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Deporting NGO activists blackening India's repute as vibrant democracy

ht view Updated: Jun 24, 2015 09:37 IST


By now, many must have already seen the headlines: A Greenpeace activist blacklisted and denied entry into India despite having a valid business visa and necessary documents. Now, I’d like to set the record straight on a few details about my intended visit and the reasons why.

It was to be my second trip to India, after I visited the country for a Greenpeace International conference in Delhi, which was followed by a skill-share with its staff in Bangalore.

Since then, the crackdown against Greenpeace India and the country’s civil society has only escalated, just like the alarming air pollution levels, choking many Indian cities. I was again invited by Greenpeace India for a three-week visit in Bangalore to learn more about the air pollution, climate change and coal mining campaigns. As a crisis response campaigner with Greenpeace International, I specialise in dealing with just the sort of crisis facing Greenpeace India due to the ‘attention’ paid by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

I had intended to discuss different approaches to dealing with such a crisis with the staff, but it was not to be. Instead, I was propelled into my own mini-crisis; after being refused entry, I was unceremoniously bundled out of the country in less than an hour of my arrival.

Although media reports soon emerged about my inclusion on MHA’s blacklist, I’ve had no formal notification of the same from the MHA. Let’s be clear: any suggestion of wrongdoing is a farce.

I have raised concerns about Indian authorities attempting to silence Greenpeace India in a blog about a year ago, but call that free speech, and I will do it again.

As a war crimes reporter for Reuters, I ensured important stories were told. In Namibia, I participated in a 100km walk through the desert for raising funds for Unicef’s HIV/AIDS prevention work in the country and the development of healthcare as I support just causes where I can. No country is perfect. In my native Australia, I oppose the coal industry expansions which threaten the Great Barrier Reef. The impacts of climate change on the future generations are also a matter of concern.

I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do know that issuing blacklists sends out a wrong message, and dialogue can never be seen as a threat.

Though Greenpeace Australia has raised the issue with the Australian Foreign Ministry and Greenpeace India is also seeking answers from the MHA, the updates are still awaited.

It’s funny for someone like me, who grew up watching Test cricket between Australia and India, being amazed while watching Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar or Allan Border playing with grit, flair and rivalry.

I’m now witnessing a test of India’s willingness to allow the entry of free speech and professionals like myself, who may carry with them challenging opinions along with a valid visa and hope for the future. It’s a question that goes to the heart of a global world by Greenpeace, which believes in the free movement of people and ideas as it does in a greener, cleaner and inclusive development that does not come at the cost of free speech. Blacklists, however, can only do one thing, and that is blackening India’s reputation as a vibrant democracy.

Aaron Gray-Block is a Greenpeace environmental activist. The views expressed are personal.