Journalist and Novelist Aatish Taseer’s OCI card-holder status revoked by MHA

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The Wire reported about the revocation of the Overseas Citizen of India [OCI] card status of a journalist and author Aatish Taseer. The BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi government is said to have acted in vengeance against his election-time cover story in the TIME Magazine. The context to the recent attack is set on the lines of a recent publication by Taseer in the TIME Magazine, which was taken on the cover-page. In the latest international edition of the TIME Magazine, Aatish Taseer’s article covered the front page describing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ‘India’s Divider in Chief’. The contents of the article expressed hovering doubts over whether India is capable of enduring another five years of this Modi led BJP government. This work attracted criticism from across the right-leaning groups calling it ‘a work of a disgruntled Pakistani citizen’. It was this when Taseer caught the eyes and was placed on the radar of the BJP. 

A revocation of the OCI card status will not allow Taseer from visiting India in the future. The news broke through the official twitter handle of the Ministry of Home Affairs [MHA] Spokesperson. There were a series of tweets about this, which basically conveys that because Aatish Ali Taseer is said to be violative of the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 he is ineligible to be holding an OCI card legally. It said this is a repercussion of not complying with the basic requirements of an OCI cardholder and concealing relevant information. 

What is an Overseas Citizen of India card-holder status? 

The OCI is an acknowledgement of immigration status as prescribed under the Citizenship Act, 1955. An OCI card-holder has the right to live and work in India despite not being a full-fledged Indian citizen. As per the rule, there are a set of criteria which make one eligible to hold the OCI card. The eligibility requirement states that any foreign national who is EITHER of the following will be eligible for registration as OCI holder: 

 (i) an Indian citizen at the time of, or at any time after the 26th of January, 1950; or

(ii) who was eligible to become an Indian Citizen on January 26, 1950; or

(iii) who belonged to a territory which became part of India after August 15, 1947; or

(iv) who is a grandchild or a child or a great grand-child of citizens mentioned ab; or

(v) who is a minor child of such persons as mentioned in the above clauses; or

(vi) who is a minor child and whose both parents are Indian citizens, or one of the parents is a citizen of India – is eligible for registration as OCI card-holder. 

 

A war of tweets; ‘concealed’ material facts, says MHA

It has been disclosed via tweets and news records that Aatish Ali Taseer tried to conceal the fact that his late father, Salman, was original of Pakistani origin. As per the tweets made by the spokesperson of the MHA, this is a ‘very basic’ requirement for an OCI card status holder. It has also been revealed that the same was brought to the knowledge of Mr Taseer, he was given the opportunity to submit his reply or objections, if any in this regard but he failed to dispute the notice in any manner. Therefore, in light of the above-mentioned reasons, he has shown non-compliance towards the very basic requirements and concealed relevant information, making him ineligible to legally hold an OCI Card, as per the Citizenship Act, 1955.

Taseer, a journalist by profession, is the son of the Indian journalist Taveleen Singh (Mother) and Pakistani political Salman Taseer (Father). Right after the MHA through its spokesperson went public on Twitter, Taseer also used the platform to dispute the same. He said the information about his father could not be said to be hidden as it is widely known. He made references to his writings which clearly states that his father was of a Pakistani origin. His father, Salman Taseer, was taa widely acclaimed liberal politician in Pakistan. He had several mentions in Taseer’s essays and novels as well as the writings of his mother Tavleen, who is also a journalist. Tavleen is seen to be often in vocal support of the Modi regime, as The Wire reported. One of Taseer’s well knows the novel is titled- Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands. The title in itself makes the identity of his father abundantly clear to all, and there seems no intention to ‘hide’ a fact which is already in the public domain. On the issue of his non-reply to the notice served, Taseer has produced an acknowledgement of the reply he sent to the notice as sent by the Consul General. He said that as per the normal course of practice, he was not even given 21 days but rather only twenty-four hours’ time to furnish a reply to the said notice. He says, he did not hear back from the ministry even after due submission of the reply. 

 

 Taseer in retaliation, the battle of tweets continue; My father’s origin is a widely known fact, says Taseer. 

Therefore, both Taseer and the MHA took Twitter by storm in a battle of tweets. Taseer said that the claims of MHA are ‘untrue’ and he did respond to them, the acknowledgement of which he has put in the public domain. The Wire in its report has also highlighted a discrepancy in the timeline as per the story of MHA and what Taseer has brought out as evidence. The acknowledgements of the Consul General, Sandeep Chakravorty, posted by Taseer on Twitter shoes that the date on which Taseer had received the notice is September 03 though it was dated August 12. Therefore, Taseer only received the notice one day after the mandatory 21-day response period got over. The announcement made by MHA to revoke the OCI cardholder status of Taseer has not come as a surprise, as The Print had earlier reported that the same was under consideration by the MHA.

Of the eligibility criteria laid down, point number (iv) states that ‘who is a child or a grand-child or a great grand-child of such a citizen mentioned in the above clauses or’. As per this clause, Taseer is perfectly eligible for registration as an OCI cardholder, given her mother of Indian origin. However, another clause which was brought to notice by the news report of The Wire is that the homepage of the OCI stated as follows:

“However, no person, who or either of whose parents or grandparents or great grandparents is or had been a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh or such other country as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify, shall be eligible for registration as an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder.”

It has also been mentioned that Taseer is a child of wedlock between Tavleen and Salman and has been brought up in India by his mother. Therefore from a strictly legal point of view, his only legal parent would be Tavleen, his mother who is of undisputed Indian origin. Though the claims do stand on legal grounds, what is raising eyebrows is the timing of the warrant and revocation of the OCI cardholder status for Taseer. 

Attack on criticism & dissent is the modus operandi of the BJP; International condemnation. 

In recent times, post the Lok Sabha elections Taseer was seen to be highly active on social media. He was leading an, which has now come to be known as ‘almost laconic battle’ against the right0leaning ideology of the Bhartiya Janta Party [BJP]. He expressed disregard for the BJP supporting people across the country tweeting in criticism of him and his Islamic roots. There was every kind of attacks on him from behind the screen. He was trolled for being the son of a Pakistani, Salman Taseer. Salman was serving as the governor of Punjab right before his assassination in 2011. The events that took place thereafter are being seen as ‘targetting’ Taseer for his vocal criticism and dissent of the party in power. It has also caught international attention, as PEN America, an organisation promoting freedom of expression and guarding human rights has come on record to say that

 “This appears to be retaliation for a TIME magazine article critical of the Indian government”. In the official statement as released by PEN America, Karin Deutsch Karlekar, the director of Free Expression at Risk Programme at the organisation has said that:

“Harassing critical writers and journalists not just in India but globally is a disturbing new low for Modi’s government that’s already put Indian democracy on its heels.”

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