By Fr J.C. Pieris
Courtesy: The Island
(May 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It was reported widely that about forty bodies of house maids are brought back monthly from the Middle East to the Katunayake Air Port. That is more than one body a day. Our house maids in the Middle East are not moribund old grannies. They are mostly young women. These are certainly not natural deaths. This is like body bags brought back from a war front. It is not a war front but more like a slaughter house. Our women, daughters of Mother Lanka, citizens by descent of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka are being mercilessly used, abused, tortured and butchered by moneyed but illiterate, inhuman, uncivilized, savage Bedouins. What is Sri Lanka doing about it? NOTHING! Shame on all of us!
Our women are being murdered abroad with impunity and what is our President, whose primary duty is to protect the lives of his people, doing about it? Is the Foreign Minister deaf, dumb and blind or does he see nothing beyond the GSP+? What are our Ambassadors in those countries for; to live in super residences with thumping salaries and attend to their private businesses? Is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, headed by a man (?), aware of what is happening to our ladies abroad? There must be a Minister in charge of the Foreign Employment Bureau; is the b——r still visiting religious dignitaries and getting their blessings? Are the religious leaders, Mahanayakes, Maulanas, Kurakkals and Bishops at least aware of the unspeakable suffering their faithful are undergoing in the Middle East? Will Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed ever allow their devotees to become slaves and play things of cruel sub-humans in foreign countries? The less we talk about Private Foreign Employment Agencies the better.
What has happened to the women’s voice in this country? Has a single woman MP brought up this tragic issue in the Parliament? Don’t they realize they specifically represent half the population of this country? Where are the women’s organizations of various political parties? Do they get activated only when an election is close by? Why don’t they protest what is happening to their sisters? Where are the other women’s organizations like Seva Vanitha, Mahila Samithy et al. Is it too uncomfortable for them to take up the issue of house maids? Where are the Trade Unions, the majority of whose members are women like Nurses and Teachers? Why don’t they feel compassion for these poor women who take tremendous risks with their health and lives to feed and educate their children? What are the religious organizations of women like Buddhist nuns and Catholic nuns doing about this death dealing problem? If women do not stand up for women, who will?
Let us face the shameful fact. These poor women send back to the country almost as much foreign exchange as tea, our main export. Therefore nobody wants to count the bodies or talk about the terrible plight of these helpless women and kill the hen that lays the golden egg. Especially those in power do not want to hurt the feelings of the foreigners as long as dollars roll in to the country whatever may happen to their own people. The poor women pawned jewelry and property and got into debt to pay the Agencies to go abroad and everybody from the Minister here and the Ambassador there down to the local broker got their cut. The shameful fact is we are worse than beggars internationally. We are in debt. Beggars are never in debt. When Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranayake handed over the country to Mr J.R. Jayawardena in the year 1977 the country had a trade surplus. Thanks to the economic brilliance of people like JR, Ronnie de Mel, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Mahinda Rajapakse and their robber barons we are reduced to a situation where our annual income is less than our annual debt repayment. It is with this new economy that women out of sheer desperation began to go abroad to slave away as house maids. The women are forced to go and work as domestics because their men folk have no work. But now there are lakhs of Chinese and Indian labourers working in our country, and our work force is idling. How come that these mega projects are agreed upon in such an idiotic manner that our people get no work?
Criticism must be constructive. Let me humbly offer some suggestions that might reduce and finally do away with this terrible shame of our country. Our legislators must pass a law immediately prohibiting sending women to the Middle East as domestic workers, as house maids. Those who are working there will return when their contract is over and will not be allowed to renew the contract. Slowly our ‘forex’ income will diminish. To counter that we must train professionals like nurses, care takers and IT experts to go abroad and work. The Health Ministries concerned, wisely, improved the nurses’ training programme to bring it up to the degree level. With graduation these ladies and gentlemen will be able to go abroad and work for ten times the salary of a house maid. And they will be perfectly safe as they will be working in responsible Institutions like hospitals and health resorts. But the narrow minded, selfish and jealous GMOA objects to the programme and wants it cancelled. Cannot they realize what a loss that would be to the country? What a bunch of simpletons!
Secondly the government, after giving up once and for all the idea of depending on the ‘forex’ of house maids, must improve the export sector of the country, exporting finished products of quality. Tourism must be made attractive and stream lined. Improvement of paddy cultivation, agriculture and fisheries must be put on fast track. The economy of the poorest of the country must be raised without expecting bogus trickle down to happen while helping the richest in the country. That calls for more centralized economic planning and the intervention of the public sector. And for all these things to happen successfully the law of the country must be strictly applied to all, of course, except the President who we hope will remain a gentleman. And as a gentleman, for the sake of justice and fair play, the President must see that corruption in all its forms is eradicated from the country as soon as possible. That is the only way to save our women from going to ‘Hell’ in the Middle East.
To save our women and safe guard the self-respect and the pride of the Nation we must put a full stop to the Middle Eastern house maid employment. If this parliament does not pass legislation to stop our women from going to the Middle East to work as unprofessional domestic workers, it is no better than a dirty pimp, a flesh trafficker and a slave trader.
By Fr J.C. Pieris