Australian scribe's exit from India seems part of growing pattern

From tax raids to intimidation to harassment — how foreign correspondents in India are faring

Avani Dias in 2021 (photo: @AvaniDias/X)
Avani Dias in 2021 (photo: @AvaniDias/X)

NH Digital

After French journalist Vanessa Dougnac, it is now the turn of Indian-Australian scribe Avani Dias. The South Asia bureau chief for Australian broadcaster ABC News, who left India on 19 April, said in an X post on Tuesday that she had been denied a visa extension by the Indian government because her reports “crossed a line”.

While a two-month extension was eventually granted after “intervention from the Australian government”, it came a mere 24 hours before her flight out of India, Dias added in her post.

In February, Dougnac, the longest serving foreign correspondent in India, who lived in the country for more than two decades and served as South Asia correspondent for several French publications, left India asserting that she was compelled to do so by the Indian government.

In Dougnac's own words, she was accused by the Modi government of engaging in "malicious" reporting and violating regulations, which she mentioned in her statement announcing her departure from the country.

Dias in her post wrote, “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”.

The action against Dias was allegedly the result of her reporting on the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada, which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of orchestrating, leading to a sharp diplomatic standoff between the two nations.

The denial of a visa extension to Dias comes weeks after YouTube blocked access in India to an episode of the ABC’s news series Foreign Correspondent and a news package on the killing of Nijjar.

In an episode of her podcast Looking for Modi, Dias said, “It felt too difficult to do my job in India,” and added, “It’s all by design...the Narendra Modi government has made me feel so uncomfortable that we decided to leave.”

But she isn't the only one. An open letter shared online by John Reed, the South Asia bureau chief of the Financial Times, lists 30 signatures of foreign correspondents based in India, registering "our strong protest at the treatment by Indian authorities of our colleague, Avani Dias, South Asia bureau chief for Australian broadcaster ABC".

The letter makes the point that "though not technically expelling her, Indian authorities have effectively pushed out a foreign correspondent on the eve of an election that the government describes as the largest democratic exercise in the world".

The letter also mentions how "foreign journalists in India have grappled with increased restrictions on visas and journalism permits for those holding the status of Overseas Citizen of India".

In February last year, published a detailed exposé on how the Indian government was apparently trying to silence the foreign press, following the tax raids on the BBC in India, weeks after it aired a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Although the documentary was broadcast on television only in the UK, India's government has attempted to block people sharing India: The Modi Question online, calling it 'hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage' with a 'colonial mind-set'," the BBC reported at the time.

As the exposé discovered, however, foreign correspondents based in India said the tax raids were "not the first act of hostility" by the Central government and that they had been facing uncertainty over visas, denial of travel permits, and even threats of deportation since 2019.

Most of the journalists quoted in the exposé chose to remain anonymous for understandable reasons, such as a journalist with a European news organisation who recounted an instance of the Indian embassy in their home country emailing the organisation asking it “not to cover Muslim persecution”, with the email being made available to

Members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Delhi conducted successive surveys among foreign media representatives beginning January 2020, and the results revealed a clear pattern of intimidation, restriction of access, and harassment as detailed in the exposé.

When Scroll spoke to several journalists who participated in these surveys, they pointed to the government’s lack of willingness to engage with them and always being accused of “having an agenda”.

One of the survey respondents told, “Even though we are diligent in going to the relevant ministry and the prime minister’s office for comment, people rarely respond and when they do it is to deliberately prevent any real interaction between the media and the government. Hence the government feels its views are not properly represented – it is a vicious circle.”

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines