On July 31, a writer from Australia who had landed in Bengaluru on a trip to meet friends was deported from the airport by Indian authorities. They did not give her a clear explanation about why she was denied entry. She was forced to take the next flight back to Australia, which was via Singapore. In Singapore, Kathryn Hummel, 36, said she booked a ticket to Bangladesh, a country she frequently visits for work and leisure, which she had intended to visit anyway after her trip to India. However, authorities at Singapore’s Changi Airport detained her until the next flight to Adelaide, her hometown in Australia, was boarding, and ensured that she got onto it. She said that her passport was confiscated and she only got it back when she arrived in Australia.
Hummel is a poet and author of several works of fiction and non-fiction. She has also contributed as a researcher to several journals and publications on subjects that include gender, feminism and culture.
The chain of events that led to Hummel’s deportation from India highlight tricky areas in visa conditions that people in the fields of art, writing and academics could find difficult to negotiate. They run the risk of sometimes violating visa rules inadvertently.
The Carlile affair
About 20 days before Hummel was turned back, British parliamentarian Lord Alexander Carlile was deported under similar circumstances soon after he arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Carlile is a legal consultant to jailed former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and was reported to have travelled to New Delhi on July 11 to address the media after being denied permission to enter Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. At that time, the Indian government said Carlile had arrived in India without the appropriate visa. “His intended activity in India was incompatible with the purpose of his visit as mentioned in his visa application,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar. “It was, therefore, decided to deny him entry into India upon arrival.”
Hummel believes her case is different, as it did not have any political undertones. “I am a writer, yet I am no Taslima Nasrin,” she said, referring to the Bangladesh-born author who has been living in exile since 1994 because of threats from fundamentalist groups that have taken offence to her literary work. “I am of the opinion, however, that the circumstances of the deportation was to do, at least in part, with my status as a writer and academic. I veer between thinking [whether] I was and wasn’t penalised for being a writer. If I was, I believe it was not substantiated by knowledge of the nature of my work, but by the (mis)interpretation of factors present at the time.”
Lack of clarity
Though the Ministry of External Affairs had an explanation for Carlile’s deportation (even though there was not much clarity on the nature of the visa Carlile had obtained), things are not so clear in Hummel’s case.
Hummel said that she had planned to visit Dhaka in September, after her India visit, to meet friends and scholars. She said that she had communicated this to the immigration officials in Bengaluru. This is why, she said, after she was deported from Bengaluru, she bought a ticket for Bangladesh from Singapore.
Hummel said that she had called the Australian consulate in Chennai on August 1 to enquire about the reasons for her deportation. The official who took her phone call told her that she had breached conditions concerning a tourist visa. The official did not further elaborate on the matter.
An official in the Bureau of Immigration, who did not want to be identified, told Scroll.in that Hummel was denied entry because of visa inconsistencies. In her earlier visits, she had come to India on a tourist visa but is learnt to have addressed panels at conferences on more than one occasion. The officer said that to participate in these conferences, she should have applied for a conference visa, not a tourist visa.
Caught between technicalities
Hummel said that she had arrived in India on July 31 on a tourist visa.
Giving details of her previous visits and activities in India, Hummel said that she had visited the country between 2014 and 2017, and had attended three literary festivals in Hyderabad and Pune during the course of her trips. That was also the time she participated in a few informal readings in Bengaluru and Goa, and some speaking and performance engagements at colleges, bookstores and art centres in several cities.
Before that, she had visited India four times between 2007 and 2012 for tourism, to meet people in the literary and art circles, and to occasionally participate in recreational performances related to her profession.
Her last visit to India was in February 2018, and she stayed in the country for around three months. She said that the immigration official in Bengaluru on July 31 had asked her why her previous stay was “too long”.
But the purpose of her visits has always been tourism, meeting people, making contacts in the field of art and literature, and meeting friends, which all come under the ambit of a tourist visa, she said. “Such opportunities are not pre-arranged but taken up spontaneously when they arise through network recommendations,” she said.
The network Hummel referred to mostly consists of writers, people in the publishing industry, literary agents and artists. For people with interests like hers, Hummel said, opportunities can open up any moment, even during tourism visits.
Rules concerning visas for conferences organised by non-governmental organisations in India require the approval of the nodal ministry of the concerned state or Union government and an invitation for the conference from the organiser. Other than that, special sanction from the Home Ministry is required if the participant is from a list of countries including China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, and people who are stateless. Foreigners need similar special sanction to attend conferences in restricted areas such as the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Hummel says these rules are tricky. She said often, while applying for her Indian visa, she did not have any idea of the literary festivals and other informal events she was invited to later. This is a big concern, she said. “But my bigger concern is whether I will be deported again in my future visits to India,” she said.
Awaiting a response
The Foreigner Regional Registration Office in Karnataka oversees the work of the immigration bureau in that state. Scroll.in emailed the office a list of questions, including Hummel’s concerns about future visits, whether the immigration bureau in Bengaluru had also asked for her to be deported from Singapore, whether it had recommended her detention in Singapore till she could board a flight back to Australia, and an official comment on the reason for deportation.
The office has not responded so far.
Hummel also took up the matter with the Singapore High Commission in Canberra, Australia, which they forwarded to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore. At the time this report was filed, Hummel was yet to receive a response from the Authority.