Field Notes: NRIs With Opinions Face The Perils Of Expressing Them


“Would this make me feel more Indian or less Indian? You feel othered.” 

That’s what an Indian-origin British resident told me when I met him in January this year. The man was told by the Indian consulate in Birmingham in 2023 that he had been “blacklisted” from entering the country of his birth, his memories and his family. 

While he wasn’t given any clear reasons, officials in the consulate brought up his tweets and articles supporting the year-long farmers’ agitation between 2020 and 2021. 

Several meetings and interrogations with the consulate officials yielded no results in understanding why he was blacklisted. Instead, he was asked to work for them. 

Their requests ranged from starting an organisation to work for the Indian State and the Sikh diaspora in the UK, or to speak to the British media supporting Indian government policies, or to fetch the medical records of a dead activist—all of which he refused on numerous occasions, he alleged. 

He still waits for his chance to return to India, where his cousins live. 

I spent nine months between 2023 and early 2024 trying to piece together how the Indian government was responding to dissent against it in the diaspora. I filed three right-to-information (RTI) requests and conducted interviews with many in the diaspora in the USA and the UK. 

It was evident that critics of the current establishment in the diaspora were targets of online harassment, and as RTI responses revealed, in ways that appeared to have become a determining factor in cancellation of their OCI status. 

Many I spoke to for the story I was doing hesitated about going on the record about their cases. This was understandable, as some had challenged their bans in court. Many hearings are still underway. 

A few said they were exhausted by the experience, which did not appear to follow due process, with their responses almost entirely ignored. 

The Briton who was blacklisted received several phone calls from consulate officials threatening him with consequences if he did not withdraw from the story. This happened after I sent them questions over email about their conduct and the accusations against them. 

“They said it would be detrimental to my case,”  the man told me over a phone call. 

But he was determined to share his story. 

After the story was published, several OCI cardholders contacted me. Some included journalists who lost their OCI status—after they published a story about India. 

Another included a person who claimed he was blacklisted for tweeting against Hindutva—the Hindu-first philosophy that underpins India’s ruling party—and was turned away from immigration in Chennai as he travelled from the US to see a dying parent. Immigration officials interrogated him about his political views. 

“They asked me if I ever met (Delhi chief minister) Arvind Kejriwal,” the person told me. 

Others contacted me simply to talk about their concerns over losing their OCI status for dissenting against the current government. 

The anxiety they shared over losing their right to return home clearly revealed the chilling effect the government’s OCI cancellations and deportations have had. 

You can read Vijayta Lalwani’s full story here.

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