Damodar and Puneeth say they have approached the Indian embassy in Riyadh, but their complaint has not been addressed yet.

We want to come home Promised well-paying jobs two Mangaluru men in Saudi are herding sheepDamodar is forced to herd sheep in Saudi Arabia.
news Human Rights Monday, May 15, 2017 - 19:17

Damodar and Puneeth were working at an automobile company in Mangaluru, and had dreams of making it big in life. They hoped that someday, they would get a high paying job in a large organisation, and wanted to give their family a life of luxury. So when their friend, Srikanth, told them that they could get jobs in Saudi Arabia that would kickstart their journey in that direction, Damodar and Puneeth were thrilled.

Srikanth introduced them to his wife Chethana, who promised them jobs at an automobile unit in Saudi. They would earn 1,800 Riyal every month, she said, which comes up to Rs 28,000 per month.

Excited at the prospect, the two men agreed. But today, they’re stuck in a foreign land, their passports snatched, their futures bleak. They have no money and no way of returning home. And to add insult to injury, Damodar and Puneeth are now herding sheep in a desert to fend for themselves.

The proposal

It all started with Srikanth, says Damodar, speaking to TNM over phone from Saudi Arabia.

In August 2016, Damodar and Puneeth were working at a Maruti Suzuki outlet in Mangaluru. Damodar’s friend Srikanth told them about his wife Chethana’s agency, which helped people procure well paying jobs in Gulf countries.

Chethana supposedly works for ‘V Care Solutions’, an agency, that the couple claimed, was based in Hampankatta in Dakshina Kannada district.

Following the meeting, the duo decided to quit their jobs and head to Saudi Arabia to earn a better living. Damodar and Puneeth resigned on August 8, 2016. For three months, they waited for a response from the agency regarding their new job, and it finally came through in November, Damodar recalls.

“On November 21, 2016, Chethana told us to go to Mumbai. We were supposed to fly to Saudi Arabia from there. We stayed at a hotel for a week and came back as there was no response from her. Finally, on December 14, we got all our paperwork sorted and flew to Saudi Arabia,” Damodar says.

Damodar says that each of them paid Rs 75,000 to the ‘agency’ for procuring the job.

The first month in Saudi

When they reached Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, they met with a man named Shabeeb, who took them to a workshop.

“We were supposed to undergo training initially, but for three months, they took us to an empty workshop, which had no people. We would sit there all day and do nothing. After a month, when we asked them about our salary, we were informed that we would get paid only after we started work,” Damodar explains.

Both of them were instructed not to complain to anyone about their job for three months, Damodar says. “Chethana madam told us that it was common to not get work for three months, and that we would eventually be put to work. She told us not to complain about it,” Damodar claims.

The ‘other’ assignment

Damodar is now in a desert in Saudi Arabia

All that Puneeth (left) and Damodar (right) want now is to come back home.

Three months passed and the two men were irked with the agency for not giving them the jobs they were promised. Finally, in April, Shabeeb took them to a desert and put them to work as shepherds.

“They took our passports away, and Shabeeb has instructed his assistants to not return it to us,” Damodar alleges.

“We live in a room provided by the agency, and we are given 200 Riyals once every 15 days for food. We have not received salaries for over five months now, and our families in India are suffering too,” Damodar says.

Angered by the turn of events, Damodar tried contacting Chethana, who did not return his calls. Finally, after a few days, when the call went through, Damodar says he realised that Chethana knew all along that they were going to end up herding sheep.

“She told us that the agency’s representative in Saudi Arabia would naturally put us to work as shepherds as the workshop was not operational anymore. We demanded that our passports be returned. She promised then that she will work out a plan for us to return home. But so far, nothing has happened,” Damodar says.

When TNM tried to contact Chethana, she did not respond. Her husband Srikanth meanwhile claimed that he would only comment on the issue after speaking to his lawyer.

The complaint

With no passports and no money, Damodar and Puneeth are now stuck in Saudi Arabia. When they asked Shabeeb to return their passports, he asked them to cough up Rs 75,000 each in order to let them go, Damodar says.

“We were guaranteed jobs of spray painters in Saudi Arabia. The agency has cheated us. We contacted the Mangaluru Police Commissioner after speaking with Chethana. He told us to get in touch with the Indian Embassy. We contacted the consulate in Riyadh. We have also filed a complaint online, but so far none of the officials have come to meet us. The complaint status online says ‘work in progress’,” Damodar adds.

With no response from any officials, Damodar called Chethana last week and told her that he would talk to Kannada news channels if she did not sort out the issue for them.

“She was supposed to call us on Monday, but till now there has been no response from her. We just want to come home. We have not even told our families that we are working as shepherds. We don’t know what to tell them when they ask us for money, as they too are struggling to make ends meet,” Damodar says.

Damodar claims that after many attempts to talk to the Indian Embassy officials, sometime in April, the authorities told them that the matter would be taken up with the concerned Saudi authorities redress their grievance.

“All we want is to come home,” Damodar says.

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