In Christine Mehta’s account of >how she was deported from India last November, published in The Hindu on Thursday, there is a telling line. “India’s progressive visa policy makes living and working in India easy for most second and third generation Indians living abroad, except for those working in environmental and human rights,” the Amnesty International India researcher writes.
It reveals the uneasy relationship the State has with research, particularly on human rights undertaken by non-governmental organisations. The work has to pass muster with the Home Affairs Ministry.
Ms. Mehta, of course, is not alone in her predicament. Four years ago, Ashok (name changed) came to India to undertake research in urban poverty and starvation. His organisation thought it prudent to change his status from researcher coordinator to project manager last year.
Indian organisations engaged in human rights, food security and land issues get scholars from the West who are eager to understand how the world’s largest democracy engages with these issues on the ground. Foreigners contribute substantially to research work undertaken by reputable NGOs.
But they have to abide by Clause 44 as enunciated in the frequently asked questions posted on the Home Affairs Ministry’s website for visas. “Can an Overseas Citizens of India undertake research work in India? Yes, after getting prior approval/special permission from MHA.” What kind of research qualifies as “research” for the Ministry is though unclear.
Ms. Mehta’s request for visa would have been denied had she stated her subject of research beforehand.
P. Chidambaram, who, as Home Minister, had proposed amendments to the AFPSA, Ms. Mehta’s line of research, has >criticised her deportation .
Ministries do not spare even conference participants
It is not only foreign scholars who have to get the green signal from the Union Home Ministry to do research in India. A similar bureaucratic procedure awaits those who wish to obtain visas to attend conferences, seminars and workshops in India.
By the frequently asked questions posted on the Ministry’s website, agencies proposing to invite people for conferences have to get clearances from the External Affairs Ministry and the Ministry concerned, but do not say in which order the permissions are to be obtained.
“Last year, when we wanted to invite people for our RTI programme training, officials from the Bangladeshi and the Pakistani information commissions were invited. We sent letters to the External Affairs Ministry, which said it had no objections. We sent another letter to the Department of Personnel and Training, which said it had no objections if the MEA didn’t have any. But the MEA had to write a letter stating its intent to the department. The MEA said its intent was enough,” Venkatesh Naik of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative says.
Mr. Naik went through this bureaucratic maze with the event passing them by. He says if India wants to be seen in the U.S.-U.K.-Europe club, such rules for research students and conferences should be scrapped.
Persons of India Origin, Overseas Citizens of India and foreigners get deported if they so much as engage themselves on human rights issues, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. David Barsamian, Director, Alternative Radio, who has engaged with public intellectuals of the world in his line of work as a radio broadcaster and has been visiting India since 1966, is now on the “adverse list” of the Home Ministry. He cannot visit India anymore. He was denied entry at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on September 23, 2011.
“In January this year, I applied for a visa by was denied it. My Guruji, Pt. Debu Chaudhuri, has been trying to have me visit him and in April received a blunt message from the Home Ministry that I would not be granted a visa because I was ‘on adverse list’,” he said. News reports say he has done professional work on a tourist visa.
The track record of the previous UPA government and the present NDA governments is pretty similar when it comes to deporting researchers who talk about rights issues.