Atrocitynews Special: American experience of Castevirus

25Sep07

Her Reporter’s Diary exposes bitterness of caste system in India she faced while working on Khairlanji Massacre issue as  a special correspondent of Times Of India; to the extent of VISA denial. As much as dared, vigilant and cooperative as she is, Sabrina Buckwalter writes  to Atrocitynews her experiences.  Being a foreigner her observations are unbiased in indicating two BIG viruses that  the BIGGest democracy infested with; ‘Caste’ and ‘Corruption’. Caste-virus kills Dalits, humilates them whereas corruption aggravates the harm , hides it from civil society. Readers may get glimpses of the plight of caste & curruption here and now.

visa is not a right, it is a privilege. And it’s that fact that reminds me that there is no right or law that I have on my side to help me return to India.

I was an American journalist at The Times of India for over a year (from May 2006 to July 2007) before I was asked to leave the country. My employment visa expired and it was refused for renewal. When I questioned the reasoning, it was said that a foreign journalist working for an Indian publication was simply not eligible for either an employment visa or a journalist visa. It was explained that journalism was not listed as an approved profession under the employment visa category.  I was not eligible for a journalist visa because they are granted to foreign journalists working for an international media organization.

When my newspaper dug a little deeper, our sources found out I had a negative report in my file with the Maharashtra state government.   When we asked why, they said: Khairlanji. I reported on a story in October 2006, on a dalit family’s rape and murder, later called the Khairlanji massacre.   The Times of India broke my story in the major news media and people later came together to protest and riot. Injustice and supposed cover-ups were rampant and bribery allegedly took place.

Due to the rioting after the coverage, several people also lost their lives in the fight for justice. In Nagpur, riots went on for days when dalit activists organized thousands of protestors to demand justice, a CBI investigation and more arrests among other things. This story was rooted in the fact that such a gruesome crime was not reported in the mainstream media, save a story or two of less than 150 words.   My editor was shocked the story had never made mainstream news.  He was the one who supported me and told me to get to the village and report from the scene.

When we did the story, I was happy that I was able to bring attention to this atrocity. It remains one of the most important stories I’ve done and I am still in touch with the people there. I was however warned in doing it.   I was advised to consider not taking a byline (not by my editor, though. The Times of India tried to appeal the visa decision at the Ministry of Home Affairs for several months, but was unsuccessful.   A police officer from the Mumbai Police station even showed up unannounced at The Times of India office, to serve me official paperwork informing me the Government of India had instructed me to leave within five days and that my visa appeal was denied.

I never had concrete proof that I had to leave because of this story. I never could identify exactly whom I could have upset in writing about the alleged bribery, who might have been powerful enough to make a few phone calls. No one ever told me directly that the story agitated too many people. However, I did find out that a top official at the center for Social Equity and Justice in Pune was let go after he released a report that detailed bribery in the case. I did find out that at least four foreign journalists are working for Indian newspapers and magazines right now and were instructed to get employment visas by the government.

And I did find out about what happened to Alex Perry, the TIME journalist who was reportedly forced to leave India in 2002 after an article he wrote that was critical of the then-Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Bajpayee.While an Indian visa is a privilege for me, I hope that democracy and the freedom of speech is a right that I will get to exercise in India once again. In the meantime I am actively pursuing lobbying the government to grant me a visa to return to a place I call home.

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Sabrina Buckwalter has since returned to Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently freelancing for several publications and volunteers with the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce. Her first trip to India in 2005 with the University of Georgia was the catalyst for her return in 2006. Based in Mumbai, she covered the 7/11 Mumbai train blasts, the floods of 2006, the art investment boom and AIDS chasers among many other things. She hopes to return to India soon.



One Response to “Atrocitynews Special: American experience of Castevirus”


  1. 1 The Ashis Nandy Controversy: Inside the Mind of One ‘Intolerant’ Dalit |

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