By Talib Qizilbash
Three months sounded like enough time. Heck, it's a whole business quarter. It's also a trimester: a newly conceived baby will start to develop fingernails and its face will gain a human profile in less than 12 weeks. As such, three months is a lot of time to make a decision. After all, it didn't seem like a big, forever-type of issue, such as marriage. (Actually, in South Asia, deciding on a life partner can be done in a living room over tea). But to the Indian government, this was a forever-type of issue. A big one, in fact. A wrong decision could have deep ramifications, permanent fallout. Just as, allegedly, granting a visa to US citizen David Coleman Headley did. Headley was charged in December 2009 for scouting locations for the Mumbai attacks.
Under this pressure to not screw up again, Indian officials struggled to come to a quick visa judgement on my father. Three months wasn't enough to do their due diligence. After all, he, unlike Headley, is automatically suspicious. My dad holds a Pakistani passport.
All he wanted was a travel visa: a single-entry tourist visa to attend my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary celebrations. My father's sister had married my mother's brother in 1959. One family was from Lahore, the other Bombay. After her wedding, my phuppo moved to India, the home of her husband. She has lived there ever since. My parents were married almost two years later. They immigrated to Canada soon after.
Given these facts, it would not be difficult for you the reader, to draw a clearer picture of my father's situation: his family is based in Pakistan, while my mother's in India; this means my Pakistani father married an Indian. In addition, he has visited Bharat, I would guess, around a dozen times in his life -- always with his wife - the one who was an Indian-passport holder, is now Canadian, and travels back every year on a long-term, multiple-entry travel visa - to visit family.
Both my parents have been Canadian citizens for over 40 years. They still reside there. My dad is a professional. He is semi-retired. He is 74 years old.
He applied for his Indian visa on December 24, 2009. As he stated on his application, the anniversary celebrations were at the end of March 2010. The festivities came and went. My father's visa was not rejected. He simply never heard back from the Indian consulate before the anniversary party. Family from around the world gathered in India, including my mother. My father missed out.
New Delhi must have been doing a very thorough background check on him. It is not hard to imagine how the senior citizen with his well-established family links to India could be considered a threat.
The consulate in Toronto had to send his application to New Delhi for processing because of his Pakistani passport. It didn't matter that he holds a Canadian passport too. Dual citizenship or not, to the Indian government, the green passport is the only one that counts: he can't apply for a visa on his blue one. If a Pakistani with dual nationality doesn't want to be considered as a Pakistani by India, then he must renounce his citizenship. The rules are clear on the website of the Consulate General of India in Toronto: "Canadians of Pakistani origin . . . have to submit a certified copy of the surrender certificate stating that they have renounced their Pakistani citizenship along with an affidavit duly notarized stating therein that they no longer hold Pakistani citizenship and Pakistani passport." And this is just for a tourist visa. Do other countries demand visitors to renounce their citizenship to their countries of origin just so they can take a holiday?
A few months back, I spoke to a Pakistani diplomat who said he brought the issue up with Canadian officials. Basically, India was not recognising the rights and status of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, he said. As such, this was not just a problem for people of Pakistani origin but also for the Canadian government. However, Ottawa will not act unless the Pakistani community in Canada stands up and demands action. Sadly, that is not likely. The majority of Pakistani-Canadians have no family in India and no pressing need to go there. As such, they are hardly bothered by the outrageous Indian policy.
My father did eventually hear back from the Indian consulate. "Good news, sir. Permission from New Delhi has been received. We can issue you your visa." (That's how I like to imagine the call came in). That was on June 18, 2010. Three months after the event was over - the event that was the reason for even wanting a visa. It took six months to get a decision. That's basically two trimesters. At this stage, an unborn baby would have fully developed hands and its lungs and liver would be maturing. If only an intelligent visa policy between India and Pakistan matured so fast.
But let's not expect any small miracles. I actually applied for my visa at the same time as my father. The status of my application is still unknown. A few babies may come to full-term before I hear anything.
The writer is the online editor at NewslineMagazine.com and wonders if he'll ever get to visit his relatives in India again.
'Let people meet': Citizens' petitions addressed to India and Pakistan
Links to two current online petitions against visa restrictions, addressed to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, and in support of Aman ki Asha's Milne Do campaign are:
1. Milne Do - Let people meet: India/Pakistan:
Remove visa restrictions http://bit.ly/afnXBx
Created by Nazo Reshi, Islamabad
2. Make it Easier for People to Travel and Meet Each Other
Created by Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA)
Petition creators intend to present these petitions to the Foreign Ministers when they meet in Islamabad on July 15, 2010. We encourage readers to visit the links and sign the petitions.
The UnfriendlY VISA Regime
- Visas granted for up to three cities only.
- No provision for tourist visas
- Entry can be by Air, Train, Road and on Foot (at Wagah border). The port of exit and mode of travel for the return journey will remain the same. (Indians crossing Wagah on foot must also obtain a No Objection Letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs, without which they may be turned back at the border). However, travellers entering by air may exit from different airports with prior permission.
- Police registration required within 24 hours of entry and prior to departure/arrival at each subsequent place of visit.
India in Pakistan
High Commission of India G-5, Diplomatic Enclave Islamabad.
Tel (visa helplines): +92-51- 227 6658, 227 3932
Fax: +92-51- 2823102 / 2823386 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Requirements (condensed from instructions on website):
1. Visa application form x2
2. Photo x2 pasted on each form and signed.
3. Current passport and all previous passports
4. Applicant's National Identity Card copy identifying address and its English translation
5. Documents identifying applicant's address in Pakistan eg utility bills (any two)
6. Applicant's employer's letter or for self-employed businessman, copy of Registration Certificate with the Government
7. Affidavit from host in India not more than 45 days old indicating willingness to bear responsibility of the visit
8. Address proof of host in India (ie copy of electricity bill, telephone bill, ration card, passport, Election I-card or Passport copy)
9. Visa Fees: Rs. 15/- per application
Visa forms must be submitted in person or via designated courier
Processing time: minimum three weeks; conference applications six weeks
Visa application form
available online (fillable):
Pakistan in India
Embassy of Pakistan 2/50-G, Shantipath, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi-110021
Tel: + (91-11) 26110601, 26110602, 26110605
Fax: (+ 91-11) 26872339 Email: email@example.com
Requirements (condensed from instructions on website):
1. Visa application form x 4 to be typed in capital letters
2. Photos x4 pasted on each form
3. Current passport
4. Other: any one document providing proof of applicant's residential address (PAN Car or Voters Identity Card or Ration Card or Electricity Bill or Telephone Bill or Driving Licence)
5. Visa fee of Rs. 15/- to be deposited in cash and receipt obtained.
Visa forms must be submitted in person. Also accepted via courier or post.
Processing time: minimum one week
Visa application forms
Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, where the municipal
authorities don't even allow the mission to provide shade or seating for applicants. Photo: Times of India.
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