Warped Freedom

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In 1990, I wanted to go from India to America for postgraduate studies. A few days before my visit to the U.S. consulate in Mumbai for a student visa, India had refused refueling facilities to U.S. military aircraft participating in the Gulf War. In retribution, as I came to find out, the U.S. had reduced the number of visas granted to Indians. I was one of the casualties.

I never got around to understanding what I had done wrong. The two years of extremely hard work that I had put into preparing for my entrance examinations and writing tens of applications went wasted.

Years later, in 1998, when I was standing in a lineup for a U.S. visa at the consulate in New Delhi, a person a bit ahead of me had his incomplete application thrown to the floor by an abusive officer. I handed over my own application with sweaty palms.

In 2003, I went to the Dutch embassy in New Delhi for a Schengen visa (a document commonly used for visits to several West European countries). In sweltering heat, I had to line up outside the unshaded gate for hours. (Summer temperature in Delhi can reach as high as 118 degrees.) I was finally ushered into a claustrophobic room with five other people. Behind thick glass windows, bureaucrats sat comfortably.

In the post-9/11 environment, they wanted me to justify my visit by providing an invitation from a Dutch friend – an invitation that had to be notarized in Holland. I refused to carry out such a humiliating request, particularly because I had, by then, done my postgraduate studies in the U.K. and had wait, they asked me to return with a bank-issued demand draft to make the payment for my visa. I repeated the process of the lineup again.

With the exception of the British embassy, which provided humane facilities and interaction, my experiences of applying for visas at western embassies in New Delhi were not very different, and I have been to most of them. Be prepared to waste a lot of time and be humiliated and demeaned. But in a way, I am not really complaining. After all, the Indian state treats its own citizens as if they were insects and forcibly keeps hundreds of millions in perpetual hunger and misery.

The State is invariably coercive and therefore demeaning. I now live as an immigrant in Vancouver, B.C. One famous Canadian anti-statist once asked me why I had moved from one socialist country to another. Such an argument lacks the perspective that some states are patronizing, some thieves, some murderers, and some mass murderers – all coercive indeed, but in widely varying degrees.

Therefore, despite my lack of attachment to the state and its symbols, I am looking forward to the day in July 2006 when I can apply for my Canadian citizenship. I will be celebrating some kind of warped freedom.

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