Which Indian got American citizenship first, how many problems did he face

Vardhan


Bhikaji Balsara: It is people’s dream to settle in America. Obviously, Indians are also not behind in this matter. According to a report, more than 65 thousand Indians were granted American citizenship in 2022. By the end of 2023, about 28,31000 foreign-born citizens were from India. But obtaining American citizenship was not always so easy. There was a period of racism in America during the 20th century. In that environment, Bhikaji Balsara became the first Indian to acquire American citizenship.

However, Balsara, a textile merchant from Bombay (now Mumbai), had to fight a long battle for this. He fought this battle and achieved success. In the early 1900s, only free white people were given American citizenship in America. People got American citizenship under the Naturalization Act of 1790. To get American citizenship, people had to prove that they were free and white.

Legal battle fought in 1906
Bhikaji Balsara fought the first battle under this law in the New York Circuit Court in 1906. Balsara argued that the Aryans were white, which also included Caucasians and Indo-Europeans. Later, this argument of Balsara was also used in the court by those Indians who wanted naturalized citizenship of America. On Balsara’s argument, the court said that if he is given American citizenship on this basis, then this will open the way for naturalization for Arabs, Hindus and Afghans as well. The court rejected his application. However, the court said that Balsara can appeal to the High Court for American citizenship.

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How did Balsara acquire citizenship
Balsara, as a Parsi, was considered a pure member of the Persian sect. Therefore, he was also considered a free white person. Balsara was granted US citizenship in 1910 by Judge Emile Henry Lacombe of the Southern District of New York with the expectation that USA lawyers would challenge his decision and appeal for an official interpretation of the law. The US Attorney followed Lacombe’s wishes and took the case to the Circuit Court of Appeals in 1910. The Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Parsis were classified as white. Based on this decision, another federal court later granted US citizenship to AK Majumdar.

Punjabi immigrants adopted illegal method
This decision in favour of Balsara was contrary to the 1907 declaration of US Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte. In this, he had said that under no law, the natives of British India could be considered white. After the Immigration Act of 1917, the immigration of Indians to America decreased. However, Punjabi immigrants continued to enter America through the Mexican border. California’s Imperial Valley had a large population of Punjabis, who helped these immigrants. Sikh immigrants easily mingled with the Punjabi population. The Gadar Party, a California group campaigning for Indian independence, helped people to enter America illegally through the Mexican border.

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What did the American court say about Indians
The Gadar Party used the money it received for helping people enter the US illegally to run the party’s activities. According to an estimate, about 2,000 Indian immigrants entered the US illegally between 1920 and 1935. By 1920, the population of Indian-Americans was about 6,400. The US Supreme Court ruled in the case of United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind in 1923 that Indians were ineligible for citizenship because they were not free white persons. The court also argued that the great mass of our people would not be willing to mix with the Indians.

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What did the court say about the meaning of being white
The Supreme Court said that the term white person, based on the popular understanding of race, technically meant people of northern or western European descent, rather than Caucasian. The decision led to the cancellation of pending citizenship applications of more than 50 Indians. An Indian, Sakharam Ganesh Pandit, fought against denaturalisation. He was a lawyer by profession and had married a white American. He regained his citizenship in 1927. However, no other naturalisations were allowed after the decision, leading to about 3,000 Indians leaving the US between 1920 and 1940.

Steadily climbing the ladder of success
By acquiring higher education, Indian youth began to climb the social ladder. Dhan Gopal Mukherjee came to UC Berkeley in 1910. He was just 20 years old at the time. He was the author of several children’s books. He was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1928 for ‘Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon’. Yellapragada Subba Rao came to the US in 1922 and became a biochemist at Harvard University. He discovered the function of adenosine triphosphate as an energy source in cells and developed methotrexate for the treatment of cancer. Govind Bihari Lal came to the University of California in 1912. He became the science editor of the San Francisco Examiner. He became the first Indian American to win the Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

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how to create dominance
After World War II, the US reopened the door to Indian immigration. The Luce-Celler Act of 1946 allowed 100 Indians to immigrate to the US each year. This effectively overturned the Supreme Court’s 1923 decision in the United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind case. The Naturalization Act of 1952 repealed the Barred Areas Act of 1917, also known as the McCarran-Walter Act. However, this too restricted US citizenship to only 2,000 Indians each year. Things changed and in 1955, 14 of the 21 hotel enterprises in San Francisco were run by Gujarati Hindus. By the 1980s, Indians owned about 15,000 motels, accounting for about 28 per cent of all hotels and motels in the US.

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The pace of arrival increased after 1995
From 1965 to the mid-1990s, long-term immigration from India averaged 40,000 people annually. Indian immigration increased significantly from 1995 onwards, reaching a peak of nearly 90,000 immigrants in 2000. The early 21st century saw a significant shift in migration trends from India to the US. The IT sector grew rapidly in Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad, followed by large numbers of people from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Indians account for more than 80 per cent of all H-1B visas issued by the US.

Also at the forefront in wealth
Indian Americans have become the richest community in the US with an average household income of $1,26,891, which is nearly double the US average of $65,316. ​​Since 2000, a large number of Indian students have started going to the US for higher education. Estimates suggest that more than 5,00,000 Indian-Americans attend higher education institutions in any given year. Indian-American Kamala Harris created history on 20 January 2021 by becoming the first woman Vice President of the US. She was elected Vice President as the running mate of Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Apart from her, 20 other Indian Americans were nominated to key positions in the administration.

Tags: America News, Indian Citizenship, punjabi news

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