Abu Mohammed dreamt once of owning a big house, a big car and everything else money could buy. Today, after a traumatic stint in the Gulf as an immigrant worker, he writes poems of heartbreak and disappointment. “Katl hone se akhir kahan tak dare, katilon ke mohalle mein ghar le liya (how long will you fear being killed once you have taken a house in a colony of murderers).” That’s a line from one of his poems.
He is from Khetserai, a small town in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Eighty per cent of families of this town have at least one member working abroad chasing dreams amid stifling, inhuman working and living conditions. A big boarding outside the local post office instructs people to see the postmaster to collect money sent by relatives abroad. There is quite a bit of money coming here, people say.
There are enough stories of heartbreak, disappointment, abuse and torture in Jaunpur to persuade the most committed hopeful to look at other options. But, says Mohammad, people are blinded by “poverty and illiteracy”. As for himself, Mohammad says he decided in just a month this is not the life he was looking for. He left for Saudi Arabia on February 8 this year and was back on March 10. Returning was not an easy decision.
Like all other Gulf hopefuls, Mohammad had paid quite a bit for a job in Saudi Arabia. He had planned to work as a driver as promised by his employers. But when he landed there, the job description changed dramatically. “I was working 20 hours as a domestic help,” says Mohammad, adding, “I was even made to clean toilets and do such other menial works.” Mohammad worked till midnight and was expected back at work by 4:00 am. In between he could go home. It was tiny room with a window, which he was asked not to open. And there were no fixed eating hours or a guarantee that he would get food.
Abu Ahmad, another Gulf veteran, has a similar story to tell. He also went to Saudi Arabai to work as a driver. When he reached Dammam, he got a rude shock. He was to work as a domestic help, cleaning toilets included. And he was not to get 1,000 Riyals for eight hours of work as promised but 800 Riyals for 20 hours.
That was infinitely better than Sufian’s work. He was taken 350 km into the desert, lodged in a tent and expected to take 400 goats for grazing every day. He ran away.
But getting out is the toughest part. As soon as they are employed, their passports are taken away and given to their employers (called Kafil locally). And he won’t part with it easily. Arrest and jail is one way of getting deported. The hapless immigrant worker tries everything else before that. And that includes asking the Indian embassy for help. Some immigrants even accused the embassy staff of corruption. Money has to be paid to get any work done.
According to the migrants, workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia are better off because their embassies fight for their rights.
Back in India, they are jobless, but safe. A line from a poem by Ahmad sums it up well: “Saudi ke liye ab mera arman nahi hai/Bharat ko thokar mare jo insan nahi hai (have no desire to go to Saudi any more/whoever leaves India is not a human being).”