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Why doesn't India stand up for rights of its Diaspora?
June 12, 2008
Maya 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 Arizona, US.
Nand, 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.
This 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.
Maya 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.
Alarmingly, 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.
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.
In 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 Bay, Cuba.
I 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 Security types.
To some extent, these excesses may be over-reactions to 9/11 and the real threat to America from terrorists abroad.
The 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.
But 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.
Why 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 'dot-head'.
On 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.
The 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.
The 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 [Images] simply by shouting 'Rape of Nanking!' from every available forum at every available opportunity.
Rajeev Srinivasan considers San Francisco and Kerala [Images] his two homes.