The kick-off for the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar is eight years away and construction work at the stadia coming up is either at various stages or very much still on the design board. Yet, the temperature between the Gulf state and some European countries that have been extremely critical of Qatar’s hosting one of the most celebrated of all sports events has begun to rise. After corruption charges and concerns about the climate, fresh controversy has erupted over the death of hundreds of migrant workers, more than 500 of them being from India, allegedly at the frenetically busy construction sites.
The FIFA World Cup of 2022 is not only a momentous and celebratory occasion for Qatar but also for rest of the Arab world, which has rallied behind the rulers in Doha and shares their excitement. No wonder, it is being touted as an attempt to “bridge the gulf between the Arab world and the West”.
But, going by the present trend, it is anything but an endeavour at bridging the gulf between the two sides. An indication of this is found in recent reports by a number of leading western media that include The Guardian, the BBC and the French news agency AFP, highlighting the deaths of over 500 Indian workers, most of whom have allegedly died since 2012 at many of the Cup construction sites. The reports, backed by western human rights and labour organisations, have uncorked outrage, and have dragged India right to the centre of it.
Surprisingly though, in India, where the death of even one Indian national on foreign soil has the potential of raking up a political storm, the news of the deaths has almost gone unnoticed, without a debate or raucous demands from political parties for an explanation from the government.
“Overwhelmingly, these deaths are part of the normal rate of attrition and there is nothing to suggest that they are linked to construction activities,” MEA spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told Outlook. He added that, going by the figures of death of Indian workers even beyond this period (deaths in 2007-09 were 207, 269 and 262 respectively), there is no alarming increase in the numbers.
The ongoing controversy over the death of migrant workers is being seen in India and elsewhere as part of the brinkmanship that some European countries and Qatar seemed to have engaged in almost from the time the 2022 venue was announced. Initially, there were accusations hurled at Qatar that it had paid millions of dollars in bribes to key FIFA members to enlist their support and vote towards their bid to host the World Cup. Subsequently, questions were raised in the West about the inhospitable climate in Qatar—in the summer months, the traditional time when the tournament is played, temperatures rise till up to 50 degrees Celsius—in which players from colder climes will have to play. But despite these issues, FIFA seemed disinclined to rethink on its decision of awarding Qatar the tournament eight years down the line.
“It now seems that an attempt is being made by some of these European countries to fire their gun at Qatar from India’s shoulder,” says a senior South Block official.
Interestingly, the workers’ death figures that the Indian establishment furnished were the result of an RTI application filed by the AFP, demanding the same. Indian officials point out that the process began nearly three months back, soon after The Guardian reported the deaths of around 180 Nepalese workers in Qatar—Nepalese are the second largest migrant group there after Indians—last year.
“When they found that the death of Nepalese workers failed to have the desired effect, they decided to latch on to Indian workers and highlight their plight, using the annual death figures to give a distorted picture,” a senior Indian diplomat said.
But even if one understands India’s attempt to rally behind Qatar, what explains the silence of opposition political parties, especially when parliamentary elections are due in a few months? One reason could be that, unlike in the past, when most of the migrant workers in the Gulf were from Kerala, the numbers have spread to other states of India as well. Having realised the benefits that come from the Gulf—both in terms of potential destination for workers from their states as well as the remittance they send home—few would like to find fault with a matter of solid economic expediency. However, given the febrile political climate in India, abuzz with pre-poll overtures, declamations and denunciations, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the issue is picked up and skilfully set to the tune of a party manifesto.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Lives of males is cheap - whether the country is developed or backward is immaterial.
Normal attrition almost suggests that these Indian nationals have died of old age while nodding off on a bench in the park.
Feudalism runs deep in India. In any other country, the deaths of thousands of young men on foreign soil would raise questions, if not a storm of anger. But these are poor Indians, so our foreign ministry spokesman dismisses it as "normal rate of attrition." Can you imagine one Western country where a spokesman would be this callous?
This is why Indians are treated like crap in the Middle East. We do not value our own people, so how can we expect other people to value us?
So long as no one was accusing anyone of rape, the media will remain silent, since there are no TRPs to be gained.
( BJP may exploit the news for its communal potential, though )
World power in making !!!! wake up to reality.....
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