Abdul Sattar Makandar was having a tough time in Saudi Arabia. As a truck driver working for Al Suroor United Group, he was neither being paid his promised salary nor being allowed to go home. On 12 March, he decided to share a video of himself on a social activist's Facebook page, pleading for help. Unfortunately, matters would only go on to take a turn for the worse.
The video, where 35-year-old Makandar tearfully speaks of his desperation has gone viral.
"I have been in Saudi Arabia for the last 23 months, and have applied for leave to come home over five months ago. But my employer is not letting me go home... My employer doesn't give me a proper salary, neither does he give me money for food," Makandar said, with tears flowing from his eyes.
Social activist Kundan Srivastava, who shared the video on his Facebook page, has now deleted the video, when he heard that Makandar was allegedly arrested on 14 March by the Saudi police under a law that prohibits 'spreading misinformation' on the internet.
“On the same day, I received an email from Makandar's employers demanding the online video be removed, and a fresh video be posted featuring the driver stating that his firm was his saviour. We complied with all the demands hoping that Makandar would be released and return to India soon,” Srivastava told The Hindu.
Makandar was released from prison on Thursday afternoon, but, shockingly, was arrested again in the early hours of Friday.
“From friends in Khobar city, I found out that Abdul is lodged in prison again and the charges against him remain uncertain,” Akif Sheik, a friend of the driver’s, told The Hindu.
Makandar's employer, the Al Suroor United Group, strongly denied the story. BBC reported: "They say they he was eligible for leave after two years of service and that he's about six weeks short of that milestone. They also say he's been paid on time and even given a bonus, and that he could resign from his job at any time."
Srivastava met Makandar's family, his wife and four children, who are begging the authorities to help them bring him home:
Earlier, when a Saudi sponsor chopped off an Indian maid's hand in October 2015, Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs, had taken up the matter with the Saudi Foreign Office and asked for strict action.
Confinement and denial of rights are a longstanding problem for millions of migrant workers employed in Saudi Arabia. The country has been a popular destination for skilled and unskilled workers soon after oil was discovered in the late 1930s. But poor working conditions, including isolation and brutality, remain a serious problem.
In 2014, Saudi Arabia signed a new agreement with India, promising a standard contract that included a minimum wage and weekly off. But Vani Saraswathi, an associate editor and strategic adviser at Migrant-Rights.org, said the contract does not address other key human rights issues including mobility, minimum work hours and private access to communication.
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