Ministry of External Affairs of the Republic of India

04/20/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/20/2021 00:13

Foreign Secretary’s message at event to commemorate the 60th death anniversary of Shri K. Sankara Pillai, IFS, formerly First Secretary, High Commission of India, Ottawa (April[...]

Ms. Radha Pillai, d/o Shri K. Sankara Pillai,
Ambassador T P Sreenivasan
High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria
Colleagues and friends,

We are gathered here to commemorate the sacrifice of Shri K. Sankara Pillai, Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1948 batch, who was martyred on this day, 60 years ago while serving as First Secretary in our High Commission in Ottawa.

2. It is fitting that we pay tribute to our senior colleague whose brilliant career was cut short by a tragic incident, leaving behind a grieving family. The killing was utterly senseless, the work of a mentally deranged individual who sought revenge because his visa application had earlier been rejected.

3. One can only imagine the grief and pain Shri Pillai's passing caused to his family. It certainly shocked the entire nation and the foreign service fraternity in India. But it also left behind a legacy that continues to inspire young diplomats today. It defines the character and strength of the Indian Foreign Service and underlines its dedication to the service of the nation.

4. Officers of the Ministry of External Affairs are posted in countries all over the world with varying degrees of comfort, amenities and situations. Some of these countries offer stable systems and a relatively smooth and trouble-free existence. At the same time, what is not well known is that many of our stations of posting come with certain levels of hardship and discomfort. This is besides the constant of being away from home and extended family and adaption to cultures and systems unfamiliar to us.

5. In the course of our careers, we also invariably undergo postings in truly difficult stations, on the edges of conflict and instability, where violent crimes and terrorism are regular threats. I recall my own stay in West Asia when bombings in public places close to our residence were a regular feature. Or my experience in Dhaka, where some of our colleagues narrowly escaped becoming victims of the Holey Artisan Bakery terrorist attack, that took the lives of dozens of people, including a young Indian girl, whose parents wept on my shoulders.

6. A safe and secure environment is a fundamental requirement for diplomats to work effectively and carry out their primary responsibility - to uphold peace and promote friendship and better understanding between the nation they represent, and the nation that hosts them.

7. The person and property of the embassy are therefore considered inviolable, immune and protected- not only in times of peace, but even during a war. The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations refers to the security of the consular premises and consular officers and enjoins the receiving state to take all appropriate steps to protect them.

8. Notwithstanding consular and treaty obligations, the life of a diplomat has always been fraught with risks. Lord Krishna was threatened with imprisonment when he went as an ambassador to plead the case of the Pandavas in the Kaurava court. Gaius Fulcinius, a Roman envoy to Fidenae was killed in 438 B.C. on the orders of Lars Tolumnius. In more recent times, our colleague, V Venkat Rao was killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul in 2008. In 1984, the year I joined the service, Ravindra Mhatre, Consul in Birmingham was kidnapped and killed by a terrorist outfit. History is replete with examples of Embassies and envoys being attacked and threatened.

9. The senseless killing of Shri Pillai and the 1984 and 2008 terrorist attacks, which resulted in the deaths of our fellow officers, highlight a serious concern for the security of diplomatic missions and graphically demonstrate the vulnerability of diplomats and diplomatic premises.

10. These unfortunate incidents illustrate that diplomatic and consular relations are often conducted in an environment of grave security risk to the personnel and property of diplomatic and consular missions throughout the world. For India, as our global stature rises and our global footprint increases, the threat to our diplomats will commensurately go up.

11. Our government is acutely conscious of the need to provide a secure work environment to our diplomats in Missions abroad. We have continuously invested in enhancing the physical security features of our Missions and Consulates and we proactively engage with host governments to ensure the security of our diplomatic personnel and premises in their jurisdiction. In recent years, in many stations, especially in our neighbourhood, we have sought recourse in our own robust security arrangements.

12. The recognition of the sacrifice made by Shri K. Sankara Pillai was long overdue and I give our High Commissioner and Mission in Ottawa full credit for taking this initiative to present the story of his supreme sacrifice to a larger audience. It is befitting that the consular waiting hall in our High Commission's Chancery in Ottawa is being named after Shri Pillai.

13. On behalf of all the officers of the Ministry of External Affairs, and on behalf of the Indian Foreign Service Association, I convey my most sincere condolences to Radha Pillai and family members of Shri Sankara Pillai and join them in their grief. I also call on our young foreign service colleagues to take inspiration from the life and sacrifice of Shri Pillai. I will ask our IFS Association to put out information of Shri Pillai's life and times and his contribution in the service of our nation.

14. Shri Pillai will continue to be remembered and cherished by the IFS fraternity and his sacrifice and dedication to duty will forever be remembered.