On paper, Umar Chand Sharma belongs nowhere. Construction giant Saudi Oger denied the 50-year-old Indian his passport alongside the yearly work permit — ‘Iqama’ — for workers in Saudi Arabia, leaving Sharma and thousands of Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, French and Sudanese without pay, food, electricity and medical services for the last eight months.
“Sirf vishwaas pe aaye hain (We have returned to our country only on blind faith),” Sharma said about the Central government’s promise to help them get pending wages, as he lay shored up against a cardboard carton holding all his luggage from his 10-year stay in Riyadh. Sharma and 44 co-workers from Bihar, who landed in Delhi Thursday evening, were hosted by the Bihar government at Ambedkar Bhawan until train tickets were booked to send them back home Friday.
At the beginning of the year, there were roughly 52,000 workers employed with Saudi Oger companies across Saudi Arabia. Of them, more than 10,000 are Indians, according to the External Affairs Ministry’s estimation. All stuck in labour camps for months without wages and other benefits since January, according to the workers.
Wazir, 30, from Saharsa district of Bihar, said, “For eight months, we held through in hope. Then the Indian government intervened and asked us to file a case in labour court there, fly back home and wait. I have not been paid Rs 4.5 lakh in wages. What if the labour court rules against us?”
Like hundreds of others like him, Wazir’s family back home has been borrowing heavily from relatives and friends to see them through.
He said, “I have not sent money for months. My wife borrowed nearly Rs 2 lakh, but the money ran out and she was forced to take our sons out of private school and admit them in a government school.”
For now, the young them plan to wait until they get back their pending wages — hopefully by the end of the year – and use the money to finance their next trip abroad. Work even in metro cities here pay way too less, they said. The older ones are far less hopeful. “I am past employable age in private firms in Gulf countries, and there are no jobs in Bihar,” said 50-year-old Abdul Ansari.
“The younger ones can travel to Delhi or Mumbai to find work, but where will I go at this age? If the labour court helps us get back the dues, I can at least open a small shop in village. That is my only hope,” he added.