The Indian Association for Women's Studies (IAWS) has strongly contested the Maharashtra police decision to file an FIR against Ilina Sen, wife of Binayak Sen, for her alleged failure to inform the police about the participation of foreign delegates at an academic conference organised by the IAWS and the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Vishwavidyalaya (MGAV) in Wardha last week.
Prof. Ilina Sen, who is an Executive Committee member of the IAWS and head of the MGAV's Women's Studies Department, was booked under Sections 7 and 14 of the Foreigners Act on Monday. The police also arrested the owner of a local hotel where some foreigners were staying on account of the management's failure to inform them of their arrival.
The Foreigners Act requires hotel keepers and other persons who own, occupy or control the premises where foreigners are accommodated to submit such information to the authorities in a prescribed format known as 'Form C'. It is unclear how Prof. Sen, who is a coordinator of the IAWS, has been booked under the Act given that the relevant provisions apply only to persons who furnish lodging to foreigners for payment.
Umesh Chandra Sarangi, Additional Chief Secretary (Home), told The Hinduthat the conference organisers had not informed the police about their stay. "These people came and stayed in a guest house which was booked. They were organising a conference. There is a rule that whenever a conference is organised, the police should be informed about it. The Director-General of Police is looking into the case," he said.
In fact, the Foreigners Act itself places no such obligation on Indians who invite foreigners for conferences or social events. The four Pakistani and Bangladeshi participants named in the FIR were residing on the university campus. The IAWS sources told The Hindu that three of these women scholars were in fact staying in the Vice-Chancellor's residence as personal guests while the fourth was put up at the university guesthouse. Ironically, full political and security clearance from the Ministries of Home Affairs and the External Affairs had been obtained in advance for the participation of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan scholars as government rules currently prescribe in order for visas to be granted.
The FIR filed by the ATS Nagpur Unit notes that Form 'C' as prescribed under the Foreigners Act has not been filed by the University. However, Form C pertains only to 'Hotel Arrival Information' and does not contemplate the present situation in any manner. The distinction is relevant as Section 7 of the Act, under which Prof. Ilina Sen has been booked, will be applicable only to instances where the accommodation is paid for by foreigners. In fact, the Home Ministry in 2001 scrapped a controversial 1971 order that required persons to report the presence of foreigners in their households.
Even if one were to hold the University responsible for failing to provide the required information, the responsibility for filing a C form belongs only to those running a hotel, inn or hostel and not to the organisers of an event in which foreigners participate.
On the concluding day of the Conference, the police entered the Yatri Niwas premises in Wardha, where a large number of women participants, mostly students and teachers, were staying to attend the event.
The organisers have condemned the actions of the police and expressed their anguish over unwarranted interference from the authorities.
Mr. Sarangi denied that the police had taken action against the organisers because Prof. Sen was Dr. Binayak Sen's wife.