Rescue them

The plight of four men from Karnataka, all victims of the kafeel (employee sponsorship) system and languishing in jail in Saudi Arabia, should stir Indian authorities to do more for Indian nationals jailed abroad. The four men are among tens of thousands of Indian who have gone to various West Asian countries with dreams of earning well, only to arrive there to find they have been duped by wily employment agencies back home with false promises and exploited by their new employers. Under the kafeel system, employees cannot change jobs without their employer’s approval or leave the country without him signing their release papers.

Should the employee jump jobs as the four from Karnataka did to escape exploitation, they are accused of violating contracts with their employers and jailed for doing so. Leaving the country is rarely an option for Indian workers employed in the Gulf as their employees hold their passports. Although thousands of Indian workers are reported to be languishing in jails in the Gulf countries the Indian government has done precious little to protect these workers or to ensure they get a fair trial. Several Indians who have returned home after a harrowing time in prison in countries like Saudi Arabia or UAE say that embassy officials there were not bothered with their problems.

Indian officials never fail to help rich and powerful Indians living or travelling abroad. They seek special privileges for them and are ever willing to bail them out of trouble when they violate local laws. However, labourers in trouble abroad are ignored. This is deplorable as it is this section that needs the help of the government most. Most labourers are illiterate and unaware of rules abroad. Neither do they have the money to buy their way out of trouble.

In dealing with governments in the Gulf, India tends to tip-toe. It is reluctant to raise nettlesome issues that affect the well-being of its nationals working there. It must work with other South Asian countries, all of which have large numbers of people working in the Gulf, to push these governments to reform employment rules. Importantly, India needs to take stern action against travel/employment agencies at home that are cheating people with false promises and fake jobs.

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