Sadiq Basha, a taxi driver from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, has spent weeks trying to get his wife back from Kuwait, where she had gone to work as a maid, after the agent she went through demanded a ransom for her release.
Frustrated by the lack of government help, he went to the Supreme Court together with relatives of two other victims, seeking to force the government to step in and secure his wife’s freedom.
“She kept calling and crying,” Basha said. “She begged me to save her each time, saying she could not bear the abuse, she was not being given enough food and her health was failing. I felt so helpless.”
Eventually Basha managed to raise the cash to save his wife – but only after racking up debts with moneylenders that he does not know how he will repay.
“I just wanted it all to end and when I got the money, I just paid up,” Basha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a series of phone interviews. “Going to court was the last resort not just for me but for everyone who was in a similar situation.”
Rahul Dutt, director at the overseas employment and protectorate of emigrants office in India’s foreign ministry, said authorities had been able to quickly resolve cases where people had migrated legally for work.
India’s foreign ministry received more than 9,500 complaints between January and June this year from migrant workers in the Gulf.
Most concerned unpaid salaries, no days off or medical cover and a refusal to provide exit or re-entry visas so they could visit their homes in India.
Arrokiaraj Heller, researcher at the Centre for Development Studies, said workers often tried to contact Indian embassies, but the government “has not made it easy for them to access justice”.
Rafeek Ravunther, whose show “Pravasalokam” (“Migrants’ World”) airs in the southern state of Kerala where many Indian migrants working in the Gulf are from, said the ransom cases started when India’s foreign ministry brought in its e-migrate system.
This is a platform for registered agents, employers and workers with orientation programmes and an in-built grievance mechanism and was aimed at increasing transparency.
But take-up has been low, in part because the system requires employers in the Gulf to pay a security deposit to the local Indian embassy.
“The steep cost meant many went back to illegal agents so they could get maids for cheap,” said Ravunther.
“And in these situations, agents exploit the women, forcing them to work, while pressurizing the family to pay for her release.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)