By Ravinder Saini
Rohtak (Haryana), Oct 18 (IANS) At their wit’s end after appeals to everyone from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh downwards fell on deaf ears, families of four Indian sailors held captive by Somali pirates have found a saviour in Pakistani rights activist Ansar Burney, who has performed a similar role before.
Saying that they were “fed up” with the lethargy of the Indian officials, the distressed families recently met Burney, a former Pakistani federal minister for human rights, at a function in Laadpur village of Haryana’s Jhajjar district, about 30 km from Delhi, and appealed to him to come to their aid.
Burney was being felicitated by the Gulia khap (caste-group leaders) in the Jhajjar district of Haryana, as he had helped free some Indian sailors from the clutches of Somali pirates earlier.
Ravinder Gulia, one of those freed, is also a resident of Jhajjar.
“We can no longer believe the hollow assurances offered by union ministers, political leaders and senior functionaries of the government. That is why we would urge you, on humanitarian grounds, to step in and facilitate the release of our kin. You are the only person who can help us,” was the message conveyed to Burney.
The relatives said that Somali pirates had hijacked a Dubai-owned Nigeria-bound vessel MT Royal Grace on March 2 last year and taken 22 crew members, including 17 Indians, hostage. Three Nigerians, a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi were also on board.
“My younger brother, Sourav Kumar, 23, is among the 17 Indians kept hostage by Somali pirates. They seek a ransom of Rs. 7.5 crore. We met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj urging them to intervene and free my brother and the others, but despite their assurances, they appear to have washed their hands of the matter,” Mundresh of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh told IANS, expressing confidence in Burney.
Lokdass Sahoo and his wife Kalyani, from near Raipur in Chhattisgarh, said: “We have done numerous rounds of union ministers in Delhi over the last two months seeking the safe release of our son Pritam Sahu (25), but we have got no help.”
A middle-age woman, Mehtab, from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh said: “My son Shahid Babu made a call some months ago and informed us that he along with 24 crew members have been held hostage by Somali pirates.”
Ansar Burney said: “The kin of four Indian sailors had met me during the International Sadhbhawna function at Laadpur village. They sought my cooperation and help for the safe release of their kin after narrating the whole story. The families, who are under immense distress, also showed me some documents pertaining to the case.”
“I have not made any commitment about safe release of their kin. But I shall make sincere efforts to get them freed from Somalian pirates. I will approach higher authorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria to seek help in facilitating the safe release of captive sailors as people from those countries too have been held hostage,” he added.
Ravinder Gulia’s wife Sampa Arya now runs an NGO, Sailor Relief Fund.
“I have also started working for the safe release of captive sailors from the clutches of Somali pirates. I have gone through the documents that the sailors’ kin have made available,” she said.
“Since 17 of the captive sailors are from India, we will try to mobilise all the sailors’ kin to urge the government to secure their safe release and fight Somali pirates,” Arya added.
(Ravinder Saini can be contacted at email@example.com)