Ayesha Siddiqua Begum is relieved to be finally back with her children and husband at their one-BHK (bedroom-hall-kitchen) flat at Imambada in Hyderabad’s Yakuthpura. Just over a week ago, the 28-year-old was rescued from Sharjah by the Consul General of India-Dubai and sent back home. She had spent three harrowing months in the foreign city – overworked, tortured, and mostly hungry.
Ayesha was working as a domestic help before she went to the Gulf. A financial crisis after one of her children fell ill forced the family to look for other avenues of income.
“We needed about Rs 20,000 to pay back the local financier. Ayesha approached Bee Baji, a prominent woman in the locality, who, along with her associate Salma, offered to get her a job in Dubai at a salary of Rs 30,000 a month. We did not have to take care of ticket, visa or passport. They also promised some initial financial assistance of Rs 50,000,” said Mohammed Abdul Waheed, Ayesha’s husband, who works at a local store.
Ayesha travelled to Dubai in October 2019 on a visit visa. “I had to take care of an elderly couple there. I was also told that I could return after a month if I did not like the job,” she said.
“I was then taken to an employment service Center at Khorfakkan, Sharjah, where there were around 70 women like me. I worked at five different mansions. From 4 am to 11 pm every day, I had to cook, clean, wash clothes, and take care of dozens of children,” she recalled with tears in her eyes. “If we returned to the agency or were sent back from the mansions, we were badly beaten up. Food was a luxury.”
She began waiting for the month to end so that she could go back. “But to my shock, they said my agent will have to return the money they have paid him, or I have to pay Rs 2 lakh myself to go home. I tried contacting Salma back home but there was no response. Though phones were not allowed, I communicated with my husband through WhatsApp voice messages whenever I could,” she said.
Meanwhile, her children back home fell sick one after the other. “I tried talking to Salma here. She said she would file a police case against me for harassment or beat me up in public,” said Waheed.
On December 8, Waheed, with the help of Amjed Ullah Khan, an activist and political leader of Old City-based Majlis Bachao Tehreek, lodged a complaint with Rein Bazaar police station of Hyderabad, demanding action against the two women agents for cheating Ayesha and also requested her rescue. Khan also tweeted the matter to Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar, CGI-Dubai, and others. Ayesha was rescued from her employer on December 21.
A case was registered under Sections 34 (a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention) and 420 (cheating) of the IPC and notices were served to the two women accused to appear before the police. However, no arrest has been made.
Victim says it’s an organised crime
According to Khan, Ayesha’s is not an isolated case and that there is an organised crime racket in operation. He alleges that the local police is hand-in-glove with illegal agents, which is why an FIR in the matter was registered only three weeks later and no arrest was made yet.
He also alleged that the victims are often forced to compromise with the accused on their return and that it is facilitated by the local police. “Ayesha’s passport was made in 8 days on the address of Bee Baji, and only on the submission of Aadhaar card. Five other passports were made on that address. Salma and Bee Baji have sold these women for Rs 2 lakh each. How is it possible that the police did not carry out address verification for the passports,” Khan told indianexpress.com.
Jameela Nishat, founder of Shaheen Women’s Resource and Welfare Association that works for women empowerment in the Old City of Hyderabad, said women who work as illegal agents are part of a larger network of people who are also working at airport immigration in the Gulf countries. “Poor, gullible women are targeted. In our training and community programmes, we discourage women from taking up such jobs by sharing experiences of others who went for Khadama (domestic help) jobs and were rescued,” said Nishat.
Zehra Jabeen, who works at Shaheen and personally knows of at least three women who were rescued from the Gulf, said that in the year 2019 alone as many as 3,000 women from the Old City travelled to the Gulf after they were promised ‘Khadama’ (house help) and beauty parlour jobs. “About 1000 of them have come back after their families paid anything between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 10 lakh. Others who cannot afford to pay are stuck there. Their phones are also confiscated.”
No organised racket, say police
Rein Bazar police inspector P Anjaneyulu confirmed having received similar cases but said there is no common thread to suggest an organised racket. He said the rescued victim’s statement will have to recorded and the accused are yet to respond to the summons notice. “In most such cases, someone in the neighbourhood tries to help someone seeking help, and when things do not happen as expected after travelling abroad, they are blamed. We have 4-6 cases, but all have different people involved and different modus operandi,” he told indianexpress.com. He said no travel agents or job brokers were operating in the police limits.
Joint CP and in-charge for the South Zone, Avinash Mohanty, said it has to be looked at on a case-to-case basis. “There could be situations where people are promised something and they end up in another situation, it could be there. Whenever we receive a complaint, we register a case and take action,” he said.
When asked about Ayesha’s passport that was made on someone’s address, the officer said he was not aware of any recent cases where the passport was made in violation of the rules.
According to E Chittibabu, the officer in-charge of the NRI Cell in Telangana government, there is a slight rise in the number of women seeking rescue from the Gulf countries. “In Telangana, it is only the women from Hyderabad who travel abroad for household jobs. In almost all cases, they travel with the help of individuals or illegal agents. In 2019, around 20 requests for rescue were sent from the Telangana government, of which 10-12 cases have been resolved, and the remaining are under process. We had about 10-12 cases in the previous year,” he told indianexpress.com.
On receipt of a complaint, the state government writes to the embassy, consulate or the high commission concerned seeking assistance. “We know of about 34 recruiting agents registered with the government of India legally operating in Telangana. Women migration is mostly facilitated by individuals or illegal agents.”
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