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'Will Die of Hunger If Not Bullets': Indians Stuck in Sudan Struggle to Survive

S Prabhu said that no embassy, or central government agency has reached out to the 31 stranded Kannadigas in Sudan.

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Video Producer: Aparna Singh

Video Editor: Prajjwal Kumar

We are being told not to go out. We might get killed because of gunfire, but if we stay inside, we will die of hunger and starvation,” S Prabhu, a tribal from Karnataka who is stranded in Sudan and waits to be rescued, told The Quint.

36-year-old Prabhu is part of a group of 33 migrants who belong to the Hakki Pikki tribe from Karnataka's Channagiri, in Davanagere district, and moved to Sudan in July 2022 with hopes to earn a sustainable livelihood for their families and children.

S Prabhu said that no embassy, or central government agency has reached out to the 31 stranded Kannadigas in Sudan.

The 33 Kannadigas from Karnataka's Channagiri, who moved to Sudan to earn a livelihood.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

However, Prabhu, the migrants were left helpless in Sudan’s Al Shafar after violence erupted in various parts of the country - a direct result of a vicious power struggle within the country's military leadership.

The clashes are between the regular army and a paramilitary force called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Prabhu told The Quint:

“We are Indian citizens. We have asked the government to provide us with basic food and water, but we have received no word from the Indian embassy or government ministry. No message, reassurance or update has been provided from the government.”

The group live in a four-house compound in Al Fashir, a large town in the Darfur region of northwestern Sudan. 

The Quint tells you:

  • What is the current situation of these Kannadigas stranded in Sudan? 

  • How did they survive the last six days amid widespread violence? 

  • Why did the group move to Sudan in the first place? 

  • What help, if any, has been assured from the Indian government? 

  • What do the next few days look like? 

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‘Gunfire, Explosions, Rockets’: What’s the Latest Update?

During a conversation with The Quint, Prabhu broke down and spoke of the dire living conditions the group has faced since the violence started.

“The grocery shop was open for an hour on Monday, and even though there was gunfire, we risked leaving the compound to buy some groceries. We have had to beg our neighbours for water. All of us have been starving for the last five days, we would do anything for a single drop of water.”
Prabhu

Sudan has been engulfed in violence, and fighting continued, civilians like Prabhu move closer to becoming collateral damage. Moreover, military action has constantly grazed the group of Kannadigas ever since the conflict began last week.

He said, “There are big fires because of missiles, and the military (RAF) is firing rockets, bombs fall from the sky at all hours. Dead bodies are all over the street.”

Moreover, Prabhu mentioned how his home would shake as bombs were hurled in close proximity to the compound, leading to the Kannadigas losing their sleep.

He also spoke of the constant presence of gunfire, explosions and violence around their compound, narrating an incident where a bullet entered the compound and nearly hit a fellow Hakki Pikki tribal.

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A tribal who is stranded alongside Prabhu, Sundar Kumar, tried to leave the house and evaluate the situation and stood within the rented compound, when a bullet round was fired and hit a wall just a few feet above his head.

S Prabhu said that no embassy, or central government agency has reached out to the 31 stranded Kannadigas in Sudan.

The bullet round hit a wall of one of the four houses in the compound.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

However, Prabhu was unable to determine whether the bullet was aimed at the compound or was a stray round.

“It was just 2-3 feet above his head. If it was a few feet lower, god knows what would have happened. We don’t know if it is a misfire or someone deliberately shot at him, but it almost hit him.”
Prabhu

Notably, Indian national Albert Augestine also succumbed to his injuries after a stray bullet hit him amid clashes in Sudan.

Meanwhile, Usha, another member of the Hakki Pikki tribe alongside Prabhu, spoke to The Quint and held back tears when she said:

“What do I say? Should I lie and say I am fine or tell the bitter truth?”

However, her mind could not focus on the constant gunfire outside their compound, as she worried about her children – Shivananda and Bhawani – who were stuck in Khartoum, almost 800 km away.

“Close to 80 people we know, including my two sons and daughter-in-law, are living with some other relatives in Sudan's capital, Khartoum," Usha told The Quint.

Characterising her children’s condition, she said, “My son told me they are not getting food at night. They have no drinking water and barely any food. All we can ask is that the Indian government helps our children.”

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'No Contact': Amid Twitter Fights, Kannadigas Wait for Assistance

Prabhu alleged that the 31 Kannadigas have received no information from the Indian authorities of help being on the way.

The 36-year-old revealed that ever since violence erupted, he has tried to get in touch with Indian officials, adding that the only official who reached out to the group was Karnataka State Disaster Monitoring Centre Director Manoj Rajan.

Rajan told The New Indian Express, “As soon as we got the rescue call from El Fashir, we informed the MEA, which has now taken up the matter.”

As of 8 pm (IST) on Wednesday, 19 April, Prabhu said that he had spoken to Ranjan twice and was assured of help. However, he clarified that there were no talks with any other Indian ministry.

It’s important to note that a war of words broke out between Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Congress leader Siddaramaiah on Tuesday after the latter appealed for help to be directed towards the 31 tribals.

Siddaramaiah took to Twitter to allege that the Centre did not make any efforts to bring back the tribals. "The Hakki Pikkis in Sudan were left stranded without food for the past few days, and the government has not yet initiated action to bring them back," he said.

The claim was met by a retort from Jaishankar, who called the tweet "irresponsible" and accused the Congress leader of politicising the situation.

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Why Did They Choose Sudan? Why Not Elsewhere?

Prabhu and his wife Soniya moved to Sudan in July 2022 with the motive to sell Ayurvedic products, which have a large demand in Sudan and in greater Africa as well. Other members of the Hakki Pikki tribe, who remain stranded in Sudan with Prabhu, moved to Sudan within the last year.

“In India, we have no work, no business where we can earn and take care of our children, no way of earning our daily bread. We don’t even have any land in our own country. How could we keep living there?”
Prabhu

Importantly, Prabhu alleged and told The Quint that 4.5 acres of land that he inherited from his father was taken away by the Indian government, who claimed it was forest land.

“Whatever we make from our Ayurvedic medicine business, we use to help our children, to pay their fees and to make sure they are responsible citizens.”
S Prabhu

He stressed on the fact that the family’s main objective in moving to Sudan was to earn a livelihood to sustain his children. “It is every parent’s aspiration to make sure their children flourish,” Prabhu choked up and said.

Prabhu further mentioned how the family was forced to secure multiple small loans to facilitate the move to Sudan, borrowing money from friends, relatives, community members and extended family as well.

He said:

“We are familiar with our fellow Hakki Pikkis, so when we came to Sudan, they told us that it is a country where at least we will be able to earn some more money.”

Adding that while the business is not flourishing, it is more than what Prabhu made in Karnataka, he told The Quint that while his life in Sudan was better than in India, his still struggles to ensure two meals a day for his children.

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