Wednesday, January 9, 2019

‘Don’t know Hindi? Go back to Tamil Nadu’

Airport immigration officer denied a PhD student clearance for not speaking Hindi; US-bound student sparked a twitter debate by tagging PM Modi, Rahul Gandhi; Police orders probe.

Mumbai Police’s Special Branch has ordered a probe into the allegations made by a 27-year-old PhD student that an immigration officer at the Mumbai International Airport refused to give him clearance on Tuesday night because he could not converse in Hindi. After the incident, Abraham Samuel, a biomedical engineer completing his Doctorate in Chemistry at Clarkson University in Potsdam, US, sparked a debate with tweets tagging not just Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, but also opposition leaders Rahul Gandhi, DMK’s MK Stalin and Shashi Tharoor.

“Was just denied immigration by an immigration officer at counter 33 Mumbai Airport, for knowing only Tamil and English and NOT Hindi! What a disaster! Reported the officer, hope they take action,” said his pinned tweet, which was retweeted 1,512 times and got 1,892 likes.

“This is one reason why no central parties are going to set foot in Tamil Nadu! The immigration officer not only did not speak to me in English, but suggested that I find a Tamil immigration counter!” his next tweet said, tagging Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. “I’m proud to be an Indian and even more proud to be a Tamil! If that’s a problem with you, then you are not fit to call yourselves Indians!” “I’m Indian, I DON'T SPEAK HINDI! DEAL WITH IT! @HMOIndia Don’t abuse Indians who speak their own beautiful languages!” he said in a series of tweets.

Speaking exclusively to Mirror while flying from Paris to Boston on board an Air France flight, Samuel said the incident happened when he flew into Mumbai from Chennai on Tuesday night, after spending a month with his family in Madurai. He was clearing immigration at counter no 33 in the departure area between 12.30 and 1am.

“The same officer let a foreign national (lady) go after questioning. He obviously communicated in English with her. But on seeing me, he expected me to understand Hindi, and when I said, ‘Sir, sorry, I don’t understand Hindi’, he threw a tantrum and asked me to find another counter,” Samuel told Mirror on Wednesday evening.

“He repeatedly asked me to go to Tamil Nadu. After complaining about this officer to the immigration office, when they produced this officer before me, he didn’t change his behaviour. He again said that I should know Hindi being in India or go to Tamil Nadu, even in front of his supervisors,” he said, adding that he had to go to the next counter where the officer cleared his immigration. Samuel said he had no time to lodge a formal complaint but the CCTV footage would capture the entire incident. He had to board the flight to Paris as the Air France flight goes through Paris, Boston, and then finally New York.

His tweets tagging political leaders sparked off varied reactions on twitter. Some accused him of having an anti-BJP agenda; some thought he was trying to reignite the Hindi vs Tamil debate. “Yes, some people on Twitter are accusing me of having an agenda. I’m just another Indian, and I raise my voice when needed. My true frustration is (that) everywhere else, except in India, they respect me and my language. In my home country, people like them deny basic rights on the basis of languages,” he said, adding that he hoped the central government better educates its officers. He said he was emailing a formal complaint to the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and would demand an apology from the officer concerned.

Additional Commissioner of Police Special Branch II, CID Supriya Patil-Yadav said, “We are conducting a probe to find out if the allegations are correct and the circumstances that could have led to the altercation. If it’s correct, I must say it’s very unfortunate and that such unprofessional, insensitive conduct was exhibited by the immigration officer. By Thursday, our probe will reach its conclusion.” Patil-Yadav said that if the officer is found guilty, he will be sent for re-skilling, retraining and re-sensitisation.

A Special Branch source said, “The immigration staff usually puts in 12 hours in a shift and it could be that some of them slip up in their conduct. That is why we counsel them and put them through a stress-management session as well.”

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