During COVID-19, stranded Indian migrant workers on foreign soil believe that if Sushma was alive, they would have got help on time
Am I the only one missing late Indian Minister of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during these times? No.
Many low skilled and poorly paid migrant workers who had migrated to the Arab Gulf countries in search of a job and are stuck there due to the Coronavirus without much help from anybody, are also badly missing Sushma.
The 750 Indian fishermen who are stranded in COVID-19-hit Iran without food and the thousands of Indians living in fear in the Arab Gulf countries where the virus is spreading alarmingly, feel that if Sushma was there, she would have reached out on time and helped them.
During my 10 years in the Arab Gulf as a journalist reporting on migration and migrant workers' issues, I have realised that migrant workers are often ignored, especially when care and help are needed during a crisis. Unfortunately, nothing has changed during these days of pandemic either.
As COVID 19 is spreading rapidly, infecting 5000 and claiming 36 lives in the Arab Gulf, the Indians there are worried. Many blue-collar workers still do not know what to do if they have COVID-19 symptoms or if they are infected.
There are 9 million Indian workers in the Arab Gulf and many are not in a position to buy even a mask or a sanitizer. If Sushma was alive, the situation would have been a different one, they say. Indian workers would have got help on time.
With experience gained in her five-decade-long political career, she has earned more respect from Indian migrant workers than any of her predecessors as external affairs minister.
By evacuating some 4000 Indians and even Americans from Yemen in 2015 when Saudi Arabian fighter jets were raining bombs, freeing 46 Indian nurses from terrorists in Iraq and rescuing Indian Catholic priest Tom Uzhunnalil from Yemeni terrorists, Sushma proved that the external affairs minister is a portfolio not just to talk diplomacy, but also to care for poor fellow countrymen when they need help on foreign soil.
In 2015, I could see and realise how Twitter and Sushma could help panicked and stranded people when the Yemen war broke out.
Several Indians stranded in Yemen were using Twitter to send an SOS and reach out directly to Sushma Swaraj. And she did not disappoint them. She proved that, yes there is a minister awake to help you.
Sabah Shawesh, a Yemeni woman, was among those who tweeted to the minister, saying she was a PIO cardholder.
“I am so scared for my 8 months son & myself,” she tweeted. The minister asked for her phone number and assured her of assistance.
An Indian, Mustafa Loka, asked Swaraj on Twitter why the flight that was supposed to take him and others home did not arrive. “We went to Sana’a airport and came back. What chance do we have now?” he asked.
“Awaiting clearance to fly in Yemen airspace. If no clearance received, we will evacuate you by ship reaching Hodeidah port on 4th midnight,” Swaraj replied from her official handle.
If the above mentioned were ‘high-profile’ cases which could garner media praise for her, Sushma was never reluctant in taking up cases of unknown, undocumented, low paid, low skilled, Indian migrant workers cases who were stranded in any part of the world.
In 2017, a Twitter user tried to poke fun at her saying he was stuck on Mars. However, she was not one to be perturbed by that. She wrote back, "Even if you are stuck on the Mars, Indian Embassy there will help you.”
The Mars rescue was a bit of banter. But by then she had shown the world and instilled faith among Indians in foreign soil that there is a minister who can bring back Indians even if they are stuck in Mars.
However, I have felt many times that Sushma extending help through her Twitter handle to 'rescue and airlift' stranded Indian migrant workers was appreciable but this would not help resolve the issues faced by migrant workers in the long run.
Yes, Twitter replies and retweets may help to resolve individual cases, but the issue of Indian migrant workers is much bigger than the few that achieve resolution.
However, having said that, stranded Indian migrant workers and I miss Sushma.
As mentioned in the beginning, the Indian fishermen in COVID-19-hit Iran believe that if Sushma was alive and minister, they would have reached home now.
And the Indian blue-collar workers in the Arab Gulf also believe that if Sushma was alive, they would have got the proper care and help during this time.
Her impassioned speeches at the UN revealed that she is a strong woman capable of protecting our nation’s interests. And back home, she cared for her fellow countrymen and those in foreign soil.
Both these qualities are being missed now. Some people are irreplaceable. Sushma is one such.
And many miss her. Especially those who are stranded on foreign soil.