A prominent international human rights activist, Mary Aileen Diez Bacalso, secretary general of Asian Federation Against involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), was barred from entering the country and repatriated from the Mumbai airport on August 17 night.
Mary, who is the focal person of International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances with 52 members worldwide, was supposed to spend two days in Kashmir to meet human rights activists and take stock of the human rights situation in that restive state.
“They have not specified any reason. We guess it was because she is a human rights activist and has been working with us,” said Khurram Parvez, programme coordinator, J&K Coalition of Civil Society.
Khurram said Mary tried for a visa from Indian embassy in Manila on Aug 1. “Though her papers were in order, her application was not accepted on the ground that ‘time was too short’, but having gone through her documents, they were completely aware that she was travelling to India on Aug 17,” he said.
Mary who arrived at Mumbai airport around 10pm on Aug 17, was immediately taken to a separate office where around nine officials were present. “Without asking her any questions, officials started filling up a form, which Mary later realised was the form for refusal to land. None of her questions were answered. Instead, she was asked when was the last time she had visited India, which was in Nov 2009, and also “what bad happened then,” he said.
Mary was sent back on the same flight and her passport was handed over to her only when she reached Manila. To her question why she had been barred from entering India, she was told, “you should know,” Khurram added.
“Even in China she has not been stopped. It is not the first time that they have stopped international human rights activists. They are trying to create an iron curtain”, said Khurram
According to Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), more than 8,000 people have ‘disappeared’ in Jammu and Kashmir. And so far according to research undertaken by APDP, 7,000 unmarked graves have been identified in that state.
It’s for the second time that anyone from AFAD has been stopped from entering India. In 2010, an AFAD administrative officer was refused entry, Khurram said.
Mary’s repatriation comes more than a month after Omar Abdullah govt “banned” the annual Pandit Rughonath Vaishnavi talk by renowned author Mridu Rai in a local hotel in Srinagar. Professor Mridu Rai, an eminent academician and author of, ‘Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir’, was scheduled to deliver a lecture on ‘Languages of Violence, Languages of Justice: the State and Insurgent Kashmir’, in a local hotel here on July 9.