Learn from Arroyo

That Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself flew to Kuwait and appealed to Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah to commute the death sentence on a Filipina maid shows how much the Philippine’s President values her eight million fellow countrymen who have left the poor country to send home money from hard work abroad. The Kuwait Amir…

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SYED TAUSIEF AUSAF

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That Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself flew to Kuwait and appealed to Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah to commute the death sentence on a Filipina maid shows how much the Philippine’s President values her eight million fellow countrymen who have left the poor country to send home money from hard work abroad. The Kuwait Amir not only pardoned the convicted maid but also vowed to further reduce the penalty.
It was not for the first time when Arroyo scurried to save the life of an expatriate in distress. Four years ago, a Filipino truck driver was kidnapped near Fallujah and the kidnappers told Manila to pull out its troops from Iraq or else De la Cruz, 46-year-old father of eight, would be beheaded. Arroyo wasted no time in taking the decision and earned the displeasure of her chief ally, the US, for agreeing to abductors’ demands and called home 51 troops stationed in Iraq. Filipinos, touched by his plight, offered Cruz a job, scholarships for his children and a new house for his family.
Both of Arroyo’s decisions proved that the Philippines government is committed to ensuring the well being of its people whose remittances significantly fuel the country’s economy. Politics apart, Arroyo knows how to become a people’s president. She preferred saving a trucker’s life to annoying Washington, something unbelievable, unthinkable and unheard of in India and Pakistan.
Islamabad never bothered to come to the rescue of hundreds of Pakistanis harassed or arrested in the US and Europe in the name of Bush’s war on terror. The government has no idea how many Pakistanis have gone missing or are languishing in jails after being caught on unproven terror charges in different countries. Several lives have been lost as a result of US strikes in Pakistan. That American agents feel free to operation inside the Pakistani territory is no news. In 1997, Aimal Kansi was kidnapped by the FBI from a hotel room in Dera Ghazi Khan and transported to Virginia to stand trial. There was no official extradition and his country remained a mute spectator to the whole drama. Later, Kansi was put to death in the US for allegedly shooting to death five people.
The Indian government has a full-fledged ministry for Overseas Indians under Vyalar Ravi, but has failed so far in giving the Indians toiling abroad full protection against abuse and torture. In Bahrain, the Indian embassy did too little and too late in at least two high profile cases. Anita Devi Verma was rescued in October 2003 from the hands of her Indian employer Meena Raj Dolare. Despite strong evidence against her (when rescued, Anita was treated for bruises, bites and burns, a broken rib and a fractured thumb and 22 stitches on head), the employer appealed the sentence and later refused to sign the final cancellation of her sponsorship unless Anita withdrew the case, blocking her from returning home. Mere a BD1000 settlement was all that the embassy could arrange for Anita. Had it been active like Arroyo, Dolare would not have got just a slap on the wrist.
The family of Kausalya, who was abducted and reportedly abused by four Bahraini men in November 2006 and later freed, did not get speedy justice because of a lethargic attitude of the embassy. Mohan, the victim’s husband, was very upset with the embassy for not following up the case. Nine suspects were arrested but he has no idea what happened to them. The ambassador, who is stationed here to ensure the safety and security of the Indians, should have not rested until the culprits were caught and Kausalya was paid a decent compensation.
During this amnesty period, disillusioned labourers are thronging the embassy to get outpasses and instead of offering them unconditional assistance, some embassy staff is brazenly telling them “you can die in your country” before pushing them. No marks for imagining what would have been the fate of that staff had he been in a Western embassy.
The unhelpful and at times disgusting attitude of Indian embassies has made many headlines across the globe. Some months ago, the embassy in Moscow became the scene of angry protests by Indian students over its callousness and lack of support for the victims of the fire that gutted a dormitory. The embassies of other countries provided material and moral support to their students, but there was no sign of the Indian Embassy doing anything.
A couple of months ago, Dubai saw a major uprising by workers, majority of them Indians. If the Indian Embassy in the UAE had worked towards fixing a satisfactory minimum salary and working conditions for labourers, nothing of that sort would have happened.
Last week in Kuwait, over a hundred Indian workers staged protest in front their embassy to air their grievances against their company, which ordered their arrest. The embassy should have immediately sheltered them. The Philippines embassy in Bahrain has a shelter house to keep abused workers. Why can’t the Indian embassies set up such facilities?
Hundreds of thousands of housemaids are working in distressing conditions in the Middle East.  Physical torture, abuse, non-payment of salaries and filing of false cases against them is rampant. It’s all because of the absence of contracts that call for a fair treatment to maids and empower their embassy to enforce the contract. New Delhi should provide a system similar to that of the Philippines to safeguard the dignity and safety of Indian workers.
[The writer can be reached at [email protected]]