Ravi Venkatesham with his daughter Megha (beside him) during her school graduation last year | By special arrangement.
Ravi Venkatesham with his daughter Megha (beside him) during her school graduation last year | By special arrangement.
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New Delhi: Ravi Venkatesham last saw his daughter in December 2019, when she came home for a week-long holiday from her college in London. 

Born in California, Megha is an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), but her family moved to Bengaluru with her in 2002 when she was just a year old.

An OCI card allows its holder a multiple-entry, multipurpose lifelong visa to India. But a week before the nationwide lockdown came into force on 24 March, the Narendra Modi government suspended all international travel as well as the visa-free travel facility granted to OCI cardholders.

“That was extremely shocking as we weren’t given even a few days’ notice to allow us to bring Megha back. India is the only home she has even known,” Venkatesham told ThePrint. 

The visas of all OCI cardholders have since continued to remain suspended. 

“The order on OCI holders still stands. The return of people to India is based on priority. First, Indian citizens stranded abroad will be brought back and then eventually the service will be extended to OCI holders in the times to come,” a home ministry official told ThePrint.

The official, however, said there is no specific date as to when this will happen.

“The whole reason parents like me decided to get their children OCI cards was because the ownership of that card came with a promise of lifelong access to India, a promise that was supposed to last forever,” Venkatesham said.

“This feels like a betrayal. The government goes out of its way to woo NRIs, but when push came to shove, we are being ignored,” another parent whose child is stuck in London, said on the condition of anonymity.


Also read: In era of social distancing, India’s Ministry of External Affairs must reimagine diplomacy


‘Evacuation, but not for us’

Parents like Venkatesham whose children are stranded in foreign countries, began using the hashtag #GetOurKidsBack, asking for the government to evacuate such OCI cardholders.

The government began evacuating Indians stranded in foreign countries on 7 May, as part of its ‘Vande Bharat mission’. The first phase of the mission, which ends on 15 May, is expected to bring back close to 15,000 people from 13 countries. 

In the second phase, the number of Indians slated to be brought back is being doubled with 149 flights operating over a span of seven days.

This, however, doesn’t include OCI cardholders, but only Indian citizens — that is, those with an Indian passport.

“Nothing has been said about repatriating OCIs whose primary residence is India. I am an OCI holder. My primary residence for the last nine years has been with my parents in India,” Dhruva Jaishankar, a 19-year-old student at the University of Warwick, said. 

“It is worrying that we still have not received any communication from the government to bring us back home,” he added. 

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, as many as 1,88,646 Indian nationals abroad have so far registered to come back to the country.

“We are aware that there are certain other categories of people who wish to come back to India. Once we are able to meet the minimum expectations of our own nationals, I think we will be able to examine other requests also, including OCI cardholders,” a government source said.

Sources also said priority as of now is being given to those who have compelling reasons to come back.

‘Counting on relatives and old acquaintances’

Many OCI card-holding students who went to US and UK universities to pursue higher education have had to move in with extended family or acquaintances, in the absence of any means to return home.

Tridib Bhattacharya (18) was in London on 11 March, when the government suspended all OCI privileges starting 13 March. When he saw no chance of him being able to go back home to his family in India, he travelled to the United States to stay with family friends.

“I kept approaching the London High Commission for help, but to no avail. Finally, I decided to come here (the US) since there is some sense of familiarity and comfort with family friends,” he added. 

Tridib said he continues to feel “abandoned by India”. 

“The worst part is that there is no end goal in sight. There is only uncertainty looming over when we would get to be with our families next,” he said.

Back home in Bengaluru, his mother Bishnupriya Bhattacharya said she has been constantly anxious ever since Tridib’s visa facilities were cancelled.

“We are beginning to tell ourselves that there is a possibility we might not get to see Tridib at all this year. It’s a horrifying prospect,” she said. 


Also read: The fall of NRI: How Covid-19 has altered the image of Punjab’s darling community


With inputs from Ananya Bhardwaj and Nayanima Basu.

 

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26 Comments Share Your Views

26 COMMENTS

  1. Utterly shameless ppl they chose a foreign citizenship and now they expect India to care for them. Isnt it responsibility of the country whose citizenship they hold? These greedy animals have the gal to ask Indian govt to prioritize them over Indian citizens. Remember all these ppl are literate (not educated) and well off ppl who made their decisions. These are just parasites who will suck the country dry, we just first cancel the OCI card. Taxes paid by Indian citizens are for benefit of Indian citizens not foreigners. These ppl can move to their own countries and ask for privileges. Parasites please leave the country, these country is for Indians dont abuse our hospitality.

  2. OCI holders should be given full fledged Citizenship status like Israel does allowing them to contest elections and hold government posts too. These are as patriotic Indians as anyone else. They just have to go overseas to earn bread and butter for their families and have to get Citizenship of host countries like USA, UK, Canada etc. During Pre-independence a lot of freedom fighters like Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel etc. also went overseas for education, work etc. In those days they didn’t had to deal with paperwork and citizenship issues. Now world is different so Govt. should offer dual citizenthip!

  3. Sure Savy, nice reply. Pls understand my husband, an Indian Citizen is in India and I am unable to join him in our home there because I am OCI. Does that seem fair to you to be separated from your spouse just because someone like you is afraid. Get people tested on arrival and send them to self quarantine in their homes as they do in other countries. It is totally heartless to separate families.

  4. What is it with journalist Khan, that she plugs such topics which on the face of it is wrong and deeply offensive to Indian sensibilities? She has sold her honesty and truthfulness at the feet of Mammon. Nothing good or honest can be expected from her pen. When laks of Indian Citizens are languishing abroad, waiting patiently for their return home, these foreigners want to be given preferential treatment in this? And this is plugged and backed by Fatima Khan?

    • Exactly, India should take care of Indians first. It will be shame as nation if don prioritize our own citizens first. We should stop calling ourselves a nation if we end up favoring others and let down our own ppll.

  5. These are extraordinary times, when the whole world is under lockdown. These people feel they are entitled to preference over our own citizens, which is to put it mildly very offensive. They are not NRIs, but OCIs and there is a huge difference between the two. They are favouring themselves by obtaining the OCI card, with its many benefits. So dear spoiled , privileged and moronic brats, wait your turn. It will come when it comes.

  6. The rule should is applied for foreign passport holders. OCI card holder are foreign passport holders, they chose citizen ship of other countries over India, so definitely Indian citizens should get priority.

    • well said…they come to know value of Indian citizenship….most of oci card holders had a choice to choose India but they choose U.S or Uk then blaming India for prioritising its own citizens…

  7. The government is doing right by giving priorities to persons with Indian Passport. Until all such people who have an Indian Passport and wish to return to India have returned, government should continue with this policy. The people who are creating a fuss today should have thought of this eventuality and applied for citizenship in India. But they wanted the benefits of the US or whichever country they were born in and chose not to become an Indian citizen. Their loss and their mistake.
    They should not come to the Indian government in times of crisis only. what they have been Promised is a life long Visa and not citizenship and hence they have no right to demand repatriation.It is like asking US to take some Indian Citizens who have a valid US visa on their repatriation flights- something they obviously won’t do. These people are only taking advantage of the Indian Government.
    I sympathize with the students stuck abroad, but demanding repatriation is not right.
    Some parents are saying that the Indian parents have let them down but this is ridiculous. They are confusing lifelong visa with citizenship which is stupid.
    I am also disappointed that the print is providing it’s platform to these parents to demand unreasonable things for their kids when they couldn’t even apply for citizenship when they realized they were going to stay in India for a long time.
    In times of crisis, while we should help everyone, it is important to wear your own oxygen mask before helping others.
    Jai Hind

  8. Trying to game the system, by holding on to a lucrative foreign citizenship and OCI privilege, now caught on the wrong foot. If so much love for India, take Indian citizenship and demand citizen rights. If OCI is all that is wanted, then that is what you get. Just OCI, and no citizen rights. Politely put, ask the countries where you are citizens of to get evacuated!

  9. Who put together this sh*t? Government of India never tried to woo OCI cardholders. Ask your editors to know the difference between OCI cardholders and NRIs. OCI cardholders are the responsibility of respective other countries period. The ones primarily residing in India could have left to their own countries when rescue missions of these foreign countries were operational. You could have met your children there!

  10. Sadly no writeup on the thousands of stranded Indians who have lost their jobs and are finding it hard to get their one time meal in different countries, particularly in the gulf region. And then we have others who got stuck in various countries who are on tourist and visit visas including the elderly the pregnant. Now from what I gather from this article and others, the OCI holders could manage to stay put without much trouble and hopefully wait for the phase to move on. The Vande Bharat Mission is not colorful as it may sound, see the stats, phase 1 brings around 12000 Indians out of the lakhs of applicants who have already registered with Embassies only in GCC to come back. The priority should be for them foremost.

  11. Indian passport holders coming back from foreign countries can also bring the virus back to India. The virus does not check passport. USA stopped flights from China but made exception for US citizens who were allowed to return. They then spread the disease in USA. The only solution is to quarantine everyone returning to India, irrespective of passport. If you are allowing 300,000 Indian passport holder back in, what difference will it make to allow or disallow another 3000 OCI card holders? It is mean spirited to disallow OCI holders. If you do so, then do not expect the rest of OCIs in USA/UK to work for India’s interest there.

    • then why should anyone be an indian citizen? just go abroad and have an OCI card.
      The difference is when there are lakhs of Indian passport holders, we should bring them home first rather than OCI holders. OCI is only a lifelong visa and does not give them same rights that having an Indian passport does.
      As they say in Flights- wear your own oxygen mask before you help others

    • Moron, the return of people stranded overseas, is only done by the Indian government, as commercial flights are suspended. The visas were cancelled since the government wanted to closely monitor the arriving people. The priority will naturally be our citizens, and then others including OCIs. If the OCIs are so mean-spirited then let them surrender their card. They will not be missed.

  12. Are we supposed to feel sorry for them? Poor, little entitled Indians…who after careful consideration opted to be OCIs, probably their deliveries were arranged too , so they could get the best of both worlds. I suppose they just need to lump it and wait.

  13. There was a time not long ago when the OIC holders used to display that as a privilege that not many enjoyed.
    Everything in life comes with a price tag, just as having an Indian Passport also has its own cost.
    So please stop moaning and accept the reality of life.

  14. I find absolutely insulting for INDIA that this people should say they feel abandoned. It is the country whose nationals they are who should help them. If they continue to insult my country I would request government to take action in proportion to the insulting words they have uttered against INDIA. And help those who are in genuine need and really respect INDIA.

    • No one is asking India to repatriate them. They are just asking to be allowed back in to be with their loved ones. How is that insulting India? Some people are married and have different nationalities and are now separated. Your statement shows envy and a lack of understanding and empathy. Period.

    • Savy, FYI all of them are are screened & then quarantined here. What about Indian citizens …could they not have brought the disease here? The virus does not discriminate based on your passport. It can affect anyone.

      • They are not Indian citizens period. Rest of the argument is invalid. Why should we care about non-citizens, what is the point in being called a country if it becomes a dumpster for all parasites.

    • My son is an Indian citizen, studying abroad. I am mentally prepared that we may not see him for a few months. We have regular video calls. Both sides are happy to see each other safe.
      The risk in contracting covid during transit , getting quarantined after coming here is not worth it.
      Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
      My nephew is also stuck abroad. But so long as we know that they are safe, we are happy.
      Every situation is unique….but let us learn to stay calm. Let kids stay where they are if they are safe.

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