Adisturbing video clip that went viral has prompted the Indian authorities to intervene and rescue five of the 35 women from Punjab who found themselves trapped and exploited in Oman, and reunite them with their families back home. They have not only lost money, but also endured untold physical and mental torture. Their dreams of earning well in the Gulf and helping their families have been crushed. Eight more women flew back home on Wednesday, and there is hope for the remaining 22 of an escape from the ordeal they are enduring after being conned by agents with the promise of greener pastures.
The episode once more underlines the need for more public awareness of such matters. The airport authorities could be sensitised to identify poor or uneducated women before boarding and counselling them about the pitfalls ahead. Additionally, the enforcement of stronger regulatory norms for the agents in the field — and these days, increasingly on social media — as well as jail sentences for human traffickers disguised as work-abroad mediators and their exposure in the public domain are needed to keep Punjab’s poor women safe.
The modus operandi generally entails luring illiterate or semi-literate women with jobs of domestic help or labourers in homes or factories in the Gulf countries and putting them on flights to, for instance, the UAE or Oman, with a visitor visa valid for just a couple of weeks. On landing there, their passports and other documents are taken away by the touts or ‘employers’. On the expiry of their visa, their stay becomes illegal, requiring a huge penalty — up to Rs 3 lakh each — for freedom. The duty of cross-checking the credentials of travel agents and publicising such horrible experiences lies with the Punjab government.
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