More than 100 Indians stuck in Bahrain, most of them from Tamil Nadu and
Andhra Pradesh, may soon be able to return home. Some have not seen
their families in six years. Their employer, a company named Nass
Contracting which handles construction in Bahrain, had obtained a court
order that banned these workers from travelling outside Bahrain. The
company had described the Indian employees as "run-away workers" because
they were "absconding from work without notice." Now, the company says
it will drop all cases against these employees as "a matter of a
The victory for the workers comes after stark tragedy. In June,
Pasupathi Mariappan, a poor blacksmith who worked with Nass Contracting,
hanged himself at a public park in Bahrain after he was allegedly
legally prohibited from flying home.
He was reportedly the 24th immigrant Indian worker to kill himself this
year in Bahrain, according to Mr Santosh, an official in the Indian
Pasupathi's family says he told them that "workers were not paid what
was promised and they were left with nothing to send home". Like many of
his colleagues, Pasupathi had been recruited by an employment agency
that provides cheap blue-collar labour to the Middle East.
Tired of bringing over workers who either switched companies or tried to
return home, Nass obtained a court order around 2007 preventing them
from traveling abroad on the grounds that this would be a breach of
contract. If they decided to quit the company, they were legally bound
to pay fines between 50,000 rupees and a lakh. Families of some of the
affected workers say they learnt about the court order only when they
were stopped at the airport, ready to fly home.
The fight for the release of nearly 100 others workers at Nass
Contracting was initiated by Pasupathi's brother, Shankar a government
employee in Tamil Nadu. He organised an online petition
two weeks ago.
More than 20,000 people signed up within a matter of days. Armed with this response, Avaaz, an international group of human rights
activists began raising the issue in the UK, where it says the company
has some business interests.
Nass started talks with the Indian Embassy
in Bahrain and decide to drop cases against employees who have not
reported for work. The company also denies that it paid workers less
than what was agreed upon in their employment papers.
It's not clear yet how long will it take for the workers waiting to
return home to get legal clearance. Activists say this could just be the
tip of the iceberg. Close to four lakh Indians work in Bahrain. They
say many workers are forced to surrender passports in a version of