Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Kafeel has my passport : Travails of Indians in the Gulf

One evening, I walked into a small Internet café near my hotel. Two young Indian men managed the café. After I had answered my e-mails, I bought a coffee and we chatted. They were from Faizabad, a small town in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Sohail, the younger, a wiry man who served coffee and tea and cleaned the place, had been working there for a year. When I told him that I had been to his town several times as a reporter, his eyes brimmed with tears. “I worked in a garage as a mechanic, but I didn’t make enough. I got married and had a child. So I came here. I thought I am going to Mecca. I will get to perform the Hajj and earn a lot more than I ever would,” he said. “I didn’t know people here would treat us like dirt.” He pointed to a chubby Saudi boy, who was a regular at the café and called himself “Funky Monkey” (his video-game username). “Every time he feels like, he would slap me. It is the same with other local customers. You are a little late complying an order and they bark at you, slap you.” He added, “Here you can’t appeal to anyone. My passport is with my kafeel and I can only go home when he allows me to.” Imran, the older counterman, consoled him. “You are here now! Get used to it. Do I cry? I haven’t been able to return home in three years,” Imran said.

“Why not?” I asked Imran.

“My kafeel has my passport. He keeps making excuses, delaying it. He doesn’t want to lose business if I go away. And he has to pay all my money that is with him and buy me the return ticket home.”

And yet, Imran said, “We still have it easy. Working here is much worse for the maids.”

There are about one-and-a-half million female domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.
Basharat Peer in The New Yorker. Here

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