Indian Passport: You Weak, Useless Thing!
After living in the United Kingdom for a few years, travelling a bit of the world, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is: being an Indian is a proud thing. People around the world like Indians, respect Indians and are always eager to know more about Indians.
While I was travelling in Southeast Asia last year, there were so many instances which made it so much easier for me to connect with others – locals and travellers alike – as I told them I’m from India. Bollywood and Yoga made my identity even more interesting.
But feeling cooler and wanted is one thing, and feeling empowered is the other. Sure my identity, as an Indian made me feel good, perhaps even respectful, but it did not make me feel empowered – not as long as I held a Navy Blue coloured passport saying ‘The Republic of India’.
Indian Passport Makes Me Feel Weak, Forget About Being Empowered
There’s no denying the fact that Indian passport is embarrassingly weak – given our country is considered as one of the leading economic powers in the world. From Chinese to Americans to Russians, everyone considers India an important state to trade with, but when it comes to welcoming its members they all take a step back. I won’t blame them for this antagonistic behaviour though, our former government’s sloppiness towards foreign relations has, in fact, much to do with it. But let’s not get into politics, rather start debating about our helplessness.
Before I say anything further, let’s take a look at the following two maps… the grey part represents the part of the world (or the countries) that I, being an Indian passport holder, cannot access without applying for a VISA in the respective state’s embassy (and even most of the other colourful countries, as shown in the map, only offer a disappointing VISA-on-arrival, with a travel time of fewer than 15 days):
Now let’s compare it with someone who holds the passport for Great Britain (consider the top 50 strong passport holding nations having almost a similar picture):
Pretty disgraceful, the Indian passport is, right?
And in case you thought I compared India with that of the UK or other such strong nations, let me tell you that most of the ranking systems consider Indian passport among the few least powerful passports in the world, and we rank below countries like Kazakhstan, Namibia, Kenya, Uganda, and even Cambodia and Bhutan – now that’s a real shame!
Anyway, my point here is not to make any false generalizations or make you look down upon our national identity as Indians. All I’m saying is that our weak passport curbs us from travelling and makes our life tougher as a global citizen.
A Weak Passport Makes You Bleed Extra Money
Last year, while I was backpacking across Southeast Asia, I ended up paying a few thousand Rupees extra because of my passport. How? I wanted to travel from Thailand to Cambodia using the land transport, but only to make sure that my VISA on Arrival doesn’t get rejected, I’d booked an exit flight (from Thailand to Cambodia). Where road transport would have cost me about 1,200 Rupees, the flight cost 5,500. A loss of more than 4,000 Rupees without any positive outcome.
I moreover wanted to visit Malaysia, from Thailand, but that again would have cost an extra flight because, despite an open border, Indians are NOT ALLOWED to enter into Malaysia by land. Most of the Europeans and other strong passport holders can, however, do that.
Indians, moreover, can’t apply for VISAs to most of the countries if they are not physically present in India. For example, if you’re in the US and wanted to apply for a Thai Visa, you’re required to first return to India, kill at least 15 days in the country for applying the Visa and then fly to Thailand (unless you have a few good reasons, and backpacking is definitely isn’t one of them!) whereas British, German, French and god knows how many other nationalities can fly straight from the US to Thailand to Australia and wherever else they wish to.
Now one thing is that Indians already can’t travel much because of their disappointing salaries. And if somehow they manage to save some money and plan travelling abroad, their passport makes things tougher for them to the next level.
Why It’s Tough To Find Indian Backpackers Abroad
During my last couple of years of nomadic life, I’ve met an unaccountable number of non-Indian backpackers living a peripatetic lifestyle – moving from country to country and not caring about money as much as experience. They jump borders more easily and frequently than we as Indians jump traffic lights. Travelling abroad, for us, has always remained a big deal. Because even when a visa is possible for us, getting it is far from simple.
And that’s why it’s so tough to spot an Indian face lugging a heavy rucksack, jumping one country to another – because they know that such a lifestyle isn’t possible for them.
I mean even if you look at the many Indian travel bloggers today, you won’t find a single freestyle backpacker blogger who writes about country hopping or travelling indefinitely from one country to the other. Why? Because they can’t! If they need a VISA, anywhere other than developing Asian countries like Vietnam or Cambodia, they’re required to show a complete end-to-end itinerary. Even countries like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, that offer a VISA ON ARRIVAL for Indians, ask for an itinerary, pre-booking of all our hotels and transportation before handing us the person to get inside their country – meaning, the entire definition of freestyle backpacking is already lost somewhere in oblivion.
Applying For A VISA Is Like Applying For A New Birth Certificate
I was recently into the process of applying for a Schengen VISA and it turned out that other than a return flight, and pre-booked accommodation, I was also required to provide the proof(s) of my means of transportation inside Europe. The only thing I was free to do was to eat and shit where I wanted, everything else had to have a reason. No wonder, getting VISAs for Indian is a tough nut to crack.
For a tourist visa application to even approach success, I need to present bank statements, letters of recommendation and introduction, return tickets, hotel bookings, proof of employment and even tax records. I have to make every possible move (even use some creativity) to convince the visa officer, beyond all reasonable doubt, that I’m planning on going home at the end of my stay.
As a freelance writer, my income is not regular, I don’t have a place of work, and I don’t even have a two-week holiday block. And because my income was not taxable last year, I clearly don’t have a safety net now. Now that I’ve applied for the VISA, I have a certain amount of fear all the time, until I get my passport back – either accepted or accepted (I’m afraid of saying the other word)!
But I also wish to see the world. My heart also desires to explore more countries, and just as much as a German or a Korean. But alas!, I’m Indian and because my passport is weak, I’ll have to take it with me as a lifelong curse!
Are you an Indian passport holder too? Let’s share our experiences in the comments below!