Orange passport for India’s migrant workers ‘institutionalizes discrimination’

Updated 18 January 2018
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Orange passport for India’s migrant workers ‘institutionalizes discrimination’

NEW DELHI: Indian government’s recent decision to issue orange passports to people who require emigration checks has been widely criticized by concerned citizens who have described the new rules as discriminatory.

The Indian Foreign Ministry said on Friday that those who need emigration clearance for travel to a group of 18 countries, mostly in the Gulf region, would be issued with orange passports and those who do not would receive blue ones.

People who have graduated high school, or are among the 2 percent of Indians who pay income tax, do not require emigration checks. But the vast majority of unskilled workers do.

“You are making a mockery of the people who are illiterate and come from the marginalized section of society,” said Professor Irudaya Rajan S. of Kerala’s Center for Development Studies (CDS). “It is an institutionalization of discrimination on the basis of education.”

According to Pew Research Center, 1 in 20 migrant workers worldwide are Indian-born. As of 2015, 15.6 million people born in India were living in other countries. India has been among the world’s top countries of origin for migrants since the UN started tracking those figures in 1990. A World Bank estimate says that India received about $69 billion in remittances in 2015 amounting to roughly three percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Data provided by the Indian Embassy in Doha reveals that between 2004 and 2017, around 3,154 Indian workers died in Qatar, with more than 200 workers dying each year from 2007 onwards.

“How will changing the color of the passport stop exploitation?” asked Rajan. “It’s not the right move. In the name of protection, you are exposing people to risk both inside and outside India. (This) is not going to help stop human trafficking and exploitation.”

Government sources say the scheme is supposed to prevent the exploitation of Indian workers abroad, although there has been no clear explanation as to how.

The government has claimed that the new passport scheme will make it easier for immigration officers to identify workers who require vetting before being allowed to travel to various countries. As the Washington Post reported, “The theory is this would also make human trafficking more difficult as border officials would immediately know which people need the extra permission to travel.”

But Rajan said, “It is sheer discrimination on the basis of the socio-economic status of the workers. The government argues that it wants to protect Indians who are vulnerable through this decision. The orange passport will make them much more vulnerable, as they are more easily identifiable.”

Pranay Kotasthane, a geopolitical analyst at the Bangalore-based think tank The Takshashila Institution, questioned the need for emigration clearance in the first place, and added that the “priority of the government should be to prevent exploitation of women and Indian workers abroad. There is no way the change in the color of the passport is going to do that.”

He told Arab News that “by changing the color of the passport, you are just systematizing more discrimination – one Indian gets one color of passport and another gets the other one. It’s not solving the problem. In fact this should be used as an opportunity by India to completely get rid of the emigration system that we have used since 1983.”

Rakesh Sinha, a member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the paternal organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), defends the government’s decision, saying that “the move will act as a deterrent against human trafficking.”

However, leader of the opposition, Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi, said the move was “completely unacceptable” and that the government is “treating India’s migrant workers like second-class citizens.”

“This action demonstrates BJP’s discriminatory mind-set,” Gandhi added.


Vote count begins for Afghan election

Afghan election observers at a polling center after ballots in the country’s legislative election were counted in Kabul on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2018
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Vote count begins for Afghan election

  • Some candidates said powerful figures were behind election rigging
  • The Electoral Complaints Commission said there was mismanagement during the election, and as of Sunday it had received some 5,000 complaints from voters and candidates

KABUL: Vote counting began on Monday for Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, which was marred by violence and irregularities, with political parties alleging “organized fraud.”

The parties said mismanagement and hundreds of Taliban attacks, which led to an extension of voting for another day at hundreds of polling stations, could raise questions over the election result, which is expected to be released in two months.

Some candidates said powerful figures were behind election rigging, and biometric devices, which were put in place to counter fraud, were smashed to facilitate the rigging. 

Abdul Bade Sayad, head of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), was cited by local media as confirming incidents of biometric equipment being smashed, and the presence of strongmen inside some polling stations. 

But the IEC should not be held responsible for this, he said, adding: “When the government itself feels helpless before powerful figures, then senior officials of the commission should not be blamed.”

The Electoral Complaints Commission said there was mismanagement during the election, and as of Sunday it had received some 5,000 complaints from voters and candidates.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said people could not vote on Saturday in some 1,000 polling stations. 

Ahead of the election, which was delayed for more than three years, the government said it could not open more than 2,000 stations due to security threats.

Alleged irregularities included polling stations opening late, biometric devices malfunctioning, and the absence of IEC staff and voter registration lists.

Of the 9 million people who had registered to vote, nearly 4 million cast their ballot, the IEC said.

The IHRC said the IEC should not shun its responsibility regarding “shortcomings and grave violations in voting centers.”

The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan said: “In some of the polling stations, ballots were not counted; instead the ballot boxes were transferred to a different location for counting… without informing the observers about the new location.”