Humiliation at TIA
I did not have any opportunity of flying abroad until 22.07.2017. I was really excited as I was traveling to Denmark with my boyfriend to attend his brother’s wedding. We had planned this trip for a long time after being granted Schengen Visa, and everything was going without a hitch. This was my very first flight to a foreign country and I intended to make it a memorable one. So, my excitement was boundless.
Our flight was very early and we reached Tribhuwan International Airport, the only international airport in Nepal, around 5:30am. As I stood in the queue approaching the immigration officer’s desk, I noticed one of the immigration officers stopping a girl who was traveling to Switzerland alone. He was rudely asking her to wait in the corner.
When my turn came, I gave him my passport and explained to him why I was going to Denmark. He asked me to show the actual invitation card for the wedding. When I informed him that I only had a soft copy of the invitation card stored in my laptop, he disapproved and responded in the harshest manner possible asking me to wait in the corner until he finished checking other passengers’ passports.
As I was waiting, I noticed him being extra rude to passengers travelling to India claiming that there was no point in travelling to India if it was not related to work or health. He was disruptive and disturbingly annoying. I waited for more than 45 minutes before I was finally referred to two other immigration officers who turned out to be worse than the previous one.
Despite having a valid visa to travel, I had to experience disgusting verbal abuse for 15 minutes from the three immigration officers. The questions they asked me were unnecessary, very personal and a far cry from the questions that are meant to be asked by the immigration officers under unclear situations only. I had a clear case of visa grant regardless of whether or not I was carrying the actual invitation card. Besides, I had no idea if I was even supposed to carry or show the invitation to Nepal’s immigration as I would have expected such requirement only at the Denmark immigration, if they demanded. I had no idea why they were even demanding it or why they were not accepting a soft copy and if there were any such airport or immigration rules for it. I had not been previously informed or warned about such rigorous and ridiculous demands at the point of departure.
The series of questions I was being asked were beyond my belief. I was asked unrelated and appalling personal questions such as:
Being a girl, how I dared traveling alone?
Why am I travelling with a foreigner?
Why didn’t I marry him (my boyfriend) before travelling?
What if he is a kidnapper?
How can my parents be so shameless for letting me travel alone with a foreigner?
They even asked me totally irrelevant questions about my education. When I told them I had completed my bachelors level studies, they demanded me to produce my student ID card which had expired last year. I told them I don’t carry expired student ID card to which they cynically responded that I’m supposed to walk around with my expired student ID so that people would know that I was a student once.
They were enjoying watching how uncomfortable I was feeling. My boyfriend requested me to keep calm because he knew if I snapped at them, they wouldn’t let me travel with him.
I was repeatedly mocked and asked demeaning questions about whether I had passed or failed my bachelor’s level which was uncannily followed by their humiliating laughter. Before eventually letting me go, one of the officers accusingly mentioned that my parents had failed to teach me how to respect the elders.
He justified their disparaging previous interrogation as important part of safety because if something happened to me while I was travelling, he would be the one to rescue me and if something went amiss, he would lose his job.
At that very moment I was thinking who were held responsible for the dead bodies that come inside the coffin everyday at Tribhuwan International Airport? Why didn’t these immigration officers recue those people before it was too late if they were so-called moral guards? How could they be so ignorant and shameless? I so wanted to ask this particular officer that blunt question but the fear that he would not let me go stopped me.
Three immigration officers made me feel naked, exposed, vulnerable and weak just because I was a young, single girl travelling with a foreign boyfriend. I felt abused by their intimidating and condescending behavior, and felt betrayed by the trusted authorities. For me they were not immigration officers, they were verbal and psychological abusers.
I don’t think they would have been relentless in asking those same irrelevant questions to my brother if he were travelling with his girlfriend instead. I know all this happened only because I am a girl from a country where patriarchy and misogyny is an accepted culture, and society is strongly male-dominated
Who will take action against such abuses which I and so many other women have gone through at the airport? Is there anyone who can take action against those abusers’ power to terrorize travelers like myself? I don’t know their names but I will never forget their faces in my life.
No matter how educated, modern and open-minded you are, if you are a girl, our society will always make you uncomfortably aware that you live in a man’s world.
PS: There was no such problem at other airports (e.g. Turkey/Denmark) and immigration desks there .