“Sir, we hear intermittent gunshots. We don’t know when we will get a bullet. The city may fall any time at the hands of rebels. Please rescue us from here,” Bharat Gharami screamed in his cellphone the moment he noticed the call was from India.
Gharami, a resident of Chandipur village under Baduria police station in North-24 Parganas district, is one of the 15 men from West Bengal stranded at a university campus at Basra in strife-torn Iraq.
On being told that the caller was not a government official, but a reporter, Gharami, in a choked voice, said, they wanted to return to India but neither their employers, nor the Indian embassy was doing anything in this regard.
It was four months back that Gharami, a mason, along with 10 others, all construction workers, went to Iraq to work for Basra-based company Al-Manahel Al Mutaheda. Gharami, however, said that they were yet to be paid for their services. “We asked them repeatedly to pay us, but they kept delaying. We survived on whatever money we had brought from home. Now, as our lives are at stake we just want to go back. We have told them (the company) that we don’t want money but send us back. But they themselves are now running away. They told us to fend for ourselves. We have requested the Indian embassy through somebody but no help has reached so far,” Gharami told The Indian Express.
He claimed that at least 100 Indians from different states are among those stranded at the campus. “We hear sounds of gunshots. All kinds of rumours are flying thick and fast. We don’t know when we will be able to return home,” he said.
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The 10 others from Bengal who are stranded with Gharami are Bidhan Adhikari, Gobinda Adhikari, Gopal Nag, Sumangal Adhikari, Mithun Malakar, Krishna Sarkar, Shanouaj Sheikh, Ashim Howladar, Kshitish Biswas and Babulali Karikar.
Bharat’s cousin Ram Gharami wrote to West Bengal government Friday requesting it to take steps for the safe return of the people stranded in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the relatives of two persons from Nadia district, Khokan Sikdar of Tehatta and Samar Tikadar of Chapra, claimed that the duo have been taken hostage by rebels and demanded government help to secure their release.
“On June 13 we received a phone call from Khokhan saying that they have been taken hostage by some group and kept confined in a place. Since then we have not been able to contact him over phone,” Namita Sikdae, wife of Tehatta said.
Dipali Tikadar claimed that her husband Samar, who had gone to Iraq some two years ago, had been taken hostage by some people. “Since Sunday we have not been able to contact Samar over phone,” she said.
The women met Nadia District Magistrate P B Salim following which GDE entries were lodged with at Tehatta and Chapra police stations.
“We believe Khokan and Samar are among the 40 Indians who had been kidnapped by rebels,” an official of the state government told The Indian Express.