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'Too difficult to do my job': Australian journalist claims Modi government 'forced' her out of India

The journalist, who has been reporting from Delhi for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation since January 2022, claimed in a post on X that the Modi government had initially blocked her visa renewal request. She also claimed she'd been blocked from accessing public events following her coverage of Hardeep Singh Nijjar's killing.
Last Updated : 23 April 2024, 07:46 IST
Last Updated : 23 April 2024, 07:46 IST

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Avani Dias, the South Asia correspondent of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), claimed on Tuesday that she was "forced" to leave India after being denied a visa extension by the Modi government due to her coverage of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar's killing.

Dias, who has been reporting from Delhi for ABC since January 2022, claimed in a post on X that the Modi government had initially blocked her visa renewal request, but after intervention by the Australian government, acceded to the same, hours before she was scheduled to leave the country.

"Last week, I had to leave India abruptly. The Modi Government told me my visa extension would be denied, saying my reporting 'crossed a line'. After Australian Government intervention, I got a mere two-month extension ...less than 24 hours before my flight," the journalist wrote on X.

"We were also told my election accreditation would not come through because of an Indian Ministry directive. We left on day one of voting in the national election in what Modi calls 'the mother of democracy'," she added.

However, by the time the renewal came, it was too late, and Dias said that she realised it would be difficult for her to continue doing her job in India.

In the final episode of her podcast Looking for Modi, Dias claimed that the Indian government had made it exceedingly difficult for her to do her job, and alleged that she had been blocked from accessing events, in addition to receiving takedown notices for her news stories shared on YouTube.

"It felt too difficult to do my job in India. I was struggling to get into public events run by Modi’s party, the government wouldn’t even give me the passes I need to cover the election and the ministry left it all so late, that we were already packed up and ready to go," Dias is heard saying in her podcast.

"It’s all by design. The Narendra Modi government has made me feel so uncomfortable that we decided to leave. There’s always a feeling of unease that this sort of backlash could come your way as a journalist in India, I’ve felt it the whole time I’ve been here, so have my colleagues from other publications," she further says.

Trouble began for Dias over an episode of Foreign Correspondent, the ABC's flagship international news programme, which covered Nijjar's killing, including Canada's accusation of India's involvement, resulting in severe strains in bilateral ties between Ottawa and New Delhi.

Subsequently, the ABC correspondent received a call from a ministry official in India, who categorically said that Dias' visa would not be extended and that she would have to leave the country in two weeks. "He specifically said it was because of my Sikh separatist story, saying it had gone too far," Dias is heard saying. The official also referenced Dias' podcast.

"It felt really shocking. This place my partner and I had called home for the last two-and-a-half years, this place that we loved so much, was not going to be home anymore. We were being forced to leave on the Indian government's terms," Dias lamented (25:40 onwards in the podcast embedded below), before adding how the Indian government did a backflip on the visa situation after intervention from Canberra.

The ABC, however, backed its South Asia correspondent following the incident, with MD David Anderson telling The Guardian, "The ABC fully backs and stands by the important and impactful reporting by Avani Dias during her time as ABC correspondent in India. Avani joins the Four Corners team as a reporter in coming weeks. The ABC believes strongly in the role of independent journalism across the globe, and freedom of the press outside Australia."

Dias' allegations come a mere months after Vanessa Dougnac, a French journalist who had lived in and covered India for 22 years, left the country, levelling similar charges against the Modi government.

Last year, BBC offices in India were also raided by tax authorities after a broadcast of a documentary that examined Modi's role in the Gujarat riots when he was Chief Minister of the state. Subsequently, the government also banned the documentary.

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Published 23 April 2024, 07:46 IST

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