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Letter from Prominent Writers to India’s Prime Minister To Review Decision to Revoke Writer & Journalist Aatish Taseer’s Overseas Citizenship Status

14 November

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PEN AMERICA

Letter: Indian Government Must Review Decision to Revoke Writer’s Overseas Citizenship Status

November 13, 2019

Narendra Modi
Prime Minister of India
Prime Minister’s Office
South Block, Raisina Hill
New Delhi-110011

We, the undersigned writers, journalists, creative artists, academics, and activists, are writing to join PEN America, English PEN, and PEN International to express our grave concern regarding the Indian government’s recent decision to revoke writer and journalist Aatish Taseer’s Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status.

Taseer, a U.K. citizen with a U.S. Green Card, has had documentation registering his overseas Indian status since 2000, which allows foreign citizens of Indian heritage to live and work in India indefinitely. His case is unusual; he grew up in India with his single mother, the prominent Indian journalist Tavleen Singh, as his sole guardian, and has spent the majority of his life there, both as a child and adult. He was estranged from his father Salman Taseer—who is of mixed British and Pakistani heritage and who lived in the U.K. at the time of his brief relationship with Taseer’s mother, whom he never married. They did not meet until he was an adult. Although the OCI regulations stipulate that the status is not granted to an individual whose parent or grandparent is of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, Taseer grew up in India with his Indian mother and Indian grandparents, and his parents were estranged when Taseer moved as a child to India with his mother. In his application for the OCI status, Taseer listed his father’s name and never tried to hide his identity; in fact, a number of his books and articles have extensively covered his heritage and past.

In May 2019, amid a contentious Indian election season, Taseer wrote a cover story for TIME magazine headlined “India’s Divider in Chief,” which drew an official complaint from the Indian government and sustained online harassment. On September 3, 2019, Taseer received a letter from the Indian Home Ministry (dated August 13, 2019) notifying him of the government’s intention to revoke his OCI card and giving him three weeks to respond. He responded the following day, and this reply was acknowledged by the Consulate General of India in New York, but he received no further word until November 7, when the Home Ministry announced in a series of tweets that Taseer had hidden information about his late father’s nationality and had failed to challenge their notice; Taseer disputes both claims. A few hours after the home ministry’s tweets, Taseer received an email from the consulate informing him that the Government of India had cancelled his OCI status, effective immediately. If an individual’s OCI status is revoked, they may be placed on a blacklist preventing their future entry into India.

We are extremely concerned that Taseer appears to have been targeted for an extremely personal form of retaliation due to his writing and reporting that has been critical of the Indian government. We urge that the spirit of the OCI regulations, which are designed to provide status and connection to their roots and family to citizens of other countries with Indian heritage, are upheld, and do not discriminate against single mothers. Denying access to the country to writers of both foreign and Indian origin casts a chill on public discourse; it flies in the face of India’s traditions of free and open debate and respect for a diversity of views, and weakens its credentials as a strong and thriving democracy. We write to respectfully request that the Indian government review this decision, to ensure that Aatish Taseer has access to his childhood home and family, and that other writers are not similarly targeted.

Signed,

Michael Adams
Chimamanda Adichie
Ayad Akhtar
Shahidul Alam
Zain Alam
Eric Alterman
Suroosh Alvi
Zanab Alvi
Christiane Amanpour
Tahmima Anam
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Lisa Appignanesi
Margaret Atwood
Paul Auster
Gary J. Bass
Alison Bechdel
Daniel Levin Becker
Nicole Beckley
David A. Bell
Mukund Belliappa
Alexander Benaim
Dev Benegal
Homi K. Bhabha
Kai Bird
Stefan Merrill Block
Marie Brenner
Suzanne Brøgger
Tina Brown
Saffron Burrows
Robert A. Caro
Casey Cep
Michael Chabon
Amit Chaudhuri
Ron Chernow
Sandra Cisneros
John Coetzee
Joshua Cohen
Lauren Collins
Pamela Colloff
Lydia Conklin
Leopoldine Core
Molly Crabapple
Meehan Crist
Rana Dasgupta
Hayes Davenport
Laura Davis
Joséphine de La Baume
Mary Dearborn
Don DeLillo
Anita Desai
Kiran Desai
Mira Desai
Diva Dhar
Jennifer Egan
Bina Sarkar Ellias
Louise Erdrich
Jeffrey Eugenides
Sir Harold Evans
Clara Farmer
Mia Farrow
Thalia Field
Amanda Foreman
Emma Forrest
Jonathan Franzen
Nell Freudenberger
Shruti Ganguly
Arunabh Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh
Francisco Goldman
Priyamvada Gopal
Philip Gourevitch
Andrew Sean Greer
Lev Grossman
Guy Gunaratne
Ruchira Gupta
Mohsin Hamid
Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)
Githa Hariharan
Anne Heller
Alexander Hemon
Hitha Herzog
Faith Hillis
Martha Hodes
Brooke Holmes
Anadil Hossain
Jessie Hunnicutt
Siri Hustvedt
David Henry Hwang
Yudhishthir Raj Isar
Leela Jacinto
Christophe Jaffrelot
Maya Jasanoff
Sheila Jasanoff
Margo Jefferson
Radhika Jones
Mira Kamdar
Rohan Kamicheril
Meena Kandasamy
Sofia Karim
Mary Karr
Tara Kelton
F.T. Kola
Amitava Kumar
Anjali Kumar
Hari Kunzru
R.O. Kwon
Paul La Farge
Thessaly La Force
Jhumpa Lahiri
Nikita Lalwani
Alix Lambert
Fran Lebowitz
David Lelyveld
Ben Lerner
Amelia Lester
Jonathan Lethem
Christian Lorentzen
Robert Lowe
Kelly Luce
Benjamin Lytal
Larissa MacFarquhar
Ajay Madiwale
Karan Mahajan
Hisham Matar
Damodar Mauzo
Liese Mayer
Ian McEwan
Jay McInerney
Thomas Meaney
Palash Mehrotra
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Suketu Mehta
Andrew Meier
Vivek Menezes
Dinaw Mengestu
Maaza Mengiste
Dilip Menon
A G Krishna Menon
Corey Miller
Rick Moody
Honor Moore
Rose Marie Morse
Benjamin Moser
Madhusree Mukerjee
Neel Mukherjee
Samhita Mukhopadhyay
Nitin Mukul
Akshaya Mukul
Sukumar Muralidharan
Perumal Murugan
Azar Nafisi
Amrita Narayanan
David Nasaw
Thandie Newton
Alastair Niven
Jinx Nolan
Rachel Nolan
Nancy Novogrod
Edna O ‘Brien
Susan Orlean
Peter Orner
Adam Ortman
Orhan Pamuk
Maulik Pancholy
Prajwal Parajuly
Rajesh Parameswaran
Gregory Pardlo
Oliver Parker
Joseph Patel
Veena Patwardhan
Maya Perez
Ross Perlin
Carmen Petaccio
Charles Petersen
Claudia Roth Pierpont
Steven Pinker
Lara Prescott
Francine Prose
Shaifali Puri
Alejandro Puyana
Schona Jolly QC
Philippe Sands QC
Zia Haider Rahman
Sara Rai
Raju Rajagopal
Sigrid Rausing
Debraj Ray
Victoria Redel
David Remnick
David Rieff
Kristina Rizga
Corey Robin
Phyllis Rose
Gary Rosen
Enrico Rotelli
Nilanjana S Roy
Anuradha Roy
Antonio Ruiz-Camacho
Salman Rushdie
Ajitha G S
Salma
Galia Saouma
Bina Sarkar
George Saunders
Martha Saxton
Stacy Schiff
Tanya Selvaratnam
Chaitali Sen
Vijay Seshadri
Arjun Sethi
Elif Shafak
Anoushka Shankar
Shilpa Sharma
Sheetal Sheth
Snehal Shingavi
Aroon Shivdasani
Gary Shteyngart
Nikesh Shukla
Marisa Silver
Beth Silverman
Manisha Sinha
Zadie Smith
Andrew Solomon
Alec Soth
Ahdaf Soueif
Gloria Steinem
Maud Streep
Lavanya Sundarajan
Kannan Sundaram
Manil Suri
Tanaïs (née Tanwi Nandini Islam)
Preti Taneja
Peter Tatchell
Jeet Thayil
Judith Thurman
Sharwari Tilloo
Vivek Tiwary
Ellen Tremper
Monique Truong
Anne Tyler
Kirmen Uribe
Karthika V.K.
Nilita Vachani
Amanda Vaill
Jayapriya Vasudevan
Sunita Viswanath
Amy Waldman
Ayelet Waldman
Esmé Weijun Wang
Rob Waters
Gregory Wayne
Edmund White
Edward Whitfield
Katherine Whitfield
Ethan Wilensky-Lanford
Naomi J. Williams
Colin Winnette
Gabriel Winslow-Yost
Matt Wolfe
Tobias Wolff
John Wray
Hanya Yanagihara
Sarover Zaidi
Jenny Zhang

P.S.

The above letter has reproduced here from the PEN America website in public interest and is meant for educational and non-commercial use