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She approached me in the park. Looking gaunt, almost ghostly,eyes rolling in the sockets to say she was alive- she was just a bag of bones. With a knowing smile, she looked at me playing with my kids, talking to them in Tamil. Ahhhh! Listening to Tamil in an alien land must have been sheer joy for her, she came near me, glanced furtively at the little ones playing near her and asked in a shrill voice- " Are you Srilankan Tamil?" May be my costume of collared shirt gave her that impression. I smiled and said- " No, i am from India, but Tamil anyway". The little one near her came to her and started shouting in Arabic, the kid needed water. She gave the kid some and by the time, the bigger guy from the pack stood near her, trying to overhear our small talk. We did not even have a conversation, she had just told me she was here for four years, had three children back home and as usual, salary overdue for two years. Worried by the menacing look of the big child, i moved aside, why land yourself in unnecessary trouble in an unknown country? The entire family came by her side now, talking louder and left off in a huff. I can never forget the pain and pleading in that maid's eyes....as she was herded in the back seat of a GMC.
Saudi Arabia hosts almost a million house maids from poverty stricken South Asian countries, usually from Phillipines, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. Every posh household here boasts of Khaddammas- housemaids. These women leave their families back home in their countries, most of the times- little children and come to the Gulf to earn a living. News of alleged torture, sexual abuse and inhumane working conditions abound here. I must say a word about the Phillipines Embassy here. They act on the dot and try to find some justice in case of problems to their nationals working as maids here. But so sad, there is not even a whimper from the Indian Embassy even if a maid is killed. Just read in today's newspaper that a SriLankan Tamil housemaid was killed by her sponsor when she refused to work after completion of her contract period of two years. The passports of these maids usually remain with the sponsor who bring them to the Kingdom, they are seldom permitted to venture out of the high walled villas.
|LT Ariyawathi and X-ray of needles embedded in her
A Srilankan maid had been living like a slave in a house for Riyadh for almost 17 years ( see the link for Arab News published article) since arriving in the Kingdom. Some concerned neighbour had tipped off the Embassy and when the officials arrived, she was not even able to talk in her native tongue. She had forgot her language and acted like an automated robot! What a shame! Another case that got highlighted was of Srilankan maid LT Ariyawathie. The poor maid had 24 needles embedded all over her body. The sponsor was as usual let off, after the Doctors(?) claimed she had self- nailed her. How cruel? Why would someone insert 24 needles to escape a sponsor? Another maid jumped from the fifth floor of a building to escape from the sponsor. Remember dear friends, these are not isolated cases.
|Picture of Indonesian maid Sumiati
23 year old Indonesian maid Sumiati is still lucky to be alive, her scalp has been burnt with an iron, her face slashed with scissors and she is barely able to walk, even now undergoing multiple surgeries in the Kingdom. And the person who did all this to her, her employer's wife, accepted she did all these tortures because she could not stand her maid who was beautiful than her and she did this out of jealousy. Another Indonesian maid was not so lucky though, she was killed and thrown in a trash bin in Abha. Another Srilankan maid was crippled because she was left in the cold desert winter in an open shed tending to goats and sheep. She had come on a maid visa, not to look after goats.
|Migrant babies of Indonesian maids
raped or from consensual relationships
in Government Shelter, Jakarta
As if these tortures are not enough, there are instances of rampant sexual abuse on these hapless maids. Last week an Indian maid was strangled and burnt in a remote desert area because she refused to get back to India as she was four months pregnant with the child of her employer. Saudi employer blamed was arrested ( click for link to Arab News article). But will the Indian Embassy that is long dormant and asleep would wake up,that is a million dollar question. Some maids chuck the unborn foetuses in aircraft toilets when fleeing the Gulf. (See the link for news article) There are many children who are left in state care in Indonesia, children of Indonesian maids born out of rape or consensual relationships by Saudi employers. Saudi Arabia has banned abortion and these women are left with no option but put the babies so born in such shelter for migrant babies in Indonesia.( see link for news article).
The pathetic look of the maid whom i encountered in the park often haunts my dreams, with her smile and shrill voice- " Are you Srilankan Tamil?". May be i should have listened to her instead of walking away. May be i should have helped her. May be i was too busy then to care. May be we talk more and act less. I write this post as a humble request to all those in power- please do not send women to work as maids to the Gulf. To all those poor women who want their children to get decent education and live a better life, please do not come here. And if at all you would like to work here, register with Government registered agencies, carry a mobile phone and always have the Embassy's numbers handy. Do talk with people back in your country as often as possible and do not be afraid to report any problem to respective Embassies. As for the Embassies of India and Srilanka, i do wish they follow the good work done by the Indonesian and Phillipine Embassies here. There are organisations in other countries ( SLEWA in Srilanka, OWWA in Phillipines)that are well-supported by the Governments that look after such issues. India sadly lacks any such organisation. I do sincerely hope the Indian Government takes these issues seriously and establishes one such association. Networking is more important, working as a maid, keep in touch with other maids nearby. I do not mean to say all employers are bad, there are bad apples everywhere. There were maids who were sobbing on flights back home, maids who genuinely are loved by the Arab families and miss them. I am happy for them. But i stand up to speak for the lesser lucky ones. As women- maids or otherwise, let us live dignified!