Youths held up in Iraq as bonded labourers; relatives pin hopes on government

  • Anshu Seth, Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
  • Updated: Jun 24, 2014 11:13 IST

In yet another dream of greener pastures turning into nightmare, Manjit Pal and Jatinder Singh of Ludhiana, who went to Iraq almost six months ago to work for a construction company in Baghdad, have ended up losing their freedom to the owner of the company.

Manjit Pal, 27, and Jatinder Singh, 28, had left for Iraq six months ago and have worked as carpenters ever since. However, the duo along with 21 other Punjabi boys are being treated as “bonded labourers” for the last two months as having confiscated their passports, the company owner has absconded to Italy.

With militants in Iraq abducting Indians working in Iraq, the Punjabis working at this specific company were scared and wanted to come back. But the company owner refused to return their passports.

Ravi Mann, the younger brother of Manjit Pal, while giving a request to Ludhiana deputy commissioner (DC) Rajat Agarwal, stated that his brother and his friend were in a bad condition and the government should do something to bring them back.

Mann gave a written representation to the DC on Monday requesting safe evacuation of his brother and his friend.

“We paid Rs 1.5 lakh to an agent based at Phagwara. He got Manjit a contractual job for two years wherein a contract was signed that clearly stated he would be allowed to come and meet his family whenever he wanted. However, the company owner took the passports on the pretext of some legal formalities and did not return it,” shared Mann.

Both the carpenters were given US$350 (around Rs 21,000) per month for four months, but then the company owner stopped giving salary.

All these 23 boys are huddled in a single room and with all savings spent in last two months, survival has become tougher for each one of them with every passing day as was recounted by Manjit Pal to his brother over telephone.

“The only consolation is telephone link as we speak to Manjit almost every day on his mobile but he cannot call back.”

DC Agarwal said the government had ensured that the Indian Embassy would be liberal as far as evacuation of Indians was concerned. “So as to ensure safe evacuation, we are updating the details to the government on daily basis and are hopeful of a positive outcome. Thereafter, we will definitely take up the issues of agents swindling youth for overseas job in lieu of money, provided we have a complaint,” Agarwal added.

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