Foreign academics are being denied entry to India

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Growing numbers of international academics are reporting being denied entry to India, sparking speculation that New Delhi is seeking to keep critical scholars out of the country.

Lindsay Bremner, professor of architecture and cities at the University of Westminster, arrived in India last month with a valid research visa but, hours later, was told she couldn’t enter the country.

Bremner, who never learned the reason why she was denied entry, said that there “seems to be a trend” of such cases.

Filippo Osella, professor of anthropology and south Asian studies at the University of Sussex, had a similar experience when he was turned away at the border in March despite having a valid research visa and having had no trouble previously in 30 years of traveling to Kerala for fieldwork.

“I had to leave on the same flight that I arrived with,” he said, adding that he was not given a reason for the decision, but was assigned a guard on the plane returning to Dubai.

Despite inquiries by numerous academic organizations and British and Italian officials, he still has not got any explanation.

Times Higher Education has learned of several other similar cases in recent months, sparking speculation that they are tied to increasing restrictions on academic freedom in India.

One scholar with overseas citizenship of India (OCI) status, which grants people of Indian origin and their spouses the right to visit and live in the country, said that government officials had threatened to revoke her right to travel in direct connection to her criticism of the government.

“The central [government] has threatened to take away my OCI card based on false allegations of ‘clandestine activities,'” she said.

“I believe they are trying to threaten and intimidate me because I have made statements critical of the national and state governments in the news media.”

Osella said he was worried that individual academics were being targeted.

“The government of India in various ways seems to be proactively looking at the work which foreign researchers are doing in India, which is fair enough, but it’s acting in this rather mysterious way, to deny entry after proper research visas have been issued,” he said.

And he agreed that there were concerns that the issue is far more widespread than publicly reported.

“I think there are quite a few cases where academics tend to remain quiet about it — either not to spoil the possibility of returning to India or to avoid putting local collaborators at risk,” he said.

The incidents come amid attempts by the Indian government to expand its international higher education ties.

Daniel Munier, acting director of advocacy for the Scholars at Risk Network, said that the moves “appear to fit a broader, years-long pattern” by the Indian government to use “diverse means to restrict and punish academic or expressive activity that they find objectionable.”

“Travel restrictions in particular, whether targeted or through broader actions, have the effect of undermining cross-border research, learning, and dialogue, limiting knowledge and understanding, to the detriment of local and international populations,” he warned.

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