This is a story which repeats itself in so many ways and over so many years. It is one of economic deprivation driving people to seek employment in menial jobs in West Asia.
In a recent horrific case, a woman from Tamil Nadu was attacked by her employer in Saudi Arabia and her hand chopped off for seeking her wages. The woman who was forced to seek the job to help her impoverished family was offered a wage of just Rs 15,000 a month, part of which had to be paid to her agent.
Indian labour in the Gulf is among the most exploited in the region and they work under conditions where very little by way of human rights applies to them. India’s ministry of external affairs has taken up the matter with the Saudi foreign office, from which no response has been reported so far.
For many years there have been frequent reports of atrocities on Indians working in the unorganised sector in West Asia. In Saudi Arabia, where Indians number about 7% of the country’s population, they are compelled to live in extremely unhygienic conditions with no social-security benefits. Besides, job security in Saudi Arabia is never certain.
Nearly 150,000 people had to return to India between April and November in 2013 because their visa terms did not allow them to seek further employment.
Saudi Arabia is not alone in this regard. Last year it was reported that more than 500 Indians working on construction sites in Qatar had died since 2012, most probably due to respiratory diseases and other health problems even as the country prepares for the football World Cup in 2022.
Though Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the world’s richest countries, their citizens tend to be harsh and tight-fisted in their treatment of guest workers as the overburdened and exploited labour is termed. In many places sometimes six to eight workers share a single room. Instances of workers not being paid are legion.
Worse still, employees cannot look for alternative jobs because their visa states where they will work and passports are often in the custody of the employer. The latest incident bears out how they are exposed to the risks of physical violence as well.
The government of India had taken up in an exemplary manner the case of an Indian Foreign Service officer who had faced humiliation in the US. It should use its much-touted economic clout to ensure that such incidents as the one in Saudi Arabia are not repeated.
Our embassies should also keep an up-to-date data base of Indians working there and have special cells to look into their grievances.