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Month After Sending SOS, Woman Stranded in Oman Repatriated, Reunited With Kids

The woman was sent to Oman allegedly by unscrupulous travel agents on the pretext of a job as a domestic worker.

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Hindi Female

Ghar aake sabse pehle bachhon ko pakad kar royi (As soon as I got home, I held my children and cried),” said the 40-year-old Indian woman, who had been sending SOS messages to The Quint daily since 6 June to help rescue her from Oman, where she had been stranded for over six months.   

On 27 December 2022, the woman was sent to Oman allegedly by unscrupulous travel agents based out of Mumbai on the pretext of a job as a domestic worker. After she landed in Muscat, however, she was taken to an "office" by the local agents there and allegedly kept in captivity for at least a month.  

Harassed by the local agents and coerced into signing an employment contract, the woman said that her employer did not mistreat her although she was made to work for excruciatingly long hours.

The woman was repatriated by the Indian Embassy in Oman on 7 July. Ten days before this, The Quint had published a report on the plight of the woman: ‘SOS From Oman: ‘Get Me Out of Here,’ Says Indian Woman Stranded at Shelter Home.’   

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Dhani Ram, Attache, Community Welfare Wing of the Embassy of India in Muscat, confirmed to The Quint on 13 July via email that the woman was assisted by the Embassy in her repatriation to India and that it also helped the woman with her air ticket. 

“I didn't think I would make it out of there alive,” the woman said on 10 July after she finally made it back home in Daliganj in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and had been reunited with her two children – a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. Her husband had passed away a few years ago.  

The Quint spoke to the woman three days after her repatriation. She described how she still gets tremors when she thinks about Oman, how migrant workers get stuck in a vicious debt trap, and how there are at least 75 Indian women still stranded at the shelter home of the Indian Embassy in Oman.       

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Abusive Employers, Debt Trap: What Happened in Oman? 

The Lucknow woman described wretched working conditions for migrant domestic helpers in Oman and how their wages rarely justify it.   

“The arbaab (employer) who employed me had a huge house with many rooms, which I was asked to clean. His family comprises 25-30 members. I had to clean the bathrooms, do laundry, cook food and do the dishes. I used to work for 12-14 hours a day, until my health deteriorated,” the woman alleged. She worked in Oman as a domestic help for three months.

She claimed that in several cases, the employers were abusive and often assaulted the women physically and sexually. 

The Lucknow woman, however, stated that when she could not work further because of an ailment in her spine, her employer offered to send her back to the local agents' "office" who had facilitated her employment there.

“If I went back there, the agents would have punished me and asked me to pay a fine worth lakhs of rupees. But I had no money. So I ran away to the Indian Embassy in Oman instead," the woman told The Quint.

As per reports and testimonies of Indian women rescued from Oman, The Quint had learnt that at the time of their recruitment, the local agents deceptively or coercively take the women’s signatures on an employment contract which binds the women to work for at least two years. If they quit before that, they must pay the same amount – 1,500 Omani Rial (i.e. approximately Rs 3.2 lakh) – as penalty for breach of contract.

"If a woman or her kin fail to pay the fine, the agents find them another job. They have two options -- either they pay the fine and go back home or they work in Oman for two more years, before they get their passports back. I could afford neither," the woman explained.

She said that she met many women who had suffered a similar fate at the shelter home of the Indian Embassy in Oman.

The Quint first received her SOS message – as a voice note on WhatsApp – on 6 June at around 7.30 pm IST. After due diligence, this reporter had reached out to the team of Rajya Sabha MP Balbir Singh Seechewal, who sent a letter for her immediate repatriation to the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on 13 June.   

The woman had reached out to The Quint 35 days after our story 'How Indian Domestic Helps Trafficked To Oman Were Rescued' was published, in which it was reported that several women from Punjab had been cheated to take up jobs in Oman by unauthorised agents and had faced testing circumstances at the hands of their employers. The Lucknow woman had received this reporter’s number from one of the women The Quint had spoken to for the aforementioned story.   

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How Did the Lucknow Woman Escape Her Fate in Oman?  

The Lucknow woman was put up at the shelter home of the Indian Embassy on 24 April. She was stranded there for over two months. It was from here that she used to send SOS voice notes on WhatsApp to this reporter daily at around 5.30 pm Indian Standard Time (IST).

“Around 10 pm on 5 July, the warden of the shelter home told me that I should go to the Labour Court the next day. I had no clue what was happening,” the woman said.   

When she went to the Labour Court, which is not far from the shelter house in Muscat, she received her passport and was escorted to the airport by police officials, who also handed over the air ticket to her, the woman claimed.   

“I did not even know where I was going – whether the flight was to Mumbai or to Delhi or to Lucknow. All I could see was a way to get out.”  
The Lucknow woman

The woman said that she boarded her flight around 1.30 am on 7 July from Muscat and landed in Delhi at around 6 am the same morning. From there, she took a train to Lucknow, where she arrived late in the evening on 7 July.  

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‘Still Get Tremors’

In her SOS voice notes, the woman had described bleak living conditions at the shelter home, where she, along with 20-25 other Indian women, were allegedly put up.  

“During my time there, I spoke to many women who ended up there. One of them said that her arbaab threw hot tea on her face when she complained. Another one said that her employer dipped her face in a bucket full of water and thrashed her. She still has scars! Another woman was raped and impregnated by her employer when she rejected his advances,” the woman alleged to The Quint.  

The woman said that when she left, there were at least 75 women at the shelter home. “Many of them were young girls – 18 or 19 years of age – who came to Oman to work as beauticians and nurses but ended up working as house helps,” she alleged.   

The service agreement introduced by MEA in June 2011 states that the age of the house help brought from India to Oman should not be less than 30 years and not more than 50 years.  

“I still get shivers down my spine. I shudder at the thought and start sweating and palpitating when I think of the women who are stuck there,” she said.   

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‘Will Never Leave My Children Alone Again’  

Ab jo ghar aa gayi hun, bacchon se mil liya hai, ab sukoon mehsoos ho raha hai ki main wahaan se zinda bachke nika aayi (The relief came much after I reached home and could fathom that I have made it out of there alive),” the woman said.   

Her mother, who was taking care of her children in her absence, had taken seriously ill and was hospitalised in Kanpur, while the woman was still stranded in Oman. During this time, her children were completely alone.  

Since her return to Lucknow on 7 July, the woman has tried to bring normalcy to live but struggles with horrid memories of what happened to her and the women who were with her while she was stranded in Oman.

 As per our latest conversation with her on 23 July, the woman said that she went to Kanpur and visited her ailing mother, who was suffering from an infection in her blood, the woman said. She also managed to pay her children’s school fee and get them new uniform and shoes from the money she was able to make in Oman. But she said she will never go back.   

Abhi toh ghar ki chhat pe bhi jaane se dar lagta hai. Log kya kahenge? (Right now, I am scared of even going to my terrace. I wonder what people will think of me.) But once I am better, I will look for a job in Lucknow only. I am never leaving my children alone again,” she said. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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