When every door closes, the path of humanity opens up! This path has no bounds of caste, creed, color, or cult, no limits of country or borders. The truth that ultimately everything except vanishes and nothing but humanity pervades above all, is experienced.
The Consumers Forum Basrur attends to the problems of at least 50 people every day. Be it the bureaucratic treachery in extending the benefits of government schemes, treasons of various service providers, or the pains and losses suffered in the transactions with a company - each one of them has a different tale of injustice meted to them.
In every situation there is an aggrieved person, and an offender at the other end. Under such circumstances, it is customary for the Forum to guide the complainant how such problems can be dealt with; how to go about finding a solution to the problem, and advise how the Forum can aid them in the legal proceedings, if required.
Sometimes, the activists confront some extraordinary, bizarre cases, where injustice has been done but the offender is unknown! There is a problem; but who is responsible for it? who can be approached to mitigate the same? is a mystery. The activists feel utterly helpless. It is like searching a black cat, in a dark room, which is not there!
But they do put their best efforts. A kindly Light leads the way in the darkness. Some invisible, supernatural power seems to be guiding all through!
This is about a heart-rending case reported to the Forum, in December 1997. This finds more relevance at all times when communal riots take place in and around, across the country.
An aged person approached the Forum office that day. “My son is missing since two months. We did our best to find him but to no avail. Won’t you please help us?”, he pleaded. His son Shantharam who had been to Saudi Arabia a year ago had disappeared all of a sudden. There was no one to tell his whereabouts!
The elderly man was Mr. Nagappa Ganiga, who hailed from Shiroor near Bhatkala of Uttara Kannada Dist. He was an agriculturist. He also owned a piece of land but his income from agriculture was not sufficient to feed his big family. Three girls were married off but there were still two more girls. Hence naturally they were already deep in debts.
Shantharam flew to Gulf
Two of the older sons were school drop outs and were working in some hotels. The third son, Shantharam passed matriculation and started hunting for a job but could not get any suitable one.
At last he got a job in the Postal Department as non-departmental staff. This was something like slavery in the Government department but he decided to continue working there till he got some other decent job. After toiling there for 10 years he saw an advertisement of a job opportunity in a Company in Saudi Arabia. He applied for the job along with a few of his friends. Within a few days he was interviewed in Mumbai for the job. Thousands of applicants from other states had also appeared for the interview but Shantharam was the only candidate from Shiroor who got selected for the job.
In 1996 June, Shantharam got the visa to Saudi Arabia. He finally bid good bye to his postal slavery and flew to Saudi Arabia. Every month he wrote letters to his mother and his brother Subraya. He often made phone calls to his friends in Shiroor.
The Last Letter
Shantharam was unable to send any money even after one year of his stay in Saudi. One could observe from his letters that he himself was in trouble. On 03-08-1997 he had written to his father that he would send the money as soon as he received his salary. His parents waited and waited for the money but they neither got the money nor even a letter from Shantharam. His friends did not get calls any more. His family got worried.
Two months later a letter received from Saudi appalled them. The address on the letter was quite puzzling. It read, “To, The Heirs of Late Shantharam Ganiga”. Mr. Nagappa Ganiga approached everyone who knew English requesting them for the translation. All kept mum! How would they convey this old man that his young son was dead! Ultimately he was able to comprehend by everyone's silence that his son was no more. The letter was from an insurance company from Riyadh (General Organisation from Social Insurance, PO Box 878 - Riyadh – 11421 K.S.A) informing that 1000 Riyals were going to be released for the cremation of Shantharam. (File no. 4928-7). “How and when did he die? Where was the dead body? Had he been cremated?” None of these questions were answered.
Now a quest began to find answers to these queries. The family had not the slightest clue of what he did, where he worked and what he earned. They only knew that he worked in a place called Abha, a small village 800 km away from Jeddah, S.A. The Insurance Company which had written to Nagappa Ganiga, also did not have the details. What was his passport number? Which was the Company he worked for? Which agency had provided him the Visa to Saudi? Nobody knew the answers to these questions.
Hunt for the Information
How would the Forum Activists react to such cases? When they enquired with the people who had attended the job interview with Shantharam, they found that Shantharam had been to Saudi with the help of Al Hazrath Travel Agency in Mumbai. When they contacted the agency, they got the address and phone number of Shantharam Ganiga’s work place. (Mustir Saeed Pardan Al Qahtani, Sarat Abeeda, Main Road, Abha, K.S.A.)
When the activists contacted the number, except for a “Hello”, the rest of the response was all in Arabic! Efforts were made, to collect information with the help of people who knew Arabic. However, they could only get a reply, “Shantharam is dead, collect the insurance amount.”
What befell Shantharam?
Shantharam’s father could not fill the insurance form. It was asking for the date of Shantharam’s death, cause of death, place of death and other details. When the Ganiga family had learnt about Shantharam’s death by the letter of the Insurance Company, how would they fill up details of the form not at all known to them!
When all of Shantharam’s letters were studied, the following observations were made. What do you deduce from them?
“Dear Subraya, . . . . . Have you received any notice from Uppunda Finance? If I get my salary the next month, I’ll send as much money as I can. . . I am not in a position to do anything. . . I cannot talk of money for at least another two months. . . There is no happiness written in our fate. As if the hardships in my own place did not suffice, I came here. I don’t know what more misfortune I am yet to face! There is still unrest regarding salaries. . . With warm regards and blessings, your brother, Shantharam. “ – dated 23-7-96.
“Seeking blessings of you dear mother. . . I understand very well that the conditions at home must have worsened. I have left you all in the burden of my debts. I can’t even begin to explain my condition here! But please try and manage a little longer. It is hard for me to get even one meal a day. I have to spend 2 riyals on each letter I post. I don’t want to worry you with any more of my problems. It is all my fate. I am not happy here, and I could not do anything to support you all. . . God has no mercy on me! I hope to get my salary after 15-9-96. I’ll send the money as soon as I get it.” – dated 31-8-96.
“Hope all is well. . . . I shall work till the end of August. My salary is still pending! I will not be able to clear my debts even if I work here for 5 years. I may have to toil all my life. With all this in mind, I have planned to run away from here. But the police rules are very strict here. The rest is left to destiny. Hope God opens his eyes! If you are writing do write soon. This is all driving me crazy. I have no desire to live anymore! But when I think of my dear ones, and the adversities we are facing, I am trying to brave the pain and bear the burden” – dated 3-8-97.
Nonchalant Indian Embassy!
By this time, 20 days had passed by. There was no news of Shantharam’s cremation. As per Indian customs, the family would not take any food, until the last rites were performed. Finally, Nagappa Ganiga wrote a letter to the Indian Embassy in Jeddah, S.A, giving all the information about Shantharam. He also requested them to hand over the dead body if his son was dead. Yet, there was no reply.
Letters were also written to the Indian Embassy at Riyadh and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry in Delhi, by the then Member of Parliament from Udupi, Mr. Oscar Fernandes. Two more weeks passed by.
Meanwhile, Nagappa Ganiga rang up to the Indian Embassy at Riyadh, for more than 20 times. In response he could hear only the arrogant admonitions of the officers , but not a word of consolation. Once he was even rebuked, “Have we compelled your son to come to Saudi?”
When he repeatedly called the Indian Embassy at Jeddah, he got the reply, “Send copies of Shantharam’s visa and passport. Let’s see what we can do.” Now how could poor Nagappa Ganiga supply what he did not possess!
Sensing that he could not move a straw from his small town, he sent his older son to Mumbai. But he was not allowed to enter the Saudi Embassy in Mumbai. “Look man, we are not the concerned to solve this problem. You should get it done from your Indian Embassy in Saudi.” they said.
They were suggested to consult the advocates in Mumbai and try if the information of Shantharam could be collected through law courts. No advocate accepted the case. This was something novel!
Now even the activists had reached a dead end! They did know how to proceed, or whom to contact. Now that they were certain that the Indian Embassy and the Government officials would not render any help, the only option left was to approach and organize the Indian youths in Saudi Arabia. BUT HOW????
Some one proposed to appeal to the Kannada associations. But that would take more time. One of the activists came up with an idea. How about communicating through the popular column of ‘Udayavani’, the local Kannada daily, Bahujana Hitaaya Bahujana SuKhaya, by Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag! The Daily had its circulation and readers in Saudi.
The Article in Bahujana Hitaaya
An article was instantaneously published on the Christmas Day, 25th December 1997, with the caption “Gulf Kannadigare Shantharama Yenada ballira?” (Oh Gulf Kannadaigas, do you know what befell Shantharama?). An effort was made to alert the youths of the district.
“All our attempts have failed! It is four months since we received Shantharam’s last letter. We lost hopes of getting any help from the Indian Embassy. His aged parents are still awaiting their son’s return. They are hanging on to hear at least the news of his cremation. Could you please do something?”, it was requested in the article.
It was a great surprise to the Forum, to see the response of our youth in Saudi. More than 100 letters and fax messages flew across the sea within a week. The first amongst them to write was Abdul Aziz of Katipalla. Next followed the letter from Abbas of Uchchila. Then fax messages started pouring in. Mohammad Iqbal from Jodu Maarg, Pervez Ali from Mangalore, Yaakub Ismail from Bajpe, Gopalakrishna from Bolara, Cyril John D’Souza from Ullal, Abdul Gafoor, Abdul Majid, Hussain from Katipalla , Rehaman from Kinnigoli - everybody asked the same thing “ Please send the details of Shantharam. We will look for him.” The amazing point was more than 90 % of the people who offered help to find the Hindu boy Shantharam were Muslims who hailed from the places of Dakshina Kannada district where communal riots were taking place during this time.
When every door closes, a path of humanity opens up! This path has no bounds of caste, creed, colour, cult, no limits of country or borders. The truth that ultimately everything except human conscience vanishes and nothing but humanity pervades above all, was experienced.
As it was difficult to reply each and every one of them, the contact number and address of all those who responded were typed in a letter and sent to four of them. “All these people in the list are eager to know about Shantharam. Is it possible for you to associate with them and do something?”, the Forum enquired.
All the youths irrespective of caste, creed, or colour united together, within 48 hours. They approached our embassy at Riyadh and Jeddah and staged their protest against the passivity of the embassy in Shantharam’s case. Finally the officials of the embassy were forced to contact the Forum and ask for the details of Shantharam.
How did Shantharam die!
Shantharam was working in a farm, in a village called Abha. On 12th August, 1997, Shantharam was repairing a water pump near a well. Due to a sudden voltage surge, he suffered an electric shock and fell into the well.
The first person, who dashed to his rescue, was Abdul Rehman, a 26 year old Pakistani youth. He immediately plunged into the well and brought Shatharam up. All others assembled there took him out of the well. His heart was beating; Shantharam was still alive! There was no hospital nearby, and no means of transport. Hence, Rehman carried Shantharam on his shoulders, and ran all the way to hospital, 1.5 km away. But it was too late! Shantharam had breathed his last by they reached hospital!
Does humanity have any bounds of caste, creed race or religion?
Committee to trace the body!
In the mean time, a youth named Shashi, who lived in a place called Khamis Mushayath, 1200 km away from Riyadh, contacted Udayavani Office at Manipal, and assured, “The Indian Embassy will not be able to help. We will find a way out.” The Forum supplied all the information they had.
On the same day, about 12 youths gathered in a firm called Saudi Caterers, and formed a committee in the mission of search for Shantharam. Within 48 hours, they travelled 800 kms to a village called Abha. On their inquiries at the farm where Shantharam worked, they were guided to a government hospital another 20 km away. There in the morgue lay the forsaken body of Shantharam!
Now was the task of sending Shantharam’s body back to India. They shared among themselves the different tasks which were at hand. Jayakodi, a youth from Sri Lanka, immediately brought Shantharam’s employer, Sayil Al Kahatani to Saudi Caterer’s Office in Khamis Mushayath.
They had to run errands to the booking office of the airport to arrange for the deporting of Shantharam’s body. Nazir Khan and Gohuroor Rehman took this responsibility. Would you believe that these youths were from Pakistan!
The most difficult of all was, getting the things done in the government offices. Only those who knew Arabic and were quite influential in the government sector could do this! The Area Supervisor of Saudi caterers, Micheal Ayub of Lebanon and a Saudi citizen Nader Mohammad bore this responsibility.
Five other youths working in the same firm, hailing from Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka – Mohammed Iqbal of Jodu Maarg, Cyril John D’Souza of Ullal, Yakoob Ismail Bawa of Bajpe, Ahmed Shareef of Kotekaar, Moidin Hajmath of Haleyangadi, joined the committee as aids.
The body was found, arrangements were made to deport it, but who is to bear the cost of 1.5 lakh rupees? Nagappa Ganiga was already impoverished! Apart from the old debts which were mounting up due to the expenditure of Shantharama’s Gulf visit, he had spent another Rs 20000, in the last four months in the search for his son.
Dr Shanbhag wrote to Shashi, the convener of the Committee relating the financial crisis of the Ganiga family. The Forum also felt very helpless. The next day there was another fax from Shashi, “Please don’t worry about the expenses. We will collect the required fund from our companions. Please send the power of attorney in Arabic or English, to take possession of the dead body from the hospital.”
The power of attorney signed by Nagappa Ganiga was prepared instantly. The Maulwi Abul Hassan of Arabic Institute in Mangalore helped in translating all the required documents to Arabic. He also coordinated with the officials in Saudi Arabia for settlement of the insurance money to the family.
Everything went well after that! Ten months after the death of Shantharam, his body arrived at Bajpe Airport, Mangalore. Activists of the Forum arranged for the delivery of the body to Shiroor.
An envelope with a letter signed by all the youths who took part in the mission, was sent with the body. The letter read, “Dear Mr Shanbhag, we are entrusting the body of Shantharam to you. Would you kindly deliver it to his parent? We have also enclosed a demand draft for Rs. 33,000, being the balance out of the funds collected towards the expenses of transportation. Please hand over this amount to Mr Ganiga with over condolences. May God bless you!”
Dear readers, please think over! What bond did these Muslim boys share with Shantharam? What blood relation brought them together? If this can be explained and understood, there would not be any communal fights on this land! Don’t you agree?
(translated from 'Bahujana Hitaaya, Bahujana Sukhaya' by Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag)
(translated from 'Bahujana Hitaaya, Bahujana Sukhaya' by Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag)