Plastic Identity
Dividing line between Chosen People and Illegal Aliens

If you were born in Chittagong or Lahore in 1940, migrated to the
United Kingdom in 1945 and became a British national, would you
qualify for the precious double citizenship that India now wants to
bestow on chosen People of Indian origin or as the Bharatiya Janata
Party calls them, Pravasi Bharatiyas? Would the answer depend on
whether you are a Muslim or a Hindu? And in Delhi, is the drive
against Slum Muslims who speak Bangla or Bengalis who happen to be
Muslims living in slums?

By John Dayal

[9 January 2003]

In the second week of New Year 2003 was marked by a series of
apparently unconnected events:

- Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told a 1,500 strong
gathering of top international leaders of the estimated 2 crore
Indian ethnic origin that Pravasi Bharatiyas, or NRIs, from select
countries such as the US and the UK could get double citizenship on a
reciprocal basis

- Deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, announcing a
scheme for a proposed multi-purpose national identity card, said
about 12,000 Pakistanis staying illegally in India after the expiry
of their visas an estimated 1.5 crore Bangladeshis would be expelled,
a programme enthusiastically echoed by the Lt Governor of Delhi which
arguably has the second largest such population after Assam

- India `tested' one more version of its Agni mid range
ballistic missile which puts all of Pakistan, and Bangladesh, within
strike range -- the missile can, of course, carry the much wonted
nuclear war head for which a new command system has now been put in

- A growth rate of over 8 per cent has been envisaged, some
of it expectedly from large scale Foreign direct investment

- In all innocence, Vajpayee asks Indians, including NRIs, to
help un tarnish India's image abroad, even as the government cancels
passports of top Kashmiri leaders it holds guilty of tarnishing the
Indian image by telling the world what is happening in Kashmir and in
Gujarat for that matter.

The men who wrote the Prime Minister's Musings from Goa, and the men
who interlocute for him in talks with the US government, among the
elite band of thinkers in the NDA government and the Bharatiya
Janata party, have unanimously reached the decision that this is the
right time for India to launch a major Public relations Exercise
abroad, harnessing whatever energies it can from resident and no
resident Indians, from the emerging Hindutva in the expatriate
populations in the US and the UK, and above all, when the western
governments are still on the cusp of the anti-Islamic hate wave
following the World Trade Centre terror and before it calms down to
an oil dictated détente with the Gulf region once again.

Top of the mind also is the need to clear up the public relations
disaster that Gujarat was, as government thinkers put it in mild
terms, and yet retain some steam for the `Secularism versus Security"
debate on which the BJP hopes to ride the election campaign later
this year for half a dozen state assemblies, hoping to repeat in
Rajasthan and elsewhere the black miracle it did in Gujarat.

So what is wrong with either the grant of citizen status to people of
Indian origin, or with kicking out people who definitely are aliens
and are living - for good or for bad - as any other citizen in the
metropolitan towns and qasbas of most of north India? Is there any
breach of international protocols in chucking out Bangladeshis?

The problem with both issues is not the law, but the morality. The
NDA government - and perhaps it is time to call it the BJP government
on these issues - is pandering to lobbies whose intention is to
subserve the agenda of the Sangh parivar, and not the nation at large.

Prof Amartya Sen and several prominent NRIs from the United Kingdom
in fact pointed out directly to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
that the nation has to make up its mind as to what sort of an image
it wants to project. It will not do, they said, for India to account
for itself as an exclusive land, fit in the sciences and first in
culture, without acknowledging that its civilisation has gained
tremendously in millennia of give and take with other peoples and
other civilisations, including the now hated western civilisation.
Indian claims in mathematics ring true only in acknowledging the
contribution of Arabian sciences and western thought, as much as even
its Sanskrit language cannot be kept exclusive as something born in
India and not brought from Outside.

These savants among the NRIs want an image of India that obeys the
rules of civilisation, the rules of law, of plurality of culture, of
the fact that for over 2,000 years, various religions and ethnic
groups , hundreds of language segments and social mores have co
existed and interacted, each strengthening the other, even if
occasional syncretism gave way to temporary absorption. An India
where man had, and has, dignity.

It is in this context that thinkers reject both the Israeli model of
Diaspora and the Chinese emotionalism and loyalty as universally
valid for the type of Diaspora that Indians are.

The Israeli Diaspora, and the Israeli pattern of dual citizenship
accord between Washington and Tel Aviv - a great favourite of Home
minister Lal Krishna Advani - is fed on centuries of history of
paranoia and persecution in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust in
which Nazis, another favourite of Advani, sent over 6 million Jews to
the gas chambers or forced labour camps. The birth of Zionism, the
forced birth of an Israeli state and the Law of return, weave a
complicated web of loyalty, compassion and attraction that binds
conservative Jews and modern New Yorkers with first generation
refugees from Eastern Europe still speaking the Yiddish of the Polish
Ghetto. Israel and New York, if not Washington, merge seamlessly as
it were where the interests of Israel and the self interest of the
ruling regime in Wall Street and Washington is concerned. The flow of
money, the flow of arms, and the diplomatic turning of the blind eye
to Israeli nuclear ambitions or its terrible human rights record, are
all part of the package which modern day Israel has been able to
wrest out of a west which wants a foothold on the shores of the oil
rich Western Asian region, and also suffers from a colossal guilt
complex for the anti Semitism of two thousand years, which still
breaks through every so often in real life to send law makers rushing
into another sop for Tel Aviv.

The Chinese Diaspora is more complex - generations of movements that
colonised South east Asia to emerge as the main ethnic group as in
Singapore, and generations of migrants to the west who emerged from
their ghettos as an industrious people with strong emotional ethnic
identity and ties which a monolithic cultural commonality and a
unique and exclusive language -- despite its variations such as
Cantonese and the classical Mandarin - which allowed them to live in
powerful cultural cocoons which outlasted the initial reasons for
which they had left the home land - for work, or fleeing communist
action or whatever. The Chinese of the first regeneration have send
money home, and during the long cold years of the Maoist and Cultural
Revolution days, they patronised the many democratic and market
movements in the main land. It needs to be remembered that despite he
strong political animosity that Hong Kong and mainland once had, and
which Taiwan still has towards Beijing, there are strong ethnic and
cultural ties that bind the one common Chinese people. But even in
the Chinese model of Diaspora, it is the first generation that has an
economic interest in the Mainland, even if it has no desire to settle
down there. The astute Chinese mind - which invented the bureaucracy
five thousand years ago -sees the homeland as a good investment
because their understanding of its potential and their faith in the
industry of their own people, who like themselves, want to reach out
for the sky. The Chinese have a time conception which spans
centuries, and the pace of events is never forced. The Chinese, as
India knows to it cost have inordinate patience and a cohesiveness
which India cannot match.

The Indian Diaspora share a little with the Chinese in as far as the
forced movement of citizens during the British regime is concerned.
The Indian Diaspora is multi layered, and each layer responds in its
own unique way, with little in common with other NRIs conglomerations.

The first possibly is the natural migrants from South India whose
boats took them all the way to South east and perhaps even to the
Pacific Rim. The Tamil and Indian heritage in these areas exists,
but the people have little interest in India other than that of a
cultural curiosity. It is too far back in time. Even closer in time,
the Tamils of Sri Lanka, whether they are indigenous, or plantation
labour or even more recent migrants of the twentieth century,
maintain a close relationship of culture with Tamil Nadu, which for
them is all that is India, but neither the government nor social
movements have ever thought of them ad part of the Diaspora that is
to be wooed. Among other things, they are non sanskritised, anti
Brahmanical, and poor. And the Tamil Tigers, at present, are militant
and remember not the Indian help to them but the hurt and injury that
the Indian army incited on them during the days of Rajiv Gandhi and
the Indian peace Keeping Force. Tamils in Sri Lanka also do not
forget that India helps the Military whenever the chips are down
though its diplomacy I apparently geared towards the Tamils. India
loses out either way for the ham handed ness of its relationship with
this large volume of men and women so patently of Indian origin.

The next group is of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh residents and men from
Andhra and Tamil Nadu who were shipped to the Caribbean, the pacific
islands and the large islands of the Indian Ocean between India and
the continent of Africa. Fijians, Jamaicans, Mauritian or what have
you maintain their Hinduism in the midst of a Christian sea, still
speak versions of their other tongue, pidgin Hindi or Telegu,
together with Creole, English and French. This group, half volunteer
and half commandeered by English tradesmen and railway officials has
no roots in India, no close relatives as they were often shipped in
the village-load. But yet they retain a close community feeling. This
is mainly because they were taken in such large numbers as to form
organic communities on whatever piece of land they were settled, and
for the community to be self contained for marriages and growth, so
that no interaction was required with the neighbouring original
inhabitants, or with the European masters. This block of people form
the bulk of those with a cultural nostalgia and desire for reopening
links with India. It is a moot question if they are also keen to
invest in India. So distant is the financial relationship, and so
urgent their immediate need o invest their money in their countries
of livelihood, or in the markets of the west which are more
lucrative. The BJP is working hard to creep into these communities
through the Hindu pantheon and the temple route, so to speak. The RSS
has sought to open new Gangotris and other replicas of Indian
pilgrimage centres in the Caribbean and other countries.

>From an economic point of view, the one sector of NRIs that the
government of India and the political apparatus is wooing with full
vigour is the emigrants of the post Independent era. These include
second generation Gujaratis who were forced out of Uganda and other
African countries - where they were traders despised for their usury,
or for their aloofness - by the likes of dictator Idi Amin, and have
made it good in the UK, rising from the neighbourhood shopkeeper to
the small industrialist and the middle level businessman with money
to spare. Other groups include farmers and artisans from the Punjab,
who were a loyal Diaspora till the government crushed the Sikh psyche
in the many complex tragedies of the Nineteen Seventies and Eighties,
culminating in the massacres of the Sikhs in Delhi and other places
in 1984. Now this community has little if any trust in India, and
particularly in Hindu governments.

The final phase of the Diaspora is of the technocrat and the
academic, the medico and the technician, the labourer and the nurse,
to West Asia, and particularly to the United States.

The Diaspora in the Gulf is considered only a transitory one. The non
Muslims are there for the duration of a job and will return home to
Kerala and Punjab, Andhra and Bihar. The Muslims may stay a little
loner, but they have little in common with the Arab, and will return,
almost each one of them, back to Hyderabad and Patna and Kerala
unless they migrate to the West, now a near impossible thing.

This really leaves the Indian Diaspora in the US. The American India,
so to say.

This is the Real McCoy. This is the group that the BJP targets, that
the RSS woos, and that the Indian business pursues with such vigour.

And this is an expanding group -in numbers and in economic and political clout.

The India Aboard centre for Political Awareness, based in Washington,
DC after the last Census noted a 106% growth in the Indian
community's population. As a community, the Indian American
population in the United States has dramatically increased by almost
10 percent from 1990 to 2000, comprising 1.678 million of the U.S.
population, rising by more than twofold from 815,447 in 1990,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is the highest increase in
the Asian American community, which is the fastest growing community
as a whole in the United States; the Indian American community is now
the third largest Asian American group in the country behind Chinese
and Filipino Americans. Ten years ago Indian Americans ranked fourth
in the group, behind Japanese Americans. Doubling to nearly 1.7
million people, the Census results show that the Indian American
community has grown at a rate of 7.6 percent a year in the last ten

IACPA says a key factor that accounts for the rising numbers in the
Indian American community is the influx of H-1B visa holders and
their families (spouses and children) who have helped stimulate
economic growth at unprecedented rates in the last several years. The
number of H-1B visas issued to those from India jumped from 2,697 in
1990 to 15,228 in 1995 to 55,047 in 2000, according to figures from
the State Department. When the silicon bubble burst, many frustrated
youth returned, but most stayed on. IACPA sees that this sharp rise
in the number of H-1B visa holders has fuelled the growth in the
Indian American community. This has particularly occurred from 1997
to 2000, when considering the Indian American population was 1.215
million in 1997, according to an estimate given by Professor Sharon
Lee of Portland State University. The Indian American community now
stands at 1.678 million in population.

Some growth in the Indian American community can also be attributed
to immigrants being admitted between 1990-2000 with numbers varying
between 30,000 and 45,000 from India annually achieving permanent
residence, as noted in materials from the Immigration and
Naturalization Services (INS). According to IACPA's analysis, on a
more general level, the numbers show that Indians have a population
roughly equivalent to the state of Nebraska, ""which indicates that
if all of our community lived in one state, we would have three
Indian American members of Congress." Also according to Census
figures, Indian Americans represent .6 percent of the U.S.
population; this would entail that the Indian American community
should have at least 45 State legislators of Indian origin, according
to IACPA analysis, as opposed to the two who currently hold office,
when considering there are 7,424 State legislators nationwide,
according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

"The realization that we need to take an active role in the political
process is one we must make as a community, soon," say Prem
Shunmugavelu, Political Associate at IACPA. "Political activism needs
to grow at the same rate that our population has grown; the hope is
that the rise in numbers will serve as a catalyst to enhance
political activity in our community and our civic engagement in
mainstream society."

This is the political lobby the government and the BJP are praying
for. This is the lobby for which they created the post o a special
ambassador, Mr Agnihotri (Indian Currents did a cover story on him in
2002). This is the lobby with free money that may be invested in
India, but more important, with money they can send to the RSS and
its organisations while ensuring that the likes of Narendra Modi can
never be identified as criminals with the American legal system of
international human rights.

Possibly this is the first group which will apply for the dual
citizenship, as and when it becomes possible. Prime minister Vajpayee
has said the Bill will be introduced in the Budget session of
Parliament in February, possibly with some budgetary sops for Foreign
Direct Invests from NRIs.

Now for the bad Indian blood, metaphorically speaking.

These are the Bangladeshis. Culturally and ethnically
indistinguishable from their brethren living in the Indian West
Bengal, or in parts of Assam and Orissa.

Bengal was partitioned even before India was, by the British in the
first quarter of the last century, purely on grounds of religion. But
as East Bengal emerged as a Muslim dominated province, there remained
crores of Hindus in the rich rice fields and the big towns of Dhaka
and Chittagong, among other places. Till the second partition when
east Bengal became part of Pakistan. Many Hindus fled East Pakistan,
and were absorbed in India without a murmur as legitimate refugees.
The post Chittarnjan park in Delhi, earlier called the East Pakistan
Displaced persons colony, EPDP, together with Tagore Park in North
Delhi, are examples of that wave of refugees.

The real cataclysm came with the Civil war in Pakistan after the Army
generals, goaded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto refused to recognise the
electoral victory of Mujibur Rehman in the n national elections.
Refusing to make him president, they let loose a regime of military
terror in East Pakistan, forcing tens of thousands of Muslim refugees
into Indian West Bengal and Assam.

The Liberation of Bangladesh by the Indian army never did stop this
flow of refugees. No longer fleeing military terror, they now fled
economic destitution. The flow continues. A Porous border of several
thousand kilometres, much if it water logged, insufficient and
corrupt officials in the border forces re but a few of the many
reasons Bangladeshis continue to flock to India. Crossing Bengal,
they slowly drift west and south, and are found in slums and ghettos
all over the country.

They fill a vacuum of cheap labour, outbidding internal migrants from
Rajasthan, Bihar, UP, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

They also, say the police, add to the crime wave. But there is no
special data to prove that Bangladeshis are involved in large scale
crime which still remains the preserve of basically some Indian
communities and some well off, politically backed Indian groups.
Petty crime is a different matter, and Bangladeshis have their share
of drugs and prostitution rackets, their own women and children as
the main victims.

The law and order machinery reacts ruthlessly. The Bangladeshis are
at the receiving end of marked police brutality. Human rights groups
have over the last twenty years pointed to the bias in the police.
Hindu Bangladeshis soon merge and are absorbed into the system,
without the police harassing them.

All over the country, Human rights groups have in the past felt that
political drives to identify Bangladeshis and the police action in
accordance with such directives, has led to the victimisation of all
Bengali speaking Muslims. Various central accords with cut off dates,
such as in the case of the Assam accord, have not helped matters.

By now, many if not most of the Bangladeshis have the same civic
documents that any other citizen has - a voter's card, a ration card,
often even a passport, thanks to the famous Indian corruption.

Ho will Advani be able to implement his latest directive without
provoking a cry of bigotry is a moot question.

It may be perhaps relevant to recall just one reminder from the
papers of the past. This had to do with Orissa where the BJP opposed
deportation of Bangladeshis . The BJP, a partner in the ruling
coalition, took strong exception to the Orissa government's action of
deporting 21 Bangladeshi nationals from Raighar block in the
tribal-dominated Nawarangpur district. BJP state unit president
Manmohan Samal, met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to express his
unhappiness over the government's decision. Samal described the
government's action as illegal and said the Bangladeshi nationals had
already been settled in Raighar over the last three decades and
allotted land and ration cards. The Centre had rehabilitated them as
they were treated as refugees rather than as infiltrators as
described by the state government, he said. Samal demanded that the
government reconsider its decision to deport the Bangladeshi
nationals from Raighar.

The issue of national identity cards itself is a matter of another controversy.

The west has identity cards in many countries, but despite
globalisation, the west also has a social network, including
unemployment doles and pensions for senior citizens.

That is the worth of an identity card that promises little more than
starvation? And which is being designed not for the benefit of the
citizen but to help identify aliens.

The issue, as always with this government, is of public morality, of
law and of human rights. There is little at this stage to show that
it will be able to succeed.

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