New Delhi: Kashmiri human rights activist Bilal Bhat has claimed that he was stopped from boarding an international flight to Malaysia at the Delhi airport on Sunday.
Bhat alleged that Indian immigration authorities stamped his passport saying that his visa was “cancelled without prejudice.”
Bhat says he spent nearly six hours at the airport, first trying to understand why he was prohibited from flying abroad and then to get his baggage, which was offloaded from his Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur.
“I kept asking them what was the reason for not allowing me to travel, but they didn’t give me any reason,” Bhat told The Wire.
At least two other high-profile Kashmiris – Shah Faesal and Gowhar Geelani – have also been prevented from travelling abroad after the August 5 decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
Bhat said that the incident may also have something to do with comments made recently by the Malaysian prime minister at the UN in September, where he said that India had “invaded and occupied” Jammu and Kashmir and should work with Pakistan to resolve the issue.
Bhat says that he had been selected as a delegate for the Children and Youth Assembly in association with the seventh Asia Pacific Urban Forum (APUF-7) being organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) in Malaysia. He had paid for the flight tickets and visa charges. He said he was due to represent India at this event.
Bhat also said that he had begun talking to a university in Malaysia – Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman – about enrolling in a master’s or PhD programme. He had, however, encountered an obstacle as his earlier transcripts were not in order and he wanted to visit the university to sort the issue out.
Bhat says that while he told the airport authorities that he was going to Malaysia to enquire about the university, he didn’t want to tell them about the conference he was due to attend, out of fear that it could worsen his situation.
“I showed them the conversation between me and the university, but they were not interested,” Bhat told The Wire. But they took his driver’s license for some reason, he said, and would not return it.
Bhat says he had travelled abroad before and had not been stopped at the airport. He was also asked by immigration authorities as to why he had visited Bangladesh recently. Bhat told the authorities that it was a business visit.
After the Centre’s decision to dilute Article 370 and revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, at least two other Kashmiris were not allowed to take travel abroad. Former IAS officer-turned-politician, Shah Faesal was stopped from leaving India at the Delhi airport, while journalist Gowhar Geelani was stopped from travelling to Germany.
Faesal was due to travel to Turkey. Apparently the Jammu and Kashmir police had issued a look-out notice for him.
“I don’t write anything about the government on Facebook. Although as a journalist I should. But I know the government will create problems if we speak up,” Bhat told The Wire. “When the officials were taking time with my passport, I asked them if there was any problem and I told them I am comfortable to sort out anything.”
“I am not a criminal. I respect the rules of the country. They need to tell me what the issue with me travelling is. If I have some bad record and have done something wrong, they should tell me and I should be in jail,” says Bhat.
He says he thought of writing a complaint to the officials but has since lost hope: “I want fellow Indians to know what is my story. I’m not a different person as they portray Kashmiris so differently. I also have dreams. I also like to travel just like other Indians. The government is further alienating us.”
Geelani, an editor for Deutsche Welle, said that no specific reason was provided to prevent him from travelling to Bonn, to attend an advanced training programme. He said that the immigration official kept repeating, “Aaj kal Kashmir ko lekar kafi diqqat hai (These days, there is a lot of trouble because of Kashmir).”