Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 7 Issue 32 | August 8, 2008 |

  Cover Story
  Special Feature
  One Off
  Food for Thought
  Straight Talk
  Book Review
  Write to Mita
  Star Diary

   SWM Home

Writing the Wrong

Children of a Lesser (!) Country


Let us visualise a highly deplorable situation. Picture in your mind a scene where a few Kuwaitis are working in Dhaka in whatever position. Unthinkable, right? But times can change.

Visualise that their Bangladeshi employer is not paying these diligent overseas workers of our much-hyped ummah their due monthly salary for three to four months. And picture in your mind, even when wages are paid they are lesser than that committed in the agreement signed by both 'unequal' parties. Add to that with your imagination, damaging press reports of maltreatment by this boss of a Dhaka factory. Unthinkable? You are right, because we are human beings.

What do you expect would have happened? The Kuwaiti embassy would have protested vehemently in the name of the His Excellency. He would have been called back to Kuwait City for discussions. The Arab League would have met on a single agenda. The Kuwait government would have appealed to the United Nations for justice and mitigation of the situation. That is what the countries at the receiving end usually do. But one must first be able to comprehend that one is at the receiving end.

Here I have to repeat one of my favourite heard stories of the man from Barisal (actually he could be from anywhere), who was thoroughly beaten up by some guys. On return from the cotton-grinder, read tula-dhuna, he was asked by a sympathiser what had happened. He replied nonchalantly, 'They have slapped me and kicked me, but they could not insult me'.

According to press reports, “Thousands of workers had been on strike in Kuwait since Thursday protesting low wages, bad working conditions and exploitation.” (Daily Star Thursday 31 July) Subsequent reports in other newspapers have sadly been identical.

The deprived and agitated workers reportedly smashed a few cars and created a law and order situation. Understandably such behaviour is not acceptable even when their overseas mehmaan are not being paid their right wages for months, are kept in contrastingly inhuman living conditions, and are abused. Who said slavery was no more?

This phenomenon is not anything new. It has been going on for years. Here is an extract from a 2005 report: “Kuwait, where more than 900,000 foreigners are employed in the emirate's private sector, is the scene of regular protests by disgruntled workers over non-payment, maltreatment or poor working conditions. A 1,000-strong mob of Bangladeshi workers with a Kuwaiti cleaning company took out their anger at five months of unpaid wages at their embassy on April 24 (2005), causing extensive damage and slightly injuring two people.” Coupled with their refusal to adopt the International Migrant Workers Convention, the Emirates were accused by Human Rights Watch in 2003 of building prosperity on “forced labour”.

What does the Kuwaiti government do? It takes a hard line, because freedom of expression is something every country is not accustomed to. The law and order situation was the culmination of months of complaints and known grievances of thousands of workers. It is simply not ignorable.

Our embassy in Kuwait has failed us badly. It claims otherwise. While it remains uncomfortably silent regarding poor working conditions for Bangladeshi workers in Kuwait as well as the beating and the deportation, it is claiming that its timely action has saved the jobs of thousands of others. The fact is that workers have been incessantly pleading with their embassy, asking it to be their representative in their bid to serve with the dignity of a worker, as per ILO conventions. That is basically the primary function of an overseas office representing a country and its people. Or are they?

Till now our official spokesmen, be it of foreign or of the overseas employment ministry, have seemingly acted more like post boxes of the Kuwaiti government, propounding whatever it is that they are being told. Correct me if I am wrong, please, but there has not been a protest worth noting from our government for the gross maltreatment of its earning citizens. Let's get this straight. Not all who have been deported to Dhaka over the past week were involved in criminal activities during their demand for their rightful and denied wages. Even then there is no excuse for deportees to be bruised and bandaged.

According to the Arab Times 03 August, published from Kuwait City: “About 1,200 Bangladeshi workers have been deported from Kuwait so far over the last few days, says an official at the Bangladesh embassy, who requested anonymity.” Why anonymously? Why cannot our public servant come out in the open and give an open statement?

More alarmingly, five Bangladeshis who were allegedly involved in the fracas are undergoing treatment in Kuwait because they cannot travel. (Internet) Can we please have their names? Can their relatives be informed? Can we have their medical report? I am now actually asking on behalf of our 'anonymous' embassy in Kuwait.

The major political parties and their Kuwaiti wings, which are so adept in giving lavish receptions to their leaders, have chosen to remain visibly silent. It is evident that the deportee workers have no family or friend among those who pursue politics as a profession. We are so tuned to work along the line of the so-called vote banks.

Thanks are due to the human rights activists in Kuwait. The same edition of the Arab Times reported: “The (Kuwait) government has failed to take the necessary measures against the visa traders the 'principal actors' in the recent labour strikes, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the (Kuwaiti) Parliament Dr. Waleed Al-Tabtabaei told Al-Rai. Criticising the government's lack of an effective monitoring system to address the problems of expatriate workers in the country, particularly those who are caught in the web of visa trading, Al-Tabtabaei pointed out most of the workers resorted to violence because they could no longer bear the inhumane treatment they get from their sponsor companies, some of which are suspected of engaging in visa trading. He said the committee will ask the government to take serious steps to protect the rights of expatriate labourers and punish visa traders in a bid to protect the image of Kuwait in the international community. Al-Tabtabaei added the committee is now ready to announce the names of those involved in visa trading.” Even our officials could not say that much in defence of our own people.

No Bangladeshi should come home bleeding. We do not send any one away like that. Not even after the surrender of 93000 Pakistani soldiers after we won the War of Liberation 1971.

No airline should carry passengers who are shedding live blood. What do the international aviation rules say? Complain to the International Court of Justice about the discriminatory behaviour of Kuwaiti police and army. Our workers reached Dhaka in slippers, tattered shirts and trousers.

No foreigner should raise their hand on a Bangladeshi. That is what is meant by being the citizen of an independent country. And we are as independent as any other such country in the world.

No one should be allowed to get away with tyranny and greed. The visa trading must be stopped in conjunction with the Kuwaiti counterparts.

No one should be allowed to claim they are rich if they rob their workers of their rightful pay and good working conditions and hours.

No one should call themselves Muslims if they mistreat another human being. It is just not Islam.

Since we boldly maintain we are a people's republic, let our government manifest that in deed.
What is happening is not on, no way!


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008