Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13), freedom of movement within a country and the right to leave and return has been accepted and endorsed by 80 countries. Least likely are democracies to deny this right.
Thus when a Muslim photojournalist from Kashmir with all paperwork complete, passport and visa at the ready ticket in hand, was stopped and denied exit at Delhi airport, it became a news story.
Sanna Irshad Mattoo won the highly prestigious Pulitzer prize for feature photography and coverage of the Covid-19 epidemic in her country and was on her way to New York to attend the award ceremony. Immigration authorities at the airport did not offer any explanation as to why she was barred from travel. But Jammu and Kashmir police officials were quoted by PTI News Agency as saying just that she had been placed on a “no-fly list”.
Ms. Mattoo said it was the “dream of every journalist” to win a Pulitzer and she was “heartbroken” she could not attend the ceremony.
Unfortunately for an India that is fast limiting people’s rights under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mattoo’s is not the only case.
Rana Ayyub, an Indian journalist who also writes op-eds for the Washington Post, was denied entry to India in March. That she is the author of the book “Gujarat files: Anatomy of a Cover Up” could not have helped as Prime Minister Modi was at the time Chief Minister of Gujarat and according to the reports, allowed the carnage to continue by not acting promptly. After the initial outburst, sporadic violence went on for about three months. Police and government officials were alleged to have supplied lists of Muslim-owoned properties to the rioters. For all these reasons, the issue is a sensitive one particularly for the present BJP/Modi central government.
Jawaharlal Nehru was a major participant in India’s struggle for independence, thereafter serving as the country’s prime minister. An urbane man educated at Harrow — one of England’s top two private schools together with Eton — he went on to Trinity College, Cambridge and then to Middle Temple to qualify as a barrister. He would have been appalled at India using travel restrictions to punish dissenting journalists or even political activists and academics.
Professor Filippo Osella, an anthropologist who, due to his work, has been visiting India for thirty years was deported earlier this year without being given any reason. He challenged the order in Delhi high Court saying he was treated like a hardened criminal. The case is on the docket for February 23, 2023. Of course by disrupting the professor’s research, the government has already had a kind of victory even if he wins in court.
And in August, Angad Singh, an American journalist, was deported as soon as he landed in Delhi to visit his mother. She thinks it was because of his documentaries on India’s Covid crisis and farmer protests.
Some democracies are getting increasingly cramped.