TIRUCHY: After spending his youth as a farmer in Orathanadu in Thanjavur, R Jayakumar thought his family’s fortunes would change after he landed a job in Saudi Arabia. He was recruited through a local agent in the district, who assured him that it was an eight-hour job at a school in the kingdom. That was about a-year-and-a-half ago.
“But after reaching here, I realised the work was not connected to any school, but to rear cattle. I have been made to work for over 14 hours each day in scorching temperatures that touch 46 degree,” recounts the 51-year-old, one of the hundreds who have made to the Gulf from the Cauvery delta. Now, his only wish is to get back to his family, but for that he has to compensate Rs 54,000 to his employer for the visa he sponsored.
“I have to work six more months till my visa lapses… That is the only way I can go home,” Jayakumar says, voice tinged with disappointment.
However, the overall situation shows that Jayakumar should consider himself lucky to be employed. The Centre has estimated that there over 10,000 workers have been laid off in the recent past. They are stuck there, struggling to survive each passing day. These workers are refusing to return without collecting their salaries. For them, it is worth the struggle — many of them are the sole breadwinners of their families who decided to work in trying conditions for their children’s education, to settle loans; most of them are set to return home with broken dreams.
“Till the past few months, the firms that recruited them were making arrangements for food and accommodation for the workers. But in the recent past, food allowance was stopped, which is how the struggle of migrant workers came to light,” MA Raja Mohammed, assistant professor with research department of economics in Jamal Mohamed College, told Express.
The present crisis, brought about by the spectacular crash in oil price and the ongoing clash in Yemen, among other factors, have turned attention to the welfare and even safety of the people who go from here, the agents that recruit them, the lives they lead there and the need for a network that can link them to the authorities here for assistance.
Central districts, including Tiruchy, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam, and Pudukkottai, are among the hotspots for recruiting cheap semi and unskilled labour to Gulf countries. “It is unemployment and poverty that have been driving the people to Gulf countries. Since Indian workers are easy to lay off, we have about 10,000 of them stranded in Saudi. Of those, at least 1,000 could be from TN,” Sister Josephine Valarmathi, State Coordinator of National Domestic Workers’ Movement said.
The agents in Tiruchy told Sunday Express that the numbers were consistently going up each year, about 10-15 per cent every year. Profiting from their desperation are about 300 recruiting agents, a good majority of them unregistered. Though these agents give rosy promises while recruiting, the reality is different. The men from here are asked to do work, including rearing livestock. The option to say no to the instruction does not exist, and if they dare so, physical harassment entails.
“It is the employer there who sponsors the visa, but the agents and middlemen take a sum from worker for processing the documents like visa stamping, tickets, and emigration. But if the person wishes to return, he should compensate the visa charge sponsored by his employer, and should also bear his return air ticket,” a registered agent said.
The taxing conditions under which they work, the lack of support from authorities and the despair that arises out of the helplessness they face drive many of the migrants to turn to drastic measures. According to the organisation Migrants-Right, 700 Indian migrant labourers have committed suicide in UAE alone between 2007 and 2013.
While their suffering ends with that one step, it is not the case with their families back home. In many cases, families members learn the news about death only days later. Even in cases where family members have suspicion about their deaths, they prefer to issue a no objection certificate so as to initiate the formalities to receive the mortal remains.