For three Karnataka-based men of the semi-nomadic Hakki Pikki tribal community from Hunsur in Mysuru, basic food required to sustain life are running out fast as they are holed up in the south-east African nation of Mozambique. Madhuchandra Jailor, Praveen Kumar Rajesh and Saiju Papchaery were part of a 16-member group from Mysuru district that had gone to Mozambique to apparently sell herbal medicines and oils three to four months ago. While 13 members returned, the trio was detained by authorities in Nampula province fr further questioning after it was found that their visas were "fraudulent".
Now, neither can they return to India nor can they work in the foreign nation legally as their passports have been confiscated by the Mozambique authorities. Based on further investigation, they found evidence of corruption by some immigrant officials of the Mozambique government. The matter was given to the Anti-Corruption Bureau there.
Due to the intervention of the Indian consulate, 13 members of the team, including nine women have returned to India. But the three were detained as the officials suspect the former have information that is vital to our investigation. Though it has been months since the detention, the investigation has not proceded.
“We can hardly manage food for the next week with the amount of money left to us. The water that we get here is too salty but we don’t have money to get water from other sources,” says Madhuchandran. He adds they can hardly leave home in fear of being picked up by police.
Saiju says he has been in other neighbouring African nations before to cater to the Indian communities living there and was hoping to form a network for their business.
However, contrary to some media reports, the three men are not in jail.
Speaking to TNM, Anil Kumar, Head of Chancery and SS (Consular) at the Indian Consulate in Maputo, “They are not in jail but they are not allowed to leave the country. Three to four months ago, a group of 16 persons from Karnataka travelled from Malawi to Mozambique on a business visa. When their visiting visa expired, they wanted to get their visas extended but were allegedly misled by some locals, who convinced them they could arrange for a residence permit in exchange of Rs 16,000 per passport. Hence, they (Mozambique) are saying that they need the three to be in the country until investigations in this matter are over.”
He added, “We are trying our best to support them. Although Mozambique’s External Affairs Ministry is ready to let them go, their Internal Affairs Ministry has signalled otherwise. We are aware what the family members are going through and they are seeking help from many quarters but we cannot do more from the diplomatic side. We have arranged a free accommodation for them and we can further assist in terms of ration and other things.”
On October 11, Indian officials are set to meet the Anti-corruption Bureau officials on this matter. Officials are trying to persuade their counterparts to allow them to deported and give statements at the Mozambique High Commission in India if required.
Back home, Madhuchandra’s brother and others have tried to gather support from wherever they could. Some have urged Bengaluru Rural MP DK Suresh to write to Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to expedite their return.
Madhuchanndran’s brother, Shiva told TNM, “They have kept them there for four months now after telling everything will be over in 14 days. We are not criminals; check our records thoroughly. It is true we are not well educated but we don’t indulge in illegal dealings.”
Madhu Bhusan, a social worker who has done extensive studies on the community and is currently helping the family, said that the allegation of the trio’s attempts to get a permanent work permit through illegal means is not true.
“They had approached the immigration authorities on May 21 in Manica City, Chimoio, for an extension of their visa. The officer-in-charge offered to extend their visa for a year, during which they could travel in and out of the country, which they accepted. They did not know that this was a work permit,” she said.
The Hakki Pikkis tribe, originally known for their bird hunting skills, had adopted other forms of livelihood since the 1970s after the practice fo bird hunting was outlawed. For years now, they roam around the country and do small-scale businesses of selling herbal oils for massages.
Madhu added, “The Hakki Pikkis are a nomadic tribe who are known to travel extensively both through India and abroad to sell their medicinal oil for massages and hair growth. They are not educated and literate, and therefore are vulnerable to a lot of fraud and exploitation that happens in the course of their travel. It is requested that the matter is looked at in a sympathetic light and that they are released and sent back to India to their families as soon as possible.”