An American journalist and documentary-maker of Indian origin was sent back to the United States after he landed at New Delhi airport last week, his family reported.
Angad Singh, who produces video documentaries for Vice News, had arrived to visit his relatives, including his mother and grandparents, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, when he was refused entry by Indian immigration officials at the airport, his mother told VOA.
Angad arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport from the United States at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, he informed his mother Gurmeet Kaur in Punjab in a text message.
“We were eagerly waiting to welcome him in Punjab. Fifteen minutes after sending the first message, my son texted me again saying that the immigration officials had taken away his passport,” Kaur, an American citizen who is on a family visit to India now, told VOA. “Three hours later, he was made to board a New York-bound flight and deported to the U.S.”
Singh, who is an American citizen and a practicing Sikh, had visited India many times in the past and made documentaries on subjects including the country’s farmer protests, the COVID-19 pandemic, Kashmiri Muslim protests and “love jihad” — a right-wing Hindu belief that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriage to convert them to Islam and spread the religion.
Singh had last visited India two or three years ago and made a documentary on the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest, Kaur said. In 2019 and 2020 in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh neighborhood, women, mostly Muslim, blocked a major road in protest of a new Indian citizenship law welcoming immigrants of all religions from neighboring countries except Muslims.
Later, during the COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave, Singh made a documentary, Inside India’s COVID Hell, for which he received an Emmy nomination.
Although Singh was on a personal visit to India this time, Kaur said, Indian authorities suspected that he would do some professional work while in the country.
“He has so many relatives in India. He was certainly on a personal trip. But, I think, the Indian authorities thought that he would do some journalism-related work this time … There should be no other reason to deny the entry,” Kaur told VOA.
Kaur said she thought Indian authorities stopped Singh from entering India because they suspected that he would work on a documentary on Dalits—who were once known as “untouchables” and remain at the bottom of India’s Hindu caste system. He has been denied a visa in the past to report on this issue.
“[A] long time ago the application for his visa to work on the Dalits issue was rejected. This time his trip was purely personal, with no connection with any documentary on Dalits,” Kaur told VOA.
Kaur wrote on Facebook that her son was deported because of his journalistic work, in which he has often been critical of the government led by Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
“They did not give any reason [describing why he was deported]. But we know it is his award-winning journalism that scares them,” Kaur wrote.
“It’s not easy to be a Sikh, a Gursikh [a term used usually to describe a practicing Sikh] on top, a journalist, a warrior of truth and justice. … Speaking [the] truth has a price. We must pay it.”
People should raise their voices against such deportation, Kaur said.
“We cannot make out why the Indian authorities have been vindictive on him while he was on a personal visit to his motherland. Why are they forcing him to sever his connection with his motherland?” Kaur added.
At least two journalism organizations have condemned the deportation of Singh as government “vendetta and harassment.”
The episode is “gravely disturbing” and is part of the “ongoing trend of government authorities harassing and intimidating journalists,” Indian Journalists Union president Geetartha Pathak said. The International Federation of Journalists said the decision to send back Singh “smacks of vendetta and harassment,” in a statement posted on Twitter. The advocacy group said it “strongly condemns” the government’s action.
Rohit Chopra, an associate professor at Santa Clara University, told VOA the decision to not allow Singh to enter India is “reflective of a pattern of denying or revoking visas to academics, journalists and artists, and reveals the deep insecurities that haunt the Hindu nationalist leadership” of the Indian state.
“The message is clear: no matter what the evidence, no matter how grave the injustices to which you seek to draw attention, criticize Mr. Modi or his government at your peril,” Chopra added.
The Indian Home Ministry, which controls the immigration authority, has not issued any statement on Singh. Phone calls to the ministry went unanswered.