Where is Judith?
Within a week of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Afghanistan visit to inaugurate Salma Dam and praising the people of the country for being with the people of India, an Indian on a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan was abducted and she is still untraceable
On June 04, 2016 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani formally inaugurated the $290-million Salma Dam project funded by the Government of India, by jointly pressing a remote-control button that sent water surging through turbines, which will provide up to 42 MW power to the country’s most rapidly growing industrial hub. The event was followed by the Prime Minister’s appealing speech. He said that, “ Afghanistan put themselves in the line of fire so that their Indian friends are safe”. While praising Afghanistan’s security services for protecting Indians, he was totally unaware that such an incident was waiting to happen.
Just after 4 days earlier on June 09, 2016 Judith D’Souza was abducted by suspected Taliban gunmen from Kabul’s Qala-e-Fatullah area while she was returning home from dinner at her friends place. Judith D’Souza, the NGO worker from Kolkata is working with Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan as a senior technical adviser. She was scheduled to return to India next week. The Aga Khan Foundation is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network and has been working on restoration projects in the war-ravaged country.
More than a week has passed, but Judith’s whereabouts is still unknown, though Indian Mission in Afghanistan and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj keeps in touch with Judith family in Kolkata and are in regular touch with the Afghanistan authorities. Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj in a tweet, mentioned the cautious approach the government is taking keeping in mind the “delicate matter”. “Human life is at stake. We are working round the clock. I cannot share details,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted.
Later Sushma Swaraj called up Judith’s family in Kolkata and had assured them of making all-out efforts to bring her back. Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she keeps in touch with Sushma Swaraj for Judith’s safe return. “We have taken an all-out effort for Judith’s safe return. I am in touch with the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj,” Mamata Banerjee said.
Back in home in Kolkata, keeping the hope alive that Judith D’Souza will be home soon, her family wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to do his utmost in securing her release from abductors in Afghanistan. The copies of common letter written by Judith’s father Denzil D’Souza, mother Gloria D’Souza, brother Jerome D’Souza and sister Agnes D’Souza to Prime Minister Modi, were forwarded to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress MP, Derek O’Brien.
In the letter, the family members have said: “The brave, thoughtful, generous and compassionate Judith had been working in Afghanistan for the well-being of the Afghan people and as an ambassador of goodwill from India’s people, participating in the developmental programmes of that country”.
Describing her as a “proud Indian”, the family said, “as you can imagine, the news of Judith’s kidnapping has shocked and stunned us. It has placed a shroud upon our family”. They added, “We were eagerly awaiting her arrival home on vacation in a week from now, and do hope she will be back with us soon.”
As the letter continues they wrote, “Sir, we appeal to you in your capacity as the leader of our great country and as the custodian of the well-being of our citizens, to please do your utmost to get dear Judith back home, among her family, her friends and her people. Please commit all levers you can bring into play to successfully reunite our family”.
The letter noted Modi’s remarks earlier that ‘Afghanistan’s success is a deeply-held hope and desire of every Indian’ and said it is so critical to India’s engagement with the neighboring country, that they seek PM’s active support under this noble sentiment as well.
The family had words of praise for West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee government. “In Kolkata, where we have lived their lives and where Judith was born and educated, the community, our peers and the government, led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, have left us overwhelmed with our warmth and solidarity in this hour of crisis for our family” the family said.
The family members had said on June 13, 2016 that the Centre was doing its best to bring Judith back. Happy and positive with the response of both the Central and state governments Judith’s elder brother Jerome said, “we are happy with the way the government is going all out to bring Judith back. They are doing their level best and we have all the faith on
them. There has been lot of communication from MEA and the Union government. A joint secretary level officer is coordinating with us. We have full faith on the Indian government and the MEA; they are doing their best to bring my sister back. We have also spoken to the organisation my sister was working for.”
Also, the family acknowledges that they have been receiving support from across the globe with people reaching out to them on social media. The hashtag BringBackJudith (#BringBackJudith) is trending on social media with people across the world expressing their support and solidarity with the family. “We want Judith back at home safe and sound. The support and concern we are getting is overwhelming, please continue this during the difficult time we are having” said Jerome.
After completing her studies from Loreto School in Sealdah and St. Xaviers College in Kolkata, compassionate Judith had moved to Mumbai to pursue further studies in the social sector. She has worked in several countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
The family members acknowledges the support of the government as they have reached out to them in their time of need and anxiety and the External Affairs Minister as well as an official of the ministry spoke to them. But they are still waiting for concrete details. The message is clear, India
had always has good ties with Afghanistan and Indian governments have always maintained and helped Afghanistan in all possible way to grow as a nation, which is just west of Pakistan. Now it is for the government of Afghanistan to ensure the safety and safe return of Judith and other Indians in the country.
The Indian embassy, earlier last month, issued a security alert for its citizens residing in or travelling to Afghanistan, the alert goes like this “All Indians residing and travelling to Afghanistan are advised that the security situation in the country remains highly volatile.”
When our Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his last visit to Afghanistan quoted the iconic Sufi preacher Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti – whose home village lies at the foot of the dam, which was inaugurated by the Prime Minister in Herat – as saying: “Human beings must have the affection of the sun, the generosity of the river and the hospitality of the earth, He not only had the magnificent landscape of his ancestral land in mind, he could also be describing the Afghan people.”
The message was clear that India wants co-operation and good relation with Afghanistan. But the abduction of Judith amidst such warm relations between the countries leaves numerous questions behind. Intelligent agencies in India are considering another angle in the abduction, that is the involvement of Pakistan intelligence agency ISI.
Though it is also reported that two men have been detained for questioning in the case. India prays and expects her brave and kind daughter Judith D’Souza comes back home safe; otherwise humanity will soon forget humanitarian works.
By Joydeep Dasgupta