Bad Ideas

Visa Rejection for Krewella is Latest Sign India is Limiting Contact With Pakistanis

The well-known musicians were forced to cancel their planned appearance at Pune’s Sunburn festival because their visas to travel to Indian were rejected.

Krewella. Credit: krewella.com

Krewella. Credit: krewella.com

New Delhi: By the time the Sunburn festival wound down in Pune, around 150 musicians invited from around the world had performed for thousands of gyrating electronic dance music fans. All except, the sister duo, Krewella, whose act was cancelled after their visa was application rejected because of their “Pakistani heritage”.

On December 27, a day before the Sunburn festival opened, the two sisters, Yasmin and Jahan Yousaf, posted a handwritten note on their official social media accounts. “It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that due to our Pakistani heritage, our visas have been repeatedly denied and we will not be able to enter your country for [the] Sunburn festival,” the sisters wrote in a letter addressed to the ‘India Krew’.

Just two weeks before they posted their cancellation, they appeared in a short video on the Sunburn Festival site telling the “desi Krew” that they were going to be in Sunburn with “tons of new music”.

But, that was not to be. “Our team tried every avenue possible but now have reached the end. We are so heartbroken since we were looking forward to being reunited with our Desi Krew,” they wrote.

When asked about the case, officials in the Ministry of External Affairs denied having any say in the matter, pointing to the home ministry as being the arbiter for approving any visa applications of Pakistani nationals and third country citizens of Pakistani origin.

This is a consequence of the change in visa rules in 2009 after the role of David Headley in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks came to light. Headley, a Pakistani-American, got a visa to India based on his U.S. passport and then conducted reconnaissance in several parts of Mumbai. Under the new rules, Indian missions abroad lost their discretion power to grant visas to any Pakistani-origin national; instead, all applications have to be processed by the home ministry.

There is an entire separate category of ‘Visitor visa’ only for “Pakistan Passport Holders who have not renounced their Pakistan Citizenship”. Pakistan, unlike India, allows for dual citizenship which means that they can keep two travel documents.

As per the rules, applicants of Pakistani origin would have to provide “proof of renunciation of Pakistani citizenship” if they apply for a visa on a US passport. If they can’t furnish this proof, they will have to apply on a valid Pakistani passport for a visa. Further, those born outside Pakistan and who have never held Pakistani nationality have to provide a notarised affidavit that the applicant never held citizenship or a Pakistan Origin Card or National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistani.

In November, a young Indian journalist, Purvi Thacker, had conducted a social media campaign when the visa application of her best friend, Pakistani national Sarah Munir, was rejected. Munir was hoping to travel to India to attend Thacker’s wedding.  A second attempt for an Indian visa ended with the same fate.

Both Sarah Munir and the Krewella sisters had visited India before – but failed to get the home minisrty’s green light this time, an indication that there has been an unannounced hardening of the Modi government’s position on people-to-people contact between Pakistanis and Indians. Krewella had performed at the 2014 Sunburn festival.

On social media, there have also been other shouts for help for facilitating visas of family members who happened to be of Pakistani origin:

South Block officials deny there has been any tightening in the process for approving visas for Pakistanis or Pakistani-origin applicants. But, earlier this year, media reports had said that there had been an unusual spike in the rate of rejection of visa applications by Pakistani nationals in the first five months of 2016. India-Pakistan relations had deteriorated from the first week of 2016 after terrorists sneaked into the Indian Air Force Base in Pathankot and laid siege to it for three days.

India Today had reported last June that 53 % of visa applications of Pakistani nationals submitted between January and May 2016 had been rejected. This was a sharp jump from 17% in 2014 and 24% in 2015. The Indian ambassador to Pakistan, Gautam Bambawale had apparently brought this up during a meeting with the home minister Rajnath Singh. The Economic Times wrote that government officials explained the “drastic reduction in grant of visa may have been because of stringent security measures adopted by the agencies”.

What threat the home ministry’s mandarins saw from Krewella and others like them is not known.

For now, Indians will have to make do with YouTube: