A 50-second video by Gopal Das from Tripura had gone viral two years ago. In it, Das had expressed his suffering while being trapped in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Gopal Das, from Barpathari village in South Tripura district, had gone to Riyadh seeking work and taken up a truck driver’s job. He claimed in the video that he had not received salary for six months and was being tortured by his employer whenever he asked for payment. Das appealed to the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to rescue him.
He had taken shelter in a garage after he was sacked from his job and kicked out of the house. There, he had made the video and uploaded it on social media, besides sending it to his wife.
Within a week, he was rescued from Riyadh and sent to Agartala with the help of India’s external affairs ministry. After getting a phone call from Das, his wife met state BJP leaders and they spoke to then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who took the initiative and brought Gopal back to India soon afterwards.
Gopal’s wife and mother are still grateful to ‘Sushmaji’. They said they would always remember her and that it was only because of her initiative that Gopal was back home even after they had given up all hope of Gopal’s life.
But Gopal was not the only one from Tripura who was brought back to the country with Swaraj’s help. Victor Shome, the BJP’s state media coordinator, said there had been at least 17 such cases in the past two years, where people had either died, or were stranded on foreign shores, and ‘Didi’ (Swaraj), as then external affairs minister, had intervened and ensured that these cases were duly attended to and every single stranded person brought back home.
Victor recalled memories of the past two years and said the party had given him the duty of coordinating these cases with ‘Sushmaji’, or the external affairs ministry, where people from Tripura were facing problems in foreign countries. Many of his other party colleagues also helped in these cases.
Victor said there were 14 cases of people dying on foreign shores — 12 of them in different Middle Eastern countries and two in Malaysia.
Victor said, “Didi always responded immediately when we talked to her about those cases. Even in times when the BJP had no MLA or MP from Tripura, she quickly acted on a complaint if she heard anybody was trapped abroad.”
Ashok Dhar, a musician from a village also tells the story of his 39-year-old younger brother, Alok, who went to Saudi Arabia looking for work, but was murdered there. Alok went to the Middle East in 2015 and worked there as a hotel boy. As soon as the family heard the news of his death, they rushed to Agartala and met CPI(M) and BJP leaders there. Ashok said he had met Manik Sarkar, then chief minister of Tripura, but, after getting little response, he went to Biplab Deb, the present Tripura chief minister, who assured him that his younger brother’s body would be brought back.
Alok’s 80-year-old father, Anil, added that he was bewildered when he heard of his son’s death with no trace of the body. Ashok recalled that Swaraj called him after a month and said they were trying to bring back Alok’s body. When it was brought back to Agartala nine months and six days after he died. Anil said he was able to see his son for one last time only because of ‘Sushmaji’s’ efforts.
Ashok broke down while speaking and said, “Sushmaji is like my mother.” He called her ‘Mataji’ and said, “If I’m reborn, I want to be her son.” Alok’s widowed wife, Mampi Dhar, a daily-wage labourer, said, “I heard Sushmaji has passed away. We shall be in her debt forever.” Alok’s only daughter, Mahuya, is a Class XI student, now. She sat beside her mother with tearful eyes while her mother spoke about her father and ‘Sushmaji’.
All the families helped by Swaraj remember her and say her memory will remain with them all their lives.