Published: The Hindu – July 10, 2013
Peace activist from Pakistan Saeeda Diep, the main force behind renaming a chowk in Lahore after Bhagat Singh, regrets that the idea of a “relaxed visa regime” between India and Pakistan exists only on paper. She also argued that crackdown on terrorists can go hand-in-hand with relaxation in the very strict and very difficult visa procedures.
“We, the peaceniks from both India and Pakistan, want the next generation to be brought up in the larger South Asian union, for which relations between the two countries need to be harmonised. And the biggest roadblock in normalising the relationship between the neighbours is the strict visa policy. The strict visa regime has ensured that people-to-people contact remained at its minimum,” said Ms. Diep, also the chairperson of Institute for Peace and Secular Studies.
“People complain that the restrictions are against the idea of people-to-people contact and discourage them from visiting the country. You screen people for giving visa. But once you grant visas, trust them. There is no peace of mind even after getting visa,” she added.
Ms. Diep led a campaign for the relaxation of visa restrictions and collected over a lakh signatures from five cities in Pakistan.
“While we were collecting the signatures on the streets of Pakistan, nine out of 10 expressed their desire for the norms to be eased and for more people-to-people contact,” she said, adding there was no response from India to her application seeking appointment with the officials concerned to submit the signatures.
Highlighting the dismal situation, she referred to the empty Delhi-Lahore and Lahore-Amritsar buses and empty flights that connect the two nations twice a week.
“When it comes to the treatment of each others people in the two nations, it’s almost reciprocal. Once a visitor crosses the border, there is no end to humiliation,” claimed Ms. Diep, who organised a three-day rally in Lahore after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai to denounce violence against India.
Talking about the general problems faced by citizens of both countries, she said: “To get an Indian visa, the sponsor here is supposed to attach a copy of the identity card of a gazetted officer with the visa application form, which is quite difficult for the general public because officers are generally wary of doing this. The other problems pertain to restriction on visiting cities, getting SIM cards and accessing internet café.”
The peace activist also plans to organise celebrations on Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary in September by inviting his family and the families of Sukhdev and Rajguru.