It was a phone call from Badlapur in Mumbai’s suburbs in May that rekindled hopes for a Punjab family. Punjab-based Hardev Singh has now written to the Maharashtra State Commission for Women to help him bring his wife Sarabjeet Kaur (35) back home from Muscat where she is employed as a domestic help. Singh says the return of Badlapur resident Farida Khan, also a domestic help who allegedly faced violence by her employer in Muscat, has led him to believe he may be able to bring Sarabjeet back. It was a call from Farida that prompted Singh to knock at the doors of the commission.
What began as a dream to earn enough to fund their daughter’s education turned into a nightmare after Singh realised his wife, taken to Muscat through an agent where she is employed as a house help, is facing violence.
Sarabjeet was promised a domestic help’s job by an agent in Punjab, who promised to find her work in Malaysia. “She left in March. But instead of Malaysia, they took her to Dubai and then Muscat,” he said, adding his wife’s passport and phone have been confiscated by the employers.
Since March, she managed to make three phone calls to her husband, saying each time: “Mujhe wapas bula lo (Bring me back home).” “She said they were not giving her salary or food,” Singh said.
He registered a complaint with a local police station in Punjab but alleges he got no support. It was in May when Farida Khan called him that he decided to seek help from Maharashtra’s Women Commission.
Like Sarabjeet, Farida had been promised a job by a Mumbai agent. In January, she left for Qatar, from where the agent took her to Dubai and then Muscat. “I have a heart condition and I could not earn enough as a driver. She decided to work abroad for two years to support our family,” said husband Abdul Aziz Khan.
After Farida left, Abdul said she was unable to send any money. “For a month, she could not call. When she finally did she told me they would beat her up, make her stand in the sun for hours and provide no food for 15 days at a stretch.”
Khan approached the agent who demanded Rs 2 lakh to facilitate her return. “I gave him Rs 40,000. After that I kept going to Ambernath police station to complain. When they did not register an FIR, I approached the women’s commission’s helpline,” Khan says.
According to officials from the women’s commission, following Khan’s complaint in March, the commission approached the Ministry of External Affairs and directed Badlapur police to initiate an investigation. “I met Sarabjeet in Muscat. She gave me her husband’s number. She too was tortured like me,” Farida said.
“After Farida returned, Hardev Singh has been calling us every day to help his wife,” an official from the women’s commission said.
According to senior police inspector KG Chavan from Ambernath police station, two agents named Imran and Iqbal have been arrested in Farida’s case. “Investigations are underway to find more people linked,” he said.
In his complaint to the Maharashtra State Women’s Commission, Singh said he has two children who are now under the care of his brother’s wife. “I have a tent business which is not doing well. I manage to earn Rs 10,000 per month.
We wanted to educate our daughter, so my wife suggested she work abroad and save money,” he said.
She left in March this year. In her last phone call to her husband she said she has not been paid salary for three months and is beaten up whenever she protests.
Women’s commission officials have claimed that agents lure poor women from India to work abroad and sell them to private employers for domestic work. “My wife was given electric shocks when she refused to do what they bid,”
Khan, Farida’s husband, told The Indian Express.