A shed with a thatched roof is a common sight in any village. But the one at Sarugu Valayapatti, situated adjacent to the Melur-Tiruppattur highway near here, is not. It catches the attention of every passerby with its colourful name board titled: “Sri Andichamy Air Travels. We impart training for going overseas.”
If the name board kindles curiosity, a few posters pasted on its walls give jitters. They read: “Personnel required for Saudi Bin Laden’s company. Visa ready. Immediate journey. Electrical Engineer-5, Welder-10, heavy vehicle mechanic-10, concrete pump operator-10, tower crane operator-25, fork lift operator-15...”
The posters go on to state: “Salary-1,200 to 7,000 Saudi Riyals plus over time charges. Company food. Contact: 98650 28277, 90475 29647.” And if you are under any impression that the recruitment was being made for the most wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden, be not. “This company is different,” says P. Rajaratnam, owner of the agency.
Stating that he had been to Iraq for two years in 1980 as a casual labourer, he claims: “Then, I made some contacts with overseas manpower agents in Bombay (Mumbai). I have been using these contacts for the last four years for my agency here. I give training to the recruits at Sarugu Valayapatti.”
Village Administrative Officer S. Selvaraj feigns ignorance about the activities of Andichamy Air Travels. However, the ‘Thalaiyari’ (village assistant) K. Nagarajan says that Mr. Rajaratnam does not recruit the locals. “He only recruits people from other villages and till now there have been no complaints,” he adds.
R. Gandhi, an advocate practising in the Madras High Court Bench here, feels that the police should enquire the genuineness of every recruiting agency without waiting for a complaint. “Cheating the poor, illiterate and unskilled labourers under the guise of providing decent jobs has been happening for years together,” he adds.
Describing the plight of indentured Indians at Natal in South Africa in 1894, Mahatma Gandhi said: “A Tamil man in tattered clothes, headgear in hand, two front teeth broken and his mouth bleeding, stood before me trembling and weeping. He had been heavily belaboured by his master.”
“It is over a century since Mahatma Gandhi said it. Yet, the travails undergone by many Indian labourers in foreign countries has not changed much with the latest victim being Habib Hussain, an Indian national who flew down from Saudi Arabia hiding in the toilet of an aircraft after being harassed by his employer,” he adds.