Actor Chetan Kumar’s OCI cancelled days after he was arrested for questioning Hindutva

Speaking to TNM, Chetan said that this action was taken to create an atmosphere of fear and give a warning to anyone who questions the government.
Actor Chetan Ahimsa
Actor Chetan Ahimsa
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The Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card of noted Kannada actor and activist Chetan Kumar has been cancelled by the Union government. On April 14, Chetan received a letter dated March 28, from the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) directing him to return his OCI card within 15 days of receiving the letter. Chetan has been a critic of right-wing politics and was arrested on March 21 by the Bengaluru police for his tweets questioning Hindutva.

Chetan was issued a show-cause notice by the FRRO in June 2022. It said that it had been brought to their notice that Chetan made derogatory comments against judges and committed other anti-national activities. Asking him for an explanation as to why his OCI should not be cancelled, the notice mandated him to file his reply within a stipulated time. Chetan, in his reply, said that he has lived in India for many years where he has been involved in social work and making films. He also mentioned he is married to an Indian citizen.

On April 14, 2023, he got an intimation from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) saying that his OCI is cancelled because of alleged 'anti-national' activities and derogatory comments against judges, with immediate effect. In the notice, the MHA said that his reply to their notice was unsatisfactory.

Speaking to TNM, Chetan said that this action was taken to create an atmosphere of fear and give a warning to anyone who questions the government. “This seems to be an act of the Union government, with support from state-level lobbies, to silence activists and create an atmosphere of fear in the country,” Chetan told TNM.

He says trouble in this issue started when he took on Brahminism. In June 2021, two cases were filed against Chetan over a video he posted denouncing Brahminism. In the video, Chetan said that Brahminism is the root of caste inequality in Indian society. He had clarified that he was not against Brahmins as a community but against ‘Brahminism’. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had then written to the FRRO demanding that Chetan’s OCI be cancelled.

Chetan was also arrested in February 2022 for a tweet criticising Judge Krishna Dixit, a Karnataka High Court judge who was presiding over petitions regarding the ban on Muslim girls wearing hijabs in schools in the state. Chetan's comments were in reference to a 2020 order in which Justice Dixit had questioned the behavior of a woman who had alleged rape. However, Justice Dixit's comments were subsequently deleted from the order due to the public debate they sparked and were widely regarded as regressive.

Chetan, who was based out of Chicago, got his OCI card in 2018. (He was a PIO or Person of Indian Origin till then).

The FRRO is responsible for administering foreigner registration and immigration-related services for visitors to India and it comes under the purview of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), headed by BJP leader Amit Shah.

The OCI is the provision for permanent residency available to persons of Indian origin which allows them to live and work in India indefinitely. OCI is not the same as citizenship, as India does not recognise dual citizenship, which means that an Indian citizen cannot simultaneously hold the citizenship of any other country.

On the recommendations of a High-Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, the Government of India decided to register persons of Indian origin of a certain category, as has been specified in Section 7A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, as OCI holders, by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003.

While OCI holders are treated at par with Indian nationals for things like tariffs, payment of airfare, other services, etc., they do not have voting rights, and cannot hold Constitutional posts in India. OCI holders are entitled to multiple entries and multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India, and they are exempted from reporting to police authorities for any length of stay in India.

The MHA has cited rule 7D (b) and 7D (e) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 in its notice to Chetan. Section 7D of the act deals with the reasons for cancelling the OCI card. 7D (b) states "the overseas citizen has shown disaffection towards the Constitution of India" and 7D (e) states " it is necessary so to do in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country, or in the interests of the general public."

This is not the first time that the OCI of people who have been critical of the government stood to be cancelled. In 2019, British-born writer Aatish Ali Taseer, son of late Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer and Indian journalist Tavleen Singh, stood to lose his OCI after he wrote an article critical of Prime Minister Modi in Time magazine. Reportedly, the government’s reasoning behind this was that Aatish had concealed the fact that his father was of Pakistani origin.

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