23 years later, Keralites remember Iraqi aggression in Kuwait
It was on Aug 2, 23 years ago, that Iraq invaded oil-rich Kuwait. For many in Kerala, the events that unfolded over the 204-day war remain fresh - as if they were the experiences of yesterday.
Many people working in Kuwait in 1990 chose to return at the start of the aggression. However, there were some who continued to live there. For Annie Joseph (name changed), life took a cruel turn when she was told that her husband, while coming out of an ATM in Kuwait, was shot dead by invading Iraqi troops.
A teacher, Joseph returned to India and lived in the Kerala capital with her two little boys. She settled again to a new routine with help from relatives. Even now, as a teacher in a school here, the memories of 23 years ago remain fresh.
The trauma of having lost her husband suddenly, and of having to raise children on her own have eased, though, as Joseph finds herself settled in a teaching job. Her elder son got married recently, and her younger one is now employed. She regrets that her husband did not live to see the children grown.
Mary Thomas, 74, recalled that as she learned of the invasion, she rushed to watch the TV news. "We had no TV in house those days and I went to my neighbour's house. We all heaved a sigh of relief when we got a call from my son who had just landed a job in Kuwait after his studies here. A few days later, he called to say he was returning."
Mary Thomas was reunited with her son, but all that remains of him now are memories: "He passed away 10 years ago after a bout of sickness," she said, showing a photograph of her son.
Ammini Kutty recalled how she turned to prayer for comfort and strength, as her son, who worked in a financial institution in Kuwait, chose to stay on there despite all the pleas from his family to return.
In hindsight, though, that decision was hugely beneficial. "Once the invasion was over and Kuwait returned to normalcy, his employers gave him a promotion for his loyalty and he continues to work there, and remains there even now," said Kutty, soon to turn 80.
The Syrian Mar Thoma Church, which had a huge number of its faithful in Kuwait, decided at the time to open a new school here affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education as it felt that it would be good for those who did not want to return to the Middle East nation.
"The positive fall out of the invasion was that many people who were employed in other Middle East countries started to save and invest their hard earned money in safe places. The lesson learned was not to be lavish, but save for lean days," a parish vicar who had served for a few years in Kuwait said.
The Kerala government, for the first time, started to think of the diaspora after the Kuwait returnees took out a march to the residence of the governor to pressure the centre to ensure that they get the compensation announced by the United Nations.
A few years later, the state government drew up plans for a separate department for the diaspora.
Today, things have come a full circle. Nearly 90 percent of the Kerala diaspora is in the Middle East, numbering nearly three million. This large community comprises the backbone of the state's economy, and Kerala banks are flush with funds to the tune of Rs.62,000 crore.
Incidentally, even though it was under Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime that the invasion took place, and even though he was seen as a villain in many households with kin in Kuwait at the time of the aggression, Kerala observed a three-hour state-wide shutdown to protest his hanging by "imperialistic forces" Dec 30, 2006.