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Covid and #LoveIsNotTourism

Loveisnottourism.org links to individual country initiatives. The India-specific petition on Change.org by Rashmi R. has under 1,500 signatures so far

The Association of Binational Families and Partnerships, together with the #LoveIsNotTourism initiative, at a rally in Frankfurt.
The Association of Binational Families and Partnerships, together with the #LoveIsNotTourism initiative, at a rally in Frankfurt. (Courtesy Association of Binational Families and Partnerships)

Covid-19 is not all we talk about any more. This issue of Lounge has only one story that is directly related to covid (last week’s Independence Day special didn’t have any). Righteous WhatsApp arguments among my friends about who is being “too callous" and who is “overdoing it" have also ceased. While the spectre of covid-19 is insidious, for most of us privileged with work, home and family, it is not a subject of everyday conversation any more.

For some others, it continues to be. In the first week of April, we had carried a piece by journalist Sukhada Tatke, who wrote about how a three-week visit to Mumbai to meet her mother turned into a harrowing separation from her French husband Didier back home in Grenoble. “Borders have closed in on us in ways we could never have imagined," wrote Tatke in despair, sharing with us the updates Didier sent her about their potted chilli plant in their kitchen in Grenoble.

I followed up with Tatke this week and while she and Didier are still continents apart, she agrees that “married couples do have it easier". This is in the wake of several ongoing campaigns urging governments to amend travel restrictions to allow transnational couples who are not married but are in serious, committed, long-term relationships to reunite. Around 9,000 Europeans are estimated to be cut off from partners outside the European Union (EU), along with thousands of others similarly stranded apart elsewhere, The Guardian reported last week.

The most visible of these initiatives is by Loveisnottourism.org, which describes itself as an association of “international lovers and families" asking for the “safe reunion of partners in long-distance relationships". Another organization, the Association of Binational Families and Partnerships, calls for the “unbureaucratic lifting of entry restrictions for binational couples and families".

These initiatives, amplified by videos and hashtags (#LoveIsNotTourism, #LoveIsEssential), are beginning to be heard. Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Germany and France are among the first countries to allow the “international lovers" of their citizens to enter regardless of their nationality, provided they have tested negative for covid-19.

Loveisnottourism.org links to individual country initiatives. The India-specific petition on Change.org by Rashmi R. has under 1,500 signatures so far. “India initiated the Vande Bharat Mission to bring home stranded Indians and their families from other countries. However, some of our lives have been negatively impacted because of short-sighted international travel and visa rules during the ongoing COVID crisis," she writes, urging the ministry of external affairs to recognize transnational couples. She makes a broader case for the lack of social legitimacy accorded to long-term relationships that are not codified as marriage, especially in countries like India. “Because we are not considered to be ‘families’, we have consequently been separated by borders for months now. It is important to re-examine how ‘families’ are understood and take a more progressive and inclusive approach to reuniting loved ones."

At the moment, the campaigns (also spanning community pages on Facebook) are Euro-centric, with top leaders like Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for home affairs, showing support on Twitter. The possibilities for couples split between India and Japan to unite, for instance, are still bleak.

Part of the legwork for legitimizing a broader spectrum of relationships has already been done by LGBTQ+ movements worldwide. Perhaps covid-19 can be the cue to expand Love is Love to these self-labelled “international lovers" as well.

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