Opening a new front in needling India, the Chinese Embassy has started the practice of stamping visas to some Kashmiris on a separate sheet of paper instead of passports, prompting the government to lodge a protest.
The visas were stamped on separate papers, which were stapled to the passport, a practice started recently like in the case of those hailing from Arunachal Pradesh on which Beijing lays its claim.
The action with regard to Kashmiri travellers is seen as an attempt by China to question the status of Jammu and Kashmir as part of India.
Upset over the development, India lodged a protest with China yesterday.
"We have conveyed our well justified concern to the Chinese government in this regard," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said.
"It is our considered view and position that there should be no discrimination against visa applicants of Indian nationality on the grounds of domicile or ethnicity," he said.
The Chinese Embassy, however, said the documents were "valid" and that the problem lay with Indian immigration authorities.
"What we have issued is correct and valid document. It is the problem of your Immigration officers at Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi). This practice of issuing visas on separate paper has been there for years now," a Chinese Embassy official said.
Asked how many such visas they issue every year, the Chinese Embassy official put the number at less than 100.
The official said the issue is being played up as one of the Kashmiri students had approached the media.
Asked to comment on the development, Defence Minister A K Antony said "whether it is Jammu and Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh, all are integral parts of India. For us, every inch of India is one. There are channels of dealing with our neighbours whenever any issue arises and we always use them to raise our point of view".
Official sources said the Chinese Embassy had started this practice about a year back and in the process a number of Kashmiris were unable to travel as immigration authorities at the airport did not accept this kind of visa.
The latest development came to light when the affected people spoke to the media in Kashmir about three weeks back on returning dismayed.
"We were given the stapled one (visa)," Bilal Ahmad Beigh, one of the affected students, was quoted as saying.
Quoting the chief visa officer at the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, Beigh said she had told them: "Chinese government welcomes you. Otherwise, we would have not given you the visa. We can t reveal the reasons behind the two types of visas as it s against our national interest."
Another student Shuja Altaf Mir said "I visited China in 2004 without any problem but immigration officials are citing some unknown reasons, saying China acknowledges Kashmir as a disputed territory."
Commenting on the development, Jammu and Kashmir Congress president Saifuddin Soz termed it as a "mischief" by China and said Kashmiri travellers should not accept such documents.
He said he had travelled to China thrice and on all the occasions, visas were stamped on the passport. PTI