Modi Government’s Clampdown on Diaspora Critics: A Threat to Free Speech

In a concerning development, Human Rights Watch has shed light on the Modi government’s extension of repression beyond Indian borders, targeting overseas critics of Indian origin who speak out against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s policies. This crackdown on dissent underscores a troubling trend of stifling free speech and suppressing voices critical of the government’s Hindu majoritarian ideology.

Indian authorities have been revoking visa privileges, particularly the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) status, of foreign citizens of Indian origin who have been vocal critics of the BJP’s policies. These individuals, including academics, activists, and journalists, find themselves targeted for expressing dissenting views, facing accusations of tarnishing the country’s image or hurting religious sentiments.

The Modi government’s actions demonstrate a growing hostility towards criticism and dialogue, both within India and among members of the Indian diaspora. By downgrading the privileges of OCI cardholders and imposing restrictions on their activities, the government is effectively curbing the rights of overseas Indians to engage in research, journalism, or advocacy freely.

The case of Ashok Swain, an Indian-origin Swedish academic whose OCI status was revoked due to his critical social media posts, highlights the government’s attempt to silence dissenting voices and instill fear among academics and activists abroad. Swain’s experience serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating the lengths to which the government will go to suppress criticism and maintain its grip on power.

Moreover, the government’s arbitrary actions, such as barring academics like Nitasha Kaul from entering India without providing adequate reasons, further erode the principles of democracy and transparency. Kaul’s case underscores the Modi government’s disregard for international scrutiny and its willingness to target individuals who testify against human rights violations in forums such as the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

As concerns mount for OCI cardholders, both within India and abroad, it is imperative to defend the rights of individuals to express dissenting opinions without fear of reprisal. Upholding the principles of free speech and protecting the autonomy of academic and journalistic endeavors are essential pillars of a democratic society.

The Modi government must be held accountable for its actions, and international pressure must be exerted to safeguard the rights of individuals targeted for their critical views. In the face of mounting repression, solidarity among advocates for human rights and free expression is crucial to counteract authoritarian tendencies and uphold democratic values.


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