During the last two years of tenure as Union Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj rescued over a dozen women from Punjab who had gone to Saudi Arabia for work but were subjected to inhumane work conditions. The news of her sudden death Wednesday stunned them and left them enveloped in deep sense of sorrow. Even the families of 39 youths who were held hostage in Iraq by ISIS, and later killed, remembered her efforts to help them and said that they felt like they had “lost a family member”.
Paramjit Kaur of Gorsian Nihal village in Jalandhar district was sent as a domestic help to Saudi Arabia by the agent from her own village in July 2017.
“Sushma Swaraj madam was like a messiah as she helped my family a lot and made all efforts to locate me in Saudi. I can never forget her efforts,” said Paramjit who came back in June 2018 after being located in Saudi Arabia’s Hail.
“She used to help women like me even on a simple SOS on social media in which hapless stranded women were sending crying and pleading SOSs for their exit from Saudi besides mentioning their plight about inhuman treatment there,” she added. Paramjit now works as a labourer with three children to look after. Her husband is physically challenged.
55-year-old Sukhwant Kaur of Ajtani village in Jalandhar said she not only rescued her from Saudi Arabia, but also arranged for her ticket from Mumbai to Amritsar.
“She gave me a new life….,” said Sukhwant, who had left for Saudi on January 18, 2017. She recalled how she ended up as house maid despite being promised a better job, and was “beaten with rods and locked in a room”. She had sent an SOS on social media after being admitted to a hospital where a nurse helped her. Sukhwant said that she was “sold at Rs 3.50 lakh” by her agent to work as a house maid.
It was Swaraj’s intervention that helped bring back over 12 women following their SOSs.
The list included Aqwinder Kaur (30), Bachno (42 not real name), Gurbaksh Kaur (42) and her daughter Reena (22), Reena (30), Sonia (46) and Jeewan Jyoti (40), among others.
Most of these women were sent to Saudi by their local agents in India and “sold” to respective employers in Rs 2 to 3.50 lakh. All of them were from very poor backgrounds, many of them illiterate with majority belonging to Dalit families.
The former Union minister had even helped out Nakodar man in Indonesia hours before his execution in 2016. Gurdip Singh of Nakodar was in Indonesian jail for the past 14 years because of his involvement in a drug case. His life was spared hours before his execution on July 28-29 night in 2016.
When 39 youths were kidnapped by ISIS in June 2014, Sushma Swaraj was just a phone call away for families of these men.
Parwinder Singh of Chhauni Kalan village in Hoshiarpur lost his brother, Kanwaljeet Singh, and two brothers-in-law, Gurdeep Singh And Kulwinder Singh.
Speaking from Abu Dhabi, he said: “I am feeling like as my family member has passed away as I cannot forget her struggle for four years and I am deeply in pain.”
“At least, she brought the bodies back swiftly,” said Rakesh Kumar, the son of a deceased from Jalandhar.
Kamlajeet Kaur, wife of Roop Lal in Bath Kalan village (Nakodar), said that it was difficult time for the families and “Sushma ji helped us a lot through it. It took her four years to break the news, but she wanted to be sure herself first. But she did everything which she could do. I am in pain today”.