Chennai: 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 good-will gesture."
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 embassy there.
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 bonded labour.