As an artist who is forever challenging and teasing perceptions of identity, cultural positioning and representation, and enabling other voices to creatively do the same… I feel immobilised by the demands put on the geographical DNA of people of certain ‘origins’.
Recently my Mum wanted to spend some time in India for a sort of family reunion. She planned to be with her siblings, some who live there and two others currently visiting Mumbai. They are all getting on in age.
Mum is a naturalised British, with dual Pakistani citizenship. In the late sixties she had to surrender her Indian citizenship to be in Pakistan.
The not be questioned Indian visa agency has an ever-growing list of requirements for British passport holders of Pakistani origin and/or Pakistani nationals, and/or persons of Pakistani origin who hold dual nationality have to apply on their Pakistani passport. Mum has only a British passport. “Apply for a new Pakistani one!” Aye-aye sir!
The growing incontestable requirements appear in a long and tedious on-line form, where you need to list
- The cities, dates and purposes of your past ten years of travel as recorded in your passport(s)
- Addresses and phone numbers of the people whose places you visited on your most recent visit to India.
- Names, date of birth and nationality of your grand parents.
By the time you are filling these forms, you almost always get to the last page and their system collapses – all information is lost and you have to start filling it all out again.
So to save time, I use official visa agents. I take Mum along and fill out five copies of printed forms this time and give all things they asked for. Three days later I get a call from visa agents who say; the application is unacceptable unless we give bank statements for the last three months and a faxed letter of invitation from India. Why did the visa office not stipulate this in their list? “Please just do it, theirs is not to question why.” No sooner were these organised and sent then we receive a request for a fax of the passport of her brother who sent her the letter of invitation. I text my uncle to request a scan of his passport… (he is not exactly kitted up with a scanner or smart phones)… he obliges. Then comes another request from the visa office via the visa agents… the fax needs to be notarised and attested by solicitors. How would a solicitor sitting in UK certify something original/authentic that they have not seen?? I call back the visa agents working on behalf of my mother… they call the India visa agency for clarification… and it turns out, the letter of invitation and my uncle’s passport has to be notarised by solicitors in India – with clearly visible stamped telephone/contact numbers so the notary can be called by the investigation team to further verify any doubts that may arise. I sms my uncle again… Panicked and frustrated my uncle calls… with a bad throat infection he is barely able to croak “son you tell them who I am, I am Abbas Moontasir, the national basketball champion son and I am a notary myself… you tell them that!”… his signal cuts out!
Once calm ascends my anger I rationalise – they are searching for authenticity, they want to know if my mother is who she says she is and indeed they want to verify my uncle. I tell myself to stay calm… the visa department is only doing what it must in order to run smooth operations. There is no hint of prejudice here!? The visa department is just doing their job. We have to appreciate their maintenance of a complex invisible web of well meaning considerations… such as:
- To have a greener planet by creating online application systems, they engage the best of software developers…
- To raise people’s aspirations to acquire computers and web connectivity…
- To create a healthy space for agencies who work on behalf of clients because of bugs in their online system…
- To ensure the solicitors get notarisation fees…
- To squeeze in use of faxes and scanners, so people will feel closer as they have to make international and local calls to prepare the applications…
It is an authentically balanced border ecosystem for a visa application that considers everything and everyone… bar the applicant!