Priya Pillai was stopped at immigration and her passport was stamped with ‘offloaded’. This is a clear and blatant violation of her rights, especially because she has a valid business visa to visit London. British MPs had invited Pillai to talk about people-powered movements with the local communities in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh. A proposed coal mining project led by Essar, a London-based company threatens to uproot the lives and livelihoods of the forest and the community which lives there.
Priya Pillai was scheduled to address British Parliamentarians on the rights of forest communities being infringed for coal mining in India. “Has working for the most marginalised people in the country become an offence in India?” Pillai asked.
She has been informed by the airport authorities that she is now banned from leaving India, even though she has no criminal convictions against her. Her passport has been stamped with the word: OFFLOAD. The immigration officials told her they are not opposed to her travelling, but they are just following orders from the Indian government.
It appears working for grassroots movements in India has been met with unwanted and shocking consequences. This is the second time a Greenpeace employee has been denied a go ahead by the Indian airport authorities in spite of having a valid visa. In September last year, Greenpeace campaigner, Ben Hargreaves – a UK national – was refused entry to India, despite having a valid visa.
Commenting on the latest development, Greenpeace India’s Executive Director, Samit Aich said, “The government’s intentions are clear- they are trying to intimidate and bully Greenpeace and its employees but I would only reiterate that such acts only make us more resolute to continue our campaigns on protecting Indian people and India’s environment. We will not shy away from asking tough questions to the highest authorities. Such systematic excesses by the government are a shame and cause of worry for the Indian civil society. At a time when the whole world is making a strong pitch to safeguard freedom of speech and democratic rights, this action by the world’s largest democracy is problematic”.
Greenpeace India has written to the Ministry of Home and External Affairs and to the Airport Authority of India following this arbitrary action of stopping its employees in spite of having the appropriate paper work. Greenpeace is asking the government to explain the legal basis for the ban on Pillai leaving the country.
Last year the Ministry of Home Affairs directed the freezing of Greenpeace India’s foreign funds. Greenpeace India has challenged this in the Delhi High Court and the next hearing is on 20th January.
It is appalling that in the world’s largest democracy, a people powered, independently funded non profit organisation like Greenpeace India has been at the receiving end unwanted actions.