Chandran Ganeshappa was waiting at the Bahrain International Airport to board a plane back to his native Andhra Pradesh, scrutinising the out-pass which was granted to him.
He checked his pockets to ensure that the 5,000 rupees which he managed to collect would help him catch a train to his village and survive a few days.
Ganeshappa was among the thousands of Indian who went westwards, seeking to realise a Gulf Dream. He hailed from the interiors of his state, uneducated but carrying on his family tradition of carpentry. He had taken a loan of nearly two lakh rupees to pay a Gulf agent and all the formalities involved. His salary was a mere 5000 rupees.
Unfortunately, as soon as he landed, he was rushed into a wooden quarters which was shared by 10 others and his passport immediately taken away by his employers. The next morning at 7am, he was bundled off to work as a menial labourer at a construction site. He worked 14 hours a day, sometimes in temperatures hovering 50 degrees Celsius.
His carpentry skill was never utilised and once the site was ready, he was told to find another job on his own.His repeated request to return his passport was met with an “Inshallah, soon.”
Days passed into months and then years but his passport was never returned. He was told to pay the equivalent of Rs two lakhs if he wanted to renew his passport or have it returned.
To work off his debt, Ganeshappa took any job that came his way and survived meagrely for 12 years before he was caught as an illegal immigrant. After having spent six months in jail, he finally managed to get an out-pass which ensured his passage back home.
There are many more like Ganeshappa stranded in the region as the Gulf Dream is beginning to enter the stark reality of world recession and lower oil prices.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that an Air-India crew was asked to hand over their passports when in Saudi Arabia over fears they may stay back and work illegally. This is a common phenomenon in the Gulf. Unfortunately, it applies mostly to Asian citizens, who are often treated with disrespect.
The problems persist but no solution has been found for it.
Sadly, the rogue bosses are never punished. It is always the worker without the passport who gets jailed or has to work surreptitiously to make ends meet. Of course, the Asian community must also be blamed for taking up illegal jobs. But the problem lies on both sides.
Asian countries must take a close look at their own workers’ contracts and ensure that all regulations are met when they go abroad. Gulf authorities should also ensure that rogue bosses are punished to avoid such disasters.
The Philippine government has led the way by asking their embassies in the Gulf to check the deals offered to its workers and attest it.
Taking away the passport of the Air-India crew is not shocking for those living in the Gulf. However, the Gulf authorities must realise that Asians, particularly Indians, don’t need to go for work there as India is progressing rapidly.
Over the last few years, there has been a shortage of Indian workers to the Gulf which has caused concern there.
The number of people emigrating to the Gulf for work dropped significantly from 775,845 in 2014 to 507, 296 in 2016.
Remittances to India also fell nine per cent last year in the wake of low oil prices and the Gulf economic crisis.
These figures indicate that times are changing. Thankfully, our workers have realised that there is nothing better than home and that dignity of labour and respect are of paramount importance.
#Views expressed in this column are the authors.
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