By Madhavi Bansal
It comes as a pleasant surprise that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to drop-by Lahore on his way back from Kabul to meet Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. While it does bring a smile on one’s face as this is just like us planning a birthday surprise for a friend, I also cannot help thinking about the sad reality otherwise.
I wonder if I will ever be able make a last minute plan in the morning to go have dinner in Lahore. Will I ever be able to give such a birthday surprise to my friends in Pakistan? The reality says I won’t be. In this current visa regime, I will only be called a dreamer.
But this is not such an impossible task for our politicians. PM Modi didn’t have to wait in queues for submitting his visa papers or face the anxiety till the last moment whether he would be going on not. He wanted to go to Pakistan and he went. Those of you, who have been to Pakistan or have tried to, will probably agree with me that getting a visa is not a child’s play. Is it possible for these people, who don’t face to face visa hurdles, to understand these restrictions?
Politicians do not only think what the common people of India and Pakistan can only dream, but also have the capacity to fulfill them. They don’t have to think ways to go across the border to meet their relatives or friends. They don’t have to pay the exorbitant fees charged in the cross-border conferences, write research papers, appeal to organisations to send invitation letters and then pray and wait endlessly for the visa. They don’t need to care about the bureaucratic arbitrariness and red tapism in the visa process. They don’t need to know that all the listed documents are never really enough to get a visa. They don’t need to struggle to get an affidavit made with the signature of a high order official. They don’t have to stand in the long visa queues outside the embassy for hours. They don’t have to think of “valid” reasons that will convince the visa officer. They don’t need to know that emotions do not count as “valid” reasons to go across the border.
There are so many separated families across the border who haven’t seen each other since partition. There are people who dream of visiting the land of their forefathers, to visit their roots but will probably never be able to live the dream as they don’t have any relatives, though this is not to say that having a relative ensures your visit. There are deep bonds of friendship, of love but the visa regime even restricts these hearts. Is it possible for our politicians to understand these yearnings? It is important that they do because when they will understand it, then maybe they will do something about it.
In my moments of morning musings I imagined a world without restricted borders, one that of peace and love. I hope Mr. Modi that when you talk to Mr. Sharif this time, we move one irreversible step forward towards peace and friendship.
(Madhavi Bansal is pursuing M.A. in Public Policy and Governance from Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India. She is the head of Bangalore Chapter, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a joint Indo-Pak friendship initiative. Her email id is firstname.lastname@example.org.)