When she first reached Saudi, Ranjitha was given one bun to survive on for three days.

7 months and counting Bengaluru man seeks Sushma Swarajs help to rescue wife trapped in Saudi
news External affairs Saturday, March 04, 2017 - 19:33

“I stare at my plate of food every day and weep. When I see it, the picture of my wife trapped in a room without food and water flashes through my mind. Would she have eaten? And I cannot get myself to swallow one grain of rice,” says 42-year-old Bhaskaran.

Bhaskran’s wife Ranjitha, who flew to Saudi Arabia on August 16, 2016 to work as a domestic help, has been spending the last 48 hours at the Dammam police station. After a traumatic 7 months at the house of her sponsor Hawed Lati, Ranjitha managed to escape two days ago.

Although Ranjitha, who used to work as a domestic help in Bengaluru, was promised a job in Saudi Arabia for a salary of Rs 30,000, her family says that Ranjitha was not paid a single penny since the day she started work.

"Her sponsor made her work from 5am to 2am every day. She had a separate room for herself, but one cannot call it a room. It was some sort of a storage space, with waste piled on the floor and she would sleep in a corner. They would lock her in this room, and starve her. Her sponsor would take her to the houses of many others, where she had to work for 8-10 days. In these eight months, she has worked in 37 different houses, all without pay," Bhaskaran says.

Bhaskaran and Ranjitha, both natives of Tamil Nadu, migrated to Bengaluru twenty years back, after they eloped to get married. The couple’s home is in Dasanapura Hobli in Bengaluru and they have two children. Bhaskaran is a mason and Ranjitha used to work as a domestic help at three different apartments in the city.

It was around July that the family was in need for money to get their daughter married. They borrowed a huge sum of money from a local moneylender. Ranjitha, who was hell bent on paying back the loan at the earliest, decided to take up a job in Saudi when she chanced upon it.

"She had gone to one office (a travel agent) in search of work. She went to their office to enquire whether they wanted to employ a maid. There, a woman named Kavitha told her that she would get her a job in Saudi with more salary and asked her to get her passport made. At this point, she did not tell me about the offer and I came to know some days later. I fought with her, told her that she need not go. But then we had to pay off the loan and Ranjitha had to leave a week after our daughter's wedding," Bhaskaran says.

On the instruction of Kavitha, the couple went to Delhi, from where Ranjitha flew to Saudi Arabia. At the time, neither Ranjitha nor Bhaskaran had any idea where Ranjitha was headed to, or where she was to work, says BT Venkatesh, former State Public Prosecutor and counsel for Bhaskaran.

"They are both unlettered and can only put their signatures. They were not aware of the nature of work Ranjitha would get once she was in Saudi Arabia. On reaching there, she was given a bun to survive on for three days," BT Venkatesh explains.

Bhaskaran had given a mobile phone to Ranjitha when she left the country. She would call him every third day.

"She used to give me a missed call and I would call back. She used to tell me how difficult it is to survive there and that her sponsor Lati and his wife used to beat her up. After one point, she told me that she can no longer continue there and wanted to get out. But how? They wouldn't let her go anywhere," Bhaskaran rues.

Two days ago, Ranjitha's sponsor dropped her to another house, where she was to work for the next 10 days. At one point, the gate was left ajar, and Ranjitha fled. Ranjitha speaks no other language than Tamil and Kannada. With the little Arabic she managed to pick up during these months, she realised that she was in Dammam.

"She does not even have her passport with her. Somebody on the road told her to go to the police and she did. She has been spending time there for the last 2 days. When Ranjitha called today, she said that the police was trying to make her sign some papers. Are they trying to protect the sponsor?" Bhaskaran asks.

Through Lawyer BT Venkatesh, Bhaskaran has approached the office of External Minister Sushma Swaraj seeking help in the immediate release of his wife.

"I staged a protest four months ago in Bengaluru, approached the local police and even the Home Minister. Nothing has happened. Now I want Sushma Swaraj to help me find her. I have heard that she helps people in need. We don't even want to get the salary for which my wife toiled for all these months...I just want her to come back," Bhaskaran says.

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