Wednesday, October 18, 2017
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INDEPTH

Maid to suffer

Unscrupulous travel agents are packing poor women from rural Punjab off to Saudi Arabia – the biggest employer of Indians in the Gulf – as domestic helps. These women first get exploited by the agents and then are stuck with their employers demanding back-breaking work and completion of the ‘contract’15 Oct 2017 | 1:46 AM[ + read story ]

It was a rebirth for 46-year-old Sukhwant Kaur, a resident of Ajtani village in Jalandhar. She has only her god to thank as she hugs her 21-year-old daughter Ranjit Kaur for whom she had lost all hope to see again.

Sukhwant was allegedly sold by a Delhi-based travel agent in January this year to a Saudi Arabian family. Finally back home in May, she narrated the horrible tale of her illegal confinement by her employer. A Jalandhar-based travel agent Pooja had promised a maid’s job for a monthly salary of Rs 22,000 with a family in a Gulf country.

“My employer claimed that she had ‘bought’ me from my travel agent, Shakir Khan, for Rs 3.5 lakh. One of the three women in the house used to beat me with sticks and iron rods whenever I demanded my salary. After I would finish cooking, and the other two women would leave, she would lock me in my room from 11 am to 7 pm each day. I would get out only after 7 pm,” says Sukhwant. She says her employer refused to provide her medication.

It was only after she was admitted to a hospital later that she came in touch with a Kerala nurse who arranged a phone call for her to her family. Sukhwant was rescued with the help of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

The story of 32-year-old Akwinder Kaur (pic) of Bhungrani village in Hoshiarpur is no different. “My husband is partially blind. I was lured by a woman agent in my village who promised me a maid’s job with a monthly salary of Rs 17,000 in Saudi Arabia,” says Akwinder.

She was made to work single-handedly for a family of over 20 persons. She cooked, cleaned the house and even washed their clothes with hands. A vegetarian, she was forced to eat meat.

It was only after a vigilante group of Damdami Taksal threatened her Mumbai-based travel agent that Akwinder could return home. Within days of the rescue of these women, another young married woman, Reena, belonging to Boparai village, near Goraya, posted a video from Saudi Arabia appealing to the Indian government to rescue her from her employer, who has been keeping her captive at his house for several months.

While Reena sighed a huge relief after Swaraj directed the Indian Mission there to rescue her, there seems to be no hope for 39-year-old woman from Gorsi Nihal village in Jalandhar who was allegedly sold and being made to work against her wishes in Ha’il city, north-western Saudi Arabia.

“Despite sending out numerous tweets by my family to Sushma Swaraj, she did not take any steps to ensure my safe return. As I do not have a smartphone with internet connection so that I can post some videos of the inhumane treatment meted out to me, no one seems interested in rescuing me,” said a sobbing Paramjit Kaur while speaking to The Tribune from Saudi Arabia.

She said while she made numerous SOS calls to the Indian Embassy there, they claimed helplessness in securing her release. “Every time I called them, they asked me the address. I am illiterate, so I cannot read properly. Embassy officials have warned me not to break the work contract rules,” alleged Paramjit Kaur.

While speaking to The Tribune Paramjit gave vital clues about her location including the car bearing registration number ‘9575 YAA’ and a stone written ‘ARBUE 003019’ fixed outside her employer’s house. The Indian officials have failed to recognize these signs.

Huge debts, poverty

The stories of all these women may end differently, but these have similar beginnings: These women come from extremely poor families with huge debts. Such families become a perfect prey for unscrupulous travel agents who charges enormous amounts from their rich Gulf employers in Saudi Arabia, the largest known economy in Gulf countries.

Since the agents take hefty amounts as price for these ‘slaves’, they charge a anything between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000 from these women to secure a ‘job.’ 

These women are made to sign an illegal bond with their employer which forces them to pay up to Rs 3 lakh as compensation for leaving the job before two years. Since many have come from extremely poor backgrounds, they cannot pay up in case they cancel the contract.

The ‘bond’ also prevents the Indian missions abroad from rescuing them from their employers. While Akwinder Kaur was made to sign a bond of Rs 1.5 lakh by the travel agent, it was only after Damdami Taksal paid the money on her behalf to the travel agent that Akwinder could fly back home.

Sex, lies and agents

During interaction with some families, a 21-year-old girl in a village near Nakodar made startling revelations. “The agent demanded Rs 30,000 from us. He even offered me to accompany him to Delhi. He asked me to spend two nights with clients in a hotel who will arrange money for my tickets also,” said the girl. 

Also, a couple of village Bhode too narrated a similar instance of an agent active in Nurmahal area. Amarjit Singh said the agent demanded Rs 25,000 and took them to Delhi in May this year. “He told us that we have to board the flight in the morning. He got a room booked in a hotel. He wanted to share bed with us. He even bought two bottles of liquor. When I refused to drink with him, he got angry and went away leaving us behind,” said Amarjit. The couple managed to return home after two days.

Police inaction 

Most women trapped in Saudi Arabia are from Doaba region and are allegedly sent by a particular agent and his accomplices. The police are unable to catch him. This agent has several cases registered against him in rural police stations in Jalandhar; he was recently injured in a bus accident near Phagwara and was rescued by the police. He was the same agent who allegedly sent Paramjit Kaur to Saudi Arabia, investigations reveal.

It is strange that though some vigilante groups have managed to contact Delhi & Mumbai-based agents of Paramjit Kaur and many other such women trapped in Saudi Arabia, the Jalandhar rural police are unable to track the agent.

Meanwhile, the police inaction has given birth to a new scandal involving these vigilante groups who allegedly demand Rs 40,000 to bring the women back from Saudi Arabia.

Maid to sufferFamily of Paramjit Kaur, who is in Saudi Arabia, at their village.
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