M A I N   N E W S

Dollar dream goes up in smoke in Iraq
Youth from Punjab auctioned for $400 each to clear landmines
Saurabh Malik
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 5
Lured into taking loans by mortgaging gold and properties, the Punjabi youngsters who went to Iraq in search of dollars, and greener pastures, found themselves sold off like common commodities before slaving in the fields to clear land mines.

They were beaten with batons, kicked around, and burnt with cigarette buts. They say the Sikhs were told to shave off their hair. Food was literally thrown across. Refusal to eat was often met with hostile reaction. To make the matters worse, their passports were taken away. Against the promised amount of $ 700, they were offered $ 300. Even this amount was often not paid.

For at least 10 of them, the ordeal would have continued, but for the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Intervention by a Division Bench headed by Justice M.M. Kumar, in fact, facilitated their return.

Back home before departure, so many of them were running tractors across the fields to plough land, before they heard from “people” around that money literally grows in foreign lands.

They talk in sullen voices in the Sector 22 office of the Punjab State Legal Services Authority upon their return to India and reveal how they sold off their ancestral jewellery and even pestered their parents into borrowing money with a promise of reaping much more there than would back home.

But, in Baghdad and other cities of Iraq, they found their sweat mingle with the earth below, as they worked in the fields to dig deep the bombs that were planted during the turmoil.

They also found themselves running after the tractors to gather the uprooted explosives and shells. All this, and much more, for less than the amount assured by their travel agents.

When they took the flight to fancy in January and February, little did the youngsters realise their plans of flying money back home to their elders would soon be grounded. And, they would find themselves exchanging hands for paltry sum of US $ 400.

“We watched helplessly as we were put in vehicles and taken from one city to another after being bought over again and again by people - the identity of whom we never knew,” says Ripan Kumar. “All we knew was that on each transaction, the seller would gain $ 200”.

Those who recalled the sordid memories were Tehal Singh, Kamaljeet Singh, Mandeep Singh, Sukhdev Singh, Ripan Kumar, Gurminder Singh, Prem Pal and others.

“Shells and bombs were strewn across the fields like potatoes and other veggies,” recalls 22-year-old Tehal Singh of Hoshiarpur. “Every time my reluctant fingers went up to pick a shell or a bomb, something exploded in my head and I would find myself offering prayers to the Lord above”.

Their automatic fingers involuntarily touch their ears before they fold their hand and say in one voice: “There’s enough in India. Don’t lose you way in foreign lands”.





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