Single mother overworked, stuck in Oman; yearns for her children in Mumbai
She is living out of a shelter in Muscat and is facing a court case for "absconding" from her employer's home
A month before the national lockdown started, a 38-year-old woman flew to Oman, leaving behind her two children at their grandmother's house in Malwani. The trip had been organised by an agent who had offered her a well-paying job as a maid in an Omani home.
As per a report in the Times of India, the single mother had agreed to travel on the assurance that after six months she could return to Mumbai. But nine months since, she is living out of a shelter in Muscat and is facing a court case for "absconding" from her employer's home. The woman said she ran away when it became impossible to carry on with backbreaking work and non-payment of wages for two months. Until the case is sorted out in court, she cannot leave the country as her employer has her passport.
Every year, scores of Indian women from disadvantaged backgrounds approach private agents and travel to Oman to work as househelps. The Omani national who employs them pays the agent a hefty sum (about Rs 2 to 3 lakh). But if things don't work out and the maid flees, the employer slaps legal charges against her for recovering his money. There have been instances of sexual harassment of maids, but the Indian Embassy in Oman says they are "lowest here compared to other countries". The Embassy has repatriated 80 maids since August and is helping the Mumbai woman as well.
"I long to see my children," she said, sobbing over the phone. After separating from her husband a few years ago, the woman had been desperately looking for work in Mumbai to afford a good life for her children.
Last year, she was introduced to an agent who told her she could earn about a lakh and half in six months if she worked overseas. The single mother agreed and paid him his fees of Rs 60,000 by borrowing from acquaintances. On February 12, she landed at Muscat and was driven 200 km away to a local agent's office at Sohar. An Omani national arrived there and interviewed her for the job. He said he lived with his wife and three kids and she would be required to do all their household chores. Her passport was taken away.
The woman would cook, clean, do laundry, iron clothes and wash utensils at the employer's home in Sohar. Gradually, the family started to send her to work in a mansion next door where her employer's siblings lived.
"Every day after finishing chores in my employer's house, I would work at the mansion, mopping the floors, chopping vegetables, cleaning the garden and carrying huge baskets of fruits and dry fruits homegrown in their property. It was exhausting. I used to eat leftovers from the family's meals and sometimes, there was barely anything left. During the month of Ramadan, I used to survive on powdered drinks after breaking my fast," she said. The woman started to fall ill often.
In June, she fled from the house but was brought back. "I stopped getting my wages after June and nobody in the house spoke to me anymore. The nature of work hadn't changed and I slipped out a second time in August," she said. She stays at a shelter linked with a religious organisation. The woman said there are a dozen other women living at the shelter who are stranded in the country like her. Her mother submitted a written complaint at Malwani police station against the agent, but an FIR is yet to be registered.
"The Indian Immigration authorities should start asking tough questions when women from poor economic backgrounds are spotted travelling to the Middle East alone, despite having no family here and carrying no work related documentation," said rights activist Shaheen Sayyed.
The Indian Embassy has started an online programme through which migrants can come to Oman through official channels. The Omani employer has to deposit 1200 Rial (Rs 2.3 lakh) as a bank guarantee. If a dispute arises, a settlement can be made through this amount. Specialized government agencies operate in India to facilitate the migration. Private agents and exploitation of women would be eliminated through this process.
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