Saturday, January 12, 2008

The envelope, please

Land of legal limbo

So here's the upshot (not the end!) of yesterday's Foreigners' Office story. (I am so sure you are fascinated....)

I returned (along with many others) to the Home Affairs Ministry at 4.30 pm to await my fate. While waiting I met some Ugandans, Pakistanis, and a Mexican Hare Krishna devotee wearing full dhoti and kasturi tilak. The Mexican man was married to an Indian citizen, but this didn't help his status much within the country.

An Indian-origin woman living in Miami, was having trouble getting an extension because she had now been a US citizen and passport holder for 37 years. The office claimed there was no proof of her Indian origin, which technically, I suppose, was true. Her US passport said "place of birth: INDIA," but "even that is not enough, they say."

All these people, including myself, were petitioning for permission to stay a bit longer on this visa. But one Norwegian couple were desperate just to get out, and couldn't even get the exit permission.

How had this happened? Why was it so difficult to get OUT of the country?

The Norwegian woman, who was in tears, explained the story to me. They had first been in Varanasi, where all their bags, passports and everything, had been stolen. The Norwegian Embassy had issued an emergency passport/travel document - but of course, this did not contain any evidence of their original proper Indian visas. Under such circumstances, you must get permission from Home Affairs before exiting the country.

As if it wasn't enough to be robbed blind, the man had then dislocated his shoulder in a surfing mishap down in Kerala. (I didn't know people surfed in Kerala; learn something new every day.) They were told they could not fly home directly from Kerala, but had to report to Delhi for exit permission.

I could see the lymph fluid (or something) oozing from his shoulder and seeping through his cotton shirt. He must have been in a great deal of pain. They wanted to leave the country for Norway right away.

As it was a Friday, the office claimed they would have to wait the entire weekend till Monday when the case could be reviewed properly. (I think I mentioned before that the office only accepts incoming applications from 9am to 12pm. The couple had made that deadline, but for some reason weren't going to be given a result the same day.)

Finally they were given the fateful sealed plain brown envelope, to be opened only by the FRRO in RK Puram, another part of town. They set off full of hope (and probably full of painkillers) at 4.45 pm in an Ambassador taxi.

The rest of us received our plain brown wrappers with instructions NOT to open them, and to report to RK Puram office on Monday morning. Which for many of us, means an entire weekend without valid papers. Fortunately, I've learned to live with a great degree of ambiguity.

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