‘Slave labour’ exports from India must stop

Cheap imported labour has become an intrinsic part of their economy.
Mother of Akash S Nair of Mudiyoorkonam in Pandalam, who died in Kuwait building fire, are inconsolable when his mortal remains were brought to his native town.
Mother of Akash S Nair of Mudiyoorkonam in Pandalam, who died in Kuwait building fire, are inconsolable when his mortal remains were brought to his native town.(Photo | Express)

The story of insensitive governments and a brutal labour trafficking international order is being repeated ad nauseum. Some clucking noises are made when there are body bags. Then it is business as usual.

In recent days, there has again been a spate of tragedies.On 12 June, 45 Indians, mostly from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, were among those killed in a fire in a residential building in the Kuwaiti city of Mangaf. Lodged in an over-crowded conditions, most of the workers died not being able to escape the fumes as the terrace was locked. Minister of state V K Singh posing with the returning coffins on board an IAF aircraft, only heighted the bitterness of these deaths.

Around the same time, two Indian nationals - Hemil Mangukiya of Surat, and Mohammad Asfan from Hyderabad, hired as helpers for the Russian Army, were killed in the Ukraine fighting. Hundreds of Indians have been lured into seemingly peacetime jobs in Russia, and then forced to undergo army training and fight on the frontline.

In another tragic case a few days ago, a farm labourer, Satnam Singh, died after he was left unattended with a severed arm on the way side in Latina, Italy. Latina, a rural area south of Rome, is home to tens of thousands of Indian migrant workers. Italy’s labour minister Marina Caderone, speaking in Parliament, described the incident as an “act of barbarity”, but offered little hope to the racist exploitation of Indians in these farms.

The Indian government is aware of the gravity of the situation. Take the killing fields in Ukraine. Reports first emerged in February and March of a few Indians killed fighting for the Russian Army. The Indian government went public warning the Russian ambassador to stop mercenary recruitment in India.

The deaths have happened again, and this round the Indian government response has been sharp.In a press note, India has “demanded that there be a verified stop to any further recruitment of our nationals by the Russian Army” since “such activities would not be in consonance with our partnership.”

But these seem to be crocodile tears. It is an open secret the recruitment for Russia’s Ukraine war is being carried out by ruthless agents using public advertising and with functioning offices in India. If the government wanted it, these ‘slave’ shops can be shut and the human traffickersarrested in a jiffy.

It is also hard to believe that the strict policing network in West Asian and Arab countries are not aware of the slave-labour conditions of Indian workers. Cheap imported labour has become an intrinsic part of their economy.

Institutional trafficking

More serious is the institutional trafficking of Indian labour to conflict zones. Sample this: Israel, stopped giving work permits to Palestinians who worked in construction and other menial jobs after the October 7 conflagration. Facing a severe labour shortage, Israel turned to other markets, including India.

The death in March of a Kerala worker, Pat Niben Maxwell, in a Hezbollah attack in the Margialot region, near the Lebanon border, should have alerted Indian authorities against allowing Indiansto work in Israel’s war zones. Instead, the government allowed Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority to hold recruitment camps in UP, Haryana and Telangana and recruit over 10,000 youth for jobs in Israel.

Supporting the Israeli cause – the recruitment of nearly a lakh of Indian workers – has been National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). The irony is the Indian government has been claiming credit for generating these jobs, with recruitment centers adorned with pictures of the Indian Prime Minister! Given the danger awaiting, how is there state support for the transfer of Indian workers to war sones?

Global protection code

Despite the government’s claims to the contrary, high unemployment and various forms of discrimination has fueled a large number of Indians exiting the country for greener pastures. A Ministry of External Affairs report says there are 29 million NRIs and persons of Indian origin (PIOs) residing outside India, the world’s largest overseas diaspora. Every year 2.5 million Indians migrate – the highest annual number of migrants in the world.

It is therefore time the government rises to the occasion and sets up watchdogs to ensure those leaving the country have not been snared by human traffickers. Even after they leave Indian shores, there must be government monitoring, especially the condition of casual workers.

It is also obvious the international community has failed to tackle the gargantuan problem of cross border migration. People everywhere are fleeing hunger, unemployment and discrimination.

More than 10,000 people enter the US every day from its porous southern borders. Thousands make dangerous journeys crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Europe looking for a better life.

When this can’t be stopped, the international community must regulateconditions and save lives. Perhaps, the biggest shame the world carries is the thousands of deaths of African and Asian workers who constructed football stadia during the 13 years after Qatar was awarded the FIFA World Cup 2022 venue.

The Indian foreign ministry admits about 2,400 Indians too perished between 2014 and 2021. These workers died of heat exposure, dehydration and neglect. How many tragedies will we need to work up a conscience?

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