Kuboos a day, 22 hours of work! How Kerala women were lured into a life of slavery in Kuwait
The racket got exposed when one of the three victims on return from Kuwait lodged a complaint with police and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) through a Kochi-based lawyer Nishin George
KOCHI: It was too good to be true. But then again with their families staring at financial ruin, the lure of jobs as babysitters and hospital staff at a monthly salary of Rs 60,000 in Kuwait was too hard to resist. Once they landed in Kuwait, however, grim reality left five women from Kerala reeling. They were stuffed into a dingy room for days before being sold as bonded labourers to rich Arab families in Kuwait. So much for dreaming of liberation!
Three of these women, recently rescued by Malayalee organisations in Kuwait from the clutches of a human trafficking network operated by MK Gassali alias Majeed of Kannur, played their part in finally blowing the lid off the trafficking of domestic workers to Kuwait in the post Covid period.
A Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) volunteer in Kuwait, instrumental in rescuing the trio, revealed how the racket operated.
Such women were brought from Kerala on visit visas via Dubai and Sharjah. They were then paraded in front of potential employers who could take them home once the money demanded changed hands. "The agents collect Rs 9 to 10 lakh for each woman from the Arab families. The racket ended up pushing these women into a life of domestic servitude after selling them as 'slaves'," he said.
Another KMCC volunteer said the women disappear from view as soon as they are handed over to the Kuwaiti families.
The racket got exposed when one of the three victims on return from Kuwait lodged a complaint with the police and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) through a Kochi-based lawyer Nishin George. Based on her complaint, the Kochi city police on May 18 registered a case against Gassali and another person Ajumon AR, 35, of Pathanapuram in Kollam who acted as a recruiter in Kerala. In the complaint, the victim narrated the torture the women had undergone at the hands of their Kuwait masters.
"We have launched a detailed probe. Though Ajumon sought an anticipatory bail from the Ernakulam Sessions Court, the judge denied it on June after we raised strong objections. Finally, Ajumon was forced to surrender before the court. We will seek his custody for detailed interrogation," said Faisal MS, Inspector, South Police Station.
"As per the statement of the victims, more women are trapped in Kuwait. There was a Hindi-speaking woman who was locked up along with them in a room. When the Malayali organisation intervened, she was shifted to another place by the racket. They don't know what happened to her," lawyer Nishin George said, adding that they had submitted her details to agencies including the NIA.
"We found that the racket had collected Rs 10 lakh from the Kuwait families for each woman," he added.
The victim from Kochi, who spoke to The New Indian Express, said she applied for the job after seeing posters in public spaces promising jobs as babysitters in Kuwait with a salary of Rs 60,000.
"The attractive factor was that the recruitment was free of cost. They didn't even collect money for the visa. They promised jobs as a babysitter. But when we reached there, they sold us to families as housemaids and made us to work for up to 22 hours a day. We worked as slaves and were only given a kuboos a day. Life was hell. You have to work all day and can never leave the house."
Another victim revealed that she escaped from the torture of the Arab family where she was working as a housemaid by threatening to commit suicide. "They got frightened and returned me to the agent," she said.
The grim picture of human trafficking in Kuwait is captured in a report titled 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Kuwait by the US State Department. The report says "the Government of Kuwait does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so."
It added that "some government officials allegedly sold work visas to illegal recruiters or even directly to migrant workers, potentially facilitating trafficking. Upon arrival, some sponsors subject migrants to forced labor, and to a much lesser extent sex trafficking, through the following illegal measures: non-payment of wages, protracted working hours contrary to contractual agreements, deprivation of food, substandard housing, threats or harassment, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as confinement to the workplace and passport confiscation."
Lawyer Nishin George said there was a reason why the women were only given visit visas to Dubai. "They wanted to avoid the strict regulations of the Ministry of External Affairs that stipulated recruitment to jobs like housemaids should be done only with the approval of the Protector of Emigrants."
While enforcement agencies in the country are trying to locate around 100 other women believed to have been recruited by the racketeers, the victims who have returned have given statements indicating the possibility of many more women being trapped in Kuwait.
Ambhika and Viji, who escaped from the racket in Kuwait, told The New Indian Express that the racketeers had seized their passport once they reached Kuwait.
"Only when we reached there, we knew that they had taken us to work as domestic maids for Arab families. When we objected, the racketeers threatened to put us in jail by foisting fake cases on us. Fear gripped us and we didn't know what to do in a totally strange place. We saw many women brought in a similar manner by the racketeers to Kuwait. A few were even seen arguing with the agents," Ambhika said.
Viji said she was taken to Kuwait via Dubai on February 5 but she protested and managed to return on March 4. "Life was hell. I strongly protested. Many like me are still trapped there," she said.
Kochi native Francis, whose wife escaped and returned home after he sought help from a Malayalee organisation in Kuwait, said he received a few calls from other women seeking help to return home.
S Irudaya Rajan, Chairman of The International Institute of Migration and Development, said the people of Kerala have always been ready to migrate to Middle East countries for various jobs.
"Migration from Kerala will happen at various levels. But what we need to do is to educate the people in Kerala, particularly the women from lower strata of the society about the pros and cons about going to countries like Kuwait to work as baby sitters and domestic servants. The state government should make use of the Kudumbashree network to educate the women about the rules and procedures that need to be followed while looking for a job abroad. We need to discipline our workforce here to ensure that they don't fall into the trap of human trafficking rackets and fraud job agents," he said, adding that it's true there is a kafala sponsorship system in Kuwait, which does not allow domestic workers to leave or change jobs without their employer’s permission.
"We cannot change a system in a foreign country but we can sensitize our people about the system which may pose problems to them," he added.