Revoking citizenship: on the Aatish Taseer case

Aatish Taseer. File

Aatish Taseer. File   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU


The Aatish Taseer case brings to focus an outdated provision in the Citizenship (Amendment) Act

The BJP said in its 2014 manifesto that “NRIs, PIOs and professionals settled abroad [need to be harnessed] for strengthening Brand India”. However, by revoking the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card of writer Aatish Taseer, the BJP-led government has shown that the promise was not serious. Mr. Taseer’s card was cancelled, the government claimed, as he had attempted to “conceal information” that his father, Salman Taseer, was of Pakistani origin. The spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry said that if any OCI holder was “no longer eligible and if it fits into a certain criterion of that cancellation of an OCI card then the OCI card will be cancelled”. The government used Section 7D of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2005 to cancel Mr. Taseer’s card. The rules prohibit any person with Pakistani or Bangladeshi lineage from obtaining this status.

Launched in 2005, the OCI card was conceptualised to give a foreign citizen of Indian origin almost a citizen-like status. It enables the OCI card holder to visit India multiple times for multiple purposes. He or she is exempted from reporting to police authorities for any length of stay in India and enjoys all financial, recreational and other facilities that are available to NRIs. The card is particularly useful for professionals, businesspersons, and even politicians of Indian origin who live in the U.S., the Caribbeans, Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, Canada, Latin America and the Pacific Islands. Except for acquisition of agricultural and plantation properties, the OCI card helps the owner in most day-to-day economic and social activities while in India. The card strengthens the bond that the holder feels for India.

A problematic decision

Mr. Taseer responded to the government’s move in an article. He wrote that he is a British citizen; was not in contact with his father, who was born in British India and became Pakistani only when the country was created, till he was 21 years old; and was brought up by his mother in India.

To deny Mr. Taseer the OCI card using Section 7D of the Citizenship Act is problematic. One, it opens up the possibility of similar treatment being meted out to orphans, adopted children, and children born to single mothers. The same clause of the Act could also be used against a OCI card holder who might have a child out of wedlock with a partner from a country that the Indian state does not have good relations with. Will the state then punish the infant too? And what if the OCI card holder has a parent or grandparent or some ancestry in Pakistan or Bangladesh or a country that the government suddenly decides to add to the list? Would his or her status also be in jeopardy?


Two, the government could have chosen to examine Mr. Taseer’s maternal links instead of accusing him of wilfully hiding the identity of his father, especially as former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had argued in 2016 that the consular process should be made favourable for single mothers. Mr. Taseer pointed out that he was given only a day to respond to the notice informing him that the government was revoking his card. But there was sufficient ground to avoid even that. Swaraj had said in 2018, “As per amended rules, a single parent can apply for a Passport for the child”. If the state can grant a passport to a child based on a single mother’s application, why were Mr. Taseer’s maternal links with India not taken into consideration?


Burden of proof

In the case of the National Register of Citizens too, the burden was on the people to prove their citizenship. Neither the OCI card nor citizenship status, premised on entitlement of individuals from their states, can be so easily revoked especially when provisions exist to help them. It would be wise for the government to consider changing the rules of the antiquated law and also not attract attention to itself in such an unfavourable manner given the odd timing of the case — just months after Mr. Taseer wrote a critical article about the Modi regime in TIME magazine.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 7:20:48 PM |

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