Education

After Branding IIT Student a ‘Proliferation Risk’, Australia Cites ‘Privacy’ to Stonewall Queries

Ananth S. M., a graduate of IIT-Kanpur, was denied a visa on the grounds that his presence in the country may be associated with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Credit: PTI

Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Twenty-nine-year-old aerospace engineering student Ananth S. M. from Indian Institutes of Technology-Kanpur (IIT-Kanpur) had been ready to fly off to Australia for his doctorate. After waiting for ten months he was finally told that his visa was denied on the grounds that he posed a risk for “proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.

Ananth’s case came to light when the Thiruvananthapuram MP, Shashi Tharoor, wrote to the Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday. He wrote the letter after Ananth received the final notification from the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIPB) the same day.

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Credit: Twitter

When The Wire contacted Ananth, he said that he was “shocked and shattered by seeing the reasons for refusal”.

Ananth had applied for a temporary student visa after getting a full scholarship for a Ph.D. in fluid mechanics at the University of Melbourne. He applied for a visa in August 2015, but with no sign of any travel document from Australia for over ten months, Ananth approached his constituency’s MP for assistance.

After Tharoor wrote to the Australian high commission, Ananth received a letter dated June 1, 2016 from DIPB with the subject, “Adverse Information received”.

“The Department has received information that the following applicant for a visa subclass TU 574 Postgraduate Research Sector has been determined by the foreign minister, or a person authorised by the foreign minister, to be a person whose presence in Australia may be directly or indirectly associated with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” said the letter.

Since Ananth’s presence in Australia “may be directly or indirectly associated with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”, the letter said that his application will be refused and that no further reasons for the determination could be given.

The Australian department gave Ananth 28 days for a response.

He replied within the stipulated time along with letters of support from his professor in the University of Melbourne and his current teachers in IIT-Kanpur.

“This information did not change the determination made by the foreign minister (or a person authorised by the foreign minister) that you are a person whose presence in Australia may be directly or indirectly associated with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” said the final letter from DIPB to the applicant dated July 19.

Following the final refusal from Australia, Tharoor urged Swaraj to take up the matter directly with her Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop. He pointed out that it was not a “typical ‘individual case’, this is one that reflects a matter of fundamental principle where a friendly country, taking no notice of our exemplary record on nuclear non-proliferation, has treated an Indian citizen as they would somebody from a rogue nation”.

Earlier, Tharoor had told the Australian high commissioner that that it was unacceptable that an Indian national was clubbed with those of rogue nuclear states like North Korea and Pakistan.

Ananth said that his area of study, which is of “fluid dynamics of flow through a cascade of aerofoils”, has applications in transport systems and renewable power generation.

In his reply to DIPB, Ananth pointed out that his research was “using fundamental mathematical models that are available in published literature and text books, which are freely available to anyone from an academic institute like IIT Kanpur”.

He further told the Australian authorities, “Till now, I have never been involved, even remotely, in any religious or political organisations that could spread some form of hatred. My police record is clean and I have never been on the wrong side of law for any reason throughout my life. As a person who wishes and always worked towards a free and peaceful life, even the thought that I am under such a suspicion is deeply painful”.

The letter of support from Richard Sandberg, chair of computational mechanics at the department of mechanical engineering also asserted that Ananth’s project was of “purely academic nature and in no way involves any classified technology”.

Ananth told The Wire that the reason for the refusal “would tarnish my name very badly at an international level”.

“I secure an admission offer with full scholarship to pursue my Ph.D. in another university in a different country in future [and] when I apply for a study visa there, I will be required to state whether I have been refused a visa by any other country before and the reasons for refusal. So I will be required to state the refusal [and the reasons] that I have to suffer for an Australian visa and that will automatically jeopardise my future visa application, and I am very much likely to get refusals for all my future applications. In other words, the stated reason and the refusal by Australia will damage my academic career, which will stop me from pursuing education in any of the reputed universities abroad,” he said.

The ten-month delay in visa processing had already “derailed” his academic plan as “it becomes more and more difficult to secure an opportunity as the age limit comes into picture”.

“Last but not least, I have been made a scapegoat here and I feel I have been denied justice. Already, myself and my parents are suffering from huge mental agony because of the difficulty in getting a study visa and the situation is getting worse day by day. I do not know what else I must do to prove my innocence and make the relevant officials understand that my true intention is to become an academician after my Ph.D. and that I don’t and will not have anything to do with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” said a distraught Ananth.

When asked about why Ananth was not given a visa, the Australian high commission spokesperson said that it does not comment on specific visa-related cases due to reasons of privacy and due process.

“It should be noted, however, Australia has clearly acknowledged India’s record on non-proliferation. For example, Australia strongly supports India’s application to join the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) and India’s admission to other export control regimes. We are strong supporters of India’s peaceful use of nuclear energy and in 2014 signed the Australia-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement,” she said in a statement issued to The Wire.