Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Highway Deaths in a Foreign Land. Who Cares?

Three Nepali nationals being horribly killed on-the-spot when a car hit them on the Shaikh Isa bin Salman Road, near Adhari, on Friday, was heart-rending news. (Click here, for news items in Daily Tribune and Gulf Daily News )

Unfortunately, they do not have families in Bahrain to mourn for them; like those poor six girls who died in another accident horror just a few weeks ago.

Thousands of miles away, in a Himalayan country, their loved ones must be still in a shock and daze at the news of these deaths. Three different families must be mourning the deaths of their sons who left their homes to earn a few dinars more. And what they got in return was horrific deaths on a highway, in a strange country.

From there, in Nepal, the families cannot easily complain to anyone in Bahrain. And even if they complain, the question is, will it bring them back to life? No.

But I am very upset that these poor workers had to cross a road to catch their company transporation, or to go to their accomodation, on a busy highway with high-speed vehicles.

Couldn't the company not have dropped them, or picked them up, from a safer place? Is it not the responsibility of the company to ensure the safety of their workers even if it was after work-hours?

Should the workers not be discouraged to cross roads over dividers on highways? Who will now compensate their families for the sudden deaths of their breadwinners?

And should the car driver, who is now in critical condition at the hospital, feel the pangs of guilt all his life? Who is responsible for the mental trauma that the loved ones of the dead, and the injured driver, are now suffering from? Who?

I think these are points that all employers must ponder on, and act upon. I think these are lessons to learn, by all companies using different transportation vehicles for picking and dropping workers from accident prone places.

If it was in some other countries, the labour legislations such as Workmen's Compensation Acts would apply, which could have got the bereaved families some compensation. But Bahrain is way behind when it comes to legislating and implementing workable labour laws on matters such as these - especially if they have to protect expatriates.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Keralite Fishermen's Killings : Response to my earlier post

The Italian marines held in Kerala at a guest house.
A couple of my friends - who read my recent letter in Daily Tribune (Friday, 2 March) - a copy of the letter is posted here - on the controversy surrounding the killings of two fishermen on February 15, by the marines of an Italian ship, Enrica Lexie , off the coast of India’s southern state, Kerala – called me to say they are very upset with my views.

They said that I have hurt, in particular, the large Syro Malabar Catholic community here, in Bahrain, with my words; and that they would write against it. When I explained my position and clarified my views, they seem to have understood that I meant no harm.

But this letter is being written to clarify my stance further so that people do not misunderstand me, and also to preempt untoward exchanges from appearing in print.

Let me explain the background first. In my narration of the series of events that led to increased controversy – which includes the now latest opposition- walkout from Kerala Assembly on Monday, 5 March 2012 – I had listed the killings of the fishermen mistaken for pirates, the detaining of the Italian ship at the Cochin seaport, the arrest of the Italian marines, the clarifications given by the Italian ambassador, and the meeting of the Indian and Italian foreign ministers.

And I had also mentioned that Major Archbishop Mar George Alencherry, the Indian bishop from Kerala who is just ordained as Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI on February 18, said something in Rome to Agenzia Fides, the Vatican's official news agency, which has also become a controversy.

When answering a question, the cardinal said, "I will remain in close contact with the Catholic ministers of Kerala and I hope that they will help pacify the situation” I am sure he did not mean any ill, and he did not speak as if on behalf of Italy, against India. But certain sections of media, and especially an article in India’s leading news magazine, India Today, questioned his loyalty to India.

I did not say that the Cardinal said anything wrong in my letter. I only made the implication that his words were made into a controversy. But apparently some of the Daily Tribune readers have misunderstood my narration of what happened, as if it was my opinion. It was not my opinion.

Here, I must mention that the Cardinal was serving as the head of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church which is India's largest and richest Catholic Church with 3.7 million members - a huge number of which is in Bahrain - when he was chosen by the Vatican to join an elite group of 213 cardinals which elects the next successor to the 84 year-old Pope.

Let me clarify that I firmly believe that whatever the learned cardinal had said was said with all good intentions. And I fully understand that, and I respect that.

This was also published in Daily Tribune on 9 March 2012 

Friday, March 02, 2012

It's Kerala versus Italy now

The ship detained at Kochi (Cochin).
An interesting legal war is going on between a tiny state of India, Kerala, and the mighty European country, Italy; and whether it will escalate into a full blown diplomatic stand-off between India and Italy is a matter for speculation.

But since February 15, when two Indian fishermen were shot dead by the marines of the Italian ship, Enrica Lexie, off the coast of Kerala, we can see this issue getting more and more controversial by the day.

Immediately, when the news of killings was relayed by fishing boats to the Indian coast guard, they and other Indian authorities had swung into action, and forced the Italian ship to move into Kerala’s Cochin sea port where it has been detained since.

Two Italian marines were arrested and are still held, pending decision by the courts. But which court will try them? Kerala court? Indian court? Or an International Court? That is a small part of the controversy.

When originally summoned by the Indian foreign minister, the Italian Ambassador to India, Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte called the incident "very sad", but defended the marines of Enrica Lexie, saying the fishing boat failed to respond to warning signals and adopted a "hostile posture, typical of pirates.”

But the Indian authorities say that the Italian Navy personnel had no reason to mistake the fishermen as pirates as the boat can be seen carrying only their fishing nets and the fish; not any firearms or any other weapons.

Now, with the Kerala High court telling the Italian Ship’s owner to deposit 3 Crore Rupees (about 613,000 US dollars), as possible compensation for the victims’ families) if it wants the vessel to be released, it is hoped that the families of the fishermen are somewhat appeased.

Though the foreign ministers of the two countries, SM Krishna of India and Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata of Italy, had met in India this week and discussed this, among others, they were unable to resolve the issue of the trial of the arrested marines.

Addressing a joint press conference after their meeting, the two ministers had re-stated the positions of their respective countries. Italy is insisting that the incident should be tried according to international laws since it took place in international waters. India, however, maintains that since the incident involved an Indian vessel and those killed were Indian nationals, the two Italians would be tried under Indian laws.

To complicate matters, Cardinal George Alencherry – India’s newest Roman Catholic cardinal – who was in Rome for his investiture  by the Pope said some words that have upset the fishermen community.

In an interview to Agenzia Fides he said that “In the episode (fishermen’s killings), of course, there were errors, since the fishermen were mistaken for pirates. But the point is another: it seems that the opposition party wants to take advantage of the situation and exploit the case for electoral reasons, speaking of ‘Western powers’ or the ‘will of American dominance’.” And it also quoted him assuring the Italians that he will speak to Indian ministers to help resolve the issue peacefully.

So, why is the cardinal from Kerala, talking for Italy? Is he an Italian or Is he an Indian? That became a controversy. And the fishermen are now miffed. Particularly, because the fishermen killed were said to be catholic.

Well, what is the next course of action for the families of the victims, and for the marines who are now in custody? We do not know.

I am actually glad at the tough Indian stand, considering the way India has always been known to pander to western nations' whims and fancies, even when it is not in our favour.

There does not seem to be any quick, clear solution, in the immediate future. But one good way forward would be for the Italian shipping company to give an out-of-the-court compensation to the bereaved families, and apologize for the killings.