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Mumbai immigration deports NRI children
George Joseph in New York

Viraj and Vrishabh
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December 20, 2006 09:00 IST
Last Updated: December 21, 2006 10:19 IST

Mumbai Airport immigration officials deported seven-year-old Viraj Shriwardhankar and his three-and-a-half-year-old brother Vrishabh two hours after they landed in India last week.

Their parents' plea for a transit or temporary visa was summarily denied.

The officials granted a two-day transit visa to a French national at the same time, their father Vijay Shriwardhankar wrote in an e-mail. 'The French national has white skin while Viraj and Vrishabh have brown skin.'

Vijay and his wife Vaishali Prabhu, both natives of Mumbai who have worked as IT professionals for nine years in Boston, said they 'cried' when they described their experience at Mumbai airport. Both Vijay and Vaishali are Indian citizens and have a Green Card. Their sons are born in the US and hence, American citizens.

The family left Boston on December 11 for a four-week vacation in India by Air France [Images] flight 337. 'The Air France agent verified our Green Cards along with our passports but did not ask about the Indian visa for our children who have US passports. At Paris the officials never verified our sons' visa but verified our Green Cards,' Shriwardhankar said.

When the family arrived in Mumbai they realised they had not brought the visas for the children with them.

Their elder son has a ten-year Indian visa in an old passport which the family did not carry with them. The younger son has a Person of Indian Origin card. That too the family did not have with them.

The family requested an immigration official for temporary or transit visas for the children.

They also told the official they could get the documents faxed from Boston.

'The official would not even look at us, let alone hear our pleas,' Vaishali said. 'I have never seen such inhuman behaviour.'

No one was bothered that the children had already traveled for about 24 hours. 'There was absolutely no humanity shown by the ACP (Assistant Commissioner of Police) Immigration or Air France officials,' Vijay said.

The official would grant the family only 45 minutes for the documents to be faxed to Mumbai. 'We requested a little more time. But he would not heed us,' Vaishali said.

'I requested my friend in Boston to go to my house and fax the visa papers immediately. She was already on her way to get those papers. I was begging the Immigration ACP and Air France officials to allow us to wait at the airport until officials received the fax but they didn't want to do anything about it and forced us to take the flight at 2:40,' Vijay said.

The officials received the fax 10 minutes after the flight departed, the couple discovered later.

'We asked to see a higher official, but it was not allowed saying the boss had already left. How can an airport function without a senior officer?' Vaishali asked.

After the stipulated 45 minutes, an official, Deepak Grover, gave the children a Notice of Refused to Land.

Two hours after their arrival in India, the family left Mumbai.

'I absolutely accept my big mistake of forgetting the visa. I am a human being and can make mistakes. I was trying to see an alternative so my kids did not have to travel 22 hours again,' Vijay said.

'I am sure the guys got a peaceful sleep that night. I have not met such cold persons in my life who don't understand or feel the sorrow of the kids. We left with my kids crying and my family members outside in a state of shock,' Vijay said.

'The worst part was that there was a Frenchman from the same flight sitting in the immigration office who forgot to even apply for an Indian visa. The immigration official gave him a two-day transit visa.'

'The immigration official said he would have sent us back even if I had a two-month-old baby. But for white skin laws will be different,' Vijay noted.

'The children are very upset. The elder son questions the behaviour of people in India,' Vaishali said.

The family plans to leave for India in a few days. 'I feel ashamed of being an Indian. The Frenchman told me, "I am surprised how immigration personnel are treating you even after you being an Indian." What kind of world are we living in? The officials could have checked the computer for details since the children had visited India many times earlier,' Vijay said.

'India is the only democratic country that doesn't allow a transit visa to any foreign national,' he said. 'Yet our politicians want to improve tourism in India.'

'I am writing this with great pain that my family had a terrible experience with the Mumbai immigration department and Air France. I would like to share that with you to see if anything can be done so that such things would not occur in the future,' Vijay wrote.

'I know no one can reimburse for the suffering and torture we went through. I would be highly obliged if action is taken in this matter.'

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