World Bank asks India for 'gay' visa


Charles Courmier, a gay World Bank official, is sad. The reason: he is married but cannot bring his partner into the country because of India's outdated laws that don't recognise a man's marriage if his 'wife' happens to be a man.


Courmier, a Canadian national, is a country sector coordinator with the World Bank. He has been legally married since 2006. But while Canada allows same sex marriages, India does not recognise them. His partner has not been allowed to enter the country on the grounds that there is no category of visa for same sex partners in Indian law.


The matter is with the ministry of external affairs (MEA). Though the home ministry has the final say in such matters, the MEA liaises with the ministry on behalf of foreign diplomatic staff. No one in the MEA was willing to comment on this sensitive issue. Privately, officials say that such issues have cropped up before. "According to our laws, there is no same sex partner. So the best option is a tourist visa," said an official who did not wish to be identified.


The vice president of the World Bank in charge of South Asia, Isabel Guerrero, has written to the Indian government asking for some consideration for her colleague. Part of the problem is also due to the fact that India has changed its visa rules following the arrest of suspected Lashkar-e-Taiyba recruit from Chicago, David Coleman Headley, for his role in scouting through India ahead of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.


The new regulations lay down that a tourist cannot return to the country within two months of his last visit. Many countries, including the US and Britain, have protested against the new regulations, as it causes tourists who travel through South Asia with India as a base a lot of problems. In case of partners who are here on tourist visas, they become even

more acute.


"This new requirement is impossible to manage for this diplomatic household, as irregular and frequent travel is required. What would be the best way to secure Mr Warwick with a multiple entry visa appropriate with his status as a domestic partner of an international staffer?" Gurrero says in a letter to the government. As of now the issue is still hanging fire. India has so far refused to change the new visa regulations despite protests, pointing out that the lives of its citizens are at risk and it cannot afford to be as liberal as it previously was, after Headley used his tourist status to such devastating effect.


2010 April 11 / DNA