169 Indian suicides in UAE since 2004
Astring of silent suicides by poor unskilled labourers have failed to stir the nation?s conscience.india Updated: May 29, 2006 02:00 IST
A Rumugamvenkatesh, a 25 year old Indian supporting a family of six, hung himself to death in Dubai in 2004. He was unable to keep up with high interest payments for the loan he had taken to pay his recruiting agent. Like Venkatesh, 70 other Indians committed suicide that year in the UAE alone, and the number shot up to 84 in 2005, according to figures compiled by the Indian consulate.
In the first two months of 2006, 15 suicides have already been recorded. Even this data is not easily available in many countries but the number of suicides and unnatural deaths in the Gulf region is certainly in several hundreds every year.
Add to this, scores of deaths due to sunstroke and accidents at construction sites and you begin to get an idea of the unsafe work conditions. (In Dubai alone, 880 deaths were reported at construction sites in 2004, according to Human Rights' Watch.) Back home, TV channels go overboard when Indians are killed or kidnapped by terrorists, but the string of silent suicides or avoidable deaths fail to stir the nation's conscience.
In 2004, the Gulf was home to almost 3.5 million Indians, contributing $3.5 billion in annual remittances, according to some estimates. But beneath this impressive figure lie stories of unspeakable horror, sexual abuse and appalling exploitation.
Human Rights Watch describes the condition of 15 lakh Indian workers in Saudi Arabia as akin to slavery with 85% of them doing menial and unskilled jobs. Their ordeal begins as soon as they arrive. The employers usually confiscate their passports and residence permits, making it impossible for them to switch jobs or return home. Problems like non-payment of wages, denial of medical care and starvation rations are common.
Many are forced to work for more than 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Kattayadan Subair, hired to be a gardener in Saudi Arabia, was lucky to come back alive after he was forced to work as a shepherd for paltry wages, no fixed lodging, and food and water every two days. His poor family's persistence finally forced the Indian embassy to secure his return.
In the absence of a proactive and sustainable policy, proper systems of workers' registration and feedback, the Indian Government is perhaps hoping that the host countries would improve their human rights' record on their own.And until that happens, hundreds of body bags would continue to come home.