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24 Apr, 2014

Indian embassy reverses visa denial after eminent Muslim professor protests

Bangkok – The Indian Embassy in Thailand has reversed the rejection of visas for four family members of one of Thailand’s best-known Muslim academics after the professor dispatched a strong letter of protest, along with a demand for an explanation.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf, Director of the Center for Buddhist-Muslim Understanding, College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, said he was informed by the embassy that visas would be issued for his wife, her two sisters and a brother in law, all Thai citizens, after being initially turned down without an explanation.

He claimed in his letter that “we learned from the travel agent used that on that particular day (that a) total of 44 tourist visa applications through different tour agencies all of them by Thai Muslims were rejected on the ground of being Muslim by religion (of course, not said so explicitly).”

The visa fee of 3,245 baht (about US$100) per person was not refunded.

The outraged professor fired off a strong letter of protest to Indian Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla (full text below) with copies to the Thai Travel Agents Association and this editor. He also took up the case separately with the two English-language newspapers in Thailand, The Nation and Bangkok Post.

He also called the Ambassador’s office to schedule an appointment.

An email seeking comment from the embassy yielded the response that the matter was being looked into and that Prof Yusuf would be advised accordingly. Prof Yusuf called this editor on April 23 to say he had been told to have the passports sent back for issuance of the visa.

He said the embassy declined to tell him why the visas had been rejected in the first place.

The Indian government is in the midst of a major campaign to promote social, cultural and tourism links with Thailand. Many of the events are taking place at major Thai universities such as Mahidol and Chulalonglongkorn where Dr Yusuf is very well connected and recognised.

Update as of Friday April 25: Embassy sources denied that the rejection was due to ethnic or religious reasons. They attributed it to miscommunication after discrepancies were found in the application forms. However, the problem has been recognised and remedial action taken to ensure it is not repeated. A special “consular officer” will be stationed at the office at all times to ensure that any issues are addressed immediately. Also, Ambassador Shringla has encouraged any complaints to be sent directly to the embassy either via email or the facebook page. The Ambassador is also encouraging usage of a complaint box at the visa section, for which the key is only in his hands.

The full text of Prof Yusuf’s letter follows below:

To: His Excellency Ambassador of India, Embassy of India, Bangkok

with copies to:

Somchai Sriratanaprapas Vice President ( International Tour),Thai Travel Agents Association, 128/45, 5th Floor, Unit G, Payathai Plaza, Phayatai Road, Rajthavee Bangkok 10400, Tel: (662) 214-6175-78 Fax: (662) 214-6179-80 E-Mail:

And Mr. Imtiaz Muqbil, Travel Impact Newswire, Bangkok

Your Excellency,

I, Asst. Prof. Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf, Lecturer and Director, Center for Buddhist-Muslim Understanding, College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, Salaya, Phutthamonthon, Nakhorn Pathom 73170 Thailand would like to bring to your notice a visa application incident at your Embassy which is very disturbing to me and my Thai citizen family.

I have been teaching in Thailand for 21 years at graduate level at Mahidol University, Assumption University and Prince of Songkla University continuously.

On 18/3/2014, my wife, her two sisters and a brother in law, all Thai citizens applied for tourist visas to go to India for holidays, 3 persons in this group except one sister are graduates of Indian University from during 1980s, their itinerary was Delhi, Nainital, Kashmir, Shimla, all the 4 visa application were rejected by your embassy on 21/3/2014.

Of course, the embassy does not give reason for rejection just like any other embassy around the world (I have BA (Politics) degree from Fergusson College, Poona University so I have studied the Indian constitution as an exam paper). But we learned from the travel agent used that on that particular day total of 44 tourist visa applications through different tour agencies all of them by Thai Muslims were rejected on the ground of being Muslim by religion (of course, not said so explicitly).

Each applicant paid a non refundable visa fees of 3245 Baht each, that is total of 142,800 Baht were gained by the embassy. The names of visa applicants are as follows:

1) Mrs. Rujira Yusuf – my wife, graduate of AMU, Aligarh in Applied Arts. Thai citizen by birth.

2) Mrs. Vichitra Tawileh – my sister in law, graduate of AMU, Aligarh, BA degree. Thai citizen by birth.

3) Mr. Issam Tawileh – my co-brother, graduated from AMU, Aligarh, BSc Engineering. A successful businessman in Thailand for last 20 years, a naturalized Thai citizen.

4) Mrs. Vachira Prapertchob – my sister in law, Thai citizen by birth.

I myself am an Indian born in Tanzania, with British citizenship. I studied for 12 years in India – high school, Panchgani, BA, Pune University, MA, AMU (in 1981-82 I was awarded AMU University Medal for standing first in the rank of merit) and after that went on to get Ph. D. (Temple University, Philadelphia, USA). I still have relatives in Maharashtra.

If this is the state of Indian foreign policy under present Indian government, it will become even worse under the anticipated next government of religious nationalists.

I request you to this case this (sic) and similar unreported cases which maybe taking place on daily basis and go unreported, such rejections by the embassy amounts to grave discrimination against Thai citizens on the basis of their religious identity. If that is not that case, then please give me the reason for the rejection of the visa applications of my family members.

Prior to your taking office here, I knew the previous Indian ambassadors HE Vivek Katju, HE Vijaya Latha Reddy and HE Anil Wadhwa on personal basis.

If need be I can to meet you on 21 or 22 April at the Embassy.

Warm regards.

Imtiyaz Yusuf

Prof Yusuf then sent another email with the following addendum:

(+) In my 21 years of teaching Comparative Religion in Thailand, my Thai and other international students have to read the writings of the famous Indian Hindu philosopher Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who is my favorite Indian philosopher and also Dr. Ambedker when they study of religion in India.

Last year, I have arranged Indian classical music recital (which I love) and Kathak dance by Indian Cultural Center of Thailand for Thai and international teachers and students at Mahidol University at my College for the first time.

Last year I also gave the First Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Lecture at the Univ of Mumbai, it was presided by the Dr. Parsuraman, Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Shri Prakash Ambedkar,(grandson of Dr. Ambedker) President of Bhartiya Republican Party – Bahujan Mahasangh as the Chief Guest.

Dr. Engineer, a proud Indian Muslim pluralist who worked at the grassroots level was a dear friend of mine.


Last year, I also gave paper presentation at conferences at the Univ of Assam, Silchar on “Religion and Ecology” and on ‘Ethnicity and Globalization : with reference to the Communities of South Asia’ Lady Keane College, Shillong during Nov-Dec 2013. I was invited to above events by respective Indian institutions at the their expenses with clearances from MFA, India.

(+) Inspired by Muslim educational reform movement of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, my maternal grandfather, Khan Bahadur Munir Khan Sarguroh, established the first modern Muslim school in Dapoli, Ratnagiri, Maharashtra in 1942, it flourishes until today. It produced Indian Muslim engineers, doctors, educators in Konkan region where most of the population are fishermen.

My maternal grandfather, also served as the president of A. G. High School, Dapoli, established in 1928 by Dapoli Education Society led by Ad. Sitaram Vithal Karandika, it is a Hindu community based educational society.

Whenever I visit Dapoli, local folks there irrespective of their religious affiliations fondly remember my grandfather contribution towards the educational development in Dapoli.

While here in Thailand, his grandson’s family are getting the worst of it from the Indian embassy in Bangkok.

I feel ashamed of my love for India which PM Nehru and Maulana Azad, called as “composite culture.”

I am not venting angry nor am furious but sharing by hurt feelings which are of intellectual quality and not just emotional.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf,

Lecturer and Director
Center for Buddhist-Muslim Understanding
College of Religious Studies
Mahidol University
Salaya, Phutthamonthon
Nakhorn Pathom 73170
Tel: (662) 800-2630-9 Ext. 311 Fax: (662) 800-5629 (Attn: Dr. Yusuf)
Email: imtiyazy@gmail.com, imtiyaz.yus@mahidol.ac.th

Senior Fellow, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU), Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA. http://acmcu.georgetown.edu/119528.html