Exclusive: Victim shares with The Lede, receipt of money she paid to get her freedom
Indian women domestic workers who had migrated to Kuwait through NORKA (Department of Non Resident Keralites Affairs), a Kerala government’s arm set up to ensure safe migration, have been told to pay Rs 1.5 lakh if they need to come back to India.
Talking to The Lede from Kuwait, a domestic worker said that she has been told by the agency in Kuwait to pay Rs 1.5 lakh for her freedom.
“I had gone to Kuwait in June 2019. To not be cheated at the workplace, I had gone through NORKA. But it did not help me. The agency which is in tie-up with NORKA is exploiting the workers here. They are holding us back and telling us that we should pay Rs 1.5 lakh to return to India,” the worker said.
The worker’s husband told The Lede that she was not provided decent working conditions there in Kuwait.
“She had gone in July 2019, through NORKA. We expected that she will not be exploited. However she was not provided decent working conditions. She was forced to work round the clock without any rest at all. And she was not also given proper food,” the worker’s husband said.
“And when we complained about the recruitment agency in Kuwait, they made a provision for her to buy stuff for food and cook. But then the employer was not giving enough time to cook food. So, eventually, she was starving, and it has affected her health. She told me that she has lost around 20 kg in a few months and always feels tired,” he added.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has entrusted NORKA ROOTS as a state-run agency to recruit nurses and domestic service workers for 18 ECR countries. The aim of engaging NORKA ROOTS in the recruitment process was to make way for safe migration to overseas job aspirants.
In the NORKA website, it says that their efforts are “lauded as a major deterrent against illegal recruitment and visa cheating.”
However, victims tell The Lede that the situation is the same even if they go through NORKA.
A year ago, the Kuwaiti recruitment agency had entered into a deal with NORKA in recruiting domestic workers. Safe migration and decent working conditions were discussed then. However, now, the safe migration channel is not helping women domestic workers, from being exploited.
Currently, the domestic worker is in the Kuwaiti recruitment agency’s shelter and is pleading with the agency to return home, however, the agency is asking for Rs 1.5 lakh to allow her to return to India.
Another woman domestic worker, who had returned to the recruitment agency shelter hoping to return to India for her husband’s cancer treatment has also been told to pay Rs 1.5 lakh for her freedom.
“My husband is unwell. I have to go. But the agency is telling me that I have to pay Rs 1.5 lakh to return to India. I don’t have a penny to meet my husband’s treatment. And at the same time, they are asking me to pay them this huge amount,” the domestic worker added.
Meanwhile, Beena Omanakuttan from Kottayam in Kerala, who had returned to India on 31 December 2019, after paying Rs 1.1 lakh to the Kuwaiti recruitment agency told The Lede that NORKA simply washes off their hands when approached with a complaint.
“First, I worked for three months there in a big house. I had to work for 21 hours every day. In one villa itself, there were three families. So, I had to work continuously. After I realised that I would die, I approached the agency office. I was sent to another home. There also the condition was not much better. From there, I was moved to a new house. And meanwhile, I had to return to India for an emergency. When I asked for a 10-day leave, they cancelled my contract and dropped me back in the agency office,” Beena said.
“The officials in the agency office then demanded that I should pay Rs 1.1 lakh for my return. I tried my best to resist. My husband even talked to NORKA. But they ignored our plea. Finally, my husband arranged the money, deposited it to a friend’s account who was in Kuwait. He paid me Kuwait currency, I paid that to the agency and returned,” Bindhu said while adding that she also had to purchase the ticket.
Beena asks, if NORKA cannot ensure safe migration and protect workers’ rights and guarantee decent working conditions, why are they entering into such activities?
“They are just cheating us. They are fooling workers. For name's sake, we can say, we have migrated through NORKA. But we are exploited,” Beena said adding that none of the terms stated in the job contract issued by NORKA is ensured.
The Lede had written to NORKA and the Indian Embassy office in Kuwait seeking comments on the allegations raised by domestic workers. However, till the time of this story filed, The Lede has not received any reply from either NORKA or the Indian embassy in Kuwait.
The story will be updated if The Lede gets a response.