In the photos taken on the morning of February 24, Advaid has a smile on his face, slightly forced it seems. Long days of suffering in a foreign country, without knowing if he would ever escape, have etched lines on his young face. In a short video taken outside the International Airport in Thiruvananthapuram, Advaid thanks the Kerala government and the Department of the Non Residents Keralites Affairs (NORKA) for bringing him back home. His father Venukumar is with the NORKA officials, welcoming back the son he hasn’t spoken to in months, but fought for every day.
“It was in the middle of January that I came to know of his plight,” Venukumar tells TNM, two days after Advaid came home to Vithura, Nedumangad, a suburb in Thiruvananthapuram.
Advaid had left Thiruvananthapuram on October 27 to work as a driver in Kuwait. A friend working in Kuwait had told him about the job. For 25 days, he worked there, looking after the vehicles of his sponsor-boss. “One night, the boss told him that he has to travel to Saudi Arabia for training and getting his driver’s license. Advaid had no idea where he was travelling to until he woke up in the morning and found himself in the middle of a desert in Riyadh. He was to tend the sponsor’s camels and goats,” Venukumar says.
Advaid struggled hard. There was hardly any water and little to eat. Two other workers from India made life even harder for him, says his father. “Advaid didn’t know the language. The others had been there for a long time and knew the language. Advaid didn’t understand what they told the boss about him, but he gathered that it had to do with his work. They might have reported that Advaid didn’t work hard enough. But he did, and only once when he became too ill did Advaid rest a little. It was then that the boss suddenly began hitting him with a stick,” Venukumar says.
All this time, Advaid had no way to call anyone. He had no phone connection but the number he used back home worked on WhatsApp. He still could not risk using it when the others were continuously watching him. “One day, he sneaked behind a tanker lorry and shot a small video to show the situation, and sent it to me. I took it to an advocate called Shafeer who helped me a lot. On his advice, I went to the police headquarters the next morning and filed a petition at the NRI Cell. They gave a receipt that I took to the NORKA office in Thycaud. I was asked to meet the NORKA secretary Janardanan at the Secretariat Annex. Right then, in front of me, they filed a report and sent it off to the Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia. I also shared with them the location that my son shared on Google Maps. At 1.30 am – post midnight – Janardanan sir called me to say that my son had been located!” he recounts.
Advocate Shafeer had also shared many of his contacts with Venukumar and the worried father messaged all of them with every detail that he had. One of them – Naas Shoukath Ali, who works for a voluntary organisation in Riyadh – took Advaid home and looked after him for a month, till the time the young man got his papers to travel back to India. His passport had been in the custody of his sponsor. “I don’t know who all went to rescue my son. I had appealed to so many people. But I do know Mr Naas Shoukath Ali was part of the rescue team," says Venukumar.
Every day, NORKA Chief Executive Officer Harikrishnan Namboothiri would get in touch with Shoukath Ali for updates. “Janardanan sir would then let me know about it. My son’s phone connection was still patchy. So I couldn’t talk to him directly," he explains.
Getting a ticket for Advaid was the next concern. NORKA officials had called Venukumar, asking him to get one since they did not have the provision to do that. But when Venukumar told them that the family’s financial situation was very bad, the officials asked him to write a letter regarding it, and on the same day, they got Advaid a ticket.
Now that Advaid is back, he needs time to get back on his feet again, says the concerned father. Advaid is not yet 23 years old. He has a younger brother in class 11, apart from his parents at home. Venukumar used to work in a Gulf country too, but returned to Kerala four years ago and is no longer working.