| Sukhdev’s parents Sher Singh and Jaspal Kaur at their home in Makrauna Kalan village in Punjab’s Ropar district. AFP file picture
New Delhi/Chandigarh, Aug. 29: Indians are ready to die to work in Iraq.
A group of 50-60 truck drivers met the ambassador in Kuwait, Swash Pawan Singh, on August 22 and submitted a memorandum demanding that the ban on Indians working in the strife-torn country be lifted.
The truckers even offered to give in writing that the government would not be to blame if they are kidnapped or killed.
Over a month ago, three Indians — Antaryami, Tilak Raj and Sukhdev Singh — were kidnapped in Iraq along with four other truck drivers. All seven were employed by Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company, which has had to stop operations in Iraq to negotiate their release.
Soon after, the Centre issued a travel advisory asking citizens not to go to Iraq till the situation improves. This was followed up by a ban on Indians going to Iraq for work.
Aware that many use Kuwait and Jordan to sneak into the troubled country — where they are paid much higher — the government also requested the local authorities to ensure that Indian passport-holders did not cross over.
But Delhi is now facing rising pressure from the truckers and their Kuwaiti employers to lift the ban. A few days ago, a Kuwaiti transport company that had recruited a large number of Indian drivers threatened to cancel their employment agreement and dump them at the Indian mission if the ban was not revoked.
Authorities in India have made it clear to the company, PWC, that its threat violates the pre-employment agreement. Any Indian recruited by a foreign company has to be paid an economy class air ticket to and from India by the employers, they pointed out. If the contract is scrapped mid-way, the employers have to provide a return economy class air ticket, the authorities said.
A number of other Kuwaiti transport companies, who are making huge profits by providing supplies to the Americans in Iraq, had recruited Indians to drive their trucks. According to a rough estimate, nearly 60 per cent of the drivers are Indians.
The Indian drivers, who pay lakhs to travel agents — often selling their land or running up debts — for a job abroad, want the ban lifted so they can repay their loans faster.
Even in the wake of the kidnapping that has gripped the attention of the entire country, the number of youths making a beeline for dubious travel agents has not dipped.
Till August 1, the regional passport office in Chandigarh had received over 200,000 applications, a figure much higher than last year, with most of the aspirants coming from the middle and lower middle income groups with no job or prospects.
Police said, in Punjab alone, nearly 25,000 youths are at any given time in touch with travel agents for jobs abroad. “There is nothing we can do to stop them from meeting the fake agents. They are forever lining up to pawn everything their families possess for a job ticket. It is a social problem. The travel agents exist mainly due to the demand,” a senior officer said.
Sher Singh, the father of hostage Sukhdev, anxious to have his son freed, expects KGL not to sack him after his release. “Otherwise, how would we be able to repay our debts'” he asks.
Officials in Delhi have made it clear that the ban on Indians working in Iraq cannot be lifted unless the situation there improves.
“If some more Indian truckers are kidnapped in Iraq, it is the government which will be held responsible, not the drivers,” a senior official said. “If that happens, do you think anyone will be interested in knowing that these Indians had flouted the guidelines given by us'”