Thiruvananthapuram, March 31 (IANS) Since February, three Italian ministers have come to express solidarity with two of their marines who are cooling their heels in a prison here after shooting dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. The Italian foreign minister, his deputy and the defence minister are among those who have come and gone. Their visits have come at a time when hundreds of Keralites and thousands of other Indians are in jails in the Middle East.
But few can recall a visit made by an Indian minister to any of these jails abroad to express solidarity with the Keralites or Indians. According to official figures, there are about 2,000 Keralites in various jails in the Middle East.
'The figure of 2,000 was given in reply to a question in the Indian parliament. If one considers unofficial figures, it would be more than 4,000 serving jail terms for crimes ranging from murder to petty crimes,' said a Kerala government official on condition of anonymity.
A rare public utterance from an Indian leader on the matter was by leader of opposition and veteran Communist V.S. Achuthanandan who said on the floor of the Kerala assembly that the two Italian Marines who shot dead the Indian fishermen were given VIP status.
'Do you know there are so many Indians languishing in jails abroad and you just see the two Italians, who are murderers, put up in guesthouses and eating five-star food. Why is this happening?' asked Achuthanandan.
Thursday, it was Italian Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola, a highly decorated naval official, who flew down in a special plane and drove to the Central Prison to be with Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone - the two Italian Marines who were on board the vessel Enrica Lexie when they allegedly shot dead the Indian fishermen Feb 15 after mistaking them for pirates.
Since Feb 20, the two Italians have been in judicial custody and are now lodged in a special room in the prison here.
A family member of an official of a Keralite merchant ship, which has been in the custody of Somalian pirates since September 2010, told IANS, 'Look at the zeal of the Italian officials who are staying put in our state, fighting for the welfare of their nationals who killed two Indian nationals.
'It has been 18 months since my dearest has been in the custody of Somalian pirates and despite promises from the prime minister down that very soon things would be sorted out, nothing has moved. Are Indian lives less precious than those of other nationals?'
Alexander Jacob, additional director general of police, jails, however said there are international rules and conventions that have to be made applicable to international prisoners.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said: 'The Italian ministers who have been here have pointed out that their nationals in jail are entitled to certain privileges and we have assured that these would be adhered to.'
All eyes are on the Kerala High Court which is expected to give a final judgement on the quashing of the FIR against these two Italian, who have been insisting that they are governed only by international maritime laws and not Indian ones.
But as far as jailed Keralites and other Indians abroad are concerned, the spotlight is certainly not on them.
(Sanu George can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)