Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What price 44 Indian labourers?

Many years ago in the United Kingdom a veteran news editor explained to me his rule for judging the weight he gave to stories on any given day.

A pedestrian run over in the High Street outside the office equalled 10 people killed in a gas explosion in another UK town.

That equalled 100 miners dead in a disaster in Germany and 1000 killed in an earthquake in China.

“Of course, if there was anyone from here killed in the Chinese earthquake we would give it much greater prominence,” he added.
I thought of this advice after reading an article by Indian journalist Shishir Gupta who is trying to remind the world that there are still 44 Indian labourers missing in northern Iraq since the Islamic State took over the territory more than two months ago.

Since then the Government in New Delhi has been making persistent but as yet futile efforts to discover their fate. Families have agonised first with reports that the labourers were all dead, then by apparent sightings of two of them.
Gupta has been told by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs that the reported sightings of two of the labourers in Mosul were difficult to confirm because the grainy picture showed them with beards.

This could be an indication that the mostly Hindu workforce had converted to Islam in order to avoid execution.

The Ministry official said further intelligence suggested the men were alive and being held in a cement factory on the outskirts of Mosul.
“In the absence of any bodies or pictures of executions, we will consider the men to be alive and will continue to seek their extradition,” the official said.

The world heard briefly of the Indians in the first hectic days of the Islamic State’s advance. Since then the horrifying pictures, first of a seven-year-old Australian boy holding up the severed head of a Syrian soldier, then the beheading of American journalist James Foley, have dominated news from the area.
The boy and his family are out of reach; Foley is dead. There is still some hope that 44 men, who went to work in Iraq to better themselves and their families, are still alive and can be saved.

While the American, British and Australian Governments are right to be outraged by the events of the past weeks, it is to be hoped they are not overlooking the plight of the labourers simply because they come from a country far away.  



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