India waived its visa re-entry restrictions on writers Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai and others, so that they could participate in the Galle Literary Festival, the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka said on Saturday.
“Every conceivable problem related to re-entry into India of foreign writers was discussed at length and sorted out,” an official said.
On Friday, two of the main stars of the festival, Mr. Pamuk and Mr. Desai announced that they will not attend and the festival organisers quickly blamed India for the decision.
The festival organisers said on Friday: “It is with great regret that we have to announce that Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai will not be attending the Literary Festival in Galle due to Indian re-entry visa restrictions. We have been trying to resolve the issue with the Indian Immigration authorities for the last three weeks but it has just not been possible.”
Responding to the accusation a full 24 hours later, the official said that the Government of India and the Indian Mission in Istanbul had helped in every way possible to make sure that there was no problem for any author to participate in the GLF.
The Indian Mission in Istanbul had issued a letter stating that Mr. Pamuk should be allowed to re-enter Indian when he desired to do so, and at the port of entry that he chooses to enter, after the close of the festival. The Counsellor (Consular Services) at the Indian Mission in Colombo had also instructed the Indian Immigration about the details of authors who would re-enter India without adhering to the laid down norms.
The Indian Immigration norms say that a foreigner holding most types of India entry visas cannot re-enter India within 60 days of leaving the country. This was primarily intended to discourage foreigners who were employed in India, taking advantage of various legal loopholes.
The festival calendar was so framed that the Galle Festival followed soon after the Jaipur festival. The Indian Immigration and the Ministry of External Affairs have known this for long, and have been sensitive to the needs of the writer-community.
The MEA and the Indian Mission in Colombo, made it clear that it had liaisoned whenever required, to make sure that the festival did not suffer because of Indian Immigration rules.
“As far as we understand, the concerns that Mr. Pamuk raised related to FRRO [Foreigner Regional Registration Offices] for registering his presence. He told us that he did not want to spend time in a police station. We tried to explain that FRRO is not a police station. In any case, we conceded this point too and told him that we will work out a solution with his agent,” an MEA official told The Hindu, when asked what the specific issue of contention was.
When The Hindu sought a response, the organisers of the Galle Literary Festival said on Saturday modified their earlier stand on the Indian Immigration. It said: "It is with great regret that we have to announce that Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai will not be attending the literary festival in Galle due to their concerns about immigration and re-entry procedures into India. The Indian High Commission here in Colombo has gone beyond their call of duty to assist us in this regard, together with their counterparts in Istanbul. High level assurances of a smooth re-entry for Mr. Pamuk unfortunately were not enough to allay his fears that he would not be allowed to re-enter India after the festival."
Keywords: Galle Literary Festival