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India denies entry to UK academic visiting to ‘speak on democratic values’

A British writer and professor of Indian origin has said she was refused entry into India and deported back to the UK because of her opinions on “democratic and constitutional values”.

Nitasha Kaul, a professor at the University of Westminster in London, alleged she was blocked at the airport and denied entry to the country due to “orders from Delhi”.

Ms Kaul said she arrived at southern India’s Bengaluru airport to participate as a speaker in the two-day Constitution and National Unity Convention over the weekend.

But after landing in Bengaluru she was denied permission to enter through immigration, despite having a valid visa, she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“I was given no reason by immigration except ‘We cannot do anything, orders from Delhi’,” Ms Kaul wrote in a thread attaching her documents.

“I received no notice or info in advance from Delhi that I would not be allowed to enter.”

Ms Kaul alleged that she had to spend several hours at immigration without being provided with any explanation about the situation and was then held in a cell for 24 hours under CCTV observation.

Her movements were restricted in the cell that had only a narrow area for her to lie down, without easy access to food and water.

“[I] made dozens of calls to airport for basic things such as a pillow and blanket, which they refused to provide,” Ms Kaul said on X.

The political science professor claimed that the officials “informally made references to my criticism of the RSS, a far-right Hindu nationalist paramilitary from years ago”.

In 2019, Ms Kaul served as a key witness before the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, testifying about human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, which had granted special status to the region.

“I have traveled to India numerous times since. I was invited by a state government but refused entry by the central government,” she wrote.

For years, Ms Kaul said, she has been threatened with rape and death by “right wing Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) trolls” but had dismissed them as not serious.

On Sunday, she expressed concern for her safety, saying: “If I come to any accident, it probably merits a closer look.”

After her 24-hour ordeal, Ms Kaul was deported back to London on a British Airways flight.

Ms Kaul compared herself to “the ranks of the Tibetan exiles and Ukrainian exiles, and others throughout history who have faced the arbitrary exercise of brute unreasoning power”.

“Banning academics, journalists, activists, writers from India in spite of all valid documents is pathetic,” Ms Kaul wrote.

Rizwan Arshad, a politician of the opposition Congress Party and member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly (MLA), the state where Ms Kaul had been invited to speak, slammed Narendra Modi’s government and called Ms Kaul’s deportation “unfortunate” and an “insult” to the state of Karnataka.

However, the BJP’s Karnataka wing took to X to thank security agencies at immigration for catching an “anti-India element” and termed Ms Kaul a “Pakistani sympathiser”.

In recent years, India has denied entry to several academics and journalists who have written or spoken against the Modi government.

In 2022, India deported a renowned University of Sussex anthropologist whose research involves southern Indian Muslims without giving an official reason for doing so.

Vanessa Dougnac, a French journalist, announced she was leaving India earlier this month after working in the country for two decades. She was prevented from working as a journalist in India despite having Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status, a form of permanent residency, as a result of what the government termed her “malicious and critical” reporting.

Four OCI card-holding journalists have so far been refused permission to work in India, according to Reporters Sans Frontiers. The organisation’s latest World Press Freedom Index ranks India 161st of 180 countries.