The numbers are disconcertingly high. Around 500 Indians working on construction sites in Qatar have died since 2012, ostensibly due to respiratory diseases and other health problems. The increase in construction is a result of the West Asian country preparing for the soccer World Cup in 2022.
While Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world, the way it treats its migrant workers is appalling. Qatar is building a new railway system, nine stadiums and a suburb adjoining its capital, Doha. But behind the glitz and glamour, there is the sad tale of hardship. It has been found that sometimes six-eight workers share a single room.
Cases of workers not being paid on time or denied their salaries have come to light. To make things worse, an employee cannot look for an alternative job because of restrictions in the visa and sometimes they cannot return without the employer's permission.
The problems of Indians working in the unorganised sector in West Asia go back many years. In Saudi Arabia, where Indians account for a large chunk of the country's working population, they are forced to live in unhygienic conditions, with very little social security benefits for the work they do.
Besides, their tenure in the country is always uncertain as proved by the fact that nearly 150,000 people had to return to India between April and November last year because their visa terms did not allow them to prolong their stay.
What should the Government of India's role be? In pursuit of globalisation, it has wooed the rich Indian diaspora by holding the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas annually since 2003.
What has come of it is open to question. Highly appreciable is the way it took up the cause of an Indian Foreign Service officer who faced humiliation in the United States.
But it also should, through diplomatic channels, open negotiations with West Asian countries to which Indians chiefly go and remittances from where sustain many families. And, the next government should also take up infrastructure development in a manner such that people do not have to go out of India to work on construction sites.
But for the moment, it should at least think of some schemes for rehabilitation of those who return with little to show for their labour as well as speedy repatriation of the bodies of those who have lost their lives.