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  Two cities  
  By Abhijit Bhattacharyya

A BRITISH professor of human rights law at King's College, London, and a British cabinet minister have criticized the Indo-British visa policy. The professor is deeply "concerned" about his fellow citizens of Pakistani origin who are reportedly facing "discrimination" from the London mission of India that is "processing applications... for 7/8 weeks". For the professor, this delay is an instance of racial discrimination. The British minister, on the other hand, is candid enough to state that racial profiling is a reality when it comes to issuing visas to Indians wishing to travel to the United Kingdom.

Visa policies are based on reciprocity when bilateral relations are cordial. They become retaliatory if the relations turn sour.

Traditionally, Indo-British relations have been friendly. But the ex-rulers of the Empire have also intermittently exhibited a condescending attitude towards their former subjects.

Of all the pieces of information one needs to provide to make a general visa application to the UK, perhaps the most offensive are to be found in "Part 5 -- Finances and Employment". The first question in this section is: "Have you ever worked for any organization of a type (state or non-state) listed below?" -- "Armed Forces, Government, Judiciary, Media, Public or Civil Administration and Security".

If the answer is 'Yes', one has to "provide details of every organization" one has worked for and "include name of organization, job title or rank and dates (year to year)". And these are only some of the requirements of the UK visa office from an Indian planning to travel to the UK as a "tourist/general visitor". Compared to this, an Englishman can avail of a simple "visa application form for all applicants" at London's India House at Aldwych.

Today, India's fears about attacks launched by Pakistan-based terror groups using people of Pakistani origin, including those living far away from Pakistan, are real. The episode concerning Dawood Gilani (or David Headley) is too fresh to be forgotten.

The Indian visa office's delay in issuing visas to British nationals of Pakistani origin can be understood in this light. But the British anxiety to keep away the indigent and invite only the most intelligent or the well-heeled from South Asia can perhaps only be explained by the UK’s insecurities about its potential decline in the hands of the ex-subjects of the Empire.

The barrage of offensive questions to Indian nationals from the UK visa office continues like this -- "What is your total monthly income from all sources of employment or occupation after tax? Do you have savings, property or other income (for example from stocks and shares)? How much of your total monthly income is given to your family members and other dependants? Who will pay for your travel to the UK? Who will pay for your expenses such as accommodation and food?" and so on. Londoners wishing to visit India need not answer any of such personal questions jeopardizing or offending their privacy. One wishes to see how the British aspirant for an Indian visa would react to the same questions by Indian officers.

Thus, this is a tale of two cities. Delhi is criticized for taking seven to eight weeks for issuing visas to British nationals of Pakistani origin, notwithstanding the fact that the delay is for the sake of India's security.

Had the UK been geographically positioned next to Pakistan -- home to many dreaded terrorists -- could the UK government have always been able to act in accordance with the human rights law syllabus of King’s College? Human rights law, unfortunately, cannot be the ultimate reality in the life of a nation. Safety, security and integrity of a nation override the idealistic laws of university classrooms at times. (Courtesy: The Telegraph)
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