Embarrassment and Outrage are the two tags that explain freedom of expression in this country. We were still recuperating from the treatment doled out to Salman Rushdie, who was denied an entry in India for the Jaipur Literary Festival, when we heard a similar case.
Tom Heinemann, award winning documentary film maker from Denmark has been denied a visa by the Indian Embassy in Copenhagen.
Last week, the Indian Embassy stated that no journalist employed at Danish Broadcasting Service (DR) are welcome in India anymore. Still, an unnamed employee at the Indian Embassy said that all other journalists are still welcome.
But not Tom Heinemann. The reason: In 2005 he made the film “A Killer Bargain” on the working conditions at i.e. Danish companies in India.
The refusal also applies to his wife, Lotte la Cour, who is his regular television cameraman.
More importantly, the Indian embassy stamped three letters in both their passports – ‘VAF’. It stands for ‘Visa Application Failed’ and, according to Tom Heinemann, a stamp that makes his passport virtually useless in many of the countries he would like to visit.
“It’s something you write in the passport of alleged terrorists and villains. I am persona non grata in India for life. It is what it means. And I have to switch passports, otherwise I can’t go into a lot of other countries, “says Heinemann.
Heinemann has done phenomenal work in his journalistic career. He also won the Grand Jury, Lorenzo Natali Prize for Journalism 2011. His documentary, The Micro Debt raises uncomfortable questions about microcredit. Sparked by his own personal experiences from extensive travel in countries and regions such as India, Bangladesh and South America, Heinemann shows viewers the potential dark side of the microcredit phenomenon. He also highlights human tragedies, such as suicides that have resulted from the pressure of personal debt or the social exclusion that can ensue when individual misfortune places a borrowing group in jeopardy. The fundamental tenet of microcredit – to provide cheap finance to entrepreneurial individuals in developing countries – is questioned and Heinemann forces his viewers to consider whether the premise that anyone can be an entrepreneur is no more than a hopeful fantasy, instead often ending in an inescapable spiral of debt. The documentary was broadcast in more than 14 countries.
Heinemann and his friends in Denmark are also paying for the education of four children of a common friend they have in India. Tom and his wife wanted to visit these children on a tourist visa.
Tom Heinemann has informed the Danish ministry of foreign affairs that he again has been refused a visa
In a comment, the chairman of the National Danish Union of Journalists, Mogens Blicher Bjerrregaard demands that the government immediately intervene: “The Danish government must explain the Indian authorities that this is not how press freedom works”.
There has been no response from the Indian authorities about the matter. Goes without saying, freedom of press and expression is a ferocious facade in this country. Demand what is rightful and the facade gushes forth.
Neha Dixit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Heinamann can be contacted at email@example.com