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. 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.
Her employers in 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.
The incident was widely reported in Sri Lanka and triggered angry demonstrations in front of the Saudi Arabia embassy. In Colombo, the victim’s recorded statement, translated into Arabic, was handed over to the Saudi embassy.
Ariyawathy’s wasn’t the first complaint against 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. Many who travel overseas for work come back with sordid stories.
The wounds on Ariyawathy’s body might eventually heal. But will the bestiality of the minds that inflicted the wounds ever be punished?