A few days back, I was ticked off by a friend when I voiced my concern over the state of politics in India.
I had taken up American citizenship, he said, surrendered my Indian passport in the process and stayed out of the country for almost 25 years. The small argument inevitably led to the question of patriotism and loyalties, and where mine lay. While we eventually agreed to disagree, I dare say a lot of people in India, if not a majority of them, would support his viewpoint. I must admit to getting a little hot under the collar when my loyalty was questioned. Nonetheless, it has set me thinking.
Dual Citizenship: An Option?
Unlike many other countries, India does not allow dual citizenship. My Indian citizenship stood automatically cancelled on the day I accepted the American version, following which I had to mandatorily cancel and surrender my Indian passport too. If I had been given a choice, I would have given up neither.
While this has may have been the law for a very long time, previous administrations in India have always viewed Indians with foreign citizenship as ‘overseas Indians’, on par with Non-Resident Indians, maybe of a different kind, but Indians nonetheless.
Other than voting rights and restrictions on the purchase of agricultural land, there was no differentiation in spirit, affection or treatment. It always seemed as if India was on a path leading to dual citizenship, which indeed was the intention when the Overseas Citizen of India bill was passed during Mr Advani’s tenure in 2003.
It is unfortunate that the current ruling dispensation does not see Overseas Citizens of India Card holders even as NRIs.
In a stunning notification issued earlier this year, the government, in one fell swoop, demoted OCI Card holders to being ‘foreign nationals’ and has even argued in a court case that OCCs do not enjoy fundamental rights and freedom of speech and expression as ordinary Indian citizens and NRIs do.
The notification has been challenged in court and as is usually the case, the lawsuits will meander their way to some conclusion down the road. The legality of the case is entirely different from the emotional blow it has dealt to ordinary Indians like me, who have always thought of this country as home and have longed to return to its soil.
The colour of my passport may have changed, just as my clothing sense has changed or my speech has changed. But these changes are skin deep. My soul is still where it was.
Surrendered My Passport, Not My Patriotism
To me, a passport is nothing more than a travel document, more like a permanent visa, often to many countries, and citizenship is but a legal status that confers certain rights on an individual. These have nothing to do with what you feel about a country. That is a feeling of belonging, of love, of responsibility, even of ownership towards a country. Can that really be arbitrarily taken away or just ‘cancelled’ by some government?
Unfortunately, most people think that taking up another country’s citizenship just flicks off one set of emotional switches and switches on another set. That is simply not true. It is not binary.
As any first-generation emigrant with tell you, a large part of one’s life in a faraway land is spent pining for one’s own country and waiting for the next trip home, on a holiday or on a one-way ticket. That does not change, and never will.
One takes up another country’s citizenship for many reasons – professional, practical, financial, emotional, or as in my case, primarily intellectual. I had always admired America and all that she stands for, even when I had not even dreamt that I would one day get the opportunity, not just to go there, but to live there for such a long time.
Love and Admire Both India and America
America gave me more than I ever thought possible, more than I can ever repay her. She made me grow, bloom and become a tree. A lot of what I am today, I owe to her. But I was born in India, I have lived and worked in India till I was well into my middle age. India is in my blood, in every sinew and nerve. Those roots are pretty deep and no axe is long enough to reach them.
I am fiercely protective about both of them and will defend either or both with my life, should I be given that privilege. Never doubt it. Not for a moment.
Is it possible to have two mothers, a biological mother and a mother who brings you up, and to love them equally? Well, I do. Is it possible to have two children, one natural and one adopted, and to love them equally? Well, I do. Or is it that, once you adopt one, you lose all love and all your rights over the original one? Does one ask you to give up the other, or else? Why then is it different when it comes to country and nation?
I admire and respect many of the values and virtues of both countries and extoll them whenever I can. But I refuse to close my eyes and my mouth when it comes to their flaws. I will point them out whenever I can and make sure I never contribute to their failings, but I will never think less of them for those imperfections. This is not the blind love of a romance novel. It is devotion, but made of a vigilant and tough love. In fact, the ability and willingness to question my country is a big part of my patriotism
I do not agree with India’s stand on dual citizenship. In fact, I would like to adopt many mothers and many children. I would like to adopt the entire world as my country. I would like to travel anywhere with just an ID and no passport. But the Indian government has put paid to such aspirations. All the more now, that seems to be for another day, far away in a future I am not likely to see.
(Sundar Viswam is a US citizen. He has been born and brought up in India, and has lived in NYC for 25 years. He is currently in India on a break to write his book.)