All the joy with which I returned from the 7 pm show of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Tuesday evaporated when I switched on the TV. The 10 pm news programme was nearing the end and the anchor quoted a Reuter despatch to say that the Indian worker in Afghanistan, M R Kutty, abducted on Saturday by Taliban terrorists, had been killed. The channel ran footage of Kutty's wife weeping inconsolably, hugging her child. It was an extremely disturbing sight. The rejoinder that neither the governments of India nor Afghanistan had any confirmation was no solace, for rarely have such claims been proved wrong.
And, indeed the claim was right. On Wednesday, his beheaded body was found on roadside.
In December 2002, two Indians were kidnapped. At that time the governments at the highest levels got involved, the official machinery moved much faster to establish contact with the abductors and the captives were released after 19 days. This time, nothing of that sort was in evidence. It appeared just no one was bothered. Delhi administration was too preoccupied with Bihar election.
Delhi not being bothered about one distraught family in far-away Kerala isn't so surprising, but couldn't Kerala be bothered about its native? Its government was so shamefully dormant, made no attempt to take an initiative to save Kutty. Officials were more bothered about diplomatic proprieties and niceties, saying that since Kutty worked for a central government organisation and since he was posted abroad it was the duty of the Centre to resolve the issue. So much for the value of life and work.
Kutty's death was unlike any other. He risked his life by being in the place where he was. He was there not to push any ideology. He was there to earn a living, to support his family. He was a worker, but unlike any of us, chose to serve the nation (he worked for a central government organisation) in a very dangerous place.
Yet it is a pity that his employers (the government) showed no interest in the crisis. Journalists in Delhi had to contact the Indian high commission in Kabul to get details of the worker, so much cut off and indifferent were the people at the ministry of external affairs in Delhi. India should have taken the threat seriously, given that in August two British workers had been killed. There was no attempt made to contact the abductors.
Now what is the status of other workers of the Border Roads Organisation in Afghanistan? What security do they have? How unsafe are they? Are their lives also so cheap like Kutty's and ready to be gifted away to terrorists.
Terrorism is like any other crime in our society. What makes it news is its gigantic proportion and devastating reach and impact. Terrorism has always been there, and will continue to be there in one form or the other. Even countries like the US, which have a national policy not to negotiate with terrorists, have well-structured backroom channels to deal with the menace. Recently, I read somewhere how Indian private companies, mainly IT companies, have tied up with global insurance agents, to deal with terrorists, if and when a need arises, so that their employees are never harmed.
Like in a war, you never want the enemy to get the upper hand. You don't want them to walk away victorious. Nothing should be done to give the impression that terrorism has won. Contacting terrorists doesn't mean giving into them. It's a method of engaging them.
Kutty was like a soldier on our borders. Life of workers like him is in the line of fire. Such workers are national heroes. Often their lives are lost, a sacrifice to uphold a larger good, a higher moral principle, a national interest. But what hurts greater than the loss of life is the way it was lost -- without making any attempt to hold on to it.
Kutty's life was lost without a fight.