The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Next door, but a stage too far
- Hint of culture curtain as performers hit Bangla visa wall

June 12: A 24-hour delay forces a film-maker to cancel his trip to Bangladesh. A Calcutta-based actress is rejected the first time, only to be granted a visa later for a personal visit. Two stage performers seeking tourist visas are made to do the rounds of the deputy high commission for days till it is too late to travel. A magician is repeatedly denied a passage to Dhaka.

Is Bangladesh a place too far for Calcutta performers'

P.C. Sorcar (Jr) is convinced it is. “For the past eight years, I have been refused every time I have applied for a visa to perform in Bangladesh. And the authorities have never given me any reason,” said the magician, who is “flooded by offers” to perform in Bangladesh.

“If I perform there, the two Banglas would come closer. I feel some misconceptions are being planted to sour the relationship. I take the whole thing as an insult.”

At the Bangladesh deputy high commission in Beckbagan, the safe-rather-than-sorry argument holds currency.

“There have been several instances in the past when Indian artistes have gone to Bangladesh on a tourist visa and held public performances,” said the deputy high commissioner of Bangladesh in Calcutta, Touhid Hossain. “So, we need to look into the details. The home ministry is alerted for security reasons.”

But what about the visa delays that often foils plans of screen and stage performers to visit the country'

“If Indian artistes want to perform, their organisers have to get a clearance certificate from the Bangladesh cultural ministry and send it to us. After that we grant a visa,” says Hossain.

“If it’s a large group of performers, we always ask them to submit their papers at least 10 days in advance. When there is a delay on their part, the whole process gets delayed.”

The two stage performers harassed over tourist visas in March rejected the argument. “All our papers were in order for a personal trip, but the suspicion that we would perform on a tourist visa stalled the process. We were kept waiting for days till it was too late for us to go,” one of them said, preferring anonymity.

Film-maker Goutam Ghose had to cancel a trip last week. “The clearance certificate from the Bangladesh cultural ministry arrived too late for whatever reason. I had to change my plans,” said Ghose.

“Bangladesh keeps doing this and instances of people being denied visas is increasing,” said an official in the ministry of external affairs. “India issues around 1,000 visas annually for visiting Bangladeshis without a problem. We have no idea why they are not allowing our artistes to travel to Dhaka.”

Bangladeshi diplomats, however, accuse New Delhi of “doing the same to Bangladeshi intellectuals” who want to visit India.

“The Indian embassy in Bangladesh granted visas to only two members of the Bangladeshi delegation that came down for the Calcutta Book Fair,” said a source connected to the Bangladeshi deputy high commission.

There is speculation that a section in Dhaka’s coalition government, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is unhappy with the cultural affinity that Bangladeshis feel with writers, poets and artistes of Bengal. The Jamaat, part of the four-party ruling alliance, is a conservative religious party and is wary of possible cultural dominance by India.

Clarifying that there are no special visa restrictions on Indian artistes, a senior foreign ministry official in Dhaka said: “Anyone coming to Bangladesh to take part in a cultural function ' charity or commercial ' is required to give details about his host and the type of performance. That is a routine procedure.

“For example, the authorities here would like to see if the host has permission to hold the show. That may delay the visa procedure. But our policy is definitely not against giving visas.”

On the subject of India refusing visas to Bangladeshis seeking to attend cultural shows, the Bangladeshi official said, “We hear such complaints.”

“There is no tit-for-tat move by India,” an external affairs ministry official said. “If someone has been denied a visa, there must have been a valid reason for our high commission in Dhaka to do so.”

Email This Page