Friday, 2 March 2007

Dubai: Shattered Dreams of Andhra Migrant Labour - V

Published in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on March 13, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 12: Just imagine. Twelve to 15 people living in a 10 feet by 15 feet poorly lit room with bad air-conditioning facility. About a hundred people using a single toilet. And two dozen people using one small LPG stove to cook their food.
This is the other side of Dubai, which boasts of being the fastest growing city on the earth. Dubai, with all its construction boom, might present a picture of high-rise buildings with spacious rooms and wide aisles. But the people, whose hands made the modern Dubai look beautiful, languish in narrow rooms with bad sanitation and inhuman living standards.
Hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant construction workers or "Kalli Valli" live in tin-roofed structures called "labour camps". A visitor to any labour camp is welcomed by a rows of narrow rooms with broken doors and stinking toilets. There's no proper drainage facility and even the drinking water is not safe. Since the rooms are narrow, the workers are forced to cook outside and the troubles begin when it rains or the climate is inclement.
The middlemen, mostly from Kerala, take advantage of the illegal status of Andhra migrant workers and collect exorbitant rents from them. UAE Rules stipulate that there should be a rate contract for renting a premises. The person executing the contract should hold valid employment or resident visa. Since Kalli Valli workers are illegal, they cannot enter into rent contract directly with the owner.
Middlemen hire the premises on nominal rents and sublet them for higher rents. As much as 3500 Dirhams (Rs 42,000) is collected as rent for a 10 ft by 15 ft room. More number of Kalli Valli workers are accommodated in a room so that they could save on rent. For instance, if 14 people rent the room, each one of them pays 250 Dirhams and in case only 10 people are accommodated, the individual contribution
goes up to 350 Dirhams.
Those who cannot afford even 50 Dirhams as rent "hire" roof tops on a monthly "rental" of 35 Dirhams. Their essentials are kept in the room but they have to sleep on roof, rain or shine, winter or summer. Thirty-five-year-old Ravi Ramachandran, who lost his voice after an accident,is one among hundreds of such "roof top" dwellers in Dubai and Sharjah.
Lean-built Ponnuri Gangadhar of Chandurthi mandal in Karimnagar thought that he would lead a happier life in Dubai. Now after undergoing all the turmoil and troubles for over two years, he wants to return home.
"I will never visit Dubai again. Dubai looks beautiful in pictures. But when it comes to reality, it is the ugliest city, at least for us, the so-called illegal migrants," he says.
Gangadhar's daughter-in-law committed suicide on February 9 and his son was taken into custody on the charge of abetting suicide. His wife is bed-ridden. Now Gangadhar has no passport. He does not have even money to return home and stand beside his wife in this hour of crisis.
He has applied for "emergency certificate" or "out pass" from the Consulate to leave the Emirates.
Every day dozens of Andhra workers queue up outside the Indian Consulate in Dubai to obtain such certificates, which are mandatory for those who do not possess passports. After obtaining the EC or OP, they have to surrender before UAE immigration authorities and undergo mandatory imprisonment and pay fine before being allowed to leave for India. The Indian Consulate issued about 4000 ECs in 2006, which is more than double the number of certificates issued in 2005. This sums up how fed up the Andhra workers are over bad facilities and inhuman working conditions.
Poor sanitation and impure drinking water are responsible for premature deaths in labour camps. Enquiries revealed that on an average 20 people die due to illness and infectious diseases. On an average over 10,000 people report sick every month at various labour camps. A day's bed rest means 60 Dirham cut in the income.
Migrant worker Sivaratri Hanumanthu wakes up at 3.00 am and queues up outside the toilet to finish his daily chores by 5.00 am before waiting for the bus to go to the construction site. He shares his room with 25 people.
Kalli Valli workers will have no option but to bear the bad sanitary conditions. Still they prefer the labour camps because there's a bus pick-up facility from there. Moreover, no one allows illegal workers to stay on their premises for fear of police trouble.
But a few people like J Narasaiah do not find any problem being a Kalli Valli. "As illegal migrant workers, we can work anywhere we like. We can stay off work whenever we want," he argues. Narasaiah, despite his "freedom" is unable to visit India. His father died two months ago and he is now making rounds of Indian Consulate for an emergency certificate to visit home.
Father of two P Gangadhar resigned from SS Mills in Nizamabad two months ago and he is now currently on a visit visa to Dubai. His visit visa is due to expire shortly. "The conditions here are bad and unimaginable of a big city like Dubai. I feel like returning home. But I had spent Rs 1 lakh to visit Dubai. If I return now, I will be in a debt trap. I have now no option but to become a Kalli Valli till my debts are cleared," he says.
Gangadhar's daughter is in degree and his son is doing electrical engineering. He preferred Dubai after he learnt that he could earn Rs 20,000 there as against Rs 2,000 in Nizamabad. Now Gangadhar like many others have realised that living in Dubai is a costly affair and not a comfortable one.
One major doubt that continues to rack the brains of illegal migrant workers is, "why are the police not arresting us when they know we are overstaying?"
"Only the UAE authorities have the answer. And they will not come out with the solution till the construction boom is over. Till then we poor migrant workers will have to bear the troubles," bemoans Gowlika Raju, a graduate-turned-construction labour from Adilabad. Raju dreamt big of Dubai before boarding the light at Hyderabad. His parents have fixed his marriage and Raju cannot return home because
he does not have a passport.

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