The two Indian traders, who were illegally detained by locals in Yiwu in eastern China before being rescued, headed for Shanghai on Wednesday, ending a three-week ordeal during which they were tortured and faced a threat to life.
Indian consulate officials from Shanghai escorted Shyamsunder Agrawal and Deepak Raheja out of the hotel in which they were holed up for the past two days.
Speaking to the media on telephone from Yiwu, Agrawal and Raheja said they were “tortured like animals” by the Chinese businessmen before being handed over to the police.
They said that despite police protection, they had until Wednesday been unable to leave the hotel. “The situation is getting from bad to worse and our lives are in terrible danger. We don’t have anything in our hotel room for eating or drinking,” Raheja said, even threatening to commit suicide if the Indian government did not intervene within the next 24 hours.
Ahead of the rescue, Raheja said he feared trouble as a large crowd of locals had surrounded the hotel. Locals had held Agrawal and Raheja hostage since mid-December after the firm they worked for defaulted on the money owed to workers.
China promised action against the locals who broke the law but denied ill-treatment of Indian diplomat S Balachandran, who had fainted and was hospitalised while negotiating the release of Agrawal and Raheja.
In New Delhi, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna discussed the fate of Agrawal and Raheja with Chinese Deputy Chief of Mission Zhang Yue, who had been summoned by the external affairs ministry, and sought to play down the matter.
“Let us be objective in assessing the situation there and not blow it out of proportion. We should have a larger perspective... In another two hours, these Indian nationals will be in Shanghai,” Krishna said after the meeting.
Asked about Balachandran, he said: “Balachandran is not in the picture. He is relaxing in Shanghai... Our concern is about the two Indian nationals. What can the Indian consulate do when these Indian nationals have gone on their own for trade? They will have to deal with many situations.”
Beijing too urged New Delhi to look at the incident from an “objective and just perspective” and ensure that Indian traders follow Chinese laws while doing business in the county.
Hong Lei, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said “criminal enforcement measures” were being initiated against five persons over the illegal detention of Agrawal and Raheja and the case was due for investigation.
A report by the Office of the US Trade Representative last month had listed Yiwu among 15 “notorious markets” dealing in pirated and counterfeit goods.