When Ranjitha landed in the Bengaluru international airport on March 28, the nightie she was wearing was torn. She looked hassled, her earrings and anklets were missing, and when she finally met her husband Bhaskaran, he noticed that there were burn marks on her hand.
But at least, Bhaskaran thought, she was finally back home.
For, Ranjitha had spent the last eight months as a slave in Saudi Arabia.
On August 16 last year, Ranjitha flew to Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic help in Dammam. She was promised a monthly salary of Rs 30,000 - and although the work would entail staying away from her family for a while, Ranjitha saw it as the best way to clear the loans she and her husband had incurred for their daughter’s wedding.
But when she landed there, what she faced was her worst nightmare.
“It had been about a month after she had gone when she called me. She was crying loudly over the phone that day. She told me that she was being forced to work day in and day out without proper food or water,” Bhaskaran says.
“I was not working for one home but 37 different ones. They would give me one bun to eat once in three or four days. There were about 20 Indian women who were housed in the office along with me. There were people from other countries as well,” Ranjitha recalls.
“A person would come and say the name of the agent. He would sign and pick up whoever he had bought from India,” Ranjitha says.
“After a month, I went to my employer named Lati at the agency and asked for my pay. He beat me up and told me that he had bought me for Rs 3 lakh from Meeran and Kavitha, the agents in India, and that he did not have to pay me for the work I did,” Ranjitha narrates.
Ranjitha was blindfolded before being taken to the workplace so that she would not be able to identify the localities.
Eight months after she was brought to the country, Ranjitha managed to escape from Lati, who had locked her up in the office. Ranjitha began begging on the streets after that.
“I did not know that I could get arrested for begging over there. When some people saw me begging, they told me it was illegal and told me to go to the police station for help,” she explains.
That was the last day Ranjitha spoke to Bhaskaran. Bhaskaran did not receive any call from Ranjitha and despite calling her multiple times, her phone remained switched off.
While Bhaskaran was struggling to bring Ranjitha back to India, she had her own battles to fight after she contacted the police in Saudi Arabia.
Ranjitha was lodged in a shelter for women. She lived there with 30 Indian women, who were stuck in that country, just like her.
She was promised that she would be sent back to India within 20 days. “They gave me food and clothes but they were taking a long time to release me. An official from the Indian Embassy would come to meet me and told me that my husband had contacted the Minister in India and that they would help me. He said he would arrange for my travel. I kept waiting and he would always postpone the date,” Ranjitha says.
The ticket to India
Unable to take it anymore, Ranjitha decided to buy her own ticket and get out of the country. “I needed 1,000 Saudi Riyal for it,” she says.
Ranjitha had saved 600 Riyal when she was out begging on the roads for a few months. She begged for money from the women in the hostel, and managed to save 340 Riyal. She sold her earrings for 20 Riyal and finally, a social worker who would visit Ranjitha gave her 50 Riyal.
“I begged for one or two Riyal from every woman lodged in that hostel. I was still short of money. I sold my mobile, my clothes and everything I had and was still short of money. If it was not for that social worker, I would probably be stuck there even now,” Ranjitha says.
The legal battle
Ranjitha’s husband has now filed a petition with the Karnataka High Court seeking justice and demanding that those who wronged his wife be apprehended.
Despite several attempts to file a complaint with the Sanjay Nagar police up on Ranjitha’s return, Bhaskaran alleges that Inspector Chandrashekar repeatedly abused them and told them to forget about the case.
“Three days ago, we had gone to file a complaint. He is refusing to register an FIR. We believe that Kavitha has bribed him and other officials too. We have written letters to the Police Commissioner, DGP, MPs, MLAs, the Home Minister, the External Affairs Minister and even Prime Minister Modi. No one cares anymore,” Ranjitha said.
“There were over 1,500 women in that hostel. So many of them are like me. People like Kavitha had sold them too. It looked like a huge racket that nobody is bothered about,” she said.