Passport Curbs Issue

A number of intending Hajj pilgrims have been denied travel documents because of being related to former militants or political activists.  The process of punishing innocent people for the ‘sins’ of distant relatives continues in the state, with Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s assurances to smoothen procedures proving of no help. Denying travel documents has had an adverse impact on all spheres of life, with consequences on education, trade, religion, employment and human rights.

Intelligence sleuths, it has been reliably learnt, have prepared a list, known in the establishment as the “Security Index,” with as many as 80,000 families from the Kashmir Valley alone. Judicial recourse has helped, but not in all cases, as it is the intelligence wings that decide whether or not a court order is to be implemented. The High Court has ruled that relatives of former militants cannot be denied travel documents, and gone further to impress that people acquitted of criminal charges cannot be denied passports. But these rulings have made no difference.

The right to travel is guaranteed under international law. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966), signed and ratified by India, reads: “Everyone has a right to leave the country, including his own, and this right should not be restricted to any restrictions.” Citizens, including dissidents, are issued travel documents all over the world, the only exception being Jammu and Kashmir, where the government uses the travel documents as an instrument of control and collective punishment of a defiant people.

One need not, in today’s times, move physically out of the country for activities authorities may consider a threat to state security. Anybody with access to internet can address international conferences and participate in debates from home.  Restrictions on travel, therefore, make no sense. All that the practice leads to is untold hardship and psychological trauma for people, particularly those living in remote areas, without in anyway helping uphold state security. The Chief Minister must show personal interest and issue appropriate directions for remedy.