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BW Businessworld

Visa Hypocrites

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Should India allow UK to decide its visa regime? If not, then why dictate rules for UK visa?

I find it surprising that Indian industry and government should get upset over another country's visa regime. Allowing anyone into a country is its own prerogative. The advantages or disadvantages of any such regime is theirs alone.

Most people and institutions in India bristle with anger when our visa regime is questioned. India remains pretty racist and tough about its visa regime too. Getting visa for India is perhaps as difficult for foreigners as it is for Indians to get a UK visa.

India gives visa on arrival to nationals of only 11 countries. According to the Indian Bureau of Immigration these countries are: Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand , Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia.

So, two from Europe and rest from Asia pacific. And absolutely none from 55 countries in Africa. Hints of racism?

Those who say that the UK visa move is racist should first examine how India treats its visitors. Indian society and institutions more racist than we care to accept.

Recently Punjab police arrested 14 students from Congo on a flimsy excuse after they were racially abused by locals. These are paying students who are enrolled post graudate college in Ludhiana.

There are several such examples of racist behaviour by Indians. Read what Christophe Okito, president of the Association of African Students in India, wrote about Indians: "We really get the impression that many of them truly believe that black people are cursed by the gods, destined to be slaves, whereas white people here as seen as intrinsically successful." This exposes Indian hypocisy on charges of racism.

India's squeal of pain on visa displays a sense of needless inadequacy. We no longer live in an era where UK was the only country for Indians to travel for work, education or leisure. If UK makes it tough for Indians, then it is UK's loss not ours.

Today, Indians have a choice to study, holiday or invest in any country of the world and they spend billions of dollars aboard. Most statistics show  that Indians are exploring new regions like never before. Indian students alone spend over $2 billion on education abroad. If UK makes it tough, the students should move to other countries. But this is where the problem lies.

India's much celebrated advantage of being comfortable in English is making it complacent and lazy. Indian students and business are slow to embrace European and East Asian languages.

At a time when centre of economic gravity is shifting away from English speaking countries, Indians continue to cling to the language. Even though most Indians grow up in a multilingual atmosphere, they are loath to learn foreign languages.

Keenness to learn East Asian languages including Mandarin is low in India. Given the importance of Korean investment and brands in India, few students or professionals are enthused by its language.

Students looking for education abroad don't take up French, German or Spanish in adequate numbers. Neither do professionals. Learning Spanish opens up the entire continent  of South America and much of US too. French offers access to one third of African continent that is francophone. The visa muddle with the UK is a good occasion to rethink priorities about Indian attitude to the world.

Industry bodies, academic institutions and government should emphasise the importance of new markets and new languages.  Staying in the comfort zone of English speaking countries will not help in the long run.

Indians should also introspect on their racist social attitude. Any slight from the west is treated as racism while we continue to be nasty to non-whites. Greater maturity and evolution of thought and lesser hypocrisy will be needed as India grows up in this rapidly changing world.

(Pranjal Sharma is a senior business writer. He can be contacted at [email protected])