India to Extend Life Visas to Press-Ganged Compatriots

India is working to extend a visa-less scheme for its 15.4 million strong diaspora communities - known as girmitiyas – who were tricked by colonial powers to work on sugarcane plantatins in far-off lands.

New Delhi (Sputnik) — India is planning to offer lifetime visas to the Indian Diaspora in East Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean. These are among the hundreds of thousands of Indian-origin people tricked during British colonial rule to work in sugarcane plantations in these countries.

Armed Central Industrial Security Force Officials checking the passengers at Chennai International Airport in Chennai, India (File) - Sputnik International
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Many of them hold Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards enabling them to visit India without needing a visa. But its benefits are open only for up to fourth-generation emigrants from India, thus barring many members of Diaspora community, including the families of
the indentured laborers.

This led to the scheme coming under criticism for focusing on more recent and influential emigrants. Under the new plan, the government will work on this lacuna and extend the facility and its benefits to older emigrant families, including those of indentured laborers taken by the British, French, Portuguese and the Dutch to their colonies.

However, according to the officials, the documentary evidence to show that the families' ancestors had been brought in as indentured laborers may prove to be an impediment. The officials added that while the origins of these families may be evident culturally, they need to be established legally before the government can extend benefits like the OCI card that can otherwise be misused, as many Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin people may also try to avail the benefits.

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