Japanese residents in India worry about security

by Hirotaka Sunada

Kyodo

The deadly hostage crisis at an Algerian gas plant seized by Islamist militants last month struck fresh fear into the minds of Japanese workers and their families in India, prompting them to take security precautions.

A growing number of Japanese have settled in India, lured by its emerging market, and they are increasingly concerned about safety, not just against terrorists but other criminals as well.

The New Delhi Japanese school conducts one or two antiterrorism drills each academic term with the cooperation of the Japanese Embassy, so the children can practice escaping to a shelter on its premises if there is a violent incident.

School staff posing as thugs fire blanks into the air while some 270 elementary and junior high school students take refuge inside a room that is sealed to the outside by an iron door. Apart from one conducted at the beginning of each academic year, the drill schedule is kept secret from the students.

Maoist and Islamist militants have staged deadly attacks in India, including the 2008 multiple terrorist attacks in the financial center of Mumbai that claimed more than 160 lives, including one Japanese.

But terrorists are not the only ones posing a threat to children.

In 2011, there were 1,575 children who disappeared just around New Delhi alone, according to Save the Childhood Movement, a local nongovernmental organization trying to prevent child labor. The group believes most were abducted for human-trafficking.

The number of kids attending the New Delhi Japanese school is expected to rise to 700 in the next three years as Japanese firms continue flocking to India.

“Security will be a serious issue for us as we will expand and renovate our building soon,” said Haruhisa Usui, the school’s principal.

Following the Beslan school hostage crisis in southern Russia in 2004, in which more than 300 lives were lost, the school’s buses — about 90 percent of the students commute by bus — had their windows curtained for fear that the students riding in them could become a ready target.

But authorities ordered the practice ended in November.

“We believe anything could happen anytime,” Usui said. The school, the Japanese Embassy and the local Japanese community all share awareness about the need to prepare for a crisis, he added.