Murky tales of migrated labourers
Thousands of poor villagers from the boondocks of Telangana continue to be cheated by middlemen and are either dying a painful death in West Asian countries or languishing in jails in foreign shores for no fault of theirs
"Madam, have you read about this in today's newspapers"?... Yadamma, my domestic help, came scurrying in, breathless with excitement and impatient to give her breaking news.
"There are lots of things in today's papers. What is the news that you want to know"? I asked without looking up, my head still buried in my newspaper.
I was used to her regular bouts of excitement as she shared knowledge gleaned from television news and the "maid grapevine" and didn't think it was something earth shattering.
Yadamma literally pulled the paper from my hands. "There is no value for human life". Her voice rose. "Look at how people behave even after a person is dead.
My sister-in-law's husband borrowed money at an interest of two rupees to pay a middleman and went to Malaysia just four months ago.
Today they say he is dead but cannot send the body home unless we pay one lakh rupees. Even then they cannot say when the body will be flown back," she concluded stating that it was reported in the vernacular papers.
"Oh, I am so sorry. What work did he do?" I asked.
Yadamma's voice suddenly became conspiratorial, "He was a construction worker," she whispered.
He apparently joined a construction company who recruited cheap labour from our village through an agent from the neighbouring village known to him for more than five years.
The working conditions there were miserable and nothing like the agent promised. He didn't even get proper food to eat with his wage. So, he ran away and found another job.
The original employer refused to give him his papers and with his sudden death he is being seen as an illegal migrant worker. No employer is coming to his recue. Can't blame them, can we?
"Yes, the problem of illegal migrant workers is very severe in Malaysia, Dubai and other places, and there are alerts all the time about arrests, detentions and fines.
He shouldn't have gone to this place trusting agents who paint a rosy picture to make their commissions. In reality, work conditions are appalling and there are horror stories of 14 people staying in one room without basic facilities," I venture to tell her.
"How many times have I told him to work on his small farm in our village in Medak district? No…. he wouldn't listen. His elder brother went to Dubai and the younger one soon followed suit and found another country to die.
What can you do…? when the Lord of death is chasing you? You leave our own little hut, small land holding and the entire family in search of greener pastures.
If he stayed here, he would have got money twice a year for his small land holding and his wife would have got insurance too if he had died…," Yadamma continued sounding like a walking advertisement for populist government schemes like Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bhima.
"Yes, migrant workers in the unorganised labour market face many problems like non- payment of wages, physical abuse, accidents and even death.
If they work in some foreign country through deceitful agents, the conditions are even worse. You will be lucky if you get the body at all," I said.
"We are all pooling in money madam, so that we get a last glimpse. I hope this will be a lesson for our innocent and illiterate villagers to stay away from cunning middlemen.
These agents are lurking everywhere promising a better life and cheating innocent people and when tragedy strikes, they are nowhere to be found."
Yadamma's wisdom from the tragedy is certainly worth pondering. Dignity in life and death are basic to human life and dubious agents rob you of both.