Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WWW2011: Fellowship Achieved, Research Paper Approved But Indian VISA Denied

I had planned to attend WWW 2011 this year which begins today. Every researcher working on the Web and its related technologies knows that WWW is the greatest academic conference for Web researches with an acceptance rate as low as below 20% . It is the same conference where Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin presented their famous PageRank algorithm. The venue for this year's WWW Hyderabad, India was particularly exciting for me as I always had a wish to visit my neighboring country India and this year I felt it's a natural chance for me.

WWW 2011 is being organized by IIIT Bangalore and they also announced few fellowships for attending the conference. I applied for the NIXI fellowship which was a fellowship program aimed at encouraging faculty and students from under-represented parts of the world, e.g. developing countries and poor regions of developed countries, etc. to have representation in this year's WWW as the theme in particular was "Web for All". Hence, in line with the theme preference for NIXI fellowship was given to those who had not attended a WWW conference in the past, who were from a region not already having considerable presence at WWW, and who had a demonstrated interest in web and its technologies. Based on my publications related to the Web and my credentials in this field, I got the NIXI fellowship. I along with my wife were the only Pakistanis attending WWW 2011, and this to the best of my knowledge is the first ever representation of Pakistanis in a WWW conference.

Then began the process of applying for Indian VISA which turned out to be the bottleneck. I was short on time and Indian VISA application center in Seoul informed me that the process for Pakistani passport holders takes a month. I then approached the Indian Embassy in Seoul and I found them to extremely co-operative, they called me to their office in Seoul and were ready to give me special consideration on account of my research profile. They said they could give me VISA in one day if I showed them clearance from Ministry of Home Affairs, India which happens to be the main requirement for getting conference VISA for India. And then began a huge round of email exchanges with the WWW Secretratriat who happened to be from IIIT Bangalore and was highly, highly co-operative throughout. Despite their tremendous efforts the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), India refused to give me clearance without stating any reason for the denied clearance.

IIIT Bangalore and their staff did all what they could (they were simply great people to interact with). However MHA stood against values of science and they were unable to understand importance of scientific merit. Indian leading school would learn a lot from this, MHA is shutting off doors of science (without even bothering for any sort of explanation). I was invited there with delegate status, and even then MHA ignored seemingly because of carrying Pakistani Passport with status on merit i.e., got a research paper approved and got the fellowship. If such profiles are not invited then who else could they invite naturally and intellectually. I believe there is a lesson to learn on both sides (specially for intellectuals who could turn things by using intellect). MHA has no idea, they are killing science and I am not the only one who is denied, one German scientist was asked for Birth certificate (God knows what on earth they are thinking) and a Russian scientists was denied VISA due to her passport expiry period within 3 months (however, she is renowned name in the field and co-founder of famous

So today, WWW 2011 begins in Hyderabad, India. I had thought of writing a blog post covering the various sessions of the conference but it was not to be. But despite all that I wish all the best from my side to WWW 2011 organizers and attendees; would love to see the tweets coming from there: #www2011. I have already read some of the WWW 2011 papers and seems to be a pretty exciting conference this year.