The voice of protesting Indian workers in Mississippi finally appears to have been heard.
In the US, the Indian mission acknowledged the terrible conditions in which the workers had been made to live and work.
And in India, the government said it might change the law to ensure rogue recruiters who send workers overseas after making false promises, are severely punished.
This is the first concrete response from the Indian government since the Hindustan Times first reported on the plight of over a hundred Indian workers allegedly kept in subhuman conditions at a shipyard on America’s Gulf coast.
The workers have alleged they gave up to Rs 8-10 lakh to a Mumbai recruiter working for marine services company Signal International in return for a promise of green cards and permanent US residency, but were instead made to live in virtual imprisonment “like pigs” in overcrowded dorms, given stale food, and paid meagre wages.
On Friday, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told Hindustan Times: “The ministry is contemplating an amendment to the Emigration Act, 1983, for more stringent punishment for fraudulent (recruitment) agencies. The amendment will be put up to the cabinet when Parliament goes into recess between the third week of March and April.”
In the US, two officials of the Indian mission sent to New Orleans to investigate the workers’ allegations, returned to Washington DC on Thursday.
In their preliminary findings submitted to Ambassador Ronen Sen, the officials, KP Pillai and Alok Pandey, acknowledged the workers' plight. Their report, highly placed sources in the mission told Hindustan Times, "corroborated some of the workers' grievances" and said the conditions they lived in were "far from decent".
According to the sources, Sen will submit a detailed report to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi shortly. He will also submit a report to Vayalar Ravi.
"Based on their (the officials') findings, we will take whatever action is needed to safeguard the legitimate interests of our citizens," an Indian embassy spokesman said. He did not specify what the "action" would be.
The protesting workers have been very upset with the government's attitude to the issue.
"We are shocked at the biased manner in which the Indian government has been treating the issue," said Anannya Bhattacharjee, whose 'Jobs for Justice' organisation is working with the Alliance for Guest Workers for Dignity, the workers' forum in the US. Hindustan Times has been trying to elicit a response from the embassy since the time the story broke a week ago.
But the mission has shown no urgency to respond to queries.