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9/11 scare scars 170 Indians

Washington, Jan. 3: Americaís undeclared crackdown on suspicious-looking bearded brown faces, West Asian-looking individuals and persons with Muslim-sounding names in the wake of September 11 has so far netted 170 Indians who are innocent of any terrorist offences.

The US governmentís Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) has handed over to Indian diplomats a list of 170 persons claiming to be Indian nationals, New Delhiís envoy to Washington, Lalit Mansingh, told a news conference here yesterday.

But the Indian embassy is severely handicapped in providing them any assistance.

Virtually all of them are charged with immigration violations such as visa overstay, illegal entry and alteration or destruction of travel documents. And every one of them, of course, wants to stay on in the US, notwithstanding their incarceration and other problems in the wake of September 11.

The detainees fear that seeking the Indian missionís help will only speed up their deportation back to India, which is the last thing they want. Some of them had spent their lifeís savings or sold family silver to get to the US, which they fantasised as the promised land of milk and honey.

According to convention followed by the US authorities, consular access is provided to people arrested in the US only if a person in custody asks for such assistance.

Mansingh said the embassy had ascertained with passport officials and other authorities back in India that 65 per cent of these 170 persons in US jails are, indeed, Indian nationals. But in view of the unwillingness of these detainees to seek help from Indian diplomats or even have any contact with them, the US authorities will not allow the Indian mission any access to these people.

Some of those under INS detention have even refused to acknowledge that they are Indians so that they are not shipped off to India, where they came from.

Notwithstanding confirmation from Indian officials of their nationality, these detainees are stubborn in their attitude that they do not want to have anything official to do with India. Some of them even fear that if they return home, they would be further prosecuted under the Indian Passport Act for violating it by tampering with their travel documents.

Although Mansingh did not put it into words, there was quiet satisfaction at his conference that not one of these 170 Indians had been charged with even any suggestion of terrorism-related offences.

Some Pakistanis have been charged ó even convicted ó with offences like gun-running or attempt to procure prohibited weaponsí components, at least in one case, for what appears to be Pakistanís military.

Some Arabs are also facing charges of being part of slee- per cells of the al Qaida or having been associated with Osama bin Ladenís outfit in Afghanistan. But these cases have been tracked, investigated and prosecuted independent of the general crackdown.

Even in the case of Pakistanis and Arabs, the crackdown in the wake of September 11 has been arbitrary and based on racial profiling. Replying to a question whether the experience of Indians in the US has been similar to those of Pakistanis whose family lives have been shattered or their children arbitrarily pulled out of schools and deported, Mansingh replied in the negative.

On the Pakistani side, its ambassador here, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, has been travelling across the US in an effort to assuage strong feelings within the Pakistani-American community about new US regulations, requiring them to be registered with the authorities with photographs, fingerprints and so on.

General Pervez Musharraf has phoned President George W. Bush to protest against Pakistanís inclusion in the new National Security Entry-Exit Registration System and Pakistanís envoy in Islamabad was summoned to the foreign office on the same issue.

Qazi has called a meeting of the Pakistani community here at his embassy on Saturday to drum up support for removing Pakistan from the NSSER regulations.

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