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Lankan maid torture: will the perpetrators ever be nailed?

world Updated: Aug 31, 2010 15:57 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

At last count, doctors had extracted some 15 nails, four pins and a piece of metal from Ariyawathy’s body. Reports of torture and ill-treatment of Sri Lankan housemaids working abroad were treated as routine till a reluctant Ariyawathy’s family took her to a doctor after finding multiple cuts and bruises on her.

The subsequent diagnosis triggered a national outrage and detected a fairly well-spread infection set off by nails and pins inside her hands, feet and forehead.

Apparently, her employers -- husband, 35, wife, 29 -- from Riyadh had nothing worse to do other then pierce, insert or hammer pieces of metal inside their house help; their way of punishing Ariyawathy if, for example, she overslept or complained of exhaustion.

``I dropped a saucer…My employer was angry and heated five nails and drove them into my hand. When I shouted in pain, my employer’s wife held a knife to my neck,’’ Ariyawathy told the Sunday Times newspaper.

Another half-a-dozen nails remain embedded inside 49-year-old Ariyawathy as doctors thought an attempt to remove those could be fatal.

The incident was widely reported in Sri Lanka and triggered angry demonstrations in front of the Saudi Arabia embassy. The foreign employment bureau (FEB) too seemed to have been moved enough by the plight of the victim. Chairperson Kingsley Ranawaka is currently visiting Saudi Arabia to meet officials regarding the case.

In Colombo, the victim’s recorded statement, translated into Arabic, was handed over to the Saudi embassy.

Ariyawathy’s wasn’t the first complaint to have come out of Saudi Arabia. ``Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the country from which large number of complaints (was) received since 2005-2008.

It was nearly 43 per cent,’’ the FEB’s 2008 annual report said. In real terms, in 2008, 4196 complaints were received from there; 3533 complainants were women.

The incident also brought under focus the impunity with which many employment agencies work. Thousands of Sri Lankan women go abroad every year to work, majority as housemaids. But many often end up working at low salaries and come back with sordid stories.

Interestingly, remittance from migrant workers is the second largest foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka after garment exports.

The wounds on Ariyawathy’s body might eventually heal. But will the bestiality of the minds that inflicted the wounds ever be punished?