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Rushdie, Pamuk, 260 writers tell Modi: Aatish episode casts chill on public discourse

Rushdie, Pamuk
Counterview Desk
As many as 260 writers, journalists, artists, academics and activists across the world, including Salman Rushdie, British Indian novelist, Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, and Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet and novelist, have called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the decision to strip British Indian writer Aatish Taseer of his overseas Indian citizenship.
In a letter to Modi, they say, the move “flies in the face of India’s traditions of free and open debate”. Born in UK but grew up in India, Taseer is a novelist, memoirist and journalist, whose cover story for "Time" magazine under the headline “India’s divider in chief”, highly critical of Modi’s government, is said to be the reason behind Government of India move.
Last week, Taseer was stripped of his overseas citizenship of India (OCI) status, meaning he may be blacklisted and thus never able to return to the country, according to the free-speech organisation PEN. Taseer found out about the revocation of his OCI status when India’s home ministry announced the decision on Twitter.

Text:

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 UK/citizen with a US 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 UK at the time of his brief relationship with Taseer’s mother, whom he never married. They did not meet until he was an adult.
Aatish
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.
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Click HERE for list of signatories

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