Nearly 20 organisations are collaborating on an online petition calling on the governments of Southasian nations to ease visa restrictions and enable freedom of trade and travel across borders.
Organisations across Southasia and the diaspora that are part of this initiative by the Southasia Peace Action Network include Aaghaz-e-Dosti, Aman Ki Asha, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, India Pakistan Heritage Club, Nijera Kori, Tehrik-e-Niswan, Samaaj, Sangat, Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy – PIPFPD, Laal Band, Uks Resource Centre, Centre for Peace and Secular Studies, Centre for Social Justice, Association of Peoples of Asia, Confederation of Voluntary Associations Peace Network, Roobaroo, Indo-Pak Book Lovers Club.
The signature campaign, with nearly 40,000 endorsements so far, foregrounds nurturing people-to-people contacts to build mutual trust and collaboration.
It draws attention to the plight of cross-border spouses and divided families. The Pune-based 92-year Reena Varma’s recent visit to her childhood home in Pakistan, after her visa application being rejected twice, has again underscored the need to ease restrictions particularly for the elderly and for those visiting family and/or old home across the border.
Significantly, this petition also calls for decriminalising inadvertent border crossings — a demand highlighted in a joint statement earlier initiated and coordinated by Sapan, and signed by over 31 organisations.
While addressing certain issues specific to India and Pakistan, the campaign references the liberalised visa regime of 2012 agreed upon by both countries. The new visa regime had introduced several measures aimed at facilitating travel of business persons, tourists, pilgrims, the elderly and children.
Individuals and organisations endorsing the petition say they hope this would pave the way for a visa-free Southasia, or soft borders and visa-on-arrival.
The online petition is available to read in full and endorse at this link.
Note: Writing Sapan like this rather than all caps makes it a word which means ‘dream’. And, borrowing from Himal Southasian, we use ‘Southasia’ as one word, “seeking to restore some of the historical unity of our common living space, without wishing any violence on the existing nation states”.