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Saudi King's gift to a Kerala family
George Iype
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January 25, 2006 18:18 IST
Last Updated: January 28, 2006 13:54 IST

The first India visit by a Saudi king in 51 years has brought joy to a poor family in Kerala [Images].

Abdul Lateef Naushad � an Indian imprisoned in Saudi Arabia -- will now not lose his right eye, thanks to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz's lenience.

Naushad left his village in Kollam, Kerala, for greener pastures in Saudi Arabia in 1995. He was working at a petrol station in Dammam when three years ago a Saudi national drove into the station for refuelling, and had an argument with Naushad.

Reports say the man, called Utheibi, hit Naushad; when Naushad tried protect himself, Utheibi's right eye was injured. Eventually, the Saudi man lost his right eye, and Naushad ended up in jail.

During the trial, a Saudi court ordered that Naushad's right eye be gouged out to ensure justice.

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For Naushad's wife Suhaila, their two-year-old daughter Asna and five-year-old son Nasif, the royal clemency for Naushad has brought "the light back to our life".

"I am indebted to the Saudi king for his great service to my family," says Suhaila, who has come to New Delhi to meet the king.

Chances of her actually meeting the Saudi monarch, however, are miniscule.

"I am told it is very difficult to meet the king of Saudi Arabia. But we are happy and grateful to him. He has saved our family," she says from Kerala House, where the state government has put her up.

Ever since the Saudi court's eye-for-eye verdict six months ago, Suhaila had been running from pillar to post.

"I pleaded with the Kerala state government, politicians and human rights activists to take up my case. Everyone came forward to help us," she says.

"If he [Naushad] had lost the eye and been extradited to India, it would have ruined our lives forever. We have nothing to live on, except for the money that my husband used to send me from Saudi Arabia," she says.

While Naushad was in jail, the Malayali Associations in Saudi Arabia and Naushad's friends kept sending her money to keep the family going. "We survived on charity from all our well-wishers," she says.

Does Suhaila want her husband to continue working in Saudi Arabia after he is freed?

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"Yes, we all want to see him first. But we want him to work there because the Saudi government has made a great humanitarian gesture to my family and me. We want him to serve in that country," she says.

"Hundreds of Indian workers are jailed in Saudi Arabia for simple reasons, which are really pardonable," says Chengara Surendran, a member of Parliament from Kerala who helped Suhaila travel to Delhi to meet the Saudi Arabia embassy officials and Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed.

"We want the Saudi king to look into the harassment and punishment that Indian workers face in Saudi Arabia," Surendran adds.

Human rights activists say Suhaila is one of the few lucky ones.

"This kind of rigid, eye-for-eye Saudi law has executed hundreds of Indians there. Hundreds of Indians are currently jailed in Saudi Arabia for no serious criminal reasons," says human rights activist K Gopalakrishnan.

One of the recent incidents was the execution of Naickam Ittiparambil Shahjahan last year. The Saudi Arabian government had charged Shahjahan with smuggling brown sugar in his shoes when he boarded the flight from Chennai to Dammam four years ago.

But soon after his execution, the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi received a message from the Saudi Arabian government, which officially admitted that Shahjahan was innocent.

No official figures of executions are available from the Saudi government. But according to human rights groups, the kingdom executed at least 20 criminals last year. At least 35 people were executed in 2004 and 53 people the year before. Among them were some 22 Indians.

Two years ago, the Confederation of Human Rights Organisatoins in India helped the New York-based Human Rights Watch to prepare an in-depth report titled 'Bad Dreams: Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia'.

The report said foreign workers, who comprise one-third of the kingdom's population, face torture, forced confessions and unfair trials when they are accused of crimes.

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'The victims include skilled and unskilled workers; Muslims, Hindus, and Christians; young adults travelling outside their home countries for the first time; and married men, and single and divorced women, with children to support,' the report said.

It also highlighted the slave-like conditions many workers face, and the utter failure of the justice system to provide redress.

Saudi Arabia, which adheres to strict Islamic sharia law, executes convicted murderers, rapists and drug traffickers, usually by public beheading.

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