No an­swers

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT -

JI­TeN­Der Singh Khalsa al­ways rang his daugh­ter be­fore a trip home from the Gulf to ask how many toys and chocolates she wanted.

But in Novem­ber, the phone call that came was from his lat­est em­ployer, Qcon, a con­trac­tor to oil, gas and power com­pa­nies in Qatar, in­form­ing his fam­ily that he was dead.

Three months on, Khalsa’s fam­ily say they have re­ceived no help from the In­dian or Qatari au­thor­i­ties in es­tab­lish­ing what hap­pened. In­stead, they have been pres­sured to sign a re­lease re­quest­ing the re­turn of Khalsa’s body, and of­fered an in­sur­ance set­tle­ment from Qcon of £1,800.

Ac­cord­ing to Sur­jit Kaur, Khalsa’s mother, an of­fi­cial at the In­dian em­bassy in Doha told them: “We’ve sent 25 bod­ies back to In­dia this month (Nov 2013) and 29 bod­ies last month (oct 2013). You should sign the re­lease and get on with it.”

The cir­cum­stances of Khalsa’s death are dis­puted and could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied, but they un­der­score the prob­lems fac­ing thou­sands of mi­grant work­ers and their fam­i­lies in Gulf coun­tries, where they en­joy few rights.

Qcon main­tains Khalsa was found dead from heart and re­s­pi­ra­tory fail­ure at Doha in­ter­na­tional air­port on Nov 25. His fam­ily ques­tioned why, if he was at the air­port, he did not have lug­gage or his pass­port.

Khalsa’s fam­ily say they have ev­i­dence from his col­leagues and from a hospi­tal in Doha that he was taken by am­bu­lance from Qcon’s own fa­cil­i­ties, and they sus­pect he may have been poi­soned by ex­po­sure to hy­dro­gen sul­fide gas, a highly toxic com­pound ex­tracted from nat­u­ral gas.

“one gen­tle­man who worked with my brother came to our house in Mum­bai af­ter his death and gave us the carry bag from the hospi­tal where he was ad­mit­ted,” Dilip Singh Khalsa, Ji­ten­der’s brother, said by phone from their home in Mum­bai.

“I also spoke to the hospi­tal my­self and a re­cep­tion­ist con­firmed he’d been ad­mit­ted, but then the doc­tor re­fused to speak to me about why he died.”

While the facts re­main un­clear, Dilip Khalsa is re­fus­ing to repa­tri­ate his brother’s body with­out a post­mortem and a po­lice re­port. Three months on, the body re­mains in a Doha hospi­tal mor­tu­ary. The fam­ily have ap­pealed in vain to In­dian au­thor­i­ties in Doha, as well as In­dia’s min­istry of ex­ter­nal af­fairs and the of­fice of the prime min­is­ter, Man­mo­han Singh.

“It’s been three months and we’re not get­ting any re­sponse from our govern­ment,” said Dilip Khalsa bit­terly. “Should we con­tact the pres­i­dent of Amer­ica to help us in­stead?”

PS Sasi Ku­mar, deputy chief of mis­sion for labour, death cases and com­mu­nity wel­fare at the In­dian em­bassy in Doha, told the Times of In­dia in De­cem­ber: “We have been giv­ing reg­u­lar up­dates to Khalsa’s fam­ily and the In­dian min­istry of ex­ter­nal af­fairs.

“We can’t ask the Qatar govern­ment to con­duct a post­mortem. The death cer­tifi­cate shows it was a nat­u­ral death.”

Qcon re­ferred the Guardian to the In­dian em­bassy or In­dian govern­ment.

There are an es­ti­mated 500,000 In­dian work­ers in Qatar, ac­cord­ing to the In­dian em­bassy. And while re­mit­tances from In­dian work­ers glob­ally to­tal a whop­ping £42bil, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, there is lit­tle pro­tec­tion from un­scrupu­lous In­dian em­ploy­ment agents, or from ex­ploita­tion abroad.

In­dia’s pro­tec­tor gen­eral of im­mi­grants at the min­istry of over­seas In­dian af­fairs could not be reached for com­ment yes­ter­day.

“We have not been of­fi­cially or un­of­fi­cially in­formed,” said KC Behra, an un­der­sec­re­tary in charge of pol­icy for Gulf coun­tries at the min­istry, in re­sponse to a ques­tion about the deaths of In­dian work­ers in Qatar.

“The first pri­or­ity of the min­istry has been to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of In­dian work­ers in the Gulf,” Vyalar ravi, over­seas In­dian af­fairs min­is­ter, was quoted as say­ing in the Dec­can Herald news­pa­per in Jan­uary. “We have taken sev­eral steps. Now the com­plaint has come down sig­nif­i­cantly.”

Ji­ten­der Singh Khalsa’s story is typ­i­cal of many mi­grant work­ers. He shared a 18.6sqm room with his wife, daugh­ter, brother and par­ents in cen­tral Mum­bai, earn­ing less than £100 a month as a clerk at the govern­ment-run oil and nat­u­ral gas com­pany Hindustan Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion Limited.

When a friend em­i­grated to the Gulf, he soon fol­lowed to pur­sue salaries that were more than dou­ble his In­dian earn­ings. – Guardian News & Me­dia

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