A story in this newspaper a couple days ago reported the plight of an Indian sales executive in a supermarket in Dubai who desperately wanted to return home because his contractual rights had been abused, and his living conditions were hard. He added that there were an additional seven others with a similar plight, who have been surviving on the generosity of other Indian expats.
Fortunately, his case made the social media waves and caught the attention of the Indian external affairs minister and the diplomatic mission in Dubai who immediately began proceedings to rectify his situation. He is indeed fortunate as his government has now thrown its weight behind him.
But there are many in several countries of the GCC who are facing similar situations. This brings to mind a story of yet another atrocious act against a human being and exercised by none other than the worker’s sponsor in Saudi Arabia.
In this case, the story revolves around an Indian woman who had come to work in the household of her sponsor more than 20 years ago. At the time she was 25 years old. Her agreed salary was 400 riyals per month (Dh392), which was paid to her for the first 10 months after which the payments ceased. No reason was given and the housemaid had nowhere to go.
Her working day started at 5am and ended sometimes after midnight with no rest day, and as stated, no wages after her first 10 months. She complained of physical abuse at the hands of her sponsor whenever she has brought up the issues of what should be lawfully coming to her in terms of compensation. But perhaps the most pitiful and sickening aspect of her story is that she has been practically held as a working hostage for over 20 years … Yes, 20 years without once going back!
She is over 45 years of age today. During her imposed tenure at her sponsor’s household, her parents and her only brother died back in India, funerals she couldn’t attend. She has not once been granted leave, paid or otherwise and is essentially an unpaid slave in this ungrateful household.
Desperation over the years caused her to run to the police on several occasions, the last of which resulted in the police admonishing her sponsor and ordering him to pay her all her amount outstanding and arrange for her airfare and exit. The sponsor for whatever reason has not complied with any of the conditions, flouting the police requirements as he continued his forced act of modern day slavery. Her only reward as a result of her going to the police was more physical abuse at the hands of her employer.
Just picture for a moment this young woman who came here some 20 years ago in the hope of making a little bit of money to support her family and possibly save some for her marriage is reduced today to a hopeless, confused, middle-aged wreck. How such a thing could be allowed to happen in this country and in today’s times is a crime in itself.
The police had restarted an investigation and through their efforts, some dignity and rights were restored to this abused woman.
But what will happen to her sponsor is another story. Unless her story goes viral on social media or the Indian government picks up on this case and fights on her behalf, she may eventually be deported without her dues, and her employer would immediately apply for another visa to recruit yet another ‘slave’.
Blot on the country’s image
A newspaper in India headlined her plight with Indian woman’s 20-year Saudi saga of slavery. It is a blot on us Saudis and other citizens of the Gulf to have the label of ‘slavery’ dangling around us, but let us not remain in denial. It is indeed unfortunate that a few of our countrymen do practise such acts without care or concern for the consequences, and they must be stopped at all costs.
The victims in all cases do not want anything more than their hard-earned rights. What is wrong with that?
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.