By: Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra
Bahadur Singh, a 57-year-old sailor from Ranakapura village in Haryana, is among seven Indians who arrived in Mumbai last week after being held captive by Somalian pirates for four years.
Bahadur lacks confidence and gets restless when asked to recount his ordeal. The only thing he says with certainty is that he doesn’t have any respect for pirates. He was among the 15-member crew of Indians aboard M V Asphalt Venture, which was hijacked by Somalian pirates off the coast of Tanzania on September 28, 2010. Eight men were released in April 2011. The rest returned last week.
“I am eager to meet my 95-year-old mother. She prayed for me day and night,” said Bahadur. “After offering prayers at all temples, mosques and gurdwaras in Mumbai, I would like to meet her the first,” he added. He is also looking forward to seeing his two children,a 30-year-old daughter and a 27-year-old son.
Apart from Bahadur, Manjeet Singh (57), T B Unnikrishnan (57), George Joseph (60), Sohan Singh (45), Bhim Sen Singh (45) and Littton Daniston Anthony (27) are being guided by their Indian coordinator Chirag Bahri for the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme.
“At present, all of them are under mental trauma. The moment they are asked about what happened, they start crying. We are giving them psychological counselling here in Mumbai,” Bahri said.
Talking about the ill-fated day, Bahadur said, “We were travelling from Mombasa in Kenya towards Durban in South Africa when two speeding boats with almost 20 armed pirates entered from the rear of our ship. They forcibly took the carrier to Hardere Anchorage in Somalia.”
“I had seen scenes of kidnapping in movies, but it was actually happening to us. We suffered every day and every minute for the past four years,” he said. Describing the location where they were taken, he said, “It is named after the village, Hardere. We were kept in the forest where the chief of the troops named Sarafee Abdula-hi alias David had huge farms. It was like a fortress armed with 400-500 soldiers.”
He added, “Sarafee probably watched a lot of Hindi films. He used to tie our hands and legs. Then, they used to dance and fire in the air with their AK-47s. It was a horror. They threw me towards fire; I managed to save my face but my hands were completely burnt.”
Bahadur claimed the seven Indian sailors were initially told by Sarafee that he wanted 122 Somalian pirates held in Indian jails to be released, but later, ransom was demanded from the hostages’ families. “I was connected with my family and told to inform them that I will be freed if millions were paid,” Bahadur said.
“At times, we would cry for drinking water. We were on our knees for food. We hardly had water to bathe. We were given three litres and were asked to use it for three months. We used our torn clothes, t-shirts as underwear. The pirates hardly understood English. The soldiers guarding us would sometimes bring us rice. We were given only rice in the last year of captivity,” he said.
Singh, who picked up the pirates’ language during his time in captivity, said the experience taught him that any experience — good or bad — is an opportunity to learn.