There is nothing new about the abuse of Indian migrants working in the Gulf countries. Stories of mental, physical and sexual abuse are commonplace and the fact that most Indians who have to deal with this come from the labour class means they rarely have any power to do something about it. Without legal protections on their side, however, migrants are now finding two new weapons: Cellphone cameras and social media.
The above video of three Indian men being hit by their Saudi employer while brandishing a wooden plank, first was sent via WhatsApp to the family members of the men, according to the NewsMinute. This then made its way to more WhatsApp groups and eventually went online, reminding people of other instances when videos managed to capture the routine abuse meted out to South Asian migrants in the Gulf.
The video travelled wide enough to come to the notice of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who took action on it the matter.
Reports suggested the men were from Haripad, in North Kerala, and had been taken to Saudi Arabia expecting to work as electricians and mechanics. Instead, they were forced to work in a brick manufacturing company. They have now, according to the minister, been given police protection, and a promise that the ministry will follow up on their case.
Sadly this type of story is far too common in the Gulf. Local laws in the country are heavily weighed in favour of the employers, who in many cases have the right to hold on to the passports of the migrant labourers, meaning they cannot even leave the country if they wish to.
This unequal relationship means employees are frequently misled, promised one kind of a job at a certain salary and given something else entirely. And because there is little that they can do to fight back, they're often kept in awful conditions, exploited and physically as well as sexually abused. Cellphone videos and stories like this might make a dent, but until the Indian government as well as the policymakers in those countries make serious efforts to end human rights abuses, there will be many more such instances.