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Horror tales of Kerala migrants from Gulf

This is neither fiction nor a dramatised rendition of a real life story. Women are tricked into prostitution on arrival in Oman on a fake visa. Ramesh Babu reports.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2008 03:36 IST
Ramesh Babu

He can’t be named. But imagine his plight when he had to pay a pimp to meet his wife. There was no other way. Eventually, though, he was able to rescue her from the brothel.

This is neither fiction nor a dramatised rendition of a real life story. The woman, from Kerala, had been tricked into prostitution on arrival in Oman on a fake visa.

Such stories of deception, disappointment and betrayals abound in Kerala, home to the country’s largest immigrant population — 22 lakh at last count. Call it greed or need, but such stories are played and replayed in different parts of God’s own country without any change in the script — only the names change, and perhaps the country of crime.

There has been a growing trend of women going abroad, to work on the nursing staff of US hospitals and as domestic help and baby sitters in the Gulf.

There have been few or no complaints from the nurses working in the US — the money is good (some make as much as $5,000 a month) and so are the working and living conditions.

It’s not, however, the same story from the Gulf.

Jazeera gets angry whenever she remembers the year-and-a-half she worked for a Riyadh family. She says she was abused mentally and physically. When she couldn’t take it any more she fled.

“I was promised a baby sitter’s job. Once I landed in Saudi, I realised it was a virtual hell. More than men, women treated me like a slave. Anything goes wrong they used to pour hot water on me.”

Jazeera is still wary of speaking about her experience. Actually, she is not sure if she should speak about it at all — she believes it would be a loss of face. Also, she is looking for an opportunity to go out again.

Reshmi (not her real name) is a B.Com and says she was overjoyed when she landed an offer to work as a salesgirl at a leading Dubai retail outlet. This, of course, is how most such stories begin. Only, she didn’t know.

“Once I realised that I was duped I protested strongly,” she says, adding: “I was locked inside a garage and starved for days.”

Reshmi eventually gave in, they all do. She had taken a loan of Rs 75,000 to pay the agent for the job, the fares and everything else.

There are about 2 lakh Indian women working as household service providers in West Asian countries. Around 40 per cent of them are from Kerala — that’s a straight 80,000 maids.

And complaints are mounting from them, of physical torture, sexual abuse and non-payment of salaries. Some lucky few manage to return home, unharmed, unabused. But most take it silently.

“For the local people there, a housemaid is a commodity to be used and abused at will. Some countries like Pakistan banned the export of maids long back. But Indian maids are still flowing to the Gulf,” said an office-bearer of Pravasi Bandhu Trust, an organisation working for the welfare of NRIs.

“Many countries regularly send delegates to labour camps and other places to check the condition of people from their respective countries. But India is only concerned about their remittances.”

One of the stipulations on Indian women travelling abroad for certain categories of jobs is they should not be less than 30 years old. Since all three international airports (Kozhikode, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) of the state know the rules well, agents take their quarries out through airports outside Kerala.

“I was taken to an airport in north India for an Air Arabia flight. When I asked, I was told that tickets weren’t available in all three airports here. Once I reached Riyadh I was handed over to a stranger,” Jazeera says.

The traffickers trap their victims through attractive advertisements for sales executives, salesgirls, baby sitters or assistants. Free accommodation and air tickets are thrown in for good measure. It never fails.

Effective policing has helped Kerala plug loopholes to an

extent. The police, immigration department and recognised agents have all joined hands to tackle the menace. But the traffickers are always a few steps ahead.

Tomorrow: The way ahead