Tri­als and tra­vails of in­dian do­mes­tic work­ers in Kuwait

Tri­als and tra­vails of In­dian do­mes­tic work­ers in Kuwait

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Sree­latha Menon

can you guess the con­nec­tion be­tween Kuwait and the re­mote vil­lages in chit­toor district of andhra Pradesh? Hint: Wealth lures poverty.

Kuwait has money and jobs, while the vil­lages in ap abound with peo­ple who have no hopes of ever mak­ing it good. What­ever they may do, they would not be able to ful­fil their dreams to see their chil­dren go to city col­leges or study abroad. Yet the as­pi­ra­tion never ceases.

So one fine day in March this year, when a lo­cal vil­lager, in sadum in chit­toor district, known for his con­nec­tions in Kuwait, sug­gested a job for suma (name changed), her hus­band Prakash didn’t want to miss the op­por­tu­nity.

suma worked in a nearby school. Her job was to clean the hos­tel and be on call the whole day for any other re­quire­ment. she earned about ₹3,000. she has two lit­tle boys; both less than three years.

she was just 22 and strik­ingly beau­ti­ful. Prakash worked at a lo­cal petrol pump and earned ₹6,000 a month.

a job in Kuwait was not a chance to miss. suma put in her papers at the school and left for Kuwait within two days seek­ing a bright fu­ture. she had got a job as a do­mes­tic help.

she would be earn­ing ₹25,000 a month, her rel­a­tives claimed – a dream amount that promised to end her fam­ily’s trou­bles.

But what was the guar­an­tee of her safety? and how would that com­pen­sate her sep­a­ra­tion from her lit­tle chil­dren and hus­band? These ques­tions had no an­swers.

Her mother-in-law was the only per­son at her home when this writer paid a visit. she had made all the cal­cu­la­tions about her daugh­ter-in-law’s fu­ture. “We have a lot of debt. So the first year we would pay all that off. From the sec­ond year on­wards we can save for her chil­dren,” she said.

on one hand, suma’s fam­ily is hope­ful of mak­ing it big in Kuwait, but on the other hand, Rani, suma’s cousin, dreads at the men­tion of Kuwait. Rani’s mother works in Kuwait. Her mother’s two sib­lings have also been work­ing there for the past two decades. Rani’s aunt was sold to an­other coun­try. “My un­cle and my mother then raised enough money to get her back,” she says.

“no one talks about these things when they come back. The first thing they do [in Kuwait] is take our visa and pass­port and re­turn it only when they want us to go. it has hap­pened with all my rel­a­tives,” she adds.

de­cid­ing to put an end to such abuse of work­ers, the in­dian gov­ern­ment in 2015 de­manded that the Kuwait gov­ern­ment should pro­vide a fi­nan­cial bond of $2,500 from ev­ery em­ployer for ev­ery worker it takes. Kuwait re­fused to do any such thing. in­dia also cre­ated a digital mi­gra­tion path­way to en­sure that ev­ery mi­grant was ac­counted for and their rights pro­tected. But both these moves re­ceived a cold re­sponse from the gulf coun­tries, es­pe­cially Kuwait and the uae.

But this did not cur­tail in­di­ans mi­grat­ing to Kuwait for work. “in re­sponse to an RTI query, the in­dian em­bassy in Kuwait re­vealed that 50,000 visas have been is­sued to in­di­ans be­tween 2015 and now,” says Rafeeq Ravuther, di­rec­tor, cen­tre for in­dian Mi­grant stud­ies in Thiru­vanan­tha­pu­ram.

These work­ers must have gone on a

guar­an­tee from their em­ploy­ers, says sis­ter lizzy, andhra Pradesh state coordinator for na­tional Work­ers Move­ment.

But guar­an­tees were paid for those who went through the of­fi­cial chan­nel on proper visas. “Those who went through agents and on ‘visit’ visas got no such guar­an­tee. This is a shady zone and no one knows how many women went through these un­of­fi­cial chan­nels,” adds sis­ter lizzy.

in oc­to­ber 2017, the in­dian gov­ern­ment re­laxed the mi­gra­tion norms and with­drew the de­mand of guar­an­tees from the em­ploy­ers – a ret­ro­grade step.

The in­dian gov­ern­ment has made a list of six agen­cies which are solely re­spon­si­ble for the re­cruit­ment of do­mes­tic work­ers in Kuwait. and if work­ers go through these agen­cies then the Kuwaiti em­ploy­ers don’t have to pay any guar­an­tees, says sis­ter lizzy. There is also no guar­an­tee if some sort of pro­tec­tion will be pro­vided through these chan­nels, she adds.

Most work­ers, how­ever, choose un­of­fi­cial agen­cies and go on ‘visit’ visas with­out in­form­ing any­one. so the need of the hour for the gov­ern­ment and the of­fi­cial agen­cies is to set up work­ers re­source cen­tres in places which are known as mi­gra­tion pock­ets, sug­gests sis­ter lizzy.

lack of in­for­ma­tion is the main prob­lem as far as do­mes­tic work­ers are con­cerned whether in in­dia or in Kuwait.

Re­cently, the Kuwait gov­ern­ment of­fered full amnesty to all the mi­grants who did not have le­gal papers and al­lowed them to re­turn home. around 1,30,000 in­di­ans were ex­pected to ben­e­fit from this of­fer, as per a re­port in Kuwait Times. and yet only 10,000 peo­ple have ap­proached the in­dian em­bassy in Kuwait with re­quests to go back.

“How can do­mes­tic work­ers liv­ing in some re­mote parts of Kuwait come to know of the amnesty of­fer and ap­proach the in­dian em­bassy? any help is not ac­ces­si­ble to them,” says sis­ter lizzy.

They can be ac­cessed in churches or parks and any in­for­ma­tion has to be given through these chan­nels, she sug­gests.

The gov­ern­ment may change a pol­icy and re­fine it, but it can help the do­mes­tic work­ers only when they are made aware about it. Peo­ple like sis­ter lizzy are not avail­able for work­ers be­fore they leave. “They don’t ap­proach us be­fore leav­ing and go on their own. We find out about the bad cases through fam­i­lies they leave be­hind,” she says.

suma’s mi­gra­tion to Kuwait high­lights that work­ers are still mak­ing a bee­line for the rich arab coun­tries.

The most heart-rending thing about traf­fick­ing of work­ers is in the way it is done. The more it goes un­der­ground, the more risky it be­comes for the women. For in­stance, in suma’s case, she boarded a flight from Hyderabad to dubai all alone. For a girl who has never stepped out­side her vil­lage and can’t speak any lan­guage ex­cept Tel­ugu, fly­ing alone would have been a night­mare. From dubai, she took an­other flight to Kuwait.

While suma is able to talk to her fam­ily on phone, she can­not re­turn home for five years as per her agree­ment. “she cried a lot one day. she said that she had to work a lot, even dur­ing fes­ti­vals,” re­calls sudha, suma’s cousin.

in her vil­lage there are two other women who have been to Kuwait but are now back for good.

in­drani was in Kuwait for 16 years. ev­ery two years she would get a roundtrip ticket to in­dia. she was 26 when she left, leav­ing be­hind her hus­band and three small chil­dren.

Her hus­band died a year ago. Just two years af­ter she re­turned.

she used to earn a measly ₹6,000 a month in the be­gin­ning, which in­creased to ₹10,000 by the time she came back.

Her achieve­ments? Her daugh­ter has com­pleted Msc in nurs­ing while her el­dest son is a con­duc­tor in the state trans­port cor­po­ra­tion. The youngest is a teacher in a gov­ern­ment school. What more could she want?

“Yes, it was dif­fi­cult to leave my lit­tle

Most work­ers, how­ever, choose un­of­fi­cial agen­cies and go on ‘visit’ visas with­out in­form­ing any­one. So the need of the hour for the gov­ern­ment and the of­fi­cial agen­cies is to set up work­ers re­source cen­tres in places which are known as mi­gra­tion pock­ets.

ones. But i had no choice,” she says.

“With­out an ed­u­ca­tion how can you earn ₹20,000?” she asks, adding, “i wanted my chil­dren to be ed­u­cated.”

Though her em­ploy­ers in Kuwait were good to her, she says that she was not al­lowed to come to in­dia when her mother died. “now my chil­dren don’t let me go back,” she says.

Her cousin Par­vati lives nearby. like in­drani she has also come back af­ter work­ing in Kuwait for a long time – 17 years. she is dis­il­lu­sioned by her ex­pe­ri­ence.

Par­vati left for Kuwait when she was barely 20. “i used to come home ev­ery two years and i got mar­ried in be­tween. af­ter that i de­cided to put an end to it,” she says.

“i was earn­ing up to ₹15,000. once when i re­turned, my hus­band met with an ac­ci­dent and all my sav­ings went into his treat­ment. He and his first wife’s fam­ily cheated me of all my money,” she says.

“i was left with my son and now i don’t want to go back to Kuwait to earn. if i go i will earn a lot. But i don’t want to waste my life there,” she says hug­ging her lit­tle son.

“i have spent all my life work­ing there. now, i want to rest,” she adds.

These women are links in a long chain of mi­gra­tions to Kuwait from ru­ral ap. and if the lat­est case is taken into ac­count, the story has not come to an end.

Kuwait and many Mid­dle east coun­tries fol­low the kafala or spon­sor­ing sys­tem which is a sort of me­dieval prac­tice where the worker is al­most re­duced to a bonded labour.

un­der this, the em­ployer has the right to keep the worker’s visa and travel papers as se­cu­rity against his/ her leav­ing the job. This re­stricts the worker from ei­ther chang­ing jobs, or leav­ing the coun­try when his/her life is in dan­ger.

if the worker chooses to run away, then he/she might land in jail for trav­el­ling with­out papers. so the do­mes­tic worker is at the to­tal mercy of the em­ployer.

in april this year, the Philip­pines gov­ern­ment banned work­ers from its coun­try to go to Kuwait in search of em­ploy­ment as Kuwait had re­fused to give any kind of se­cu­rity for the worker’s safety. The ban was im­posed af­ter the body of a Filipino do­mes­tic worker was re­cov­ered from the freezer of an em­ployer. The le­banese em­ployer was later ar­rested. since ma­jor­ity of work­ers in Kuwait are Filipinos, Philip­pines ar­rived at an agree­ment with Kuwait and lifted the ban in May.

Rafeeq Ravuther of the cen­tre for in­dian Mi­grant stud­ies runs a TV pro­gramme in Ker­ala which tells sto­ries of mi­gra­tions that have gone wrong and tries to save peo­ple from fall­ing prey to gulf coun­tries. so far, he has brought back 50 women do­mes­tic work­ers from var­i­ous gulf coun­tries.

“Ma­jor­ity of in­dian women work­ers in gulf coun­tries are from andhra Pradesh. The new pol­icy de­ci­sion to have all mi­gra­tions routed through six agen­cies is wel­come. But un­less this in­for­ma­tion reaches peo­ple in vil­lages and their trust is earned, they will keep pay­ing ₹2 lakh to il­le­gal agents and go to Kuwait on ‘visit’ visas risk­ing their lives and safety,” says Ravuther.

in re­sponse to Ravuther’s RTI query filed in Fe­bru­ary 2018, the In­dian em­bassy in Kuwait re­vealed that it re­ceived about 2,250 com­plaints from in­dian do­mes­tic work­ers in 2017; 950 of them were women.

among the griev­ances re­ported were non-pay­ment of promised salary, hold­ing of work­ers’ pass­port, ill treat­ment and harass­ment, long wait­ing hours and im­proper med­i­cal treat­ment, non-grant of leave in case of emer­gency sit­u­a­tions back home, and visa trad­ing.

caught be­tween ab­so­lute poverty and the hope of mak­ing a quick tran­si­tion from poverty to af­flu­ence, ru­ral fam­i­lies in andhra Pradesh tend to over­look the risks or the pains they have to un­dergo as they send young women to Kuwait.

“Ma­jor­ity of In­dian women work­ers in Gulf coun­tries are from Andhra Pradesh. The new pol­icy de­ci­sion to have all mi­gra­tions routed through six agen­cies is wel­come. But un­less this in­for­ma­tion reaches peo­ple in vil­lages and their trust is earned, they will keep pay­ing ₹2 lakh to il­le­gal agents and go to Kuwait on ‘visit’ visas risk­ing their lives and safety.” Rafeek Ravuther Di­rec­tor, Cen­tre for In­dian Mi­grant Stud­ies, Thiru­vanan­tha­pu­ram

Pic­ture for rep­re­sen­ta­tion pur­pose

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