FATHER PREM’S RECENT RELEASE FROM AFGHANISTAN IS A GOOD NEWS FOR BOTH THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT AND THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. WILL IT HELP THE RULING PARTY TO CHANGE AND MAINTAIN ITS IMAGE AS A GOVERNMENT FOR ALL?
r. Alexis Prem Kumar has shaved off his beard that he had grown in captivity. He has also lost apparently close to 20 kilograms of his weight. That is the visible difference between the man who was taken to captivity eight months ago, released this week and brought back home to India.
He spent three years doing hard work in the hinterland of Afghanistan, giving education to the children and particularly to the girls of the tribes of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pashtuns etc., in cities as diverse as Herat, Peshawar and Kabul.
Fr. Prem, 47, a Jesuit from Tamil Nadu, from the Madras province, was working with the Jesuit Refugee Service, a pioneering global endeavour, of the redoubtable Society of Jesus, which works with refugees on the borders of India as in the borders of most conflict areas in the world. A very large number of the personnel of this group are from India working not just in Afghanistan but also on the borders of Bhutan, Africa and Latin America.
In Afghanistan, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works mainly in the area of education for the war-affected youth, especially those returning after seeking refuge in Iran or Pakistan. They provide teachers for the English Access Program, teaching young people English in Herat and Kabul, opening for them an opportunity for higher education abroad. The JRS provides teacher trainings, university faculty, and informal education in cities and rural villages, filling education gaps that other NGOs and government agencies do not.
Before moving to Afghanistan five years ago, Fr. Prem was working for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Tamil Nadu ministering to the Sri Lankan refugees living in the state. At the time of his kidnapping, he was serving as the Afghanistan Director for JRS.
Speaking to media, Fr. Prem recounted the fateful day i.e. June 2, 2014, when he was kidnapped from Sohadat village, 25 kilometres from Herat city. He had gone to the village to check on a school that was being run with the support of the JRS.
“I had received warnings from the Indian Consulate in Herat which had already been attacked [on May 23]. Even the locals in Sohadat village, had sensed that the Taliban might target Indians.”