"We are Indians," asserted a group of Indian-Americans venting their ire at the new citizenship rules announced by the Government of India, near the Indian Consulate in New York on Wednesday.
They demanded the immediate repeal of the change in rules that they claimed harass them, especially the exorbitant fee and penalties.
According to the new rules, which came into effect immediately after they were recently announced, a service fee of $175 (about Rs 8,262) will be charged for obtaining a surrender certificate after renouncing the Indian citizneship.
There are additional penalties depending on the varying dates of expiry of the passports.
The entry visa too became another issue of concern. According to the new rules, people of Indian origin will get only an entry visa and not a tourist visa.
While the tourist visa is granted for 10 years, entry visa is given only for five years. For a 10-year tourist visa one needs to pay $168 (about Rs 7,932) while for a five-year entry visa, one has to pay $238 (about Rs 11,237).
That means, if an Indian-American stays for 20 years under the entry visa, he or she will have to pay 238X2=$476 (about Rs 22,474).
"We are not Tatas or Birlas to pay such high fees for an unnecessary thing based on a law that was not enforced for 55 years. The government should listen to us. We are no less Indian just because we took up citizenship in the US," Thomas T Oommen, who organised the people's protest without the involvement of major organisations, said.
Yet more than 50 people turned up for the protest on a working day.
The protesters had prepared a memorandum to be presented to the consul general. But they were not allowed inside and after much arguing with the security personnel, it was placed with the security to be handed over to the consul general.
"It is a shame that the representative of a democratic country could not accept a memorandum in person. We are law abiding people voicing our concerns peacefully," Alex Vilanilam, a leader of the World Malayali Council, who prepared the memorandum, said.
The consulate officials dissuaded many from coming to the protest, Ommen said.
The officials even warned that they would report about the leaders to the government, he added.
He came to attend the protest, even though his younger brother had died a day before suddenly.
Aleayamma Jacob, one of the protestors, said she became a US citizen 30 years ago and used to travel to India, at least once a year.
Recently she applied for the Overseas Citizenship of India Card and got the approval. But before it reached to her in the mail, the rule was changed.
"Now that I have to return the Indian passport, how can I find it after 30 years?" she asked.
She has to pay $175 for renouncing the Indian citizenship and get a Surrender Certificate, in addition to a notarised affidavit and pay another $175.
Other penalties may apply, though she is not sure about how much.
Hemant Patel became a US citizen in 1989. He traveled to India a few months ago. As his father fell ill recently, he has to go again and booked a ticket for June 6. When he approached the consulate to explain the situation, he said nobody paid heed to his queries.
He said he was waiting for the surrender certificate and hoped that it would arrive before the travel date.
Urmila Kathuria, who lives in Flushing, New York, said it is a law that will only alienate people. "We love India and we are Indians too," she said.
When Minaxi Dave became a US citizen in 2002, one had to give the Indian passport to the US authorities. "There was a box to drop it. But later the US stopped that practice," she said. She too needs to get a notarised affidavit.
Many termed the fee as "looting" by the government.
"If they wanted to implement an outdated law, they should have given notice to the people and allowed some time for people to respond. They should also create extra facilities at the consulates to deal with the rush. But true to the Indian bureaucratic style they implemented an order without any consideration for the hardships of the people," John C Varghese, general secretary of the Federation of Kerala Association in America said.
Image: Indian-Americans protest outside the Indian Consulate in New York on Wdnesday | Photograph: Paresh Gandhi