UK's advisory against India tour shows colonial prejudices are still strong
While worries over Covid-19 are understandable, some of the other 'concerns' in the UK list are as frivolous as they can be
Remember that scene from 'Namastey London', where a British guest tells Jazz (Katrina Kaif) that India is a land of snake-charmers and asks her if they still do the rope trick in India? He also goes on to add that India is ruled by goons. It is well documented that the British, intent on subjugating India to drain its immense wealth, only saw the Indians as primitive, 'uncivilised' natives incapable of governing themselves.
The British had been driven out over seven decades back, and subsequently had to recognise India's power and influence, as symbolised, for example, by former British Prime Minister David Cameron slipping into Hindi, saying "Achhe din zaroor aayega" (Good days will surely arrive) in the presence of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi amid rapturous applause at a jam-packed Wembley stadium in 2015.
However, the British have still not been able to let go of their colonial mindset. This gets clear when you read the UK government's foreign travel advisory for India.
Covid concern understandable
The UK had recently put India under its travel red list in the wake of the Covid surge in India. Yes, India did have a massive Covid problem on its hands, reporting over three lakh and then over four lakh daily new cases of the disease in late April and early May. The UK government decided that anyone who is not a resident of the UK or Ireland or a British citizen cannot enter the UK if he had been in India in the previous 10 days.
The limited group of people who are allowed entry to the UK from India would, however, have to undergo self-paid quarantine at government-approved hotels for 10 days, BBC reported. UK Health Minister Matt Hancock said that the decision to add India to the red list was "difficult but vital", and the restrictions were necessary to "protect the progress we have made in this country in tackling this awful disease".
India's flag carrier Air India at the London Heathrow airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/happy days photos and art
No issues there. The UK's reaction to the Covid wave in India has been on similar lines as many other countries, which had also suspended incoming flights from India. Indeed Public Health England (PHE) had warned that the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) of the coronavirus, said to be first detected in India, has become the main strain of concern in the UK, with 5,472 new cases in the week to May 26. It has now overtaken the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), first identified in Kent in the UK, and has been reported to be 40% more transmissible than the original variant. In fact, rising cases of Delta variant infection may have put the UK's unlock plans in jeopardy.
Therefore, it is perfectly fine for the UK to take steps for curbing the spread of the coronavirus and its various strains. Indeed, India had moved in a similar direction, and for a short period of time, had banned UK flights when the UK variant of the coronavirus was detected in December last year. But what seems to be galling is the UK government putting out a list of 'troubles' that India is beset with, which should make UK citizens think twice before visiting India.
The list goes on and on and includes issues, which in reality no longer have any significance, in the process, portraying India almost as a 'badland' where there is a risk at every step. Incredibly, the travel advice indicates that India's 'troubles' are "still current" as of June 7, 2021.
Farmer protests still listed as a problem
Sample this: "Various farmers unions are continuing their protest at Delhi’s borders following their march to Delhi on 26 and 27 November 2020. Traffic into the city may be affected and cause delays for both private and public transportation and other disruptions. Protests may intensify at short notice especially around national days of importance. You should closely monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local authorities."
Clearly, an alarmist travel advice when the reality is that normal life in Delhi and elsewhere in India at present is not affected in any way by farmer protests. In fact, after they reached a crescendo on January 26, 2021, the farmer protests in India have lacked the intensity that could scare away foreign travellers. Is it then another example of efforts to highlight what the West feels are India's problems, perhaps lending credence to its long-cherished belief that Indians cannot govern themselves?
Has Britain been immune to terrorism?
Come to the next point: "Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in India. Recent attacks have targeted public places including those visited by foreigners. There have been media reports suggesting Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL) may have an interest in attacking targets in India. There may be an increased threat to places visited by British nationals such as religious sites, markets, festival venues and beaches. You should be vigilant at this time, monitor local media and take all precautions for your safety."
Terminal 2 of the London Heathrow airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Panek
The reality, however, is that after the Pulwama incident in 2019, there has not been a major terror attack in India involving foreign elements. In fact, even the Pulwama attack was targeted at the Indian security forces, not civilians. Most of the terror attacks in recent times have been restricted to Jammu and Kashmir and aimed at the security forces.
Moreover, terrorism is a scourge that the whole world is plagued by. A superpower like the US could not escape it, with hijacked planes being used as missiles in the very heart of New York and Washington, which are among the most well-known cities of the world. Indeed, the UK has not been immune to it. Case in point: the London bombings in July 2005 that killed over 50 people. In fact, as recently as October 2019, an Islamic State supporter, who had plotted to attack the iconic St Paul's Cathedral, was arrested. But threats of terrorism in these countries, and also in India, are not high enough for tourists to develop cold feet. India, after all, is not a strife-torn country like Iraq or Syria.
Maoist attacks don't occur all the time
The travel advisory also says, "Maoist (or Naxalite) insurgents specifically target police officers, paramilitary forces and government officials in parts of India, causing several deaths and injuries in 2019/20. The government of India has identified some districts as the worst affected."
It is true that Maoist attacks have been a fact in India, but they are not occurring every day. The Indian government has been able to curb the Maoist upsurge effectively and the primary theatre of clashes with Maoists has been Chhattisgarh, much the same way as jihadis had singled out Jammu and Kashmir.
Weren't Indian cricketers in danger?
Did the UK never face riots and violence? Remember the UK riots in August 2011? The Indian cricket team was in midst of a tour of England and was in Birmingham when the riots spread there. Still, the team continued with the tour.
Contrast this with the England cricketers hurriedly packing their bags and leaving after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks even though they were not slated to play anywhere close to Mumbai in the remainder of their matches.
One of the England players Kevin Pietersen went on to write in his autobiography that the England team felt the Mumbai attacks "to the bone", especially as they had been at the Taj Palace hotel, where a part of the attacks had taken place and where they were due to return in a couple of weeks, conveniently forgetting that no government in their right mind would have allowed a touring team to venture anywhere close to the Taj if they smelt danger. One could point towards the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009, but one has also to consider that India is not a terrorist backyard like Pakistan.
Did UK follow Kumbh Mela 2019?
The UK government also asks tourists to India to avoid protests and large gatherings. "Stampedes have occurred during some events with large crowds, including at political rallies and religious gatherings, resulting in deaths and injuries. They can happen without warning and occasionally result in disorder," it says.
A British Airways Airbus 320 at London Heathrow airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/John Taggart
The reality is starkly different though. The Kumbh Mela, which is the world's largest religious and cultural human congregation, drawing visitors from all over the world, was a huge success in 2019. The Prayagraj edition, which saw over 12 crore devotees visiting the event, set a glowing example for crowd management. It entered the Guinness Bood of World Records for the largest traffic and crowd management plan, the biggest painting exercise of public sites under the 'Paint My City' scheme and the biggest sanitation and waste disposal mechanism, a Jagran Josh report pointed out.
Rains and Zika virus: Height of frivolity
Add to these, frivolous points like travel in India during monsoons being "hazardous" and India being infested by the Zika virus. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) confirms that there is currently no evidence of a Zika outbreak in India and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in 2018 that it doesn't recommend a travel and trade restriction on India over the Zika issue.
Thankfully, the "latest update" in the travel advisory has been the "removal of information on Cyclone Yaas"! The cyclone that hit the eastern coast of India a few days back, did not cause as much damage as expected. One hopes that the UK government would be as meticulous about updating information on some of the other 'travel concerns' in India!
Air pollution still a problem?
The advisory adds, "New Delhi and other North Indian cities are currently experiencing extremely high levels of pollution." This could not be farther from the truth. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the real-time air pollution at the Anand Vihar station in Delhi on June 7, 2021, is 'moderate' with an air quality index (AQI) of 181.
Aircraft parked at London's Gatwick airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Dbx54
Talking about some of the other north Indian cities, the AQI at the Golden Temple site in Punjab's Amritsar is also 'moderate' (146). Shastri Nagar in Rajasthan's Jaipur gives a reading of 135 (moderate), while Sector-51 in Haryana's Gurugram shows a reading of 175 (moderate). The AQI at Chandigarh's Sector-25 site is even better. It is 'satisfactory' at just 58.
UK needs an update: India's Covid situation improving
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel to India, considering the Covid risks in India. While, as mentioned earlier, the UK's worries are understandable, what is unfortunate is the overlooking of the recent gains made by India in the Covid war.
India reported just over one lakh daily new cases on June 7. This is the lowest in the past two months. Also, the daily new cases in India has stayed under two lakh for 11 consecutive days. The active caseload continued to be below 15 lakh for the second day on the trot. India's daily recoveries also continue to outnumber daily infections for the 25th consecutive day. The improving Covid situation in India has given frontline global carrier Lufthansa to resume non-stop flights between India and Germany. Is the UK watching?
Ironically, the UK government acknowledges that over a million British nationals visited India in 2019 and most of these visits were trouble-free. So is the criticism of India just for the sake of criticising?
(Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/PictAero.com/Laurent Errera)