India on Monday denied entry to a British parliamentarian critical of its policies in Jammu and Kashmir, AP reported on Monday. Debbie Abrahams, a Labour Party MP who chairs a parliamentary group focused on Kashmir, was unable to clear customs at Delhi airport after her visa was rejected, her aide Harpreet Upal told the news agency.
In a statement, Abrahams said she arrived at the airport at 8.50 am. She alleged that immigration officials did not cite any reason for denying her entry and revoking her visa, which was valid till October 2020.
The Indian government, however, claimed the MP was not in possession of a valid visa, PTI reported. An unidentified home ministry spokesperson said the parliamentarian had been duly informed that her visa had been cancelled, and she arrived Delhi despite knowing this.
“Along with everyone else, I presented myself at the immigration desk with my documents including my e-visa, had my photograph taken and then the official looked at his screen and started shaking his head,” Abrahams, who was scheduled to be in a two-day personal visit to India, said in an official statement. “Then he told me my visa was rejected, took my passport and disappeared for about 10 minutes. When he came back he was very rude and aggressive shouting at me to ‘come with me’.”
Abrahams said she was then taken to a room marked as a “deportee cell”, but refused an order to sit down. She said she called up her sister-in-law’s cousin Kai, who she was planning to stay with. “Kai got in touch with the British High Commission and they tried to find out what was going on,” Abrahams said. Following this, many immigration officials visited her, Abrahams said, but nobody seemed to know why her visa had been rejected.
“I tried to establish why the visa had been revoked and if I could get a ‘visa on arrival’ but no one seemed to know,” Abrahams said. “Even the person who seemed to be in charge said he didn’t know and was really sorry about what had happened. So now I am just waiting to be deported.”
Abrahams said she hopes the Indian government will have a change of heart. The MP added she would excuse it for treating her “like a criminal”, and let her visit her family and friends in India.
An unidentified person told Scroll.in that Abrahams and Upal were booked on a return flight at 4.30 pm IST on Monday.
Abrahams tweeted she will continue to challenge her own government and others if injustice and abuse remains unchecked. “In response to some of the comments I was planning to visit Indian family in Delhi accompanied by my Indian aide,” she tweeted. “I became a politician to promote social justice and human rights for all.”
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor asked why the government was scared of critics if the situation in Kashmir was normal. “If things are fine in Kashmir, shouldn’t the government encourage critics to witness the situation themselves to put their fears to rest?” he asked on Twitter. “Instead of conducting tours for pliant MEPs and polite ambassadors alone, surely the head of a Parliamentary Group on the subject is worth cultivating?”
India had on August 5 last year revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and imposed a lockdown in the state. The Indian government had also split the state into the two Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. In recent months, the government has put several senior political leaders from Kashmir under the stringent Public Security Act.
India has facilitated the visits of international envoys to the region in recent months. Diplomats from Germany, Canada, France, Italy, Poland, New Zealand, Mexico, Afghanistan, Austria, Uzbekistan, and the European Union visited Jammu and Srinagar on February 12 and 13. This was the second group of envoys to visit the erstwhile state this year. In January, envoys from 16 countries, including the United States, South Korea, Vietnam and Norway, had visited Srinagar. After several media reports claimed it was a “guided tour”, the government issued a strong denial. In October, around two dozen members of the European Parliament had been taken to Kashmir on a much-criticised tour. The politicians in the group were mostly from far-right nationalist parties.