In the last few decades, marriages or careers have taken 20 million Indians to 110 countries. While most flourished in the adopted land, many didn't want to feel estranged from the mother country. The recent promise of dual citizenship has brought cheer, especially to first-generation immigrants torn between their old and new homes.
The news of dual citizenship issue has also given several Indian women, married to foreign men, a reason to evaluate their multi-identities. For women who accepted their hyphenated identities as Indo-Canadians or Indo-Americans quite long ago, the additional Indian passport would definitely make travel back home easier. They will not have to apply for a visa each time they want to pay a visit to India. "It's truly only a practical aspect to have dual citizenship. I am as Indian as anyone can get," insists Vinitha John, who recently got her Canadian passport.
"An Indian passport on its own sometimes tends to solicit suspicion and disdain and dual citizenship might actually reduce this problem," says Fara Hemingson, an Indo-Canadian from Vancouver. She opted for her Canadian citizenship recently, though she's been here for about 12 years and was entitled to citizenship after three years. "It was morally reprehensible for me to swear allegiance to the Queen especially after kicking out colonialism after 200 years," says Hemingson. She felt a sense of loss when she got her Canadian citizenship, quite similar to the one many women feel when they change their last names after marriage.
For most Indians settled abroad, traveling to India can be a tedious journey. They need visas and immigration counters can also pose problems at the airport. For instance, people trying to get to India when faced with family emergencies have had nightmares dealing with travel arrangements and visas.
There has been a long-standing demand for dual citizenship from persons of Indian origin in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand. Their persistence resulted in the formation of a high level committee in India which recommended that persons of Indian origin abroad be allowed to have dual nationality and enjoy all rights except voting and joining the civil or military services.
If the dual citizenship proposal is cleared in the Indian Parliament, persons of Indian origin abroad would be able to hold Indian passports along with that of their adopted countries. The dual citizenship country list is so far confined to the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Germany, France and Australia, though it might be enlarged.
Ruchika Allen, married to a New Zealander in Auckland, enjoys the benefits of her Kiwi passport. However, getting back her Indian citizenship will be an "emotional issue." Several women of Indian origin have responded positively to the recent Indian government announcement. "It is a practical solution and long overdue," is a common response from women in North America and the UK.
Dual citizenship may also reduce the trauma of cultural conflict that many Indian women married to foreigners experience. Often they fight for cultural space within their homes. Of course, it's not an overt struggle since most cross-cultural marriages take place on the premise of appreciation and sensitivity of the 'other'. But these same marriages suffer from various assumptions and a difference in cultural norms that can be detrimental to the relationship between husband and wife.
In several mixed marriages, the lack of a do-it-yourself culture in India becomes a problem for Indian women setting up home abroad. The women, used to an excellent support system in India, are forced to do several chores on their own. Significantly, Indian women born and bred abroad have fewer problems on this front.
The pressure to pitch in monetarily into the marriage also weighs on Indian women who have been used to parents looking after their needs even when they grow up. "I am always conscious of the need to pay my share of the mortgage and groceries," says a young Indo-Canadian, married to a Canadian. She often takes up odd jobs of packing spices or fruits during the weekend to be able to contribute her share.
The struggle for space is inevitable. "It's nice to be able to unwind with your own kind and use Indian words, eat Indian food and generally do what you'd do at your place in India," says a young woman of Indian origin settled in New Zealand. In India, she thought herself to be quite anglicized. But now, she needs to redefine her identity even in the confines of her own home where her husband and she have set up systems for cooking, washing and entertaining. In some ways, she finds herself wanting
to be more Indian now.
Perhaps Indian women may prefer belonging to two countries rather than one. Dual citizenship appears to be pluralistic compared to the patriarchal concept of single nationality. It relates better to the multiculturalism that is present in mixed societies today. Since 1999, over 70 countries have permitted dual citizenship.
But for women like Amita Southgate, who has lived in the UK for nearly 35 years and is a British citizen, dual citizenship has come too late. "I hadn't visited India for 15 years before I went in 2001," she says. And although she's not ashamed of her Indian roots, she's less inclined to think about getting her original nationality back.