Angry non-resident Punjabis are showing a stiff resistance to the unwelcome delegation of the Shiromani Akali Dal leaders, including ministers, currently on a 'goodwill' visit to North America to mobilise support of the Punjabi diaspora in favour of the Shiromani Akali Dal for the 2017 Punjab Assembly elections. The rebellion by the utterly disillusioned Punjabi community is a sequel to the hostility they suffered during their visits to their cherished homes in Punjab. The volatile situation directed against the SAD leadership in Punjab warrants introspection as to why the situation has come to such a pass.
Almost 75% of the non-resident Indians (NRI) from Punjab, who are settled abroad, have their residential properties and landholdings back home in Punjab, which regrettably have been usurped by their own family members or close relations. Whenever an NRI makes an effort to retrieve such properties, they are confronted with hostilities, both by the usurpers and the local administration. Punjab Police and the revenue officials, with the active connivance of the usurpers, play a pivotal role to deprive NRIs of their inherited possessions. The unscrupulous combination of Punjab Police and the greedy revenue officials has adopted a cynical modus operandi, that is, more you harass the NRIs, the more money you extricate out of their pockets. In certain cases, they systematically rob both the litigants: complainant and the accused.
The accused usurpers are in a better position to thwart the legitimate claim of the NRIs to regain their lost properties because they are positioned locally and are able to knit the administrative cobweb well and turn it to their advantage by paying hefty bribes. On the contrary, the non-resident Punjabis have the disadvantage of short stay and limited time and resources at their command. Moreover, unfriendly circumstances outmanoeuvre them in their pursuit of justice. The government of the day, despite its tall claims, has failed miserably to live up to the expectations of the Punjabi diaspora.
NRI helpline of no help
The newly set-up NRI police stations and much-hyped NRI helpline add to their woes. The office of the IG, NRI wing, located at Mohali is nothing but an ornamental building with a cosmetic look, having no teeth, no overriding powers to undo the unjustifiable persecution of the non-resident Punjabis by the local police. I'm yet to come across an NRI who says he has received justice through the NRI helpline in a stipulated timeframe, until or unless he or she is closely related to the Badal-Majithia family or top cops. The unaddressed piled-up grievances of the NRIs from Punjab ultimately led to the rebellion against the present government, leading to angry demonstrations targeting the Punjab ministers in North America.
The Punjabi diaspora certainly deserves a better and sympathetic deal back home. The present dispensation has given them loud and false hopes during their much-hyped and over-advertised NRI sammelans in recent years, but nothing tangible appeared to have been done at the ground level. Non-resident Punjabis have now given vent to their pent-up feelings in the form of angry demonstrations. They are also angry at the way the pending Sikh issues have been mishandled by the SAD and by the Badal family under the clandestine diktates of the BJP and RSS.
A very large number of Sikhs from Punjab left their homes and fled to alien lands during militancy in Punjab from 1983 onwards. They somehow managed illegal entries to the US and many other countries and subsequently applied for asylum. They inadvertently committed themselves to the conditionality of the local laws applicable to the asylum-seekers. Resultantly, they deserted their own country in statutory declarations. In such cases, they virtually lose their right to Indian passport. The countries offering asylum to such applicants, particularly the US, issue provisional documents for their stay, including transitory work permits, under severe terms and conditions. This means they neither get the US citizenship, nor do they become legally tenable to travel to India. Thus very large number of Punjabi youth is stranded in the US for long, with limited entitlements.
As such the Government of India cannot salvage them out of the peculiar situation they are in. Such stranded Punjabis who willfully abandoned Indian citizenship while seeking asylum, could only be helped by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) under the UN Convention for Refugees, 1951, and the 1967 UN Protocol for Refugees.
Under this protocol, India's permanent representative to the UN, if mandated by the Government of India, could effectively take up the cases of refugees of the Indian origin with UNHCR for the final arbitration to salvage them out of the complexities they are caught in for long. But this bold initiative would require great wisdom, political sagacity and human compassion, if the NDA government at the Centre, supported by the SAD, really wants to bail out the hapless victims of the circumstances stranded on alien lands.
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The writer is former deputy speaker of Punjab. The views expressed are personal