In November, I decided to travel to Bangkok for a solo backpacking trip. I wish to share with everyone the glorious nightmare that was immigration – Indian immigration.
With an hour or so left for my flight to depart from Bengaluru International Airport, I hastily made my way to the immigration counter and faced an official who proceeded to ask me all the usual questions – "How long are you travelling for? When is your return flight? What's the purpose of your travel? Do you have enough funds to cover your stay? Will you be getting a visa-on-arrival?"
I answered everything and provided all documents he asked for. Here’s how the conversation went.
Who are you travelling with?
I’m travelling alone.
Are you with a friend?
No, I’m travelling alone.
Do you often travel alone?
When was your last trip?
And you were alone?
I was travelling with a friend, but our tickets and all reservations were separate. So technically, we were both travelling separately.
So you were with a male friend?
I’m not sure how this is relevant, but no – a female friend.
And you had no male guardian present?
We are both adults. Why is there a need for a guardian?
He frowned and stared at the screen for a while. It had been over 10 minutes now, and this procedure generally takes less than 5 minutes.
“Is there a problem?” I ask. And then he proceeds to say one of the most outrageous things I've heard.
See the thing is, if a woman aged between 18 to 35 is travelling alone, we generally don’t allow them.
Yes. There are all kinds of problems.
I’m sorry, what? What problems?
You see, there wouldn’t be any issue if you were travelling with a male guardian like a father, a brother, a husband or even a friend, it wouldn’t be a problem at all.
How does that matter? I have the means to fund my stay and you have the proof.
Yes, but a single young woman travelling abroad is trouble.
(angrily) Trouble? Do you ask the same question to men who travel alone?
No, because they are boys. Women traveling alone... it can be dangerous.
Isn’t that upto me to decide if travelling alone is dangerous? This is ridiculous. I have had no problems with immigration so far. This is the first time I’m hearing something like this.
“Yes, and that is why I’m confused because you seem to have travelled quite a lot,” he replied.
With a little over 40 minutes left for boarding to start, I lost my cool.
“Okay, if there is a problem and you are not going to stamp my passport, you need to tell me right now because I will need to speak with higher officials and I cannot miss this flight. This cannot be legal,” I said.
At this point, other immigration officials were looking over to see what the ruckus was about and someone from the inside of the immigration office started walking towards us. The official hastily stamped my passport and let me through, and I had no time to express my anger as boarding was going to start soon and I needed to clear security.
I have never, ever, been asked such questions at immigration before.
With so much focus on women empowerment in India, I’m surprised that immigration officials are allowed to make such statements.
Back in April, I was asked by Thomas Cook to provide a letter of consent signed by my father, husband, brother ("even younger is fine") or a male guardian, in order to process my Singapore visa. I had refused to do this, since I was financing the whole trip and this is definitely not a requirement as per the visa policy of Singapore.
As it turns out, a lot of travel agencies in India ask women to do this even though it is not required by the foreign country’s laws.
A lot of women just give in to avoid any hassle, but this is something that we need to stand against, because otherwise it simply sends out a message that women should have no independence, unless a man consents.
Women CAN Say No
If a country's visa policy dictates, for whatever reason, that a woman needs a male guardian to provide consent, by all means, ask for it. If not, Indian immigration and travel agencies need to stop asking for it.
I wasn't expecting to be treated like this, because I hadn't a single bad experience before this one. People have been really encouraging. Just the thought that I could've missed my flight because of a single misguided official pisses me off.
For all the Indian women planning to travel solo – if you are not cleared by immigration even after all your documents are in order, please know that it is a violation of your rights and you can – a hundred percent – take this to court.
I'd also like to add that if you're using a travel agency to apply for a visa, and they ask you for a consent letter even if you're the one in charge of the trip and related finances, please do some research on the country's visa regulations and say NO if it's not required. We need to start standing up against this.