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New Delhi: In the second instance to come to light in 2022 of an internationally known writer or academic being denied entry into India despite having a valid passport and visa, award-winning architect and scholar Lindsay Bremner was deported on Sunday from Chennai airport with the authorities citing only “immigration issues” as the reason.
Bremner, who is a professor of architecture and director of research in the School of Architecture and Cities at the University of Westminster, tweeted that she was not provided any valid reason for why she wasn’t allowed to enter the country and was “put on a flight back to London”.
Was denied entry to India today despite having a valid visa and UK passport. Reason given – immigration issues. When pressed, was again told immigration issues. Put on a flight back to London without any room for recourse. pic.twitter.com/FXEQt8zPsl
— Lindsay Bremner (@lindsay_bremner) July 17, 2022
The Wire reached out to Bremner regarding the purpose of her visit, to which she responded, “I was granted a B-2 visa by the High Commission in London on the basis of an MoU my University has with IIT Madras in order to explore opportunities for further collaboration. So it was an academic visit.”
In a Facebook post, Bremner noted how her experience was similar to what other scholars had experienced. Recounting her ordeal, she wrote, “It seems that I am not alone though – this is a growing trend by countries hostile to academics they think might be bad publicity. It also makes a farce of the visa process. Will have to figure out this new reality.”
In March 2022, the renowned anthropologist Filippo Osella was stopped from entering India by immigration officials at Thiruvananthapuram airport. No reason was given to the scholar, who has spent a lifetime researching and writing on Kerala.
What prompted the authorities to stop Bremner from entering the country despite the MoU between the University of Westminster and IIT Madras is as yet unknown.
Her published work includes ‘Sedimentary logics and the Rohingya Refugee camps in Bangladesh’ (2020), ‘Planning the Chennai Floods’ (2020), ‘Thinking architecture from an Indian Ocean aquapelago’ (2016), ‘Fluid Ontologies in the Search for MH370’ (2014), ‘Folded Ocean: The Spatial Transformation of the Indian Ocean World’ (2013) and research on Johannesberg.
A look at her Twitter profile reveals that Bremner is known to frequently retweet topics related to India.
On July 8, she had retweeted a post by earth scientist Ramamurthi Sreedhar who, himself, had quote-tweeted a post by one Maju Varghese which claimed that sea water had entered over 200 houses in Thiruvananthapuram due to coastal erosion caused by construction by the Adani group at Vizhinjam.
The guys who did the EIA and the committee which cleared the project must be held liable apart from the proponents. https://t.co/CVg0YbsKq2
— Sreedhar Ramamurthi (@environicsindia) July 8, 2022
Earlier this month, she had retweeted a news story on whether Chennai needs a climate action plan to mitigate the impact of climate change.
Notes on a possible Chennai Climate Action planhttps://t.co/qEzKLHCtGg
— Aditya Ramesh (@adityaramesh11) July 4, 2022
Around the same time, she had also retweeted an article by the India Water Portal on whether heavy metal pollution is poisoning the East Kolkata wetlands, affecting fish and posing a threat to the health of the people who depend on this fish for their food.
Heavy metal pollution is poisoning the East Kolkata wetlands, affecting fish and posing a threat to the health of humans who depend on this fish for their food. Urgent action is needed!#wetlands #humanhealth #fish #foodsecurity
— India Water Portal (@indiawater) July 4, 2022
Earlier in May, Bremner had also brought to the attention of her followers an article by Nityanand Jayaraman in questionofcities.org about how “Chennai’s new airport will be built on water”.
Future Tense: Chennai’s new airport will be built on water.
Check out QoC — the new online journal dedicated to all things urban. @lindsay_bremner @karencoelho12 @liquidperson @NayanikaM @itihaashtag @GhoshAmitav @tmkrishna @SundarrajanG https://t.co/9GYMqzHZEQ
— NityanandJayaraman (@NityJayaraman) May 21, 2022
This is a subject close to Bremner’s heart. Her paper on Chennai posited that the 2015 floods in Chennai could have been the consequence of various policies, plans and procedures.
Unexplained bans on exit from India too
This approach of the immigration authorities – to not explain the reasons behind their actions to deny entry – is similar to when it blocks scholars, journalists and activists from leaving India.
Earlier this month, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, a Kashmiri photojournalist who was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners for her photographs, was stopped by immigration authorities while trying to fly from Delhi to Paris, despite holding a valid French visa.
Mattoo, who was going to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 award winners of the Serendipity Arles grant 2020, too, was not given any reason by the authorities for not being allowed to leave the country. She was simply told that she could not travel internationally.
While Mattoo had stated that the immigration officials at Delhi airport at least took her to an office and made some phone calls to learn about the reasons for stalling her departure, in Bremner’s case, the immigration authorities did not even afford her this courtesy.
Note: The airport Prof Bremner was turned back from was Chennai and not Delhi, as stated in an earlier version of this report