Chennai: If you thought that the scene near the US Consulate in Chennai resembled that of a Vishnu temple in the month of Purattasi, you could scarcely be faulted for the misconception. With the interviews for visas to the USA restarting after a week of protests, applicants decided to leave little to chance as the crowd starting to build, from as early as 5.30 am. The strong contingent of police personnel posted for security were, in fact, taken by surprise at such an early start, as the scheduled rounds of interviews were set to begin only at 8.30 am.
While Chennaites using the Anna Flyover are accustomed to watching crisply-attired men and women waiting in long queues outside the Consulate in the morning, police officers said the route for applicants into the Consulate was slightly tweaked for security reasons. Additional levels of checking were put up at the Avvai Shanmugam Salai end, where police officers scrupulously checked ID cards before letting people pass.
In fact, in one case, the security regulations were so tight that a man, who took his car keys inside, was stopped from entering the consulate and was asked to repeat the check from the begining. There were no separate counters for the elderly, who were seen questioning the police on the rationale behind such a set up. However, the minute planning paid off as the officers were able to make sure that the queue didn’t stagnate at any point and the crowd kept moving every minute.
Sources from the Consulate said most of those who assembled for the interviews on Monday were slotted in their original schedule, before the riots happened. This meant that very few who missed the interviews last week turned up. However, applicants had no kind words for the protesters, as the delay had left them worried and stressed. This apart, they were also a little miffed with the procedures put in place for rescheduling, as they felt it was cumbersome on many counts.
Vineetha (name changed), who was supposed to attend the interviews last Thursday, had to reschedule her appointments owing to the closure. However, she said that until Friday evening, the process did not go through. “No one answered the VFS helpline. There was little clarity on what we needed to do. I was supposed to report to my college for the internship on October 15. It was certainly a very anxious time,” she recalled.
Bhargavi from Coimbatore, another applicant, said, “Their website said that we could reschedule the appointments as per our convenience subject to availability of dates. Once the process began, it was smooth,” she said, pointing out that she had to reach the US by October 10. “They said if it was very urgent, we could go to another centre. But there is a view that chances of rejection are higher when you move to another centre,” she pointed out.
Looking back at the protests, applicants regarded it ‘unnecessary’. “Somebody somewhere has made a movie that is not even worth watching. What they have done through these protests is give them free publicity,” said a woman who had come from Bangalore for the interview on Monday. “It is a blessing that they process the applications in Chennai. What if they decide to move the processing some where else due to these protests? We would be forced to travel long distances,” pointed out an octogenarian.
However, many were unwilling to comment on the agitations, stating that it involved “matters of religious faith.” Things moved smoothly and wound to a close under the strict vigil of the security guards employed by the consulate as well as the plethora of policemen who were ready with riot control gear. The extra security will remain in place for a while longer.