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Renowned anthropologist Filipo Osella deported after arrival at Kerala airport

Osella, who had a lifetime engaging with the social and cultural transformations of Kerala society, and of societies in south Asia, was to attend a conference at Thiruvananthapuram on Friday, said sources close to him.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: March 25, 2022 9:55:24 am
Filippo Osella, an internationally-known anthropologist and sociologist. (Express photo)

Filippo Osella, 65, a renowned anthropologist and sociologist from the UK, was denied entry and deported to his country as he landed in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday morning.

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Osella, who is Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies at the University of Sussex, is a specialist in Kerala society and has conducted extensive research for over 30 years in the state, mapping its social and cultural transformation. Sources said he was to attend a conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday on Kerala’s coastal communities that was being organised by the Cochin University of Science and Technology; Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram; University of Kerala; and the University of Sussex.

Confirming he had been deported, Osella said in an email to The Indian Express from Dubai airport, where he was waiting to board a flight back to the UK, that he was denied entry by Indian authorities without any explanation.

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When contacted, an immigration officer at the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) at Thiruvananthapuram airport said the reason for Osella’s deportation cannot be revealed. “He was denied entry as per orders from higher officials. No reason can be revealed,” he said.

Osella said he arrived at Thiruvananthapuram airport early Thursday morning via Dubai on an Emirate flight. As he was about to leave the aircraft, he was told to contact the flight assistants, who led him to a person who was waiting for him outside. “I was taken to the immigration desk, and processed as it is normally done. But after they scanned my passport, took my photo and fingerprints, they told me that I was not allowed to enter India, and that I would be deported immediately,” said Osella, adding that “indeed, the decision had already been taken prior to my arrival, as an Emirates employee was already there to arrange my deportation via Dubai flight”.

When asked if he was told why he was being deported, Osella said, “The immigration personnel and the immigration supervisor were extremely unfriendly and impolite. They refused to explain why I was not allowed in, and deported. (They) only said that it was a ‘government of India decision/order’.”

He added that his one-year research visa expires only mid-April “and my return flight was well before the expiry date. Yes, I have a couple of old visas to Pakistan in my passport because I am a South Asia specialist. These visas have never stopped me (from) being granted entry into Kerala or India,” he said.

Osella, whose association with India, especially Kerala, started in the late 1980s, has published extensively on the lives of people, relationships, trends and reforms within communities in the state. Among his recent works is an exploration of the emergence of various strands of Islamic reforms in Kerala, and the relationship between religious practice, politics and economic action.

He is also researching artisanal fisherfolk and their attitudes towards risk across the whole range of their activities — an area that was also the focus of the conference he was to attend: ‘Emerging themes connected to the livelihood and lifeworld of Kerala’s coastal communities’.

An academic who has known Osella and his work for several years spoke on condition of anonymity and said he was surprised at the decision to deport the scholar since his work rarely touched upon hot-button political issues of the day. “He was known for his careful approach. Though he studied a lot about the Muslim community in Kerala, these were works that he did at least a decade ago and he always stayed away from political Islam and related controversial topics,” the academic said.

One of the organisers of the conference said, “Neither the conference nor the organisers had anything politically sensitive as it was being jointly organised with government agencies, universities and some of the top academics.”

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