Thursday, 31 July 2008

The badly treated lot - A Lot

This article in the timesofindia clearly highlights the misery and discrimination which the Indian (and subcontinent) workers face in the Gulf. I was in that part of the world for a few months and didn’t need any extra effort to notice the rendering of exploitation on the sketchy building plans of the new Middle East. More than a million Indian (and subcontinent) hands are used in building the newer glass towers and service for the ones that exist now. Sadly, about a hundred of them could not handle the pressure and killing oneself was an easier way out.
Go to any city in the UAE and you will see Indians all over – most of them wearing lungies, obviously because of the heat and humidity. As an Indian I never felt alone here - there were so many of my kind around that with a few meeting eyes I could easily gather modest acknowledgment and silent hellos. The same subtle way in which this place must have traditionally communicated once. A simple just mind at first will ponder that what could be wrong with this place, or the people here which provides employment otherwise difficult to find at home. Why as reasonable Indians should we blame someone else when after all it was our own choice to go and work there! Well, the problem is- that most of the jobs are neither genuinely dignified nor do pay enough. They are indeed miserable. On top, passports are detained and few months salaries withheld by the employer so that the junkie doesn’t runs away. A simple disarray of some work arrangement at the construction site or the tea shop, and the hired worker is hurled loads of abuses by the white clothed or skinned. The principles of human rights, rights, respect to fellow humans, meaning of democracy taught to me in childhood here is slammed like a sham on my face. Nothing like this exists in Middle East. Sometimes it feels middle ages out here and I learn that I may have learnt quite useless things in school.
I haven't yet mentioned who are the ultimate arseholes in this chain of debauchery. I will turn towards India (and the subcontinent) and point my finger on the employment cum travel agents making huge bucks of each man sent out, by lying to him about work conditions and pay, then capitalise on his money and put him in a debt trap. Is there some reason apart from a political one that such agents and their shops exist? I am sure, at least a thousand can be easily located in Kerala or Tamilnadu. Apart from Clampdown, also clearly needed are consultation facilities for workers seeking work in Gulf about the realities they are going to face. Think about the number of people equivalent to a city living out there in Gulf. Isn’t it the Indian government’s duty to better equip its consulates out there as well?
I am not completely pessimistic, that nothing is being done. There are a few people active locally, but I feel their hands are tied and voices shushed. I never heard of any issue when I was in Dubai unless I poked my nose into the easily downloadable Human Rights Commissions reports. The commission’s website, unlike many others are not (rather could not be) locally blocked. India is the giant in the region, so it seems it has started to behave like a lazy one. Now and then in media I can read its sleepy wails and moans not to mess with our hardworking Junkies and they better be treated right. Recently, the Indian government stipulated and told the Middle East governments to double up the minimum wage. I also have heard of an additional stipulation where the Gulf employer would deposit 9000 Dirham (90,000 rupees) for each Indian worker hired. I don’t know how far are we from these, but these measures should be urgently implemented. This will undoubtedly not only save the Indians, but also the sanity and warmth of Gulf, which like old traditions this place could have potentially offered.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The Two of yoU A E

Rarely outsiders realise that only 10% of this country's people are locals, i.e. the ones who dress in either immaculate black or immaculate white. Otherwise, rest of the population is either junkies from south asia or outcasts from europe. With the paraphrase ‘Two of yoU A E” (UAE can be expansible as yoU Asians and Europeans) I mean to refer to this country, which has conveniently divided itself into two extreme societies - one rich and one 'not rich'. There's hardly anything in between. I personally would have liked to avoid making such distinctions, i.e. the topic of this blog, but could not help. Go out in the streets for a stroll in Dubai and ask anyone. He will manifest that this difference is in fact the way of life here. And probably, the only way forward. Each man here sounds super clear when he tells me that the only reason which brings him here is money. Now I conjure that it might be either the ‘need’ of it or ‘want’ of it. It is funny because if one looks the way this money is distributed, the one who ‘wants' earns more and the one who ‘needs’ quite less. The yoU A E government has taken pains to define the minimum wages accordingly to the nationality. For a European it is around 25,000 Dirham and for an Indian it's 600 - yes, no commas. This is the law in theory, and in practice, as an example, in my own office the engineer from Philippines will draw only half the salary than if he was from the United Kingdom. Inspite of doing the same fucking job. Definitely, they will both have different lifestyles here.

One Indian shop helpboy told me he was given a wrong salary figure before he had left for this place. He gets only a half of what he was told - 600 Dirham a month (6000 rupees) and now reels in a debt of a couple of lakh Rupees - thanks to his agents in India. Now he plans to go back to Mumbai and work and hope to pay back selling VadaPav. Think why? Because, The pressure is rising... To One of these Two (the one who needs) the middle east governments were paying peanuts until now, but times have changed and they will have to dole out nuts double in size. Not only because they cannot offer anything else, the other reason is Dollar falling down, so is Dirham (UAE’s currency) that pegs itself to it. With inflation, things are getting expensive. So the lower earning group lives even more tighter. The other group only cribs feebly about this inflation which he realises when buying groceries in supermarkets.

This difference is very well reflected in the present lack of public transport. One hardly earns enough to afford the only available taxis. Buses are rare and run limited distances. Even though taxi is cheap here for the richer there aren't many around, and waving for one to stop is an effort that will easily build your triceps, accompanied with limitless perspiration and traffic smoke. Therefore, this richer group prefers to use the multilane roads to zoom by in latest Japanese models. So, if you are waiting for a taxi, wait alone and if for a bus, then in queues.

Interestingly and disappointingly, either group feels that the other is enjoying their lives living in foreign shores, and it's the luck that an individual has brought with himself. I suggest, if you are an Asian the best deal is to work as a taxi driver, so your own transportation problem is solved, and you will earn six times than your kind. If you are a European, then somebody has misinformed you - or maybe you are really sick of your own country? Apparently, both these two groups are here to work, not to live. In a country that visions itself as a top hotel and shopping tourist destination tomorrow. So, is there anything to expect from the rulers who lay such a strange vision for a country? Probably not.