Divided families join hands to overcome visa woes
Organising divided families (L-R): Islam Azad Khan, Kuldeep Saxena, Iqbal Qureshi, Sirish Agarwal, Shankar Singh at the IPFSA Meeting in Kanpur, Dec 8, 2012 / Photos: Mahesh Pandey, IPFSA

Organising divided families (L-R): Islam Azad Khan, Kuldeep Saxena, Iqbal Qureshi, Sirish Agarwal, Shankar Singh at the IPFSA Meeting in Kanpur, Dec 8, 2012 / Photos: Mahesh Pandey, IPFSA


"Are you, or someone you know, unable to visit family and loved ones across the border in India and Pakistan? Please come to a meeting in your town, learn about visa process and share your thoughts on easing the visa process."

So read the invite from the newly formed India Pakistan Families Solidarity Association (IPFSA), which has so far organised meetings in Delhi, Lucknow and Kanpur.

IPFSA aims to assemble a core team in each city to organise for enhanced people-to-people contact between the two countries, and develop a support network for divided families.

They hope "to clarify the visa process to the applicants, collect feedback on problems faced by visa applicants and travelers, train divided family members in advocacy and legal aspects, and form a support network of divided families that provide visa and travel assistance to each other when needed"

There is consensus at these meetings that divided families face severe hardship due to the "inhuman visa regime" put in place by both India and Pakistan. The visa regime, they say, "demands documentation that is very difficult to obtain", especially for ordinary people - particularly the attestation by a senior level government official that India requires.

On the other hand, terrorists "do not apply for passport and visa to cross borders".

Curbing terrorism and radicalism on both sides will obviously help promote an environment of friendship, but divided families have been "a victim of political whims of the two governments," says Sirish Agarwal of IPFSA. Meeting participants are working to organise themselves in an association to tackle the problems faced by visa applicants and travellers, pressure governments to reduce the documentation burden, ease visa restrictions and work to improve relations between the two countries to allow families to meet.

India and Pakistan are perhaps the only two countries in the world that issue city-specific visas, noted the participants. Discussing options, the visa protocol with Nepal was seen as a good model for a visa regime. Another option could be a travel permit issued on proof la National ID such as voter card. Urgent visas should be issued in cases of emergency, like death in a family.

"Most important to our campaign at Indo Pak Families Solidarity Association, is for people who want to meet family members across the borders to be able to do so easily," says Bobby Ramakant of IPFSA.
IPFSA plans to gather members in camps held to form a strong organisation made primarily of divided families, over next months.

Other organisations supporting the campaign include Asha Parivar, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), Pakistan India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), and Khudai Khidmatgar.

Contacts: www.ipfassociation.org; email:info@ipfassociation.org; Mobile: +91-9041326791
- Beena Sarwar

Wednesday, December 19, 2012




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