To stand by the helpless is to be human

Hello friends, I hope you’re doing well. 

Today, I remembered an episode that happened in my life, perhaps in 2002 or 2003. I was working as the country head of a multinational company handling ships of various types. We got an agency of a ferry service, which was newly starting between the Arabian Gulf to India. Brilliant idea, beautiful thing because the people from India who come and work in the Middle East have to take flights. They come by flight, and the flights are expensive, and the flights only allow about 20 kilos of personal baggage while going back or in whichever transit. The people worked hard in the Middle East, earning for their families like to take much more material and at a cheaper cost, which would help them give more to their families. The ferry service was a brilliant idea. 

We took up the agency, and when I studied the ship, I found that the ship is not suitable safety-wise. Only about 70 people can be accommodated in rooms. The rest was the deck. I checked further about the vessel, and I found that this vessel was a ferry, which means it was operating for less than eight hours distance; it’s not a long distance. From the Arabian Gulf to India, it’s about four days. A ship equipped to operate short- distance, such as eight hours or ten hours, is not good enough to operate for four days. If they take about 300 people, about 70 people will be in the first class or indoors, and the rest of them will be on the deck, and it’s extremely dangerous, so the safety aspects of the ship were definitely not good. 

I brought this up to the owners of the ship, and I was surprised by the comment by one of the owners, “Oh, they are labourers.” I said, “They are human beings; they can die in the sea. Imagine, sun, rain, the saltwater around them; all these put together can really make them sick, and they are exposed to all the weather during nights and the days – four days, and in what condition will they reach home? I can’t allow the ship to travel from here.” 

Then it became a controversy. The owners were from a different country. They came down. They met a Minister in my country, the country where I was in, and the Minister offered them support because we all want good ferry service to start between Arabian Gulf to India. It was a very good idea. Everybody offered support; then he met the chief of the police, he met a lot of people.

Then he came to me; he said that all these people are supporting me. Now you have to make this happen. I said, “I won’t; the safety features are not satisfactory.” I said, “If the safety features are enhanced, I will support or change the ship, so everybody has a roof above them, which means all people are indoors, they have rooms, then it’s okay, then I will support it. But when you’re planning a vessel like this, or a voyage like this with people sitting on the deck, I cannot support it.” 

Then he started offering a bribe to me. I said no. And he started telling me various things, or various levels of emotions and stuff, that he spent a lot of money for the ship. Now he has to do it; otherwise, it’ll be bankrupt, so many different things he said. I said, “Look, I fully understand where you’re coming from, but I cannot allow this ship to travel from this port to India or anywhere in this condition and these safety standards. That’s simple. Because if people die on the way, we will be responsible. I can’t allow that to happen.”

And then it got escalated, the travel agencies started attacking me. People started attacking me, calling me and abusing me on the phone. People who got my number used to call me, and I stopped taking all anonymous calls. Then they used to call in the landline to the office and abuse our people—they kind of projected an image that the airline industry has bribed me to stop this ferry. And people asked, “How much money did you get from the airlines to stop this?”

This is for poor people, and these people had offered 200 kilos of personal baggage per head, which is a lot while the airlines are offering 20 kilos. Huge temptation. People were literally attacking me. And it was very difficult for me to leave the office and go because there were people outside our office. 

The travel agencies were also putting pressure because they already started selling tickets. They were planning to take 300 people, and only 70 people can stay indoors, and almost 230 people will be on the deck – women, children, just imagine! If the sea is rough and the transit is more difficult, it may take one more day, probably. This journey is very difficult in such conditions. 

So, I strongly objected, I stood my ground. One of those days, when I had just reached home, it was very late. I was working the whole day. When I reached home, I switched on the TV for the news; I saw my own face on the news. And they were saying in the news that the airline industry has heavily bribed me. That’s why I’m stopping this ferry. 

They said that we suspect that Mr Mohan had been bribed and stuff like that. At 9 pm, I called a press conference. At 9 pm, I invited the press, and I gave a press conference. I answered all their questions; I explained the security measures, the lack of safety measures in the ship. I explained the whole thing to the whole media. The next day, it came in the newspaper that the vessel does not have the basic safety features, and that’s why this is prevented from travelling from here. It was a tall order to get this message through. 

Then I got a call from the Minister’s office, and they said that “Oh, we didn’t know. Actually, we thought everything is fine, and then we didn’t know why an agent, like you, wants to stop this vessel.” I said, “Nothing is fine.” I told the Minister the same thing that nothing is fine. In the current safety standards of the ship, so many people will die, and we will be responsible. Then the chief of the police called me and said, “Are you sure that you’re not thinking again?” I said, “No, there are no more thoughts about it. This is sure unless they change the ship, where everybody can sit indoors, they have rooms; otherwise, we are not supporting this particular ship.” 

Then the ship owner came to me and said, “We would like to cancel the contract with you.” I said sure, and I agreed, and then we cancelled the contract that they had with us, with our organization. Meanwhile, my boss called from a different location, the director of our company, and he asked, “Do you need any help?” I said, “No, I don’t need any help; I’ll handle this because I’m sure this is the thing to do and is the right thing I’m doing.” 

I was very confident. We cancelled the contract with the owner of the ship, and then the owner took this contract to many companies and nobody actually accepted because they knew the whole story by now that the ship is not good enough. He bought this ship very cheap, and he thought that he would ply this ship between the Arabian Sea to India and make money. But without the safety features, so many people will die, and even the first voyage will be a disaster. We can’t allow that to happen. I kept my stand, and other agents also said the same thing to him. 

And finally, he made one voyage from a different country, a different port. And in the voyage, he only accommodated 70 people. He just wanted to prove that it can happen, it can be done, and he only accommodated people who can stay within the rooms. Still, six people died. So, then the whole ferry issue stopped.

I thought of this now is because when you stand up against something which society needs, you may get reprimanded for it, or you may be attacked for it, or you could be scandalized for it. I experienced this; no airlines ever contacted me with money. This was total nonsense. But the media and the people made people believe that I’ve been bribed by airlines, and it’s not easy to change that thought because people automatically believe the negative. 

And to tell the positive, it takes time. Or to understand the positive takes time. And I don’t know whether everybody understood what actually happened with that ship. But you have to stick with your truth and do what is right. This I always followed. Stand with truth. Do what is right, and if you don’t do it, people can die, or people can continue to be harassed or exploited, or at least disrespected.

I thought about this in the current situation where the racial profiling situation happens in German airports and probably some other airports in the world. We are standing up towards an establishment; you know it’s an establishment. And it’s not easy to stand up against an establishment that has created certain rules, suitable for them, not suitable for the people or not considering the people who are experiencing it. 

When you stand up against something like that, there is every chance that people would scandalize you, thwart you from proceeding further. This is natural. And many people will not want to participate because they are probably having fears or confusions, or even cowardice. They may say that, “Oh no, no, no, why do you go for it? Or let them do whatever they want. It doesn’t matter.” It matters. When you have a mouth, you should speak, speak the right thing at the right time

I thought of this story because this was a big fiasco at that time, and it came in the newspapers and televisions and everything. And I became infamously famous because of that. But I still believe I did the right thing because if these people had actually left our shores on the deck in six to eight hours or a maximum of ten hours, we would have heard about many deaths on the sea. 

We have to stand up when there is injustice or when there is something that is not appropriate for our species or any species; we should stand up and say this is wrong. We have to. 

This is very important and what annoyed me most was one of the directors of the owners’ companies that said, “Oh, they are, after all, labourers. Why do you care?” As if labourers are not human beings. And that actually made me determined to fight for them because these are poor people. 

When it’s poor people, you don’t care; you only care about their money or the money you get. And if they are poor people, those who cannot speak or do not speak, then you do not care. That’s wrong. Really wrong. 

You must care for all the helpless around you. This is exactly where you become a human being. 

This is the thought for today. I hope you enjoyed it, and think about it, ponder over it, and let’s see; we can talk further about it.

Lots of love.

Transcribed by Ulla Bernholdt

Proofread by Rekha Murali

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