Friday, November 17, 2006

We love Italian, but hate Italian Bureaucracy!!

Three months had been a good time period for us to improve our Italian. While completing the final verification of my papers at Delhi international airport, just before we flew to Italy, an official asked me "So you're going to Italy to do an advanced level course in Italian, right? What do they call 'ice cream' in Italian?"

"Gelato... il gelato", I answered him, rejoicing about the simplicity with which this particular language is conceived by the outside world.

On reaching Italy I was really happy to see everything in good shape, if not better than what I had dreamed of it already. Serviced apartments, 24 hrs water, electricity and gas supply, cleanliness, an air of tranquility even in the midst of the city, such that in just one month we Indians had already prepared a list of contrasts between India and Italy. But, at some corner of our minds we still searched for some similarity between our homeland and this Meditteranean country. 'India' and 'Italia' both begin with 'I' and end with 'a', one of my friends had found it already!

We just had to wait three months to find the great similarity between India and Italy in matters of governance and bureaucracy. Our scholarship for the third month has become a distant dream for us! We were paid two instalments of scholarship together by the end of July 2006. By September 20, the time when we were to collect our scholarship amount for the third month, every Indian who had gone to Perugia was running out of money. Many had gone for expensive trips and had spent money thinking that the scholarship for the third month will replenish their pockets sufficiently enough and they can do shopping for their family members and friends with this money. Hopes eroded when we were informed by officials in Banca d'Italia that our scholarship amount for the last month will be sent to the home country. That was a declaration for an endless Kafkaesque waiting. Indian students who had gone to Perugia for a three months' course left the Etruscan city for India in the first week of October with lots of good Italian memories to cherish but unaware of the big cheat.

620 Euros, the amount we are yet to receive, are peanuts for anyone from Europe or America. But for students from a third world country like India, it matters a lot. With no one to take the responsibility for our scholarship amount for the third month, we started philosophizing the whole issue to convince ourselves that Italian has nothing to do with the bureaucratic glitches in Italy. We cannot even move court, for the parties involved are Ministero degli Affari Esteri (MEA)of Governo d'Italia and Ministry of Human Resource Development - Goverment of India, all beyond the reach of a simple polyglot. Nevertheless, we love Italian; thanks to our jouney to Italy, we are infinitely motivated to know more about this language and culture, we made many friends (many had good romantic experiences, so to say, with Italians and other foreigners who came to Perugia for learning the language). But this worry about our last instalment of scholarship, which is indeed a small amount of money, haunts us. This is typical of Indian psyche, no doubt. Because we Indians, unlike many in Italy and the rest of Europe, are poor!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Missionary Priest involved in Employment Fraud?

Kerala has witnessed innumerous employment frauds in the recent past when social and economic structure of this State ear marked a good percentage of its youth to be ‘Pravasis’ or Migrant Workers. We may have developed apathy towards all such stories, the reason why this new incident is not given enough attention by the ubiquitous regional media in the State. I may be wrong in judging this to be a case of fraud, for it is yet to be proved that the ‘Employment Abroad Promise’ given to hundreds of candidates in this case is broken beyond repair. Doesn’t matter, my objective is only to expose the unfortunate plight of hundreds of youth in the regions of Aloor, Thumbur, Mala, Kodakara etc. in Thrissur District, Kerala. For a common reader this may be just a new case of fraud without any visible villain, without thrillers and without any immediate climax and turning point to the story, but for these people who have paid an amount of Rs. 75 thousand to Rs. 3 lakhs for a job in the unskilled sector, it is a question of life and death, of hope and desperation, of endless waiting and human fundamental right.

What makes this story exceptional is the involvement of a missionary priest in the whole event which provided a vain assurance of transparency to the whole procedure. Fr. Thomas Kulathungal, Superior, Paduva Fransiscan Monastery, Puthanchira, was kind enough to announce some job opportunities in United Kingdom along with his spiritual preaching in the above said regions. As we know, those who are spiritually poor are also generally poor in their material existence. For them, a job offer or anything that can alleviate their poverty can be of immediate value. Many people, from the President of Kodakara Panchayat to computer professionals paid sums between Rs. 75 thousand to Rs.3 lakhs for their visa to UK as unskilled labourers in the Airports of UK.

Now, some details of dates and addresses:

December 2004:
Fr. Thomas announces that he has direct contacts with a recruiting agency in UK which provides visas for unskilled labourers in the Airports of UK; collects Rs. 1.5 lakh on average from around 500 people as initial payment.

Thekkady Manpower Services Pvt. Ltd., Plavuvachathil Building, Thekkady Road, Kumily, Idukki – Kerala is said to be the recruiting agency involved in this deal.

Fr. Thomas along with his aide P.A. Joseph, a Congress leader from Kumily, gave repeated assurance to the job seekers by showing them a copy of ‘Power of Attorney’ given by Assany Abroad Consultancy, UK. In this document, with mistaken spellings in several places, it has been declared that Assany has given all the power to Thekkady Manpower Services to function as an authorized agency in India and to recruit the required manpower for this project. “The power is to collect Passports, Certificates, Medical Repoets, Visas, Airline Tickets and any other documents and to do all activities required for the prospective worker for employment abroad”, it says. But when the job seekers, who paid large sums for their visas, tried to reach Assany’s office over phone, they got a computerized message that the phone number is not in use for several months. From the standard of English used in several documents and for several other reasons many fear that the UK based consultancy is bogus.

From the letter head:
Assany Abroad Consultancy
(Manpower Supply Agency UK)
Suite 789, 2 Old Brompton Rd., London Sw 7 300 U.K.
Ph: 0044175369, 2184

Allen Frost
Executive Director

What next?
Despite repeated assurance from Fr. Thomas and all those who are associated with this recruitment deal, the job seekers’ future remains bleak. For more than 18 months they have been waiting for their visas. Many have refused even other job offers received by them from abroad, while many were hesitant to take up full fledged jobs thinking that they may receive their visa to UK at any time. “License, Insurance, Interview, Medical Report, Visa stamping, Consulate, Bomb blast: these are the key words used by the concerned persons in this deal to buy time from the ignorant job seekers and to postpone everything infinitely. What a pity!”, quips Babu, an outsider to the entire drama.