Colours of Life
My Tryst with Passport
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
A good health, good education and good upbringing are deemed to be a passport to one’s life. So are the good food-habits, good bowels and good sleep essential to keep our life healthy. Health and life are complementary to each other - very much like a passport and visa needed to visit a country outside. As we need a passport to identify ourselves while travelling abroad, so we need to be a good citizen to be issued with one. That is ascertained by the authorities doing police verification of the person applying for it. Once verified, it is expected and insisted that such a behavior becoming of a good citizen is maintained throughout. Otherwise, the passport is also liable to be forfeited and impounded by the government on the orders of the court of law restricting the person of doubtful criminal antecedents from travelling abroad and thus escaping from the clutches of the law of the land. This verification is further checked by the authorities of the country one wishes to visit and proper scrutiny is done while obtaining visa to enter that country. Once both the passport and visa are issued, the person travelling abroad is subject to further verification by the immigration authorities at the point of exit and at the entry point while emigrating as well. Countries having good relations make it friendly offering the facility of entering their country by issuing the visa on arrival at the airport thus travelling abroad is no longer a daunting experience. As per makemytrip.com, as many as 62 countries including Canada offer Indian passport holders such a facility easing the path without facing the hassle of dreadful queues, the never ending documents, the inquisitive questions and then that long wait for the much awaited piece of paper, a.k.a. visa, your licence to travel. Some countries do away even the system of passport with neighbouring countries who maintain mutual friendly relationship like the one we have between India and Nepal or Bhutan and also between the USA and Canada or amongst European countries. Yet some sort of identity card is needed to help you get identified; earlier it used to be your employer’s photo identity card and these days Voter’s Identity Card serve the purpose more than the recently introduced Adhaar card. For travelling outside the country, sometimes they refuse entry to certain people denying visa based on their own judgement and the glaring case in our recent memory is that of Narendra Modi, while he was the chief minister of Gujarat. Once obtaining huge mandate in the electoral battle to be the prime minister of the whole India, diplomatic channels were wide open as he was accorded a red carpet welcome in that country paving the way for strengthening the bond of friendship with rousing public receptions wherever he visited. Sometimes, instances of strict checking including frisking of the body on arrival have been reported in the press even with the visit of the dignitaries like former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam or celebrities like Shahrukh Khan following the 9/11 episode. No wonder if common people have to face such a plight even after obtaining both the documents while travelling abroad or to neighbouring country Nepal. With Nepal, we Indians including those in Sikkim have a special status with the Indo-Nepal 1951 Agreement that needs to carry proper document for his/her identity and failing the check post personnel even at Rangpo may refuse entry to Sikkim and the famous glaring case that come to my mind is that we heard of the former prime minister of Nepal Tulasi Giri. Some say that even wearing a particular kind of headgear is enough to raise doubt of one’s credentials like the language or even the tone of the language and the way you speak out on enquiry would be enough to demand your identity document to be seized and returned only at the time of your exit. They behave strict/rude even if you give the name of the people/relatives visiting here but that does not necessarily smoothen their behavior stopping the whole cavalcade of marriage party even in spite of necessary documents produced well in advance much to the harassment of the visiting guests and embarrassment of the host families. Yet the people of criminal antecedents have found their entry into this peaceful state for a sojourn after their nefarious criminal activities. Foreigners visiting Sikkim have to obtain Inner Line Permit, which is issued by the authorities having office in some of the cities and also at the point of arrival but if they happen to enter through some other point without one, their entry is refused. This is now available online on www.sikkimilp.in as announced on a board displayed prominently at the check-post of border town Rangpo.
There are also instances of people slipping into neighbouring country after committing a crime or indulging in political activities impermissible taking the benefit of the open border mutually maintained. Such an instance I recollect worth mentioning here is that of Veer Purush Ganesh Man Singh* who spent some months of his exile in Sikkim also disguised as a typist Krishna Bahadur in The Chandra Nursery at Rhenock during the British/Chogyal era to escape his arrest in the Rana regime. Even the family members could know of this only after he had left the place. He could have enjoyed homely comforts as he had an introduction letter from my Buba Jai Shanker Lall Shresta* to his father-in-law, but to ensure his identity was not revealed Ganesh Man Singh preferred to forego them and used to sleep on the floor with a stone for his pillow in an outhouse that was once the Bheema Devi Memorial School (later Scottish Mission started at Rhenock Bazar one of their first primary schools in Sikkim to take its place) by Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan* and Durga Shamsher Pradhan* in memory of their mother where even their daughters including my Muma Indira went. He returned to his homeland Nepal only after establishment of democracy and is remembered there as the father of democracy and for his extreme sacrifice having declined the prime minister-ship offered to him by the then king Mahendra. Talking of Inner Line Permit, we residents of Sikkim are also required to take one for visiting places falling into the category of restricted/protected areas here even for official purpose as government servants. Most of us are, by now, aware of and accustomed to the practice of giving our identity at the time of checking in hotels made mandatory. So, what to talk of visiting outside beyond the shores of the country, even in your own place you got to be identified whereas some section of the people find identity crisis in the society as a citizen of the country. It is just simple that here I too am simply trying projecting myself identified as an author to my readers sharing some of my thoughts this time on the issue as I try to get my Passport renewed for travelling abroad again to be with our daughter.
Entering the Sikkim Legislative Assembly, it was as if a bolt from the blue that many found me an odd man out there and all of a sudden I found myself in urgent need of a passport. My readers may be wondering why so as it was the seat of law-making power and not a foreign territory either, it being located well within the periphery of the capital-town that did not entitle a civil servant even a deputation allowance for such a posting. In fact, I was transferred there to take over the assignment from IAS Sangey Dorjee Basi working there since last August to see the delegation going to Sri Lanka but suddenly found myself in his place to do the honour. It was the Second Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Asia Regional Conference being held from 30th August to 4th September 2003 at Colombo that I had to attend within days of my joining there on the 18th August. I was without a passport but that was not much of a problem as it was there ready for me in the Sikkim House when we reached New Delhi for departure. The Resident Commissioner had arranged procure a diplomatic passport for us that I surrendered to the issuing authority after returning from the tour abroad as its purpose was served and our mission accomplished. Being in the government service, getting the regular one was not difficult either and I had a new passport along with that for my wife issued to us on 4th January 2005 by the Regional Passport Office Kolkata with a validity period of 10 years. We felt it necessary as well since we might have to visit our daughter without postponing much their invitation once I retired and all my days, thereafter, full of leisure to enjoy the best way possible!
To be continued next week: Getting Passports Renewed and Passport Seva Laghu Kendra, Gangtok
This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. No wonder if some narratives are found read earlier also. Some names (*asterisk for those no more), places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 9434022677 / 03592-202677 and at Rachna, opposite Manan Bhavan, Development Area, Gangtok 737 101 Sikkim India.