Going to “Saudia” for work is not new for Gulab Mohammad’s family. Nearly 22 years ago, Gulab had travelled to Yambo (Yanbu ‘ Al Bahr), a port city by the Red Sea in Western Saudi Arabia’s Al Madinah province, to explore greener pastures.
On Friday, Gulab’s son Rashid returned home from Jeddah, 340 km from Yanbu, after facing months of mental agony at the Sojex labour camp of the construction company Saudi Oger.
Rashid, 28, is among the 25 Indian labourers who returned from Jeddah, following an intervention led by MoS for External Affairs V K Singh.
After Rashid’s homecoming, Gulab has resolved never to turn to Saudi Arabia for work again. The family was earlier planning to send their other sons — Anwar, Kushi and Aslam — to Saudi Arabia, but not anymore.
“Saudia se ab hamara rishta khatm (Now, we have nothing to do with Saudi),” he said, sitting in the muddy front yard of his modest single-storey house in Mandrela, a Muslim- dominated village 28 km from Jhunjhunu.
In 2014, Rashid had a 20-month stint in Saudi Oger at Medina. Good experience and high wages encouraged the family to send him for another stint with the same firm. In November, Rashid left for Medina. He was transferred to Jeddah soon after.
A trained mason, Rashid worked as a maintenance man during his second stint, getting 1,100 Riyals (approximately Rs 19,600 at today’s exchange rate) a month. “Like before, the living conditions at the camp were good. The rooms were air-conditioned and we got good food,” he said.
Rashid shared the room with four Indians — two from Rajasthan and one each from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
Over 5,000 labourers from other countries stayed at the camp. “We left the camp at 6 am in a bus that took us to work. I worked as a maintenance worker at the Royal Garden Housing, watering plants and doing odd jobs,” he added.
The workers would return to the camp at 6 pm, dine and then go to bed, only to wake up at 4 am in the morning. They were not allowed to venture outside the camp, Rashid said.
The routine was disturbed in February when the company stopped paying them. “We had no clue why the salaries suddenly stopped coming. We asked the management but they kept assuring us that it was a minor anomaly and payments would start soon,” said Rashid.
That didn’t happen but the labourers continued working for three to four months. In May, the company also stopped the bus service.
Rashid said the company “sent money” to the Jeddah branch for payment of wages but the director misappropriated the funds. “He was from Lebanon and had several people from his country working with him. We think he took that money and gave it to his own people,” he said.
According to him, the last 20 days in Jeddah were the worst as the company stopped maintaining the camp. “There was filth all around and sewerage water had accumulated all over the site. The camp was cleaned up just a day before (minister) V K Singh arrived,” said Rashid.
Rashid said he was the only one with a labour card in his room and would go out to the Red Sea mall on Malik Road to get supplies for everyone.
With help from the Indian embassy, Gulab now hopes to get back his son’s salary dues — 9,900 riyals, plus the bonus.