Overworked Indian Maid Injured While Escaping Saudi Employers

Many migrant workers move from India to Gulf countries to support their families at home.

Published
India
3 min read
An Indian housemaid working in Saudi Arabia broke her back trying to escape abusive employers. Image for representational purposes only. (Photo: iStockphoto)

An Indian housemaid working in Saudi Arabia, who broke her back trying to escape abusive employers, has raised fresh concerns over the working conditions of domestic workers in Gulf countries.

Dhatchayani Uma Shankar, 29, jumped from the first floor balcony of her employer’s residence in Dammam a month after she began working there in March, officials from her home state in Tamil Nadu confirmed.

After spending a month in a Saudi hospital she was flown back home to Chennai on 16 June, with a steel plate in her back and shattered dreams.

I have a loan of 300,000 rupees ($4,500) to pay off, two children to raise and parents to take care of. I just wanted to earn an honest living but they made my life hell.
Dhatchayani Uma Shankar

She escaped barely six months after another Indian maid from Tamil Nadu, Kasthuri Munirathinam, also tried to run away from her employers and lost an arm in the process.

Like Munirathinam and Shankar, many migrant workers move to Gulf countries to support their families at home.

Government figures show there are an estimated six million Indian migrants in the six Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

In 2015, more than 700,000 Indians moved to the Gulf states where domestic help is in high demand.

I went to an agent someone suggested. He took three of us, including a cousin of mine, to Delhi before putting on different flights to Dubai. I was told I had to take care of a family of four. But it was two adults and four children, one of them a toddler. I worked for up to 14 hours a day.
Dhatchayani Uma Shankar

In a complaint lodged with state government officials, she stated that she was not allowed any breaks, was expected to take care of a 10-month-old baby while doing all other chores, given leftovers to eat and wasn’t paid for the month she was employed.

They suddenly told me I would have to stay there for five years and not two as my agent had said. When I protested, they said they would put me in a box and send me back. That made me nervous and I planned my escape.
Dhatchayani Uma Shankar

Officials at the Saudi Arabian embassy in New Delhi were not immediately available for comment.

A migration survey by the Tamil Nadu state government released in 2015 showed that a migrant spends an average of 108,112 rupees ($1,600) to a secure a job overseas, with half going to recruitment agencies and the rest for visas and travel.

But the survey of 20,000 households also revealed that 39 percent of women and 21 percent of men who work abroad reported not receiving the promised wages.

I am flooded with such cases. In many cases, when they land in Saudi Arabia, the first impression is not the best because of the strict norms here. The fear sets in at the airport itself and many women away from home for the first time, change their minds about working.
Nass Shaukat Ali, Social Worker

Ali, who is associated with cultural group Navodaya in Dammam, added that while many successfully adapt to the working conditions, those used to certain levels of freedom back home find it difficult to deal with the virtual “house arrest”.

The Tamil Nadu government has announced a compensation of 1 million rupees ($15,000) to Shankar.

But I will only get the monthly interest out of it. How is 8,000 rupees ($120) a month going to help me run a home?
Dhatchayani Uma Shankar

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