“It has been five days since the power was cut off at the lodge — Labicalia — where we are holed up. The owner and other staff have abandoned the building and escaped to safety. The sound of firing could be heard in the distance during the first three days; now, the sound of heavy firing is getting closer.”
That is Sairaj Kirg, a 25-year-old Hakki-Pikki oil trader, a native of Hunsur taluk in Mysuru district, telling South First about his plight being stranded Khartoum, the capital of war-torn Sudan, even as he shared a video of an adjacent building that was on fire.
“The ground floor of our lodge was fired at this morning (Thursday) and we are around 70 men and women holed up,” said Kirg over the phone.
“We are waiting for Eid when they say there would be a ‘cease fire’ and people could go out and get essentials,” said Kirg.
“As we have no power, our mobile phones have not been charged and are switched off. However, with the help of power banks, we have managed to keep one phone active, which I am using to speak to you. We don’t know what to do if this mobile gets switched off too by tonight,” Kirg said.
No food, water or medicines
Sairaj Kirg, who went to Khartoum some seven months ago, has only seen his five-month-old baby on video calls with his wife Vaishnavi, a resident of HD Kote town in Mysuru.
“We have not had a full meal in the past five days and there is no water to drink, cook, or to even use in the toilets. Whenever the firing stops, one of us ventures out and gets some water and rations from nearby shops and rushes back,” Kirg narrated the plight of the those stranded to South First.
“We have tried contacting the Indian Embassy officials in Khartoum, but they told us that they are also stranded in their building and asked us to stay indoors wherever we were. How can we stay indoors for a long time with no water or food?” he asked.
A few of the stranded men have diabetes and high blood pressure for which they have no medicines, and a couple of them are down with malaria and fever as well.
“A hospital, which is situated half a kilometre from our lodge, has been closed down by army men and all the patients had been discharged and they all went to a nearby town,” Rukshakaran (45), another stranded tribal man, told South First.
“Things are going to become worse after the Ramzan festival; that’s what we are hearing. And we have requested the Indian Embassy officials to do something about our evacuation at least on Eid, when there would be a cease fire,” Rukshakaran added.
More Kannadigas stranded
Kirg and around 70 others, including women, all belonging to the Hakki-Pikki tribe from Hunsur taluk, have been holed up at Labicalia.
They said that they are not the only group of people from Karnataka stranded in war-torn Sudan.
“There is a building nearby in Khartoum where around 30 people are holed up. They are from Shivamogga district,” Guruprasad (40), another stranded Kannadiga in Khartoum, told South First.
“We got to know that around 39 people are also stranded inside a building compound at Al-Fashir town, which is around 1,200 km to the west of Khartoum,” Kirg said.
“These people who are from Davangere district and have shot videos of their plight and sent them to their friends and family members in Karnataka, appealing for help from the government for their evacuation,” he added.
About the Hakki Pikki tribe
“Apart from these 39 people, at least 120 Hakki-Pikki tribal men from other districts are believed to be stranded in towns around Al-Fashir. Five of them have even been robbed of their passports and money by unidentified men,” Kirg explained.
Most of these men from the Hakki-Pikki tribe have migrated to Sudan in search of work. And all of them did not travel to Sudan together.
“There are Hakki-Pikki tribal men and women who migrated to Sudan and have been living here for the past three to four years, and there are people who have come to Sudan just 10 days ago too,” Kirg explained.
“As all of us (Hakki-Pikki) are into hunting primarily, mostly bird-catching, which is illegal in India. We have taken up work of preparing various oils — Ayurvedic oils for hair-fall, dandruff, pain relief, massage oils, etc,” Ramakrishna Swamy, a Hakki-Pikki tribal leader based in Bidadi, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, told South First.
“We learnt all this from our ancestors and used to practice and trade here in Karnataka, but since it was not so profitable, some of the community members are doing the trade in other countries,” Swamy added.
The Sudan clashes
The sudden outbreak of violence began on 15 April between the nation’s two top power-hungry generals — the army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his deputy, the paramilitary commander Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan. Each of them has been backed by tens of thousands of heavily armed fighters.
People have been stuck in their homes or shelters. Supplies have been running low and several hospitals and medical facilities have been forced to shut down, some of them even destroyed in the bombings.
The two sides are using tanks, artillery, and other heavy weapons in densely populated areas. Fighter jets swooped overhead and anti-aircraft fire lit up the skies as night fell.
According to official data, Sudan has around 4,000 Indians, including 1,200 who have settled in the country decades ago.