The sad plight of Indian maids in Saudi

Rizana-Nafeek-protestThere has been an outrage over the beheading of a Sri Lankan maid in Saudi Arabia. Rizana Nafeek a 24 year old maid was sentenced to death and executed despite pleas of clemency.
This has raised several questions over the manner in which the migrant workers are treated in Saudi Arabia. As per the records there are over 45 maids from various countries who are on a death row in Saudi Arabia. In this list figures a few Indian maids too who are on a death row, but the figures according to Human Rights Watch are hard to come by as the Saudi authorities never publish the exact data. While the number of Indians on a death row is much smaller when compared to those from other countries, there is also a growing problem of the number of suicides by Indian workers who have not been able to bear the work conditions.

Two women from Hyderabad who had to return to India from Saudi Arabia say that the working conditions are terrible. They come from very poor back grounds and decided a couple of years back that they would go to Saudi Arabia and work as maids in a bid to support their families. However due to ill-treatment by their employers they were forced to return home.
The problem is that in most households in Saudi Arabia, the work expected out of these people is extremely rough by nature. It almost amounts to slavery, the maids say. The women of the house do nothing but expect a world of work out of these maids. While most of the maids continue to work day and night without complaining the real problem begins when the women of the house become abusive. In some case studies it has also been revealed that some of the maids have been subject to sexual assault. Some of them bear the humiliation while other retaliate after not being able to take it.
In most of the cases in which death sentence has been awarded it has been found that the action has only been retaliatory. Unable to bear the abuse some of the maids often tend to get aggressive and end up killing one of the employers.
The maids who have gone to Saudi from India say that there is no gurantee of the work atmosphere. They get in touch with the recruiting agencies who are in touch with the employers. The recruiting agency is paid around 5000 riyals to find a maid. The maids in turn are paid anything between 800 to 1000 riyals per month. This is big money for them.
Saudi Arabia is among the top ten countries in the world where immigration is concerned. There is a desperation among people to go there no matter what the work conditions are as the money is good. Rights organizations point out that apart from the number of maids who are facing various sentences, the other problem is that of suicide. In the year 2012 there have been 33 suicides by Indian workers who have not been able to bear the work conditions and treatment by their employers.
Studies have shown that there are various factors that have led to suicides and crimes committed by Indian workers. Many are unable to bear the work conditions. The liaison between the tout and the employer is another reason as the worker is never given to understand the real picture. Many employers abuse the workers physically and also do not pay them on time. At least 10 cases of suicide and another 15 cases of assaulting the employer have come to light because of a dirty practise of withholding the passport. These workers are not paid on time but are unable to leave the work place as their passports are withheld.

Most of these workers have often tried seeking help from the embassies, but there is an overload of other cases before the embassy, which has delayed the solution.

Vishaka (name changed) had to return to India. She did everything possible to raise her concerns and finally got fed up of waiting for a solution. She explains that her employers treated her like a machine. They had no sense of timing but expected work at any part of the day or night. I worked in a house in which there were 20 rooms. I began my day at 3 AM and only wound up by 11 PM. The question of speaking to my employers did not arise as they got abusive. One night when they were asleep I decided to slip out. I headed to the embassy and fortunately they helped me return.

The big problem is that none of these maids who go to work abroad are insured. There is no safety net for them if things go horribly wrong for them. This leads to frustration and the weaker minds either resort to assaulting their employers or committing suicide.

Despite the problem being this huge none of the embassies have taken adequate measures to safeguard the interests of these maids and workers. There are over a million domestic maids in Saudi Arabia of which India accounts to nearly 3 lakh of them. There have been at least 10000 cases of maids fleeing in the past three years and the Indian embassy receives nearly 5 cases on an average daily. This means that most of the cases are not being reported and these workers tend to take the extreme step.

Apart from the harsh working conditions, Human Rights Watch points out that there is a lack of proper legal support for such workers. Accroding to the International Labour Organisation, there is a lack of legal rights and protection for such workers. The lack of legal protection only would mean that when these maids go up on a death row or a conviction, they lack proper representation. The maids who have been sexually assaulted face charges of prostitution while those who have assaulted in self defence end up with attempt to murder charges. Due to the lack of protection, they are unable to defend themselves and the laws over there have often favoured the employer. Moreover the trials have been conducted in the local language and none of these people understand and hence end up getting convicted. The Saudi authorities have not provided a basic amic curea in these cases too.

Meenakshi Ganguly, Director South Asia for Human Rights Watch says that they are getting data on the exact number of Indian maids on a death row. When compared to the rest of the countries, the data relating to India are very low. However there are many men who are on a death row. In the 2012 alone there have been 69 executions.
Rights groups point out that when the appointment process takes place, none of the touts tell the maids about the possible risks of working in Saudi Arabia. This is something that needs to be done say rights groups activists as this will give the worker a better picture of what he or she is walking into.

37 thoughts on “The sad plight of Indian maids in Saudi

  1. Guys its vice versa too.I have till now got horrible maids and spent lot of money.You give them freedom they behave badly .Treating them equal and as human according to me has only bad results where they take complete advantage of your helplessness in the need of them to take care of your kids and the cost involved that you silently suffer and end putting up with them.
    Instead of being an asset they become your liability.
    A bad employer has a good maid and good employer seems to have a bad maid ,but I feel there is more to it.You treat maids with dignity they treat you badly but when you put them in place they respect you.
    You can never straighten a dogs tail and so are maids…………………………………


  2. This has been a general concern for the Middle Eastern Countries of which Saudi takes a notorious lead. Yes, local practices are so prejudiced and alarmingly partisan that innocence is rarely required to be proved over accusation. Guilt is manufactured and established in accordance with the demands of the crisis, mostly created. Many of those languishing the malicious jails in Saudi never get to see daylight again irrespective of whether they are criminals or innocents. The Judge and jury is mostly one sided with hardly scope for appeal.

    It is ironic that in the land of the pure, supposedly, maximum violations of human rights, maximum crimes, maximum murders and maximum punishment to the wrong is meted out. Only Western countries hold clout over local administration in crime related incidences where their respective local embassies represent the accused. For India, that exactly is the biggest dilemma. I believe we do have a embassy there that caters to the needs of the Saudis more than to its Nationals.

    The Government of India has a special Ministry called the **Pravasi Mantralaya** with a Minister in E.Ahmed, the lone minister representing Indian Union Muslim League, an ally of Congress Party in Kerala. The guy was a failed footballer from a place called Kannur before embarking on a political career based on religious grounds and got through to his current position thanks to minority appeasement (he is no more with the Mantralaya now, of course – but he was the longest serving Minister in the Pravasi Mantralaya). His continuous visits to the Middle Eastern Countries were more to fatten his personal pocket ( and he has done it with considerable comfort for his next 10 generations to live by ) than to aid the ailing Pravasi – the Non Resident Indian!

    Be that as it may, the conditions are terrible and beyond any human rights comprehension in Saudi. But being a monarchy, I suppose that is the way it is or should be. Our Indian History is replete with similar atrocities as depicted in various historical literature. Therefore, regardless of the century we live in, I reckon being a country barely progressing beyond the barbaric 6th century diktats, devoid of the boasted sanctity, will perpetually remain in prehistoric and nomadic conditions where the underprivileged will be the sufferers always!


  3. the reason the saudi officials are giving is..that the maid killed an infant of the family ..and according to their law thts the punishment for infant killing..the saudi family when asked ,told the police that they want the maid to be hanged nthng else.. also the maid’s version is the infant died of getting suffocated due to choking while getting fed from bottle.


    1. thats correct. i agree that punishment is necessary for murder, but a fair trial and proper understanding of the countrys legal jurisprudence is the right of every accused. thanks for the comment soumya


  4. Every country should give every person a fair trial, whatever the origin or the offence. It is har to change the saudis, but the home countries of these maids have to take some actions. And about capital punishment, it is always wrong. I believe you don’t stop bad crimes by barbaric punishment. And about “a country where even a lone women can venture out in the midst of night without having to fear a armed assault.” As far as I know women in Saudi have very few rights. They are not even alloved to drive a car, so I don’t think they walk the streets alone at night. We can in my country, and we don’t even have armed police around..and of course, no capital punishment.


  5. Will the stupidity never end? When will men realize that women could control the world just by teaching their sons that women are to be prized, to be treated gently and with great respect? When will women wake up and realize they could control the world? Enough already.


  6. Saudi law stipulates death for death, many people are executed for such crimes every year irrespective of nationality. This is the reason saudi has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, a country where even a lone women can venture out in the midst of night without having to fear a armed assault. If capital punishment is the reason crimes like the delhi rape doesnt occur in saudi, then hats off to capital punishment.


    1. Dear Mohammed, the question is not about capital punishment but it is about a fair trial and an impartial judiciary. Please list the names of Americans, Canadians, Britons or anyone from Europe who has faced the rough end Saudi shariah law ? The answer is 0. Saudis know all too well what would be in stock for them if they bite their masters hands, so the best way to display their 6th century tribal culture is to chop young girls from asia or africa in public squares, or their own nationals who have crossed off one of the royals.

      Everytime i hear about some attrocity in the middle east, it reminds me of Matt Damon’s words in that wonderful movie ‘Syriana’. During an argument with a arab prince, Matt says ” Hundred years ago you were on camel backs chopping each others heads off, and a hundred years from now that’s exactly where you will be !”. Once the oil wells go dry, investments stops, those words will be considered prophetic.


      1. As regards americans or brits, most of westerners who come to saudi come as top rung executives doing white collar jobs, they would seldom involve themselves in crimes to warrant capital punishment.Also most of those who are executed are saudi nationals involved in serious crimes like murder and drug trafficking. Stop looking at things from a prejudiced lens, may be a trip to saudi will enlighten you.


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