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United Kingdom government grants visa to blind Indian musicians, reverses earlier order

The United Kingdom government has had a change of heart and granted visas to two blind musicians from Chennai to attend a two-week programme hosted by a music charity.

Following sustained media and political pressure, the Home Office of the government of United Kingdom has decided to grant visas to two young musicians from Chennai to attend a two-week programme in Glasgow, Scotland as part of a UK-India cultural exchange programme.

Jyothi Kalaiselvi, 19, and keyboard player Prem Bhagavan Nagaraju, who is 25 years old were earlier denied entry into the UK on a government-sponsored exchange trip. They were to travel from Chennai to Glasgow on 15 June for an event hosted by the Scottish inclusive music and dance charity Paragon Music.

The exchange programme, supported by the British Council, Creative Scotland and the government of Scotland, was designed to address the barriers faced by disabled people when trying to participate in cultural activities.

However at the last minute, Jyothi and Bhagavan were told they would not be allowed as the Home Office felt they did not have strong enough ties in India that would act as an incentive for them to leave the UK when the trip ended.

Strangely enough, the non-disabled colleagues of the musicians were granted entry with no issues. All of them are from the Chennai-based charity Devasitham Charitable Foundation (DCF).

Following the earlier order British MP Alison Thewliss exerted strong pressure on the UK government following which the decision was reversed and the pair are now cleared to travel.

"It's incredibly cruel that a valuable cultural opportunity has been denied to these young people, particularly when the exchange programme was set up by the UK government in the first place, said Thewliss.

Hundreds of people also signed an online petition on Change.org.Titled Give young blind musicians from India UK visitor visas, it was addressed to the UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Speaking to a UK newspaper media, the creative director of Paragon Music, said he was elated.

We're over the moon, it just absolutely fantastic, we can't believe it. It's just a massive sigh of relief. We've had a huge outpouring of support from people, and we're so grateful. And lots of people we've never met before were so considerate in the way they were thinking of us, and in their wish for the Home Office to change its decision. - Ninian Perry, Creative Director, Paragon Music

But it will take some time before the two musicians are able to leave as the charity will have to do some fundraising as money was lost when fees and flights were earlier cancelled. "It will probably be the autumn when we manage to gather enough money together and get cheap enough flights ", said Perry in an interview.

Jyothi grabbed the world's attention in 2 when she sang onstage at Vision India's Ability Fest. A video of her signing went viral, inspiring viewers around the world. Within six months the video captured 1.2 million and caught the attention of award winning composer, G.V. Prakash. Jyothi ca also play the piano and violin and she is a music teacher.

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