The year was 1990 and militancy in the state of Jammu & Kashmir was at its peak. With the imposition of AFSPA (Armed Forces [Jammu and Kashmir] Special Powers Act), which was “deemed to have come into force” retrospectively from July 5, 1990, the Union government initiated a clampdown of foreign news media in the violence-ridden state.
Journalists were evicted almost over-night and a list made of all those who had reported on the war against militancy.
Here is an excerpt from the New York Times, dated February 18, 1990:
The Indian Government is barring foreign journalists from the Kashmir Valley, where a separatist movement has been growing for more than a year.
Foreign and Indian reporters were detained at hotels and then expelled from the Valley, the Muslim-dominated northern part of Jammu and Kashmir State, at the end of last month.
This week, officials told the executive committee of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of South Asia that while there was no stated ban on foreigners, only Indian citizens working for foreign organizations would now be allowed to report from the area.
Things have quieted down since the 1990s and instances of militancy are fewer each following year. But, much has happened in these years – mass killings, forced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. The Indian media has taken sides and adverse reports against the Indian army rarely make it to the headlines. In the international media, news of the situation in J&K has been restricted to instances of large-scale violence like the Kargil war in 1998.
Today, India is much-changed from the India of 1990. The poor-Indian has been replaced by the educated, aspirational middle-class Indian. This reflects in the news too. Mukesh Ambani has graced the pages of Forbes magazine and so has Sonia Gandhi. Time magazine profiled Prime Minister Narendra Modi just a few months back.
This change of reportage is much appreciated, but is it organic? Has the ‘poor-India’ replacement with ‘shining India’ come about due to independent journalistic-rigour or is there a state-hand behind it? This conspiracy-theory-like question stems from the fact that our editor-in-chief on a recent visit to Norway met not one but many journalists who vented their frustration at not being able to visit the country as they were denied a visa.
The Indian government, unlike its Chinese counterpart is democratically-elected and governed by the Constitution. It certainly cannot have a policy that demands positive news – and that too from foreign journalists and activists.
However, there seems to be a system in place that has ensured foreign journalists, activists or academics adversely reporting about India are prevented from entering the country.
We have started a profile-roll of such individuals and welcome contributions. In reverse chronological order:
Mary Aileen Diez Bacalso — denied visa in 2014
Mary Aileen Diez Bacalso, 51, is the Secretary General of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD) — a coalition of over 11 human rights groups. She was denied entry into India and deported from Mumbai airport in 2014, soon after her arrival from Philippines.
Mary has worked for United Nation’s International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. She has worked closely with Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in Kashmir, a member of AFAD, during which she raised the issue of disappearance of Kashmiri men, allegedly after being picked up by security forces.
She has also been vocal regarding the presence of “mass graves” in the Kashmir Valley, which was established by the state human rights commission.
Gautam Navlakha — denied entry into Srinagar in 2011
His is a case of an Indian being denied entry one from part of India into another part.
Gautam Navlakha, Editorial Consultant, Economic and Political Weekly, was stopped at Srinagar airport on his arrival from New Delhi, and told to go back. Navlakha, is also the Convenor of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK). He was detained under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Navlakha is a noted public intellectual and peace activist. His denial of entry into Jammu & Kashmir underline the concerns of the status of freedom of speech and movement in Kashmir.
Sabrina Buckwalter — asked to leave India in 2011
The Khairlanji rape and murder case, 2006; where four members of a dalit-family were brutally murdered and the women (mother and daughter) were allegedly raped before being killed happened before the 24×7 news culture had taken over our country. The fact that it occurred in rural Maharashtra, in a village almost 800-kms away from Mumbai meant that it received scant attention. However, one of the few journalists who reported on this case was Sabrina Buckwalter. Buckwalter chronicled the incident in a long article for the Times of India, in October 2006, a month after it had occurred.
Buckwalter was ejected from the country in 2007. Since then her visa application has been rejected multiple times. She had managed to get a short-stay visa in 2011 but was then asked to go back just a few days into her visit.
Professor Richard Shapiro — denied entry in 2010
Professor Shapiro was denied entry by the Immigration Authorities in New Delhi.
Richard Shapiro is the Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco.
News reports suggest that the government decided to take action against Shapiro, who held a tourist visa, because of his partner Angana Chatterji’s involvement with the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir and her association with the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society (JKCCS).
Chatterji was travelling with Shapiro when he was denied entry. Chatterji and the tribunal had come up with an extensive report on mass graves in Kashmir, saying “2,900 unidentified persons were buried in these graves after being killed by security forces”.
Ulrika Nandra & Marina Malmgren — visa rejected in 2008
Freelance journalist Ulrika Nandra and foreign correspondent of Swedish daily Göteborgs-Posten, Marina Malmgren, are journalists based in Sweden whose visa applications were rejected by Indian authorities. In both cases, the rejections appear to be linked to articles they wrote about social problems in India, according to Swedish radio programme, The Media.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Ulrika Nandra’s problems began in autumn 2007 when she was to make a second visit to India as a freelance journalist. She submitted a visa application in September that year, but more than one year later she did not receive a response. Representatives of the media for which Nandra worked, state-run ‘Sveriges Television’ and daily newspaper ‘Svenska Dagbladet’, held a meeting with the Indian embassy in February 2008 in which the embassy said they were displeased with her reports, including one about sex trafficking in Mumbai and a series of articles about changing gender roles in India.
Reliable sources have told Nandra, who is half-Indian that it is uncertain that she will ever be able to return to the country, even on a tourist visa.
Other Indian embassies around the world have also rejected visa applications from journalists, said Vincent Brossel, head of the Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders’ head office in Paris.
Hasnain Kazim — visa rejected in 2009
Employed by Der Spiegel Online since February 2006, Kazim wanted to move to New Delhi in May 2009 to set up the publication’s South Asia desk. He had visited India in November 2008 to cover the Mumbai terror attacks, writing several articles that won him a nomination for the CNN Journalists Award 2009.
The press visa application that Kazim submitted in April of the same year, to the Indian consulate in Hamburg was immediately passed to New Delhi. Indian diplomats subsequently accused him of “hostile” coverage. They also said his reporting from Mumbai had been “illegal”.
An Indian official, contacted by IANS, said as per his information the journalist had come on a tourist visa to Mumbai in 2008 and had stayed on to report from there, an action that was construed as “serious violation” of visa rules in force internationally.
Viviane Dalles – visa rejected in 2008
French photojournalist Viviane Dalles came to Tamil Nadu following the tsunami in early 2005. Recognizing the potential of documentary photography, after two years she decided to stay on in the country and applied for a journalist’s visa. She was granted a one-year journalist visa. She did stories for the French papers ‘Le Monde’ and ‘Le Figaro’ and worked on stories about Tibetan refugees and the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, among other projects.
In July 2008, Dalles was refused entry back into the country after a month-long holiday in France (her journalist visa hadn’t expired at this time). Before her holiday, she had made a trip to the north of Assam to document the activities of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. When she arrived at Delhi airport, Dalles was asked to buy a ticket back to Paris. She has been unable to return to India since.
Tom Heinemann & Lotte la Cour — visa rejected in 2006
Heinemann and La Cour are makers of the 2005 documentary film, A Killer Bargain. The film showed how Danish and Swedish multinational pesticide and textile companies grossly violated the labor and environmental laws of India.
The film had an impact, especially in Scandinavia. A large Danish pesticide company, which had sold extremely dangerous chemicals to poor Indian cotton farmers, stopped producing and selling those hazardous products that long had been banned in the developed part of the world. Large Swedish and Danish textile manufacturers got a huge wake-up call. Several of them changed their policies and now do much more to investigate and exert control on their supply chain.
In a letter published online, the husband and wife duo have owned up to deliberately violating the immigration laws of India. They say, “We broke the law by producing a documentary film even though we had entered the country on a tourist visa. We broke the law because we wanted to show that Scandinavian companies were in violation of many other laws in India.”
Ever since then they have been unable to get either a journalist or tourist visa.