For 38-year-old Manjusha, the relief of being back home in Thiruvananthapuram’s Palode village is overwhelming. But it will be a long time before the scars of her horrific nightmare of abuse in Saudi Arabia fade.
Beaten, starved and made to work for 20 hours a day every day, Manjusha, who finally returned home on October 12, swears that she will never leave her homeland for any reason in the future. Manjusha went to Saudi Arabia in March this year, in the hopes of earning enough money to secure her two daughters’ future.
“Eight years ago, I lost my husband, he died. For the last five years, I was working as a sales girl in a shop, getting Rs 5000 per month. I have two daughters studying in school and the money was not even enough to meet our daily expenses. That is when I had a plan to go abroad and earn some money that my kids will have a good future,” Manjusha says.
But instead she has returned home with the mental and physical scars of her experience. And she is left with a mountain of debt so large that she has been forced to move out of Thiruvananthapuram to work in Chengannur in Alappuzha as a baby sitter, so that she can somehow repay her debtors.
Manjusha’s efforts to go to Saudi Arabia were marred by obstacles from the beginning. Though she approached a few recruitment agencies, no opportunities materialised in the beginning. Then, she met a person named Manilal, hailing from Kollam district, who told her of a job at the house where he worked as a driver. Armed with this information, Manjusha approached a travel agency in Thiruvananthapuram, asking their help in securing visa and verifying other matters.
However, twice Manjusha was not allowed to catch a flight for Saudi Arabia from the Kochi airport. “They issued me tickets and visa twice, but both times I was not allowed to travel from the Cochin International Airport as the authorities said I did not have an agreement paper. So, I dropped the idea of going abroad. Later the travel agency informed me that I can go through Mangaluru Airport.”
At Mangaluru, she faced a wait of four days, with not even provision having been made for her food, before she finally managed to board a flight on March 20.
When she arrived at Dammam Airport (King Fahd International Airport), Manilal was waiting as promised, along with an Arab national who claimed to be her sponsor. But halfway through the journey from the airport, Manilal suddenly got out of the car and left.
It was only then that Manjusha realised that she had been lied to, and was not going to be working in the house where Manilal worked.
“I felt fear rising inside me when I realised that what he had said was a lie. And my fears were proved true when I was taken to a huge three-floored house with 32 people living there. Among them, 16 were children. There were no other domestic helps at the house, besides me. I had to look after the kids, wash all of their clothes, clean that huge house and do every household chore there was. My work would begin at six in the morning and end at 2am or 3am next day. I worked for about 20 hours every day,” she says.
But Manjusha was determined to do whatever it took to earn well for her children. When it came time to be paid, though, Manjusha alleges, all her hard work was in vain, as her employers had no intentions of paying her what she had been promised.
“I was offered SAR 1400 (Rs 24,200) per month when I left from Kerala. But when I reached there, they said they would give only SAR 1200 (Rs 20,800). I agreed even to that. But they did not pay me in the first month. In the second month, they sent only SAR 1000 (Rs 17000) to my father’s account. Later, after two more months, I cried and begged them to give me my salary. Then they paid me SAR 1000 more. This was all that I got in the six months I worked there,” she alleges.
Even worse, the family she worked for allegedly subjected her to all kinds of torture and physical and mental abuse.
“I was asked to lift heavy loads of 20 to 30kg every day. Even during my periods I was forced to do it. This was probably why I used to have 15 to 20 days of bleeding every month. They never took me to the hospital, claiming that this was all normal,” she narrates.
Even on the days of heaviest bleeding, she adds, there was no let up in her punishing 20-hour workdays. “I even decided to die and attempted to kill myself once. On many occasions, while I was doing some work, they would come and kick me for no reason. I fell often and was hurt badly,” weeps Manjusha.
Manjusha says she was also deliberately starved by her employers. “They did not give me food, I starved for days. Finally, I started eating what was left on their plates, when they gave me dishes for washing. I also started eating from the garbage so that I could survive and go back home,” she recalls, suppressing a shudder of horror.
Manjusha says that she tried to escape from the house and was caught twice. “I was beaten badly both the times I was caught,” she says.
The second time she was caught, her employers also forced her to sign a paper, which she later realised was a document claiming that all of her salary dues had been paid.
Manjusha was finally lucky the third time she ran away.
“The third time, I contacted an NGO working there for Indians and escaped. I went to a hospital nearby as I was bleeding badly. They also informed the police, who shifted me into a shelter home. I stayed there for about three weeks and was able to return home at last,” says Manjusha.
Though she has escaped her ordeal and returned home, says Manjusha, she has nothing to feel happy about. “Now I can’t even stay at my place as I took so many debts for going to Saudi. I will have to somehow earn the money to repay them all. In all my time there, I earned nothing other than these massive debts, and a body and mind full of wounds,” she sighs.
Edited by Rakesh Mehar