“I cannot do this anymore. I want to go home,” Sajeev Rajan told TNM.

Stranded without job or passport Kerala man has been living on a terrace in UAE for eight months
news Human Rights Thursday, November 24, 2016 - 12:57

Sajeev Rajan, 46 years old, clutched a small bag to his chest as he boarded a flight to Sharjah in March 2014. The Kollam native, who has been living on the terrace of a building in Ajman for the last eight months, says that he won’t even have such meagre belongings with him when he finally manages to return home. 

Speaking to The News Minute Sajeev says, “I cannot do this anymore. I want to go home.”

Sajeev, an electrician who worked with a Sharjah-based construction company, was forced to call a roof top in Ajman his home after his employer expelled him from the company accommodation in March this year. Sajeev’s fault? After his contract ended on March 11, he had asked his Punjabi employer to let him leave after settling his dues. 10 days later, Sajeev was out on the streets, with his employer refusing to return his passport. 

Stranded

Sajeev had unfortunately made no friends during the two years of his stay in Sharjah. So, when his employer evicted him after he filed a case with the local labour court, Sajeev had no choice but to shift to the terrace of the six-storey building next door to the company accommodation. 

The shifting was not troublesome, Sajeev laughs weakly. “After all, I did not have a penny on me, or any essentials. Other workers who took pity on me helped me out with a mattress and blankets,” he says. For most of his daily needs, Sajeev has had to depend on the kindness of others. The security guards of the six-storey building, for instance, leave a washroom on the ground floor unlocked at night so that he can access the facilities. 

Although Sajeev filed complaints with the Indian Consulate and the local labour court, and the Consulate gave his employer an October 2deadline to send him back home, the employer refused to comply.

Before going to Sharjah, Sajeev had worked in Ras al Khaimah for 16 years, and returned to his hometown Anchal in Kollam in 2012. He returned not so much because he wanted to, as because circumstances made it necessary. 

“I used to work as an operator in a cement manufacturing unit there and used to earn nearly Dh1200 a month. The work was good, everything was fine… I used to visit India every two years. But as many employers began to prefer other migrant workers, mainly from Bangladesh, some of us Indians soon lost our jobs. I wasn’t upset then, because I felt it was time for me to get back home,” Sajeev says. 

However, the next two years he spent in Kerala brought their fair share of financial troubles. Being the only earning member of the family was very difficult, given the lack of jobs in Kerala. 

And so, when an acquaintance told his family about a job offer in Sharjah, he decided that the offer was lucrative enough. 

“I wasn’t particularly interested in working in a distant land again, but the agent promised me that I would be given the job of an electrician and that I can earn almost Rs 1 lakh every month. Who wouldn’t consider such an offer? That was the time I was contemplating building a house on my own,” he recounts. 

It took another year for Sajeev to finally get his visa – which cost him Rs 1 lakh in fees to the agent – and finally fly to Sharjah. 

On reaching Sharjah, however, Sajeev found that the job was not what he had signed up for. 

“I was promised that I would work as an electrician. But he (the agent) sold me to the owner of a construction company, where I was supposed to do masonry and whatever else the employer asked me to do. Unlike in Ras al Khaimah, the over-time rules didn’t apply here… they made us work for 13 hours a day. Every day, from six in the morning to eight in the night, all of us would toil in construction sites, be it in the city or the desert. They would not pay my salary of Dh900 on time. Often, I would get my salary two months late,” Sajeev says. 

Of the Dh900 he earned, he would dutifully send Dh500 to his family.

Six months into the job, he approached his agent, who promised to get Sajeev an increment, and asked him to continue in the job. However, that promise turned out to be hollow, like the many others the agent had made to him in the past. 

And when Sajeev finally had enough, and asked to go home, his employer evicted him, leaving him stranded without a job in the foreign city. 

Idle days on a terrace

For much of his average day on the terrace, Sajeev has little to do but sit on his mattress and stare up at the sky, desperately wishing for the flight that will take him back home. When the loneliness becomes too hard to bear, he goes to a nearby hotel run by a Malayali. 

"I sit around there for hours together speaking to the owner. He is a young fellow... but I still go on and on about my troubles. On some days, he offers me food. On other days, I just help myself to some food... he never complains," Sajeev says. 

The hotel owner and some of Sajeev’s former colleagues help him so that he does not starve. On some days, Sajeev cleans people's vehicles to earn a meagre few coins. 

Sajeev also makes regular visits to the Consulate and to other authorities in the hope that someone can help him, and this has earned the ire of his former employer. On Deepavali, while people in his hometown here celebrated, he was allegedly beaten up by his employer's aides for making trouble. 

The one thing that Sajeev never fails to do is call his family every night. 

"How can I not call? I need to enquire about the well-being of my two children. A relative in Kollam gives money to my family to recharge their phones so that they can call me. I also call them whenever I can," he says.  

Deeply concerned for his plight, his parents, wife and two children are on tenterhooks waiting for his return.  

With Sajeev’s story finally getting attention from media outlets, the Indian Consulate has promised further action in the matter. With another visit to the Consulate scheduled on Thursday, Sajeev is hopeful that his struggle and sleepless nights are finally at end.  

(All photographs by VM Satish) 

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