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Partners in trouble

>> Tuesday, October 12, 2010





The housemaids working here deserve a lot of sympathy. Due to unfortunate circumstances, these girls leave their country and families behind to embark up on a journey to a strange land about which they have no idea. To work for people whom they have never seen. Often, they leave behind ailing parents and dependants. She has no leave. No holidays. No medical benefits. No gratuity. She ekes out a living as long as she has good health. She come with lots of hopes and dreams, and often end up in despair and depression.

The disturbing, perennial problem of domestic worker abuse is common throughout the Gulf. 
In Kuwait, there is now one domestic worker for every two Kuwaitis. Every year, hundreds of housemaids flee to their embassies seeking relief from non-payment of wages, long hours, and lack of food, captivity, isolation, and violent physical and sexual abuse. Kuwait continues to exclude domestic workers from its labor laws, and fails to enforce the laws already on the books that might give domestic workers some minimal protection.
And things aren't getting better anywhere. This summer, horrifying stories of housemaid murder in Kuwait made the news around the world. Even kind-hearted employers there routinely confiscate the documents of domestic workers and restrict their movements, sometimes forbidding them to leave the house unsupervised. Some workers go outside only to wash their employers several cars.
Doctors in Sri Lanka recently found 23 nails in the body of a tortured housemaid who returned to Colombo from Riyadh. She was getting tortured on a regular basis, till she ran off to her embassy.
The average salary is about 4 to 5 hundred dirham.  I go to the hospital at about 6.30 in the morning and have seen these girls cleaning the cars which are parked outside their gates. And then they also sweep the pavement and the area in front of their houses. I can only imagine the amount of work they do inside the houses. And top of this, majority are sexually  abused by the boys and men of the house. Once, a housemaid had told me, she was ashamed to confess that she was used by the 70 year old man of the house, and then by all his three sons, the youngest of which was only 13 years. Most of these maids yield to the threats, due to fear of punishment. If uncooperative, they will be implicated in false allegations and sent to prison. It is pathetic. 

If a housemaid is found pregnant, she will be sent to jail and kept there, till she delivers her baby, and then deported after any other kind of punishments due to her. So, most of them try to hide it and escape to their home country. There have been instances when they secretly delivered the child at home and then tried to kill it.

According to an international watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), there have been no cases of  prosecution in the UAE, of employers accused of raping domestic servants.

“This provides a culture of impunity that perpetuates sexual crimes against domestic workers. Our research indicates that all rape cases of domestic servants that are brought to the attention of the authorities, are settled out of court and no one has been prosecuted,” said Hadi Ghaemi, HRW’s Researcher for Middle East and North Africa Division.


Now, let us come to our story.

This girl was Indonesian. They have characteristic looks.

She was young and charming. She had come to this place few months back to work as  housemaid and was admitted the previous night for abdominal pain and vomiting. The admitting doctor had made a diagnosis of gastritis (Inflammation of Stomach).Dr Hannan was doing his rounds in the morning, and as usual, started off with his elaborate history taking. It is generally a long process for him because he would ask things which others do not. He got the complete story including that of her family. Her schooling, financial situation,  parents,siblings…and what not. He also got the history that the girl had missed her cycles for the previous two months. Then he went on to examine her abdomen, and found she had a swelling in the lower abdomen. He put two and two together, and made a provisional diagnosis of pregnancy.

All the while, there was a young man anxiously kicking and knocking at the door, disturbing and irritating Dr Hannan.  He appeared very tense and agitated and was sweaty. He wanted to know what was wrong with the girl, and what she had told the doctor about her illness. Dr Hannan enquired why he had to be so upset, to which he answered that he had to decide whether to keep the girl or to send her back home. That was when his father rushed in. He was in his middle age and well dressed and wore the usual golden fountain pens in his pocket and the customary cooling glass. Dr Hannan explained to the father that he has to send the girl to gynec ward for an examination.

Why? He asked
“We have to exclude pregnancy”
The man suddenly appeared pale. As if his whole blood was drained off.
He said “No, doctor, please, no need to examine. I am going to send her back by today’s flight.
The son appeared much relieved hearing this.
Dr. Hannan would not budge.
He said “We have to get her examined whether you send her or not”.

Both the father and son tried their level best to stop Hannan, by requests and threats. But he sent the patient for examination. The father and son waited outside and desperately paced the floor in different directions.

The Gynecologist found that the girl had a growth (fibroid) from the uterus. She was not pregnant. One could see the obvious signs of relief on the faces of the father and the son. The color came back to the father’s face. The son recovered his courage, went in to the room, and gently stroked the hands of the girl. She smiled at him.

The father didn’t seem to like it.

Whatever, we will send her back home”, the father said.

“Doctor, is it something we can treat here?. We will keep her here. She is maskeen ( poor).Please tell baba to keep her here”
The son was obviously recovering his courage..
I was wondering where all his compassion was, till then.
Now the girl looked happy and looked lovingly at the boy.
The father was visibly upset and angry.
“No” He said. “I will send her away”.
The son looked angrily at the father and hit the table top to express his anger.

We left it between the father and son to settle the issue.
We just made sure that the girl didn’t have any serious illness to worry about.

17 comments:

A October 12, 2010 at 11:06 AM  

There is one single word for it 'SICK'. 23 nails in a human ...how can someone be so sick.

Don't governments warn these women at the time of departure from home country? Even if they, poverty is so bad, they would still go.

I am really feeling sick reading. I wish we could do something about it.

NRIGirl October 12, 2010 at 11:19 AM  

Very sad stories, it hurts me. Feeling so helpless too...

"Why, Lord! why?!" is my lingering question...

raji October 12, 2010 at 3:35 PM  

Hi read this particular post.I remembered the scenes from "reporter"a old serial in DD long back,this issue was shown in a story.its really disgusting the way they use the gals n throw.
expressed nicely.

Balachandran V October 12, 2010 at 5:34 PM  

Doc, shocking! Don't you think the numerous cultural associations etc of the NRs could do something about it? There must be influential people among them who can ask the governments to do something about the plight of these hapless individuals? At least voice their concern in various fora and create a public opinion?

anilkurup October 12, 2010 at 6:44 PM  

Though I have heard similar stories, reading this is shocking still.
Is it not that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are countries that swear by the 'Holy Book' and conduct all aspects of their lives as ordained in the 'Holy Book'? Wonder if such beastly treatment is sanctified by their Holy Book?
What are the elite expatriate organizations doing about these incidences?

Here at home we have similar cases going un reported in Nunneries, Anganawadis,Childrens Homes, Mental assylums etc.

A New Beginning October 12, 2010 at 8:26 PM  

dont have words to express my disgust....
No religion allows such ghastly acts...it's the perverted minds and acts of such ppl that just make one puke with anger....its just disgusting!!!

Rachna October 12, 2010 at 9:41 PM  

That's really horrifying! I have read some cases of domestic abuse in India too, child labor, torture of maids etc. But, the stories from the Gulf, I think, are the worst.

Meera's World October 12, 2010 at 10:08 PM  

Pathetic,it reminded me of the recent news of Saudi prince murdering his servant.Such horrific stories are everywhere.

Hip Grandma October 13, 2010 at 7:07 AM  

Sexploitation of women happens not only in far off Kuwait and Saudi. It happens right under our nose and often men in their sixties and seventies whose wives are done with sex life are all the more dangerous. No, I am not generalizing but it happens quite often.

I know of a seemingly respectable person with at least 5 grandchildren, molesting a servant woman in her mid thirties who had been working in their house for at least 5 years. The same man was known to position himself in a verandah in the dark and peek into his daughter in law's room when she'd leave the door open at night due to unbearable summer heat. A kind of sixth sense made her wake up and when she realized what was going on banged the door shut right on his face and complained to her husband about it. All that the husband did was to ask her to be careful.

Physical torture can be meted out only by a very cruel person. I don't think a normal thinking person could do it without a second thought. That said, it is indeed unfortunate that servant girls have to go through physical and mental torture. Wish we could do something about it.

crazycha October 13, 2010 at 9:21 AM  

happy bday. wishing u more success in life, career and in the blogging world. haha. God Bless.

Madhu October 14, 2010 at 5:30 AM  

Oh my. I have no words. Such perverts!

Keats The Sunshine Girl October 14, 2010 at 6:38 AM  

Such shame! The word 'slave' seems to fit in for the domestic help in homes. How we treat our fellow human beings so atrociously just because we can'afford' them!!

Smitha October 14, 2010 at 10:02 AM  

That is so shameful! And sexual exploitation of women in such positions, unfortunately happens everywhere. I guess they become even more vulnerable in situations where they could be deported from the country based on the whims and fancies of their employers.

kavita October 14, 2010 at 11:48 AM  

It is disgusting ,shocking and shameful.Wish there were some strict laws against these and also some strong support group where their complaints are heard .

dr.antony October 14, 2010 at 8:20 PM  

@ A. I am sure it happens with the knowledge of every one.This is commonplace knowledge.Lot of politics involved.
@ NRI girl..He never asked us to do such things..He gave us conscience to us.
@Raji..Thanks for coming in.Exploitation of the weak is an old story, just a new cover.
@Balchandran and Anil
We know about our forums. People working in the gulf are reluctant to talk about problems there.Who has got rights here? Our Government can easily put an end to this. No housemaids come here from China. No nurses from China.Even Philipines have placed restrictions.The worst case is with Srilankans.
And what do we know about these Books?
@ Sana Yes..very true.But some people claim they have the rights to do things on their slaves!
@ Rachna
Such things can never happen any where in the world.
@ meera..Have you read A princess diary?
@ Padma R
I agree there are incidents every where.But here we talk about a community of about 3 lakhs women in Kuwait alone.And the rest of gulf countries? Having more maids is a matter pf prestige.This is like the old slavery days.And some people believe they have the rights to use their servants,based on some old stories.
@ Charo
Have a good vacation.Come back safe and cute.
@ Madhu
there is no other word
@ Ketas
reminds us of the slavery days.It is time something is done.
@Smitha
yes it happens every where.But here it happens with the knowledge of the authorities.
@Kavitha
laws are different here.Different sets for the expatriate and the locals.The locals can do any thing and get away.

Meera's World October 15, 2010 at 12:10 AM  

Nope,today I am going to the library will look for it.:)

RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN October 20, 2010 at 9:29 AM  

This is all so sad . Is there no help for these poor women who toil so hard to make others' lives easy .

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