not be subjected to.
But there are several other
aspects that stand out: one, that poor Maya Nand must have been
especially cursed to be so violated by history three times over; two,
that on the fringes of the legal system of the US there exist dark
corners where people can become non-persons, to be brutalized at will;
and three, that yet again, the Indian state pays no attention to the
oppressed amongst its Diaspora.
Nand has been the victim, so to speak, of globalization. His ancestors
were indentured labourers from India, taken to work as near-slaves in
the sugar-plantations of Fiji by the British.
must have suffered serious discrimination from the indigenous Fijians,
and therefore moved to the US as a refugee. Finally, with no
opportunity to defend himself, he was killed, and that too in a prison
run by a for-profit corporation — and that is the unkindest cut of all.
it appears that certain legal protections US citizens take for granted
are not available to legal immigrant and residents. There are gray
areas in the US judicial system that take away the fundamental rights
of the individual, including habeas corpus, the right to a fair hearing
in court, and the famous ‘Miranda’ rule, available to even hardened
criminals, that gives you the right to remain silent, and the other
equally important right to an attorney.
Nand, as a Green Card
holder, was automatically entitled to these rights — but he got none
of them; instead, he was whisked away in cuffs to detention without
The story of Maya Nand, and a related story about European visitors that was given prominent space in the May 15 edition of The New York Times,
show there are constructs that put non-citizens into a Kafkaesque
no-man’s land where they are legally not on US soil even when they are
physically present, and therefore normal laws, even those that can be
availed by illegal immigrants, are not available to them.
they can be held indefinitely without being charged, and there is no
way that anxious relatives can get reliable information about them, let
alone access to them.
a strange way, this is the mirror-image of the rationale for the
post-9/11 terrorist holding facility in the US naval base at Guantanamo
That is another fiction where the base is not quite
considered to be on US soil, and detainees are not considered either
enemy combatants or prisoners of war, and therefore the Geneva
Convention doesn’t apply to them (let me hasten to add that I make no
assumptions about the innocence or otherwise of those detained in
Gitmo, I am merely observing the legal loophole used).
also applies to other detention centres, for instance in Central Asia,
where suspected terrorists have been interrogated and held. Even if
there is some justification for the ill-treatment (including the
infamous ‘waterboarding’ torture) of suspected armed terrorists, surely
that does not apply to a law-abiding refugee and legal alien, who had
obviously lived long enough in the US to qualify to apply for
was shocked when I first read of Maya Nand, and of the problems faced
by European visitors. Accustomed as most of us are to the frequent
proclamations about the US being the ‘home of the free and the land of
the brave’, I could not believe such things could happen to holders of
the coveted Green Card. (Although, in passing, I know some people who
lied about their existing Communist Party affiliations — a big no-no
— in their Green Card applications. I am sure they worry someone will
bring this little subterfuge to the attention of those grim Homeland
Green Cards, and citizenship, can, and have
been, revoked — ask the Indian immigrants who were stripped of
citizenship in the early 1900s for being Caucasian but not white).
To some extent, these excesses may be over-reactions to 9/11 and the real threat to America from terrorists abroad.
there is a totalitarian streak in the country that explains how
Japanese-Americans were put into concentration camps during World War
II. There is also a tendency to apply the harshest methods to
non-whites. But then, America has a violent history, including the
genocide and cultural extermination of the Native American.
latest example of this mean streak is the tough new measures applied to
illegal aliens. Instead of being deported quickly to their home
countries on civil charges as is the norm, 270 illegal immigrants
picked up recently were charged with criminal offences and sent to jail
for five months.
The New York Times in a May 24 story
reported allegations of high-handedness and bullying, for instance in
forcing the aliens to admit offenses and then plea-bargain. Apparently
immigrants are being scapegoated for the economic troubles in the US.
No wonder there is a ‘reverse brain-drain’ to emerging Asia.
there is an even sorrier state of affairs in India. On the one hand,
India treats its illegal immigrants — even those accused of terrorism
— with kid gloves. They are certainly treated no worse than
native-born and law-abiding Indian citizens.
On the other
hand, India is only interested in its Diaspora in a crude and grasping
manner: It remembers the 20-million-strong overseas Indian community
only to beg them for their money. This is hypocritical and unbecoming.
does India not stand up for the rights of its Diaspora and demand that
the record be set right on historical wrongs? Four years ago,
Indian-origin Sikh priest Khem Singh, 72 years old and crippled, was
starved to death in another American prison in Fresno, California.
Before that, there was Charanjit Singh Aujla, shot to dead by
plainclothes policemen in Jefferson, Mississippi. And Navroze Mody, who
was beaten to death in Hoboken, New Jersey, by racists chanting
a more global scale, there have been many incidents of oppression,
religious and economic, against Indian-origin people in Fiji; they have
had no option but to flee. There was violence against Indians in
Uganda, Kenya, etc, in East Africa, again turning many into refugees;
and even before that, Indians were ejected from Burma.
citizens are routinely kidnapped and murdered in Afghanistan. In the
Persian Gulf, there have been riots where unpaid and ill-treated Indian
workers have had to resort to violence to get their wages.
Indian-origin Tamils are continuously being brutalized in religious
violence in Malaysia.
Indian government has never raised its voice in support of its Diaspora
in any of these cases. Perhaps that was acceptable when India was a
starving banana republic, holding out a begging bowl for PL-480 corn
flour and powdered milk.
But this is not acceptable when India
aspires to be a major power. An Indian naval battle group steaming into
the Straits of Malacca or appearing off the coast of Fiji would send a
strong message: that India has the means and the will to punish bad
behavior. But today, India is seen as the ultimate soft State.
back to an earlier time, and the event that showed Indians that the
British imperialists were truly evil: April 13, 1919, Jallianwalla
Bagh. The Indian government has never demanded even an apology from the
British for this crime against humanity: 1,650 bullets, 1,579
The husband of the British Queen, on a visit a few
years ago, in fact harangued Indians that it was not possible that so
many people could have died. He said he was told this by the son of
General Dyer, the man who had ordered the shooting!
Canadians recently decided to make a belated apology for the shameful
Komagata Maru incident of 1914 when they denied Indian refugees
succour. More such apologies must be demanded. The British have
apologized, for instance, to Maoris, but why, pray, not to Indians?
Reparations will also be accepted. A good example is China, which has
extorted billions from Japan simply by shouting ‘Rape of Nanking!’ from
every available forum at every available opportunity.
must demand a government that is proud of its nation and its people,
and leaves no stone unturned in protecting its citizens and its
Diaspora. Only such a State deserves its citizens’ loyalty. Only then
will there be no more Maya Nands in future.