Thrilled to have returned home safe, 24-year-old Sabitul’s joy knows no bounds. However, he is now worried by the realisation that he has lost the source of a steady income that supported his poor parents. Elder son of a share cropper’s family, Sabitul went to Iraq as a construction labourer as part of a group from Hanskhali area in Nadia in August, 2013. He returned home late Tuesday night.
A group of 25 construction workers — 16 from Nadia district, eight from South 24-Paraganas and one from Burdwan — have returned from Iraq. They reached Kolkata airport at 11.30 pm Tuesday.
Among them was Sabitul, who was chosen by a local agent in the village, Sadhu Mondal. To go to Iraq, he had to arrange Rs 1.50 lakh, of which he borrowed 1.25 lakh from a local money lender and arranged Rs 25,000 from other sources, including mortgaging property.
The repayment of Rs 1.25 lakh now looms large over his head as there seems to be no work.
During his nine-month stay in Iraq as construction labourer, he was paid his dues of six months but was not been aid for the remaining three.
“I have returned from Iraq and that is why people think that I am safe. But now the money lenders are after me. I could not repay the money I borrowed from them ten months ago. I do not know how my family will survive now,” said Sabitul.
He worked in Basra, Iraq, where several new construction projects are coming up.
After working for at least 14 hours a day, Sabitul would earn Rs 1,000 per day.
“I used to start my day at 6 am in the morning and would return at around 8 pm. Per day, I used to earn Rs 1,000. However, we had to pay for our food from that money. We were dumped into one small room. For the last two months, I could not contact my parents as our mobile phones were taken away from us.”
Living life in captivity for two months, the labourers would get food once in two days. “For last three months, we could not go out. We were almost under house arrest. Outside, there used to be war everyday. We used see bombs being hurled and groups of terrorists, with highly sophisticated weapons, moving on the road. We were told not go out of the house. We used to receive a small food packet once in every two days,” said Sabitul.
Among the construction workers, most were Bangladeshis while 35 were from India. Of the 35, 22 were from Bengal, said Sabitul.
“The company for which I used to work, did nothing to arrange our return to India, while there was another company at a nearby site which took the initiative and contacted embassies. Four of the 35 are still in Iraq as there were some problems with their passports.”
While 16 construction labourers from Nadia returned Tuesday night, families of other stranded Indians are still biding time hoping for good news.
Namita Shikdar, wife of Khokan Shikdar of Tehatta in Nadia, is living in fear.
“I last spoke to my husband June 13. He works there as a carpenter in Masul, Iraq since last three and half years. He is one of the 39 Indians stranded in Masul. Of the 39, 37 are Punjabis and two are Bengalis. Every week, I go to the DM office and offices of local MLAs, but I have not received any news of my husband,” said Namita.
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