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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Quit India notice to 5 foreign Tibet marchers

May 29, 2008

Shobhan Saxena,TNN
Times of India
May 27, 2008

NEW DELHI -- In a strange move, at a time when the government is promoting "Come to India -- Walk with the Buddha" to attract foreign tourists to Buddhist circuit in the country, five foreigners have been given Quit India notice to leave the country within seven days "for participating in a religious activity."

James Petersen, Lex Pelger and David Huang from US, Maryla Cross from UK and Paul Christians Buntz from Norway were given the notices for "violating the visa rules" by Pithoragarh SP Puran Singh Rawat on Friday as they reached Banspatan in Uttarkhand's border district with the Tibetan marchers who have been walking towards Tibet since March 10.

While 19 Tibetans were jailed on Friday, the foreigners were detained for a while, given the notice and asked to leave the area immediately.

On Monday, even as the Tibetans were released from Pithoragarh jail, the five foreigners were desperately trying to get in touch with their embassies and trying to figure out the meaning of the notice.

Speaking to TOI from Nainital, James Petersen, a writer from Montana who has been with the "Tibetan Shanti March" since the beginning, said, "I can't understand why the world's biggest democracy has to deport people for taking part in a peace rally. I didn't know that you could be deported from India for taking part in the teachings of your guru. Does this mean all the people coming to India for religious and spiritual reasons can be deported if they take part in any activity?"

Interestingly, India gets maximum number of tourists from the UK (16%) and US (15%), the two countries whose citizens have been given the deportation notice for "violating their tourist visa". Many of the tourists from these countries, where Buddhism is growing very fast as a religion, come to India for religious reasons. According to a study released by the Ficci in 2006, about 200,000 Buddhist tourists visit India every year, spending about $125 million in the country. This number could witness a sharp rise of 400% by 2012 and yield India $1 billion annually in the next four years, according to the Ficci study.

The government insists that the five have violated visa rules. "On tourist visa, you cannot take part in a religious activity. If we allow that, you will have people coming here to propagate their religion. It's only for travelling and sightseeing, etc. So, they have violated the visa rule by participation in the march," said Ashim Khurana, joint secretary (Foreigners) in the ministry of home affairs.

However, legal experts TOI spoke to said the notice in this case seems to be illegal. "The Quit India Notice is a very serious matter. It's used sparingly only in such cases where the person is a threat to the national security.

In this particular case, it seems to be totally wrong, biased and prejudiced. There is no law in the country which prevents people, including foreigners, from taking part in a protest march or a rally," said Shilpi Jain, a lawyer who deals with immigration and visa-related cases. Calling the notice a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, Supreme Court lawyer Mandeep Singh Vinayak said, "There are certain rights like right to equality available to everyone citizens as well as the aliens travelling on valid visas."

Foreigners aren't supposed to be in some border areas, but the five were detained 70 km before the military zone — the Inner Line. While Petersen has been covering the march for a US magazine, Buntz works for a Norwegian TV channel and Huang, a California-based photographer, has been taking pictures of the march that has covered some 1,000 km already.

"Its strange that such innocuous activities can invoke a deportation order in India," says Petersen who has just three days to leave India or face a jail term for violating the visa rules.
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