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* Yes, PIOs are the moral responsibility of the GoI


Very few Indians in the U.S. are aware of the appalling death due to slow starvation of Khem Singh, a 72-year-old, frail, crippled, Sikh priest, in a jail in Folsom, CA. This is symptomatic of a larger malaise: the fact that persons of Indian origin (PIOs) are considered easy prey by more aggressive neighbors. Their human rights are violated with impunity. This has to be resisted.

It is the moral duty of the GoI to speak on behalf of PIOs anywhere, in particular those PIOs who belong to Indic religions. This is because there is nobody else to speak up for the rights of Sikh, Jain, Hindu, and Buddhist Indians. Much like Jews are able to depend on Israel as a last resort.

The list of atrocities against PIOs is long. Summary ejection from Idi Amin’s Uganda. Brutalization in Fiji. Racist exclusion in the U.S. in the 1900s. Recently, Indian citizens have been attacked in Malaysia and Indonesia; similarly, in Texas by over-zealous migra INS agents; and Indian-Britons by gangs of Pakistani-Britons in England.

Then there was Navroze Mody, beaten to death by “dot-buster” racists in Hoboken, NJ in 1987. And Charanjit Singh Aujla was shot to death by plainclothes policemen at the liquor store where he worked, in Jackson, MS, in 1998.

The GoI did absolutely nothing in all these cases. Nor did various Indian-American groups that profess great concern for the oppressed.

Perhaps, at a time when India was considered a general basket-case, this was the only response India was capable of. Today, with India talking up its potential big-power status, and with the increasing likelihood of its becoming a major economic power, it is incumbent on the GoI to rouse itself from its slumber. A little gunboat diplomacy with Indian warships engaging in “exercises” off Fiji or visiting Malaysian and Indonesian ports would have sent the message.

It is not as though other powers don’t do this. Consider the Graham Staines case: an Australian missionary killed in India. Even though it wasn’t any of the U.S.’s business, they raised their voice.

Khem Singh, like Larry Klinghoffer in the Achille Lauro case, was a crippled, defenseless old man. He was brutalized and essentially murdered by U.S. government agents, employees of the California state prison system, who ignored the fact that he was starving to death, and gave him no medical attention. The GoI has to make an example out of poor Khem Singh: no more treating Indians as punching bags, anywhere! For India to get respect, persons of Indian origin need to get respect.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Singapore.


* No, the GoI should first worry about the rights of citizens


Ever hear of a country working hard to make itself a laughing-stock?

Nigeria, as the self-proclaimed spokesperson for Africa, decided to take up cudgels on behalf of Africans everywhere in the 1970s. The phenomenon was found to be progressively amusing, irritating, and nonsensical. As Nigeria’s fortunes plummeted, any weight that it may have had as a potentially wealthy country was nullified—a respectable advocate degenerated into a caricature.

This holds a lesson for India.

Can, and should, India represent people who have relinquished Indian citizenship or who hold dual citizenship? Indian citizens can expect help from Indian missions abroad. But there is no obligation to those who renounced citizenship. Or to those who are descendants of citizens and themselves never held Indian citizenship. The field of dual citizenship is yet to evolve to the level where clear guidelines exist on the obligations of the two countries.

Intervening on behalf of PIOs is therefore potentially illegal under international law.

Defending one’s nationals in a foreign country, a complicated task under the best of circumstances, can be accomplished only with the requisite will, resources, and capacity. An outstanding example is Israel, which successfully rescued the passengers of a hijacked El-Al flight from Entebbe airport in Uganda in 1976.

As Indian citizens trapped in Kuwait during the Gulf War can testify, India’s idea of intervention is far too little, too late. Likewise, three decades of appeals to the GoI from Indian tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka have elicited little more than lordly disdain. One reluctantly concludes that the GoI lacks the desire or means to intervene on behalf of its citizens outside the country.

In the unlikely event that India would intervene, how effective would its advocacy be?

A decade of economic growth has done little to reverse the portrayal of India as a poverty-stricken “Third World” country. Such portrayals allow the U.S. (and other G8 countries) to show no more respect for genuine concerns than NRIs would accord Pat Robertson. Any potential intervention would be interpreted as a combination of noise and nuisance.

Should quixotic illusions still be entertained about India’s playing knight in shining armor, recall popular perception of India’s human rights track record. India is perceived as having failed to address social injustice directed towards just about every minority. Thanks to Kashmir, Islamic propagandists gleefully draw analogies between the alleged persecution of the Muslim minority and Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.

Despite the exaggerated and false accusations, a contemptuous “pot calling the kettle black” response may well be hurled India’s way.

India has neither the incentive nor the infrastructure to advocate for PIOs..

Toronto-based S. Gopikrishna writes on issues of pertinence to India and Indians.