On November 7, Vijayakumari broke into tears as she caught the first glimpse of her sister Kasturi Muniratnam, who had just returned from Saudi Arabia. Kasthuri returned from Saudi after a gruelling ordeal, which included a brutal assault on her by her employer, who she says chopped her arm off in a fit of rage. But even as Kasturiâ€™s family heaves a sigh of relief that she is back alive, there are several other Kasturis still stuck in the Middle-East, being tortured by their employers and unable to return. Their families are distraught, helpless and awaiting intervention by the Indian government.
One of the women stuck in Saudi is Selvi, a 35-year-old woman from Lalgudi in Tiruchy. It has been three months since her family has heard from her. All they know is that she is in Saudi Arabia, working as a house-help. The last time the family talked to her, she repeatedly told them that house-owners were mentally and sexually harassing her.
Selvi left for Saudi Arabia on May 7, 2015 as a domestic worker to earn few extra pennies for her family.
â€śAfter ten days of working in Saudi Arabia, mother called us and was crying on the phone, pleading us to somehow bring her back to India. She was saying that she was being over-worked and was also sexually exploited by the house-owner,â€ť says Akhila, her daughter, â€śMy mother also said that she will commit suicide if no one comes for help.â€ť
The family contacted the travel agent who helped them get the job in Saudi Arabia, but no help has been forthcoming. The family gave him Rs. 1 lakh for the job, of which the agent said that he will return Rs. 60,000 when she returns to India. But he has not helped them in anyway.
â€śSelvi was not even given proper food by her house-owners and they were not paying her salary every month. When I talked to her in June she even said that it is dangerous for her to work in that house,â€ť says A Vadivelu, Selviâ€™s husband.
The family has filed a petition at the Tiruchy District Collectorâ€™s office and a complaint with the Sub-Inspector of Lalgudi region. But so far, there has been no encouraging response from them.
The story of Ramalakshmi, hailing from Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu, is not very different.
Facing severe abuse working as a house-help in Dubai, Ramalakshmi finally decided to run away from her employer and catch a flight to India few months back. But her employer caught her mid-way and took her back home. Since then, live has become living hell for her, according to her family in India. She has been in Dubai since February 2014.
As a punishment for daring to escape the clutches of her employers, she was locked up in a dark room for four days and not provided food for one whole week, her family says.
â€śShe was given food once in a day. She is made to work from 5am in the morning till 1am the next day morning,â€ť says her daughter Gomathi.
Ramalakshmi's owner, a woman named Yohanna, is alleged to be an alcoholic who regularly beats up Ramalakshmi. â€śEarlier, she was only beaten up by the owner and then her sons also started beating her upâ€ť, Gomathi says. Ramalakshmi now has to make do with just two sets of clothes to wear for one entire year, she says.
Her mother too, like several other domestic workers, was not provided proper salary. Ramalakshmi was promised a salary of Rs. 35,000 before leaving India, but after reaching there the house-owner provided her with a meagre salary of Rs. 7000, that too only every few months. The house-owner has reportedly also threatened to book a case against her for stealing her jewellery if she tries to run away next time.
Gomathi has tried all possible ways to bring her mother back to India. She has sent letters to the Collectorâ€™s office and also written mails to Indian embassy in Dubai. But there seems to be no positive response from anywhere.
"We just want them to come back, and only the Indian government can help us,â€ť says Gomathi.