Hyderabad: Ameena Begum, 38, is still unable to come to terms with what she heard last night — former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is no more.
Like hundreds of women trafficked to foreign countries on the pretext of a lucrative job, Ameena was sent to Damam in Saudi Arabia by a local agent in 2017. But once she landed there, life turned into a hell with more than 14 hours of work and no food.
Terrified and shaken, Ameena managed to make a call to her family in Hyderabad, seeking help. The family then reached out to the external affairs ministry through a local politician, Amjed Ullah Khan, and Swaraj immediately assured them of bringing her back. Months later, she was reunited with her family.
“She was like a mother. Even my own family had asked why I went to Saudi Arabia when I knew I could be cheated there. But she (Swaraj) helped me, just the way one would do for his or her own child,” a teary-eyed Ameena told News18.
In a similar case, 42-year old Zainab Begum tried to commit suicide, unable to bear the torture by her employer in Riyadh. She was allegedly sexually assaulted and beaten with an ‘iron rod’ when she tried to escape and reach the embassy. After a few months of struggle, Zainab was back home thanks to Swaraj.
“I never thought I would see my family again in this lifetime. This was only possible because of Sushma madam. She gave us a second life. I was so devastated to hear that she passed away last night. Allah takes away good people too soon,” Zainab told News18.
Cases like these are common in Hyderabad. In the narrow bylanes of the old city, hundreds, mostly poor Muslims, are lured with promises of a better lifestyle and trafficked to foreign countries, especially the Gulf region. Most of them readily agree to leave their families behind for a better life.
Many of them have reached out to Amjed Ullah Khan, from the Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT) party, who has been diligently working to help trapped victims over the past few years. He said all his efforts bore fruit only because Swaraj who had been so responsive. Most of the times, a single Twitter message seeking help would do the needful.
“We started to feel the difference soon after she moved out of the external affairs ministry. But last night’s loss is something unimaginable. I feel like I do not have a support now to fight for these victims,” Khan told News18.
He also recollected how she would follow up each case personally and had also spoken to one of the victims over phone for two minutes. Over the last year, more than 100 victims from Hyderabad trapped in foreign countries were rescued, he said.
“It was so easy to reach out to her and seek help. Her teams used to follow up the case at every level and keep the families here updated,” Khan said.
The most recent case was that of 25-year old Syed Sadeq who lost his mental balance unable to bear the torture meted out to him by his employers in Riyadh.
Khan said most victims are traumatised and it’s a great deed to reunite them with their families. On Wednesday, Sadeq was sitting in a corner at Khan’s office, holding photographs of Swaraj.
According to Khan, the website ‘Madad’ launched by Swaraj in 2015 for Indian citizens living abroad to file consular grievances online was a big step. The late BJP stalwart also used to stay in touch with state authorities over the issues.
“I don’t know if I should continue this work anymore,” Khan said, pointing out the pending case files on his table. “I was planning to write a letter to her, seeking help and guidance although I was aware she was no more a part of the ministry. I am sure she would have helped.”