KATHMANDU, June 24: The killing of 13 Nepali security guards in Kabul comes as a grim reminder of the perilous neighborhood in which we’re living.
In the poor neighborhood of Delhi, the community of rag-pickers does a wonderful job, something that would put the municipal authorities to shame who despite hundreds of crores of rupees of budget keep Delhi as dirty as ever. The rag-pickers come early morning and through the day, different member of the family at different time of the day, and wade through the filthy moulds of garbage to pick empty plastic bottles and other recyclable items for a living. Bright small children, aged ones, women and men – they all work in the same business and work in tandem. These rag-pickers are active in the profession for more than three four decades. They are Bangladeshi migrants.
The story of Nepali security guards in India is only a bit better. They are also in the business for decades. They remain awake all through the night--walking and blowing whistle. They are also in offices, at ATMs, shops, parking lots—almost everywhere, from metropolis down to small towns.
As the coffins of 12 dead workers arrive in Kathmandu from Kabul, the mourning is heard in nearly 35 percent households in rural Nepal from where 3.5 million Nepalis go abroad for work. The coffins are a deadly reminder of the perils that foreign employment is all about for migrant workers in the region. Employed in low-level menial jobs, Nepali workers send remittances to the tune of $5 bn a year, which is a quarter or so of the Nepal’s annual GDP. Nearly 90 percent of this workforce is men, who leave behind a happy family back home before heading for foreign destinations for work. While the work abroad is fraught with dangers of all kinds, family back home has to undergo social and emotional problems.
From physical abuse and torture to denial of basic rights, foreign employment for these migrant workers is synonymous with everything wrong. Of late, the war in Iraq, Syria, Libya has shrunk the job market for unskilled and semi-skilled workers considerably, forcing migrant workers to choose Afghanistan as a destination, which is no less dangerous but a neighboring country. You have a certain level of confidence when you visit a neighboring country, don’t you?
In this climate of hostility in major parts of the world, a war-ravaged but neighboring country might have looked a safer bet for the Nepali security guards. But desperate, trigger-happy Taliban fanatics would allow no such confidence to take root in Afghanistan. So, the massacre.
But despite such grave loss, the Kabul massacre of Nepali workers is more a tale of Afghanistan’s utter failure to restore normalcy in the country than a matter of sorrow for Nepali workers who have made quite a reputation as a professional workforce all over the world. Successive governments in Afghanistan have been helpless in front of mindless violence in the country.
This massacre once again highlights the perilous neighborhood in which we are living and some of its vexed problems that refuse to die away. Despite inflicting colossal damage to environment and economy and ravaging the lives of millions of people, the problem does not seem anywhere close to an end.
For India, constant threat from militants based across the border is an everyday painful reality; it’s been hurting India for far too long. That these militants are a bigger menace to their own countries is also now well established. Remember the Fidayin attack on an army school in Pakistan.
The bottom line is unless a strong force of economic prosperity takes the country fully in its sweep, condition in Afghanistan and a large part of terror-hit Pakistan will not improve any time soon. And bringing that prosperity is a tough call given the ground situation, where even innocent, innocuous, unarmed or negligibly-armed private security guards are being killed, leave alone other high value individuals.
On May 6, the American Embassy in Kabul had issued a fresh advisory to its citizens in the country asking them to be specially wary of kidnapping attempts. It said there were multiple attempts of kidnapping including one involving its citizen.
Migrant workers are the harbingers of hope in these countries at an extremely hopeless time. They are the ones who take up the toughest job of believing, acting and delivering as if everything is normal in the country. They lay the foundation of a better and brighter tomorrow that only they have the courage to imagine for Afghanistan in the current situation. They should not have paid with their lives for lending their hands to the nation’s desperate bid at rebuilding and reconstructing itself.
As major economic players of the region, countries like China, India and Pakistan should recognize the contribution of migrant workers in a fitting manner.
The good part of the Nepali migrant workers’ story is that out of 3.5 million, almost half of them work in India. But they work in India without an identity, outside the government’s data base, unsung and without a union or association worth a mention.
Bangladeshi rag-pickers’ story is no different. They too need to be recognized for the work they have been rendering, unsolicited and unsung. Condolences for dead Nepali workers will hold meaning only if the governments in the region accept the importance of migrant workers and put in place a mechanism that ensures that the trend of migrant workers is encouraged, their rights are protected, due compensation is paid and they are officially recognized for their work and contribution by the host country. Above all, their safety and security should be everyone’s concern.
(The writer is a Delhi-based journalist having worked in Kathmandu including with Republica)