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Do we need advocacy on behalf of activists?

Karie Cross | PostedJuly 12th, 2010 | India

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Well, it’s nearly mid-July and I’m still in the states.  I’m beginning to suspect that the Indian government simply doesn’t want me to come to Delhi.  Perhaps they’ll be accommodating enough to grant me a visa in another month or so, at which point I will have two weeks left until the second year of my Masters program begins at the University of Maryland.  Better late than never, Indian government!  (Not entirely true in this case, unfortunately.)

This visa snafu can be chalked up to three possibilities:

1) The requirements recently changed on unpaid internships, requiring employment rather than entry visas for the first time.  Changes in bureaucracy = delays, delays, delays.  This is just your run-of-the-mill, bureaucratic problem.

2) The Indian government has done an extensive background check on me, and they have come to the conclusion that I am up to no good.  Can’t be trusted.  Clearly a threat.  Notorious for:

Crocheting
Crocheting

And even:

Baking chocolate chip cookies
Baking chocolate chip cookies

3) This is merely indicative of much of the world’s changing attitude toward activists and the trouble they cause. 

Let’s explore option 3.  On July 3, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Krakow, Poland, about a “global activist crackdown.”  Clinton says that the “walls are closing in” on NGOs and non-profits that advocate on behalf of human rights.  She particularly cites Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Venezuela, China and Russia, but I have to wonder whether changing the visa requirements for volunteers headed to India should not add the sub-continent to her list.

Here’s an excerpt from Clinton’s admirable speech:

Too many governments are seeing civic activists as opponents, rather than partners. And as democracies, we must recognize that this trend is taking place against a broader backdrop.  In the 20th century, crackdowns against civil society frequently occurred under the guise of ideology. Since the demise of Communism, most crackdowns seem to be motivated instead by sheer power politics. But behind these actions, there is an idea, an alternative conception of how societies should be organized. And it is an idea that democracies must challenge. It is a belief that people are subservient to their government, rather than government being subservient to their people.

 Now, this idea does not necessarily preclude citizens from forming groups that help their communities or promote their culture, or even support political causes. But it requires these private organizations to seek the state’s approval, and to serve the states and the states’ leaderships’ larger agenda.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that this is all just conjecture on my part.  Perhaps India recognizes the need for activists who work to further develop human rights in its comparatively new and widely admired democratic society

OR…perhaps the Indian government is embarrassed by the way it deals with many of its poorest citizens, like the wastepickers of Delhi who try time and again to tell their government what they need to live a dignified, healthy life.  Rabble rousers like me can only make that worse.  No wonder you won’t let me in, India.

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