India should be a supporter of the Uighur cause, says the activist, if only for strategic reasons. “By raising support, helping us, the Indian government can have leverage (with China).”
By Devirupa Mitra for The Wire
New Delhi: During the entire duration of his long-haul flight from the United States, Ilshat Hassan was wondering if the immigration authorities at Delhi airport would stop him and put him on the next flight out of India.
President of the Uyghur American Association, Hassan was the only one of the three-member Uighur delegation invited to attend a conference of pro-democracy China dissidents in India who finally managed to reach the venue at McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh. The other Uighur members – Dolkun Isa and Omar Kanat, both from World Uyghur Congress – had their Indian visas cancelled after protests from China.
“Even after I boarded the plane, with my passport, e-visa and ticket. I was really worried. I was expecting to be stopped,” Hassan told The Wire on the phone from McLeod Ganj.
Just like Isa and Kanat, he had also applied for and received a tourist visa to India through the e-visa online application process.
“When I stopped in Abu Dhabi, I had a similar fear. Then I landed in Delhi on April 27. I went through immigration. Things went smoothly. Then I went through customs. My heart was going pow-pow. As I left customs, I was stopped and told to go back. I was the only one at the line, so I thought that this is curious. Why have I been singled out?” Hassan said.
It was because he had submitted an empty customs declaration form. “I hadn’t filled it out. I did that and then walked out. When I was out of the gate, I said, ‘Phew, I am finally here!’,” he recalled.
And why wasn’t he stopped from coming for the conference when he also had a tourist visa? Hassan laughed, “My guess is that I am not an office-bearer of the World Uyghur Congress”.
One of the two reasons given by the Ministry of External Affairs for the cancellation of Dolkun Isa’s visa was that he had “suppressed” the fact in his visa form that he was coming to attend a conference. Similarly, democracy activist Lu Jinghua’s visa was cancelled with the reasoning that there “was inconsistency with the purpose of her visit.”
Just as he left Dharamshala for his return journey to the US, Hassan said that his first trip to India had been “wonderful”. “Nice place, Nice people, Nice hospitality.”
His “big takeaway” was that the Uighur exile community needed to do more networking in India. “I was told how to approach the media, think tanks here in India. We have not been active here recently, which is sad, as our late leader had come straight here (after fleeing form China). I am confident that I will be back.”
And India should be a supporter of the Uighur cause, he felt, if only for strategic reasons. “From my perspective, they (the Indian government) have an obligation to support and provide a platform for voices like ours. By raising support, helping us, the Indian government can have leverage (with China),” Hassan asserted.
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