Bigotry appears to be in vogue. A few days after a customer demanded a Hindu service executive from Airtel another shocking incident of religious narrow-mindedness has come to light.
An inter-faith couple claims they were humiliated by a passport officer in Lucknow, where the person reportedly asked the Muslim man to convert to Hinduism. The couple took to Twitter to express their displeasure and asked External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene. The MEA has taken note of the incident and the officer has been transferred and an internal investigation has commenced.
Mohammed Anas Siddiqui and Tanvi Seth, who have been married for 11 years, applied for passports on June 19 and booked an appointment for the next day at Lucknow’s Passport Office. The couple successfully cleared the first two stages of the interview without any hick-ups until they ran into an officer for whom the concept of free will seemed to be too hard a concept to comprehend.
Anas told a news channel: “My wife’s turn came before me and as soon as she reached counter C5, an officer named Vikas Mishra started to go through her documents. When he read the spouse’s name as Mohd Anas Siddiqui, he started shouting at her and said that she should not have married me. My wife broke into tears, after which Mr Mishra said that she should get all the documents corrected with a changed name.”
Anas said that the officer then called and humiliated him claiming that the marriage won’t be ‘recognised’. An enraged Anas recounted how he was told he should ‘take pheras and convert to Hinduism’. He added that when they approached the APO, they were apologetic and asked them to write their grievances. The couple tweeted to EAM Sushma Swaraj about their horrific ordeal. Anas told ANI: “We have all legal documents to apply for a passport. We had tweeted to Sushma Swaraj ma’am and we were asked to meet an officer at the regional passport office.”
A hurt Tanvi wrote to Sushma Swaraj: “I tweet this with immense faith in justice and in you and ironically with a lot of anger/hurt and agony in my heart because of the way I was treated at the Lucknow passport office at Ratan Square by Mr Vikas Mishra the reason because I married a Muslim and not changed my name ever.”
In another tweet, Tanvi Seth added: “Sushma Swaraj Ma’am I have never imagined that in a place like passport office we would have a people who are moral policing the citizens. He didn’t just put my passport on hold he even put my husband’s passport on hold. This is a clear grudge. I was shocked at this behavior. I have never felt so insulted in the last 12 years of my marriage with my husband. It is my personal choice to choose a name I want to after my marriage. This is our family matter and the last thing I expected to hear at the passport office was it is your duty to change your name after marriage. The person who spoke to my husband later said of your wife’s case would have been come to me there wouldn’t have been issues because her papers are complete (sic).”
Reacting to the allegations, the MEA has promised action. The offending officer has been transferred and an intra-departmental enquiry has been ordered.DM Mulay, the Secretary Consular, Passport, Visa and Overseas, MEA, tweeted: “Regret for inconvenience. I sought report from @rpolucknow Will take appropriate action.” When asked, Regional Passport Officer Peeyush Verma has also promised: “The incident has happened, and the couple will be coming to the office in Gomtinagar in Lucknow on Thursday. I will look into the matter and take appropriate action.”
Just in case, Mr Vikas Mishra has forgotten, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution grants freedom to every citizen of India to profess, practice and propagate their own religion. The constitution, in the preamble professes to secure to all its citizen’s liberty of belief, faith and worship. Article 25(1) also allows every citizen to freely follow his own religion subject to public order, morality and health. Officers, who serve the nation, would do well to remember this.