Hundreds have signed an online petition addressed to UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid urging him to grant visitor visas to two blind musicians from India, who were due to perform in Scotland as part of a UK-India cultural exchange programme.
Prem Bhagavan Nagaraju, 25, and Jyothi Kalaiselvi, 19, were scheduled to travel to the UK with a group of people from the disability organisation Devasitham Charitable Foundation (DCF) based in Chennai.
However, the organisers say that while their non-disabled colleagues who were supporting them on the trip were granted entry, their own visa application was declined by the UK Home Office.
“The Home Office refused the visa applications of these two young disabled people due to their economic and family circumstances, stating that it is ‘not satisfied that you have sufficient ties in India that will act as an incentive for you to leave the UK at the end of your trip’,” reads the petition, started by Ninian Perry, Creative Director of Paragon Music, the Scottish charity behind the tour.
The exchange programme, supported by the British Council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish government, was designed to address the barriers faced by disabled people when trying to participate in cultural activities.
“So the views and experiences of the very people that have been refused entry to the UK were absolutely crucial to the success of the two-week exchange programme,” noted the Change.Org petition, titled ‘Give young blind musicians from India UK visitor visas’.
Kalaiselvi, a violinist, and Nagaraju, a keyboard player, were set to perform alongside fellow non-disabled musicians during a two-week tour of Scotland starting this week. It was planned as a return trip of the Indian musicians to the UK after Paragon Music supported artists visited Chennai in November 2017. It covers workshops, seminars, performances, meetings and cultural visits in Scotland.
Alison Thewliss, Scottish National Party (SNP) MP from Glasgow, called on Javid to investigate the “discrimination at the heart of the hostile environment” that had led to this visa denial.
“It’s incredibly cruel that a valuable cultural opportunity has been denied to these young people, particularly when the exchange programme was set up by the UK government in the first place,” she said.
The UK Home Office does not comment on individual cases but said that all applications were considered on their “individual merits” and in line with the immigration rules.