On June 28, Kauchal Pandia, a 35-year-old Indian-origin businessman in Mozambique, was heading home after having lunch at a restaurant in the capital city of Maputo. A few minutes after he stepped out of the restaurant, a vehicle pulled over, three armed men dragged him into the car and fled, said local reports.
According to members of the Indian community in this East African country, Mozambique is not new to such crimes, which is mostly motivated by ransom. But what worries them the most is that such kidnappings are reportedly on the rise among the Indian diaspora, mostly business persons and their children.
Incidentally, Kauchalâ€™s father, Kishore Kumar Chota Lal, was also kidnapped for ransom in January 2014. He was reportedly abducted by four men and released a few weeks later after his family paid the ransom.
Various Indian associations in the country told TNM that the kidnappings of Indian and Indian-origin businessmen started around 2008. These crimes surged last year. Five Indians have been kidnapped within a span of six months this year alone. Kauchal is the fifth abductee.
â€śKauchalâ€™s kidnapping has jolted the Indian diaspora here because it was only last month that another prominent Indian businessman named Rizwan Adatia was released by his abductors, thanks to the intervention of the Indian government,â€ť said Vidya Abhilash, a resident of Mozambique. She is also a member of the Loka Kerala Sabha, a body of legislators and parliamentarians in Kerala and representative of Malayali associations around the world.
Rizwan Adatia, the chairman of a large commercial group and a well-known philanthropist in Mozambique, was kidnapped on the outskirts of Maputo, on April 30.
Rizwanâ€™s kidnapping was widely discussed on social media in Mozambique as well as in India, where many know him for his charity. When it reached the Indian governmentâ€™s attention, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly spoke to Mozambique President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi.
After the Mozambique government intervened, the local police managed to nab the abductors and free Rizwan along with two more Indians who were held captive earlier, on May 20.
To all my supporters, I would like to express my profound gratitude and appreciation for the overwhelming messages of...Posted by Rizwan Adatia on Sunday, May 24, 2020
â€śSince both the governments had intervened, we thought we were safe, until another Indian was kidnapped a few days ago,â€ť said Vidya.
According to many Indian residents, the abductors have political connections in Mozambique. They allegedly target business people for money to fund their parties.
â€śThey (the kidnappers) put me in a bathroom and said they wanted money as they had unpaid debts,â€ť Rizwan said in a short press meet, days after his release. He also reportedly said that he never thought he would be held captive for â€śsuch a short timeâ€ť.
â€śMost of the survivors are traumatised to reveal what happened to them. Families are scared to come forward and speak out. While these survivors do not disclose anything, the abductors, when nabbed, reveal the kind of torture they mete out. Some are tied and beaten up to drive fear among the family of the abductee,â€ť said Vidya.
Dipankar Mahalanobis, president of the Indian Business Council Mozambique, said, â€śMany Indians are living in constant fear as family members are being kidnapped for ransom and the perpetrators are simply getting away with impunity. The longer we wait for Kauchalâ€™s safe return, the more we get concerned about his continued safety and the trauma inflicted on his family.â€ť
Since Rizwanâ€™s kidnapping received wide attention, the Mozambique government was forced to take action. While three abductors were nabbed by the police in Rizwanâ€™s cases, many other cases have not been reported to the police as families often end up paying the ransom to get their loved one released.
â€śFrequent kidnappings of Indian citizens and Indian origin people are affecting morale and creating panic among the Indian community,â€ť said a member of the Association of Malayalees in Mozambique.
Captain Jayendra Misra, president of General Assembly of Indian Business Council, told TNM in an email that the Indian diaspora has started a grassroots social media awareness campaign, a signature initiative and contacting senior Ministers at the Indian government and the local High Commission â€śand simply offering prayersâ€ť.
Following Kauchalâ€™s abduction, Congress MP (Member of Parliament) Shashi Tharoor, too, brought the matter to the attention of the Ministry of External Affairs.
â€śDrawing the attention of our capable colleagues in Ministry of External Affairs and Foreign Minister S Jaishankarâ€¦ India has often extended security to Mozambique; it would be ironic indeed if Indians felt insecure there. Urge our government to intervene strongly with the government of Mozambique.
Drawing the attention of our capable colleagues in @MEAIndia & Foreign Minister @DrSJaishankar. India has often extended security to Mozambique; it would be ironic indeed if Indians felt insecure there. Urge our Govt to intervene strongly with Govt of Moz. https://t.co/cBjqcaL8gkâ€” Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) June 30, 2020
Incidentally, it was only a few weeks before Kauchalâ€™s kidnapping that Narendra Modi had tweeted, thanking President Nyusi for â€śtaking care of the safety and security of the Indian community in Mozambiqueâ€ť.
Had an excellent talk with H.E. Filipe Nyusi, President of Mozambique on COVID-19 situation. I assured him of Indiaâ€™s continued support to Mozambique, including medical assistance to combat COVID-19.â€” Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 3, 2020
Yet, many fear that Indians are mostly the targets of these kidnappers.
â€śFearing for lives of self and family, many have left Mozambique, selling their businesses in distress. No government authority is coming to their rescue. The systematic targeting of the Indian community in Mozambique, which has a history of doing business in Mozambique for over five centuries, smells of conspiracy. No other ethnic community has endured as much threat of kidnappings as Indians have. Contribution of Indians to the Mozambique economy, culture and society is immense. Indians have lived in peace and cooperated with the government of Mozambique at all times and will continue to do so,â€ť wrote Umesh Menon, an entrepreneur, in his online petition to seek support from both the governments to ensure Kauchalâ€™s release and to ensure the safety of Indians.