Srinagar: Bilal Beg finds himself the unwitting victim of the latest stand-off between India and China. At the Delhi Airport, he was stopped from boarding a plane to Beijing.
"Immigration authorities told us that we have a stapled visa and they can't allows us through. They added that perhaps China thinks that Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory, or maybe they even consider it part of China!" recounts Beg.
Bilal Beg's experience has brought to the Indian government's notice a disturbing practice by the Chinese Embassy in Delhi - that of issuing visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir on separate sheets of paper, rather than stamping them on their passports.
"When we went to the Chinese Embassy, they told us that issuing such visas is Chinese policy. They have different categories of visas, and we were issued the kind that is usually issued to Kashmiris," says Beg.
It's not clear how long this has been on, but India issued a sternly worded demarche to China on Thursday. A statement from the Ministry of External Affairs said, "It is our view and position that there should be no discrimination against visa applicants of Indian nationality on grounds of domicile or ethnicity. We have conveyed our well-justified concern to the Chinese government in this regard."
In diplomatic circles, the move is being seen as a way to put India on the defensive over the boundary issue. It might also be a tit-for-tat response to India's tougher business visa regulations for Chinese nationals. This happened after several unskilled or semi skilled Chinese workers were discovered to have been allowed on such visas.
Although they have refused to comment officially, Chinese sources have been quoted as saying that the practice is not new. But the matter is likely to be taken up when Foreign Minister S M Krishna meets his Chinese counterpart later in October.