Indians back after infernal year in Makkah’s prisons

Some of the Indian labourers released from Saudi Arabia showing their passports in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.  

Neither Naushad nor his father can hold back the tears. Brothers Haroon and Naushad from Bihar’s Siwan district thought themselves to be lucky when they found work with a Saudi construction firm in the holy city of Makkah. Today, Naushad is back after a year in Saudi prisons and his brother lies buried in a Makkah grave his parents have never seen. “I lost everything, everything,” said Naushad, breaking down as words failed him.

>Forty one Indians, from six States, in addition to a Nepalese and a Pakistani worker spent the last one year in several Saudi prisons for rioting after Haroon’s death due to an electric shock on June 12, 2013. The South Asians were among 10,000 odd workers from eight countries working on the Jabal-e-Umar Development Project to accommodate pilgrims who come to the birthplace of Prophet Mohammed.

On the day of Haroon’s death, workers protested by breaking windshields and toppling company cars when they heard that the company had attributed the death to alcoholism. Liquor is banned in Makkah and strictly regulated in the rest Saudi Arabia. Haroon, they say, was a teetotaller. While around 50 Filipino workers were flown home after the protest, the South Asians were arrested a month later.

Mohammed Nazir Khan, a technician from Bihar’s Nawada shivers while recounting the alleged torture to make them confess. “We were tied to benches and stabbed with ball pens and staplers on the abdomen. They (police) kept asking how many cars we burned. Our thumb impressions on confessions were taken forcefully by an officer named Hani.”

The men spent 17 days in the Al Hawali Mehata Naseeb police station before being sent to prison. More than five months later, they were sentenced to varying prison terms of few months on December 1 and 2, 2013. Eighteen of the detainees received up to 100 lashings. But, their employer Nesma and Partners pressed for compensation following which they remained in jail indefinitely.

In the crowded prisons, they claim, Saudi nationals had beds while others slept on the floor. Often they slept in toilets due to lack of space. Several repatriates claim to have been regularly beaten by jail warders.

“There were a few Indians we met. One man named Tariq from Allahabad had spent a decade in Selayya Jail and gone mad. We learnt that he had only been sentenced for two years. A Malayali named Shaukat died a couple of months back after the Rais (warder) refused to take him to a hospital when he suffered multiple heart attacks. I tried to commit suicide by hanging myself with a torn blanket but a Pakistani convict named Zafar Ahmed stopped me,” said Zafar Abid Iqbal from Ramgarh, Jharkhand.

“The Consulate (General of India, Jeddah) said they could not help. We were visited by Consul SRH Fahmi and Vice Consul Nadeem Ahmad Khan who said our fate was in the hands of the Saudis. We told them to see the camera footage from 70 cameras at the work site. Most of us did not do anything. Fahmi said we should be grateful we are not dead yet. Nadeem said that we must pay up. Our only friend was Indian official Yunus Khan who visited often,” said Mohammed Sabir of Bihar’s Samastipur.

He added that drug abuse and male rape were commonplace and South Asians stuck together for security.

The convicts could speak to their parents on a jail-monitored phone.

The families lobbied with several politicians, including former Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, for their release. In February this year they approached Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar Ansari, who raised the issue in Parliament and persistently lobbied with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Two Indians were released in April, 2014. Following an intervention by Ms. Swaraj earlier this month, their employers dropped charges. The remaining detainees were sent back without any of their belongings or remaining wages. Haroon’s family has not even received the life insurance payment of around Rs. 50 lakhs. The survivors now want to press charges against the Saudi Government in the Supreme Court.

“There are 70 more Indians languishing there for years. I will raise it in Parliament. Their (Saudi) Islam does not evoke mercy or compassion,” Mr. Ansari told this paper. “There are not enough garlands in this world for Ansari sahib and Sushma ji. Even if we get palaces we shall never go there (Arabia) again,” said a choked Naushad. Others nod in agreement.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 3:11:56 AM |

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