By Writu Bose:
I was high on happiness when Shameek, my elder brother, finally decided to get hitched with Stella. Luckily, so was the rest of my family (as expected). No one raised brows, there were no disapprovals regarding Stella’s oriental identity. So, the announcement of the wedding was soon made official and it was readily followed by a grand 4-day long gala.
It was only around the 5th day, that we began to learn why her Chinese identity mattered so much. I was idly scrolling down the set of rules and regulations online to understand how Stella could apply for a PIO card (Person of Indian Origin card) for longer and visa-less stays in India. For those who don’t know, PIO card a form of identification, issued to a person of Indian origin, who holds a passport of another country and also to a spouse of a citizen of India. Simply put, PIO card is more like a permanent residential permit without voting rights.
Now, there was a distinct double-standard in the PIO policies that stood tall and it only took me a quick glance at Google to figure that out. The PIO card is given to citizens of certain countries and not to the specified rest, like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (excluding Iranian nationals of Indian origin). In case of spouses, the rules state, that all spouses of Indian citizens are eligible to apply for a PIO card, but in practice, spouses from South Asian backgrounds are excluded without even showing any reason.
Stella fell under the last category and this was a lot of odd information for a rather unprepared enterprise. As I dug deeper into the web I figured that there were around 150 Indian Chinese families who were on the same page as Stella and Shameek. “If the government considers every Chinese spouse as a security threat, this is simply discriminatory.” one of the families stated.
It is true. Some of India’s neighbouring countries have always been at the receiving end of the systematic discrimination for years. While first-world countries bring about economic changes in India through trading or investments in the form of FDI, countries in the neighbouring region remain crucial due to number of transnational organised crime. International relations have been affected by it since the 1970s. And so, it has significantly been influencing India’s security policies for decades now.
Cross border drugs, weapons and human trafficking, issues linking terrorist activities, intellectual property theft, cybercrime are some transnational threats that are here to stay. So, it is understood why our national security policies are made so firm and rigid. However, it is unfair that some countries do not have an option but to bear the brunt while others retain and relish their privileged positions.
Without a PIO card, like many other families, Stella and Shameek were not able to settle in India, and that is nothing but unfortunate. “China has emerged to be one of India’s biggest trading partners in recent times. So we only hope that it improves the relationship between the two countries and soon impacts the ‘discriminatory laws’ that denies us the right to live at home,” my brother stated.
His prayers were answered when our Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the merger of PIO card and OCI (Overseas Citizens of India) card in the beginning of last year. With the merger the PIO category has now been withdrawn completely and the OCI card eligibility criteria has opened up embracing new guidelines for OCI card applicants. Now foreign spouses of Indian citizens or OCI Card holders are be eligible for an OCI Card after two years of marriage. Moreover, the OCI category is now open to citizens of Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Iran, Nepal, and Sri Lanka who were previously banned from the scheme.
It is indeed a great relief for many of us whose families were divided due to the exclusion policies that the state nurtured. However this development has failed to address the entire picture since “Pakistan and Bangladesh nationals remain ineligible to apply for an OCI Card, most likely due to continuing political tensions between the countries”. As a result, many couples out there have resorted to taking shelter in other countries where such cross border couples are welcome.
These transnational threats and political quandaries are real and the implications of India’s security protocols are much wider across the board than we imagine. All the more reason why Government of India’s efforts in trying to dissolve the discrimination should be heavily applauded. But it is saddening to see how some people are still subject to discrimination. We only hope now that our government soon introduces a policy that includes Pakistan and Bangladesh nationals and welcomes a more unbiased solution to this problem.
Editor’s note: The article was updated on June 22 after new information regarding a merger between PIO and OCI was discovered.
Featured image shared by Writu Bose.