An RTI response to The Lede’s queries throws light on the plight of exploited women migrants in Indian embassy run shelters abroad
On average a sum of Rs 5.5 lakh was spent every month to run two Indian embassy shelters in Oman, where around 100 stranded women are staying, between June 2019 and February 2020, an RTI document reveals.
This January The Lede had reported that women in the Indian embassy shelters are struggling without basic amenities and food.
According to the women domestic workers who talked then to The Lede, there were around 100 sheltered in two embassy-managed shelters and the situation was pathetic in both shelters.
They had told The Lede that they were getting only limited food, that too once a day, and also were being denied basic things like a toothbrush, sleeping mat and medicine.
The women were there since November 2019. Interestingly, the RTI reply sent to this reporter reveals that Rs 18 lakh was spent to run the shelter in November, December and January put together.
The RTI reveals that, while the lowest spending was in October (Rs 4.1 lakh), the highest spend took place in December (Rs 6.49 lakh).
“The money is taken from Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF),” the RTI reveals.
The Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF), set up in 2009, is aimed at assisting Overseas Indian nationals in times of distress and emergency in the ‘most deserving cases’ on a ‘means-tested basis’.
In 2017, the scope of welfare measures that can be extended through the fund was expanded.
A social worker, who requested anonymity, said that women who take shelter in the embassy facilities are those who run away from an exploiting Arab employer.
“For most of them, coming to an Indian embassy shelter is like, out of the frying pan into the fire,” the social worker said.
“The RTI revelations are shocking. They are spending this much money, but women there are not getting proper food. During November, a few women who had contacted me had told me that they were even not getting sanitary pads. Isn’t it a shame?” the social worker asked.
Since August 2016, emigration clearance of all female workers having Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) passports, for overseas employment in 18 ECR countries was made mandatory through six state-run recruiting agencies only.
They are NORKA Roots and Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants (ODEPC) of Kerala, Overseas Manpower Corporation Ltd (OMCL) of Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh Financial Corporation (UPFC) of Uttar Pradesh, Overseas Manpower Company Andhra Pradesh Limited (OMCAP) of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana Overseas Manpower Company Limited (TOMCOM) of Telangana.
Additionally, the Indian government has also banned women (except nurses) below 30 years, migrating to ECR countries. For nurses, the Indian government has a different set of rules to ensure safe migration.
However, still, women are duped by traffickers, flown to the Arab Gulf countries and ‘sold’ to Arab employers bypassing all safety nets of the Indian government.
Such women will not get job contracts and are often subjected to physical and mental abuse by their employers and traffickers.
Due to the existence of the Kafala system, the bonded-labour system in Oman and other Arab countries, migrants are unsafe, especially women migrant workers.
In the Kafala system, migrant workers rarely enjoy the freedom of movement and decent working conditions. In addition to the denial of freedom of movement, migrant workers are also subjected to mental and physical exploitation.
Quoting parliament replies, The Lede had earlier reported that on average, 52 Indians working in the Arab Gulf are lodging labour complaints daily in the Indian embassies.
This year, from January 01, till October 12, there were 15,051 complaints registered with the Indian embassies in all six Arab Gulf countries.
A document tabled by the Ministry of External Affairs in 2018 in the parliament, reveals that the Indian Missions in the Arab Gulf receive complaints from women workers, particularly female domestic sector workers, on account of poor working conditions, non-payment or delay in payment of salaries and denial of other benefits such as medical facilities, refusal of leave or denial of exit/re-entry permits for visits to India, denial of final exit visas to the workers to return to India after completion of the contract, maltreatment by the employers, etc.
“Incidents of confinement, physical abuse, abandoning of domestic workers by their employers have also been reported. Most of the complaints pertain to female workers, who do not have proper employment contracts and have migrated illegally, in violation of government norms for recruitment of Emigration Clearance Required workers from India,” the document adds.
Luckily, a few manage to escape the exploitation and they are the ones who take shelter in the embassy.
“Many a time, I have rescued women from exploitative employers and handed them over to the Indian embassy hoping that they will be safe and repatriated soon. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, their repatriation takes a lot of time and these women call and tell me that they are not fed well,” the social worker added.
According to the social worker, the embassy should use the ICWF wisely.
“Women who are exploited already should not be mistreated again. They embassy should not say no to the basic needs,” he added.
Between June 2019 and February 2020, the Indian embassy in Oman had sheltered 454 stranded women.