It can be nobody’s case that people should be allowed to illegally enter this country — or, for that matter, any other. But the case of Daniel Robinson, a Briton who strayed into India from Tibet and now faces a year in jail for his act, does appear to be a bit over the top. Unlike terrorists or drug-runners sneaking into Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, or illegal Bangladeshi migrants infiltrating into Assam or West Bengal, Mr Robinson came in fairly openly, riding a horse actually. If the authorities have any evidence that he is not what he claims to be and had some other sinister motive, they should charge him with the crime. But if it is a matter of the technically illegal action of a visa-less entry, then it must be seen in the context of the adventurous and eccentric motive of trying to trace an ancient tea route, and be dealt with as such.
The area that Mr Robinson crossed from is not particularly sensitive. It is the least contentious part of the 4,056 km Sino-Indian border and does not have any significant military objectives or deployments on either side. Indeed, the Chinese routinely permit Indian pilgrims to travel to Mansarovar Lake and Mount Kailash from an adjacent pass. The first two passes to be reopened to cross-border trade in 1992 and 1993 as part of the Sino-Indian normalisation process were in this region.
India has vast land and sea borders and not all are breached illegally for criminal purposes. We know in the case of Pakistan that there have been people who have been swept by a swollen river into India, or have simply lost their way in the night, or have crossed countries as a consequence of being in a state of inebriation. Both India and Pakistan are making special efforts to ensure that these are seen as a humanitarian, rather than a law and order problem. As a country that has hosted refugees — voluntarily or otherwise — India has a reputation for moderation, openness and generosity. The Robinson case is a fit one for being treated in the liberal spirit rather than with the bureaucratic severity that has now visited the hapless man.