GRIEVANCES

Tweet for Tat

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Shashi Tweeter Tharoor may or may not be suffering from webbed-foot-in-beak syndrome, but the minister of state ought to share some of the grief his ministry’s embassies have caused Indian citizens worldwide. Here’s a sample of their aggrieved tweets:

Twitter Tharoor. That’s what they call our honourable minister of state for external affairs. He tweets almost everything on his mind, and it began long before his dictionary lessons on the term ‘interlocutor’. For instance, here’s what he went through one fine Wednesday: ‘beginning w speech on Indo-Arab economic co-operation & ending w working on one on India’s foreign policy, for Oman where I go tmrw.’ Some hours later, in between meetings and files, he dropped into the, ‘ICCR exhibition of Sondeep Shankar’s wonderful photos of Buddhist sites in India & Pranab Mukherjee book release’. A few days before that, he caught snatches of India’s historic win over England at the Oval in 1971, watching the game while jogging on his treadmill.

The minister has gathered 668,560 followers on Twitter. That’s more than twice the number of votes that took him to the Lok Sabha.

Considering the time he takes to diligently update his Twitter account, Tharoor may be forgiven for not having had the time to address some of the problems Indian citizens face with his ministry’s officials. Every day, officers in Indian consulates and embassies around the world make thousands of people miserable and angry by being unprofessional at best, rude and incompetent at worst. It is one thing to protest Australia’s treatment of Indians, but for a glimpse of how badly we treat our own, visit the obnoxious Indian consulate in Dubai or the incompetent one in Kuala Lumpur.

Since the minister is most comfortable with the open-mike nature of the Twitter-sphere, we present a collection of tweets from ordinary Indians around the world, frustrated by their experience dealing with the officers of India’s foreign missions. @shashitharoor, hope you’re listening.

Realtime results for Shashi Tharoor

Arush Chopra, Chandigarh: My passport was stolen in Amsterdam two years ago

Chopra: After waiting for an hour-and-a-half at the Indian Embassy in The Hague, the staff told me, “The officer has not arrived yet. You know the time for officers to arrive, right?”

Chopra: I had a flight to catch that very day. I was an Indian stuck in The Netherlands without my passport. I had hoped to feel comfortable at the Embassy

Chopra: Instead, I felt the clerical staff was on a power trip and I was at their mercy

Chopra: My papers were forwarded to the High Commissioner only when I mentioned I was a journalist back home. But I missed my flight

It’s 10: 28 am on 25 January. No one’s picking up the phone on the number listed on the website of HCI, London

It’s 11.04 am. Still no one’s answering the phone

14.07 pm. Ringing away

Ratna Patel, London: My granddaddy has passed away in India. And I came here [the HCI, London] to get an emergency OCI card for my uncle to travel to India

Patel: The security guard tells me I should have brought a fax of his death certificate. But there was no mention of it on the website

Patel: We tried calling several times before coming here. But no one would pick up the phone

Patel: It is not easy for us to come to London from Milton Keynes [an hour’s train ride from London] where we live

Nushad Merchant, Mumbai: I was in Rome in 2007 when my passport and money were picked

Merchant: I was 19 years old and terrified without any money and passport. I was told by the staff at the Indian embassy that sorry, it is 5 pm on a Friday. Come back on Monday

Merchant: I asked if they could call a hotel and tell them my situation as a hotel would ask for a passport copy to check me in. They refused

Merchant: I asked if I could stay with one of them. Of course, they refused

Merchant: I was crying and falling to pieces when the High Commissioner spotted me. He helped me get an emergency passport and let me sleep at the embassy with the watchman

Matthew Thankachan, London: I came here [HCI, London] a few days ago to surrender my passport. There were hundreds of people ahead of me. I left

Thankachan: I came here early today, and I am still 55th in the queue

Amrik Singh Dhillon, 72, London: There is no shade for people queuing up outside in the rain. There are not enough seats. There is not even photocopying machine here at the HCI, London

Dhillon: When I finally reached the counter, one lady waved me away and the other shouted at me

Dhillon: I have been living in London for 40 years and in my experience other embassies treat you … more humanely

Priti Ubhayakar, Houston: I had applied for a PIO card at the Foreign Office in Mumbai, when I was visiting India in 2005

Ubhayakar: The clerk asked me outright for a bribe of Rs 500 to process the application. “Put the money in the passport and put the passport on the table,” I was told

Ubhayakar: I felt I was in an episode of Sopranos

Walvinder Singh Virk, London: My brother-in-law had died in India. I needed an emergency visa

Virk: The staff at the counter said, “Your brother-in-law died on Friday. You are here on a Monday. The funeral must be over by now. We can’t grant you an emergency visa”

Virk: I had an email from the hospital showing that the funeral was the next day. But he refused to even look at the application

Virk: I waited for three hours, and ran between different counters and the reception. But they never processed my application. The staff was very rude

Virk: Finally, I went and applied for a normal visa. But we missed the funeral

Shujat Mantoo, Melbourne: We are happy with the service of the High Commission in Melbourne. But then, most of the services have been outsourced to a private company

Mantoo: Sometimes, I have helped Indian students stuck here without help. The High Commission should have provisions for emergency help and advice

Open: There are six emergency numbers on the websites of the High Commissions of India in Australia. But you only reach an answering machine on all six of them

Dipali Patel, Crawley, England: We applied for my mother-in-law’s OCI in May last year. It was supposed to take four to six weeks

Patel: When we heard nothing after two months, we went to the High Commission in London. They said they wanted a passport and a photograph

Patel: We still didn’t hear anything from them till December, and we could never reach them on phone

Patel: When we went again in January, they told us they wanted my mother-in-law’s parent’s birth certificate

Patel: I asked why they didn’t check it in the first place when accepting the application or the second time we visited. The officer said of his own staff, “You know, these people behind the counter, they don’t check the papers properly”

Patel: We will lose 70 pounds now if we withdraw the application

Naveen Aggarwal, Chicago: For a country of 1.2 billion people, they have only one passport office in Delhi where people start queuing up at 3 in the morning

Aggarwal: My father is an old man, and yet they kept making him come again and again to the office for six months for my mother’s passport renewal

Aggarwal: At the end, they demanded a bribe to renew the passport. My father paid it

Open: We tried contacting M Subhashini, the minister (press and information) at the High Commission of India in London, with all the Twitter complaints we had collected, in particular those against the High Commission office in London. We were first informed that she was busy with the Republic Day celebrations. Then, we were told that she was busy with a delegation sent by the minister of external affairs, so that was that. Tweets, though, have a way of getting around.