Cheated, assaulted and stranded: A young, educated Kerala girl's nightmare in Kuwait

She lives in fear and covers her face on the rare occasion she ventures out of her house.
 Cheated, assaulted and stranded: A young, educated Kerala girl's nightmare in Kuwait
Cheated, assaulted and stranded: A young, educated Kerala girl's nightmare in Kuwait
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When 25-year-old Shafana lost her entire family of eight in a car accident in October 2014, she could not bear to continue to live in Kannur, Kerala. She decided to move to Kuwait in hopes of healing and making something of her master’s degree in Nursing. However, her dreams were shattered when she was swindled of lakhs of rupees and left stranded in an alien country with no way out.

Shafana wanted to work as a hospital nurse. However, she says, having received her visa and passport at the last minute, she did not have the opportunity to see that she was being sent to Kuwait on a housemaid visa and that the passport mentioned her residential address to be in Mangalore. And when she arrived in the country, she was received not by her sponsor, but by his acquaintance, Amer Alshuhoumi.

“I wanted to work in a hospital, but Amer would send me to look after mentally ill patients at their homes. In December 2014, a seven-year-old hit me with a metal rod on my head. I had to get eight stitches for that,” she says. “In January next year, another mentally ill patient stabbed me in my neck with a knife,” she recalls. That injury required eight stitches in her neck too.

Scared and traumatised, Shafana refused to take care of any more patients after that and wanted to return to India. However, she says that when she approached the Indian embassy, she was guided by a non-Indian official to sit tight and avoid her sponsor’s calls till he registered a case against her. “He was Egyptian,” she recalls. “He said that then the police would get involved, my passport procured from Amer and I would be sent back to India.”  

Hubertson T, advocate and member of Lawyers Beyond Borders has worked extensively with Indian migrant workers in the Gulf and says that this is not uncommon.

“I have often seen Egyptian officials in Indian embassies misguiding workers. Firstly, they shouldn’t be there. Secondly, they shouldn’t be in roles other than those of interpreters or translators. Perhaps they have a racial bias against Indians,” he says.

When her sponsor did file a case against her for absconding, the police told Shafana that she would have to undergo a certain period of imprisonment before she could go back home. “I had not done anything wrong. I followed all the instructions. Why should I have to go to prison?” questions Shafana. Desperate for a means of livelihood, Shafana began to look for employment again and started working at an Ayurvedic clinic in July run by a man from Kerala.

“I spoke to Shaby (owner of the clinic) about my problems and he told me to speak to his friend Rohin (name changed). He said that he had a lot of influence and could help my case,” says Shafana.

Shafana’s voice grows timid here. She explains that Rohin was another man from Kerala who worked as a driver in Kuwait. Since January this year, she says, Rohin has been harassing her incessantly and has even made sexual advances towards her. She resisted them and continued to work at the clinic until an incident involving Rohin shook her on April 19.

“He came with his brother and two others around 8am and started threatening me to accept his love. They assaulted me and beat me. No one helped because everyone is afraid of him. He took my phone also that day,” she recounts.

Terrified and after receiving no help from the clinic owner, Shafana was forced to quit and to move to another place. But Rohin’s harassment has not stopped, she says. “He keeps calling the numbers of my relatives that were there on my phone. He tells them I have many boyfriends here. He tells them I have a bad character,” she breaks down.

While Shafana says that her relatives do not seem to believe Rohin’ claims, the helplessness of her situation weighs her down. She is currently staying with two other hospital nurses, confined to her residence out of fear. “I want to work. But I am so scared to move out because of Rohin.” She adds that on the rare occasions she ventures outside, she covers her face as much as she can for the fear of recognition. The case against her also prevents her from finding work. She lives off a meagre allowance she gets from an uncle in Kuwait.

Meanwhile, Shafana says, through the entire ordeal, she has lost over Rs 20 lakh to recruiting agents and her sponsor.

“The way out here is either through the Indian embassy’s or through the Kerala High Court’s intervention,” says Hubertson.

When asked whether she has approached the embassy again, Shafana is bitter. “The Indian embassy is useless madam. They won’t help.”

Note: After reading The News Minute's story, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took note of Shafana's case and have promised to get in touch with her to ensure her safe return

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