rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » News » 'I have mortgaged everything I own for his freedom'

'I have mortgaged everything I own for his freedom'

Last updated on: September 26, 2011 17:25 IST

'I have mortgaged everything I own for his freedom'

     Next

Next
Sahim Salim

Sukhdev mortgaged his house and shop to raise Rs 1,80,000 demanded by the travel agent in return for a job in Iraq. Today, his family says he is clearing bomb-shells, working 16-18 hour shifts of forced labour.

Sahim Salim reports on the families left behind by Sikh youths trapped in Iraq who have put everything at stake to bring their sons back.

Part I: 'Travel agents sold us for 500 dollars'

Part II: 'They took away our passports and forced us to clear bomb-shells'

Forty-year-old Sukhdev Singh made a decent amount of money working in his pharmacy in his village in Punjab. Sukhdev hails from Khassa Village near Jalandhar. After being lured by dubious travel agents, he put everything at stake for better monetary opportunities in Iraq.

Today, his family says he is being forced to clear bomb-shells and ammunition from barren lands in war-ravaged Iraq.

Sukhdev does not have a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree or even a diploma. He assisted a pharmacist for about three years in Jalandhar, when he decided he knew enough to open his own shop in his village.

"About five years ago, my husband opened a pharmacy here. He could read prescriptions and knew enough to give out medicines. He earned about Rs 6,000 to 7,000 here. Then one day in January this year, he met with a person in the village, who told him he knew a travel agent based in Chandigarh who could send him to Iraq to earn Rs 27,000 a month," says his wife Jaswinder Kaur.

Sukhdev jumped at the 'opportunity' and mortgaged his house and shop to raise the Rs 1,80,000 demanded by the travel agent. Today, he is stuck in an isolated field, clearing bomb-shells and doing 16-18 hour shifts of forced labour.

"When he can call, he always cries saying that they do not even get decent food. He has not been paid in months despite the labour. I have not received even one rupee since he went away," Kaur says.

Sukhdev's story is one of many Punjabi youths stuck in Iraq today. The plight of about 40 men like Sukhdev came to the fore, after their families put in a police complaint in July this year.

Some families also approached the ministry of external affairs saying that these boys were duped by travel agents based in Punjab, who allegedly sold them to private contractors in Al Najaf for $ 500 each.

Click NEXT to read further...


Image: Sukhdev's wife Jaswinder Kaur; (inset) Sukhdev's pharmacy
Photographs: Sahim Salim
     Next

'My son is in this mess because of me'

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

The boys were promised that they would be given jobs with the American military and that they could earn anywhere between $ 600 and 800 a month.

Bal Mukund, father of 20-year-old Bhagwan Das who is among the trapped youths, says that his son slaved it out in Iraq because of him.

"My son wanted to do his MCA, but I told him to take up the Baghdad offer as it meant an opportunity to earn good money with the American military. And since the travel agents promised us that they would only have to work for eight hours a day with opportunity for over-time, I pushed my son into taking it. We somehow scraped together the Rs 1,50,000 demanded by the agent," says Mukund, a resident of Khambra.

Mukund says there was no contact from his son for over a month. When in March, his son finally got in touch with him, Das broke down.

"He was crying over the phone. He told me that he was being forced to clear bomb shells and ammunition from a battle zone near Al Najaf. He told me that he was smuggled into the country on a 10-day visa and his passport had been confiscated. His supervisors beat him up when he protested," Mukund says.

Mukund tried to contact the travel agency, Continental Trade Centre, in Chandigarh. He even met with the person who had taken the money to send his son to Iraq, but the agent allegedly told Mukund that his son was doing just fine.

Click NEXT to read further...


Image: Bal Mukund with his younger son
Photographs: Sahim Salim
Prev     Next

'I don't know what else to do now'

Prev     
Prev

"I had recorded a conversation with my son on the phone and I made the agent listen to it. His reaction was that my son was lying. He then asked his office boy to clear us from the room. I caught him by his collar and told him that I would now take legal action against him," Mukund says.

It was not an easy task. He had to run from pillar to post across the Punjab police machinery. His complaint was finally received late in July this year. The complaint is signed by 27 families. Eleven affected families from Himachal Pradesh and Punjab also submitted a complaint to the MEA.

Sixty-two-year-old Mangal Singh, the father of another trapped youth Narender Singh, says that he has already spent in excess of Rs 2,25,000.

"As demanded by his travel agent, I first raised Rs 1,25,000 for sending my son. After my son told me that he could buy his freedom from those men in Iraq, I raised another Rs 100,000," says Mangal Singh from Dhirpur village.

"I have mortgaged everything I own -- my land, my tractor, my fields, my house -- everything. I don't know what else to do now."


Image: Mangal Singh has mortgaged his land, tractor, fields, house to raise money for his son
Photographs: Sahim Salim
Prev