Ukrainian women’s rights group Femen members protest at the residence of Indian ambassador to Kiev. (Pic: femen.livejournal.com)
A group of topless Ukrainian women stormed the balcony of Indian Ambassador Rajiv K. Chander’s residence in capital Kiev. They were protesting because they believe the Indian embassy is denying visas to women between 15 and 40 amid reports that some of them go to India to engage in prostitution.
A newspaper report in India alleged that the issuance of visas to women between 15 and 40 had been made more rigorous because of the allegations of prostitution. The protestors belong to Femen, a women’s group that stages topless protests against various issues.
There are reports that India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had instructed embassies in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to vet visa applications from young women with greater scrutiny. The Indian embassy in Kiev has denied that it is following any such practice.
The Telegraph newspaper of Kolkata that reported the story said this:
“A senior MEA official said the report was “weird, if not mischievous and misplaced”.
“No such instructions have been issued. Visa officials are continuing to use their judgement in the issuance of visas, but there is no discrimination,” the official said, adding such restrictions would make every man a potential terrorist and every woman a potential sex worker.”
I went to Femen’s blog to get some more details about the protest. Since the blog is in Russian and its Google translation poor, I am not able to say precisely what it asserts. But the general tone is one of anger and rejection. “Ukraine is not a brothel! Ukrainka not prostitutes!” it says. I would not depend on the translation because of a line like this one: “Daily hundreds ukraynok, pыtayuschyhsya get visas, passes vыnuzhdenы pozornuyu procedure opravdanyya, dokazыvaya officials that they are not fucking.”
“Indian prostitution is directly conducted with impunity of the country’s criminal business. Blaming it on women is a shame for the heirs of such a rich and old culture,” The telegraph quotes the blog as saying.
Femen’s outrage is understandable because if the embassy operates under that particular instruction, it does amount to profiling. I am willing to take the Indian foreign ministry’s assertion that it does not practice discrimination at its face value, even though I would not be surprised if there are at least discreet guidelines to the effect.
Notwithstanding Femen’s protest, it is no secret in New Delhi that a number of women from the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, do come to the Indian capital because “the business here is good”, as one young politician told me last year. It was a poorly disguised euphemism for prostitution.
The way the business operates is that young women from Central Asian countries visit on tourist visas for short durations and use their time in New Delhi to make tidy sums of money from businessmen and politicians. India’s booming economy has spawned a generation of young and successful businessmen with substantial spare cash to spend on personal entertainment. It is also a well known fact that there is a preference for white women among these businessmen.
On this one I am with Femen in so much as the group says that the embassy would end up perpetuating that unsavory reputation of Ukrainian women if it was indeed profiling those in the age group 15-40. Of course, visa issuance by any country has a built-in bias in the sense that it does eventually boil down to what a particular consular officer thinks at that particular time. Since visas are a privilege and not a right, it is never easy to prove why some get rejected. It could well be that the Indian embassy in Kiev does subject this age group of women to greater scrutiny.