EAS Sarma writes to Modi on plight of Indians in Gulf

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Visakhapatnam: Are we forcing our unemployed workforce to migrate to the Gulf region to barter away their human rights for short-term foreign exchange gains from the Gulf?, former Energy Secretary and activist EAS Sarma has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and fervently appealed to him to fight the scourge of human trafficking.

In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister here on Wednesday, he observed that the newspapers these days carry heartrending stories every day about Indian workers, mostly women, being subject to sub-human treatment by their employers in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. “There are thousands of unauthorised agents in India, in league with their counterpart brokers in the Gulf countries, luring women on false promises of employment in the Gulf region and exporting them to work there as indentured workers. Once they become captive to the Gulf employers, there is no effective mechanism in place either in the Union Labour Ministry or in the External Affairs Ministry to ascertain their welfare and safety.

Noting that there is a huge gap between the working conditions assured initially by the Gulf agents and the actual service conditions faced by the workers, he said most of them get below-par wages and are forced to do menial work. Some of the women workers are subject to exploitation of the worst kind. The workers lose their right to quit the employment in the Gulf, as their passports are seized by the employers and they are not allowed to board a return flight to India wthout the employer’s consent. In many cases, the employers foist false police cases against the workers to prevent them from returning to India.

“Many workers have been subject to physical injury. Some have become victims of mental disorder. There have also been instances of suicide and death due to oppression and trauma. Several workers have been reported missing for years,” he said.

There are a few NGOs who manage to negotiate with the employers to secure the release of the workers but those NGOs cannot afford to pay for the workers’ return journey to India. In a few cases, generous Indians have paid for the workers’ air tickets to India but such cases are not many nor could it be a lasting solution.

In a few, very limited number of cases that came to her attention, the External Affairs Minister did intervene promptly to provide relief to the affected persons but such interventions cannot address the larger problem of migration of the Indian workers under duress and the oppressive conditions under which they are forced to work, Dr. Sarma felt. .

“Though the government is fully aware of the problem of large scale human trafficking to the Gulf region going on for years, the Centre and the States taken together have neither taken effective action to apprehend the domestic agents and stop their unauthorised activity nor made any deterimined diplomatic effort to mitigate the problems of the workers in the Gulf countries and ensure that they work in a benign environment. Had the government, with the help of the States, addressed the domestic problem of unemployment/ underemployment, it would have minimised the pressure on the Indian workers migrating to the Gulf. In the absence of any such concerted effort, hundreds of thousands of unwary Indian workers continue to migrate to the Gulf countries, only to be treated as slaves; a fact that should put us to shame,” he said.

On the other hand, The government is a huge beneficiary of the remittances made by the expatriate population in the Gulf region to the tune of $47 billion annually, which constitutes around 68% of the total foreign exchange remittances that India receives on a recurring basis, Dr. Sarma pointed out. A large chunk of this comes from the blue collar workers and the workers who do menial jobs and according to him what these hapless workers remit to India ironically exceeds the export earnings of the IT industry!

When the Indian dignitaries visit some of these countries and sign bilateral agreements with a great deal of fanfare, the question of saving these workers from near-slavery conditions rarely figures in those agreements, as evident from two such agreements (copies
enclosed) signed in the recent past with UAE and Saudi Arabia. It appears that the senior public functionaries who visit the Gulf region from time to time are more concerned about trade and investment than the plight of the expatriate workers!

Dr. Sarma appealed to Mr Modi to ponder over the questions I have posed above and deal with the problem of human trafficking in a determined and coordinated manner. He wanted the Government to recognise it as a national problem that taints the image of the country in the eyes of the global community and, therefore, should be addressed on a war footing. He also suggested the Prime Minister to take the initiative to bring the States and the Central Ministries on one single platform and launch a mission to fight the scourge of human trafficking. There are many individuals and NGOs who are trying to address this problem in their own restricted spheres but they needed support from the government agencie, he stated.
eom.Visakhapatnam: Are we forcing our unemployed workforce to migrate to the Gulf region to barter away their human rights for short-term foreign exchange gains from the Gulf?, former Energy Secretary and activist EAS Sarma has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and fervently appealed to him to fight the scourge of human trafficking. .

In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister here on Wednesday, he observed that the newspapers these days carry heartrending stories every day about Indian workers, mostly women, being subject to sub-human treatment by their employers in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. “There are thousands of unauthorised agents in India, in league with their counterpart brokers in the Gulf countries, luring women on false promises of employment in the Gulf region and exporting them to work there as indentured workers. Once they become captive to the Gulf employers, there is no effective mechanism in place either in the Union Labour Ministry or in the External Affairs Ministry to ascertain their welfare and safety.

Noting that there is a huge gap between the working conditions assured initially by the Gulf agents and the actual service conditions faced by the workers, he said most of them get below-par wages and are forced to do menial work. Some of the women workers are subject to exploitation of the worst kind. The workers lose their right to quit the employment in the Gulf, as their passports are seized by the employers and they are not allowed to board a return flight to India wthout the employer’s consent. In many cases, the employers foist false police cases against the workers to prevent them from returning to India.

“Many workers have been subject to physical injury. Some have become victims of mental disorder. There have also been instances of suicide and death due to oppression and trauma. Several workers have been reported missing for years,” he said.

There are a few NGOs who manage to negotiate with the employers to secure the release of the workers but those NGOs cannot afford to pay for the workers’ return journey to India. In a few cases, generous Indians have paid for the workers’ air tickets to India but such cases are not many nor could it be a lasting solution.

In a few, very limited number of cases that came to her attention, the External Affairs Minister did intervene promptly to provide relief to the affected persons but such interventions cannot address the larger problem of migration of the Indian workers under duress and the oppressive conditions under which they are forced to work, Dr. Sarma felt. .

“Though the government is fully aware of the problem of large scale human trafficking to the Gulf region going on for years, the Centre and the States taken together have neither taken effective action to apprehend the domestic agents and stop their unauthorised activity nor made any deterimined diplomatic effort to mitigate the problems of the workers in the Gulf countries and ensure that they work in a benign environment. Had the government, with the help of the States, addressed the domestic problem of unemployment/ underemployment, it would have minimised the pressure on the Indian workers migrating to the Gulf. In the absence of any such concerted effort, hundreds of thousands of unwary Indian workers continue to migrate to the Gulf countries, only to be treated as slaves; a fact that should put us to shame,” he said.

On the other hand, The government is a huge beneficiary of the remittances made by the expatriate population in the Gulf region to the tune of $47 billion annually, which constitutes around 68% of the total foreign exchange remittances that India receives on a recurring basis, Dr. Sarma pointed out. A large chunk of this comes from the blue collar workers and the workers who do menial jobs and according to him what these hapless workers remit to India ironically exceeds the export earnings of the IT industry!

When the Indian dignitaries visit some of these countries and sign bilateral agreements with a great deal of fanfare, the question of saving these workers from near-slavery conditions rarely figures in those agreements, as evident from two such agreements (copies
enclosed) signed in the recent past with UAE and Saudi Arabia. It appears that the senior public functionaries who visit the Gulf region from time to time are more concerned about trade and investment than the plight of the expatriate workers!

Dr. Sarma appealed to Mr Modi to ponder over the questions I have posed above and deal with the problem of human trafficking in a determined and coordinated manner. He wanted the Government to recognise it as a national problem that taints the image of the country in the eyes of the global community and, therefore, should be addressed on a war footing. He also suggested the Prime Minister to take the initiative to bring the States and the Central Ministries on one single platform and launch a mission to fight the scourge of human trafficking. There are many individuals and NGOs who are trying to address this problem in their own restricted spheres but they needed support from the government agencies, he stated.