Though Dr Mohamed Haneef returned home to Bangalore from Australia a few days ago, I can’t help wondering how this case will impact other Indians travelling overseas for professional reasons. There are already reports of suspicion, hostility and hatred for the Indian community, with an Indian doctor being attacked and accused of being an “Indian killer doctor”.
Despite his release, the suspicion and fear are unlikely to lessen in any way. In these circumstances, it would not be surprising if Indian musicians travelling outside India are suddenly viewed with even more suspicion than they already face when applying for visas.
Now, if you thought that musicians are just a nice bunch of peaceful people who make music and wouldn’t hurt a fly, visa officers in certain countries would be the first to disagree with you. Visa applications for performers’ visas to a certain country often end up in Indian musicians and dancers actually being asked to sing and dance and play to prove beyond doubt that they are indeed genuine performers. And these need not be just new, upcoming, unknown artistes who are asked to prove their credentials.
If stories are to be believed, some of the country’s well known Pandits, Ustads and Vidushis (honorific used to denote an especially accomplished and masterly female performer) have been known to be trill away at a certain visa office to prove that they aren’t people trying to slip into a foreign country in the guise of a musician, with the intention of jumping ship at the earliest opportunity. By the way, the suspicion doesn’t end at the interview. Once you are issued a special visa permitting you to perform in the same country, you are also asked to select a date on which you would present yourself in person at the visa office to prove yet again that you are back in India when you said you would be.
So, checks by immigration officers in the country you were visiting and in your home country aren’t enough to prove that you are back where you belong. You need to show up in person to get your visa cancelled without prejudice. What if you don’t? You are sure to find out the bitter truth the next time you try to travel overseas.
Other countries are more welcoming when issuing visas, although detailed paperwork and submission of scores of documents is increasingly becoming the order of the day. This is, of course, understandable, especially in these difficult and violent times. But what do you do if you are issued a visa to perform in a country, but are held up at Customs and won’t be permitted to bring your instruments into the country because they are made of wood and hide? Cellos, too, are made of wood, aren’t they? So are violins and guitars. So, why bother about tanpuras and sarangis alone? I mean, isn’t it a bit pointless to permit Indian musicians to perform in a country, but refuse to let them bring in their instruments at the airport? You may as well refuse them a visa in that case, or then work out a way of certifying that Indian instruments will be allowed entry on certain terms and conditions.
And now, a very difficult question: What do you do if you are an Indian musician and have a colleague from a certain community in your ensemble? Do you decide to drop him or her when you travel for overseas concerts because he/she is sure to be pulled out of every queue at every single airport for “random” checks?
There are many more stories of discrimination and suspicion that Indian musicians continue to face in these times of terror, fear and suspicion. Some don’t get told because the artistes themselves are worried about the consequences they may have to face if they speak out. But these are very serious problems that Indian musicians face, with no hope of things becoming easier in the future.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org