Nepali Times
Nightmare in New Delhi

The interrogation of senior UML leader Ishwor Pokhrel at New Delhi airport this week grabbed media headlines, but all television cameraman Baikuntha Maskey could do was dash off angry letters about his ordeal.

Maskey was transiting New Delhi airport on his way to the United States with his wife, Bimala, on 8 December. After arriving from Kathmandu on the night flight, they had a six-hour layover while waiting for Air India AI 111 to New York. At about midnight, an Air India staffer with two security officers asked for their passports and rudely accused them of having a forged US visa.

"This Air India guy named Sunny was abusive, and didn't want to listen to a word we said to explain that our visas were duly issued by the US embassy in Kathmandu, that they were valid for five years and we had visited America in 1999 on the same visa," the 55-year-old Baikuntha who works for Reuters TV recalled.

From this point on, things started getting even more nasty for the Maskeys. An officer from the US embassy in New Delhi arrived to check his visa and also pronounced it fake. "He refused to believe we got the visa in Kathmandu, and didn't want to call the embassy in Kathmandu to verify," Bimala Maskey said. The embassy official then escorted them back past the immigration desk and cancelled the US visas on their passports.

By now, the Maskeys were not just completely mystified about why they were being picked upon, but also getting really worried that they may be detained. The Air India staff and security personnel kept taunting them with threats of three years' imprisonment for fake visas. "They tried their best to make us feel like criminals," Maskey said.

They ended up spending the night at the airport's transit area to wait for the Royal Nepal Airlines flight the next evening. After 24 gruelling hours at the airport, and when the flight back to Kathmandu was finally boarding, the dreaded Air India staff and security guards returned to demand their passports and harass them again.

After getting back to Kathmandu, the US embassy immediately re-issued the Maskeys B1 and B2 visas valid for five years free of cost. The couple have now resumed their delayed holiday in New York, but not before writing a strongly-worded letter to the US embassy in New Delhi, saying: "We would like to draw your attention to the harassment and inconvenience, huge financial loss as well as mental torture we endured." The Maskeys have asked that the matter be probed and appropriate action taken against the embassy official. They have also demanded compensation for financial losses and for "character assassination". The letter is copied to the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi and the Foreign Ministry in Kathmandu.

Says Maskey: "We really don't know why we were victimised like this, but all we want is to warn other Nepalis of the kind of treatment one can expect at New Delhi airport these days."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)