Like several other people who get attracted to foreign jobs everyday, 22-year-old Narendra Singh, hailing from Noor Purvedi village in Ropar, Punjab, was also attracted by a job in Malaysia. Little did he know that this temptation would land him into slavery!
Singh managed a brave escape but could not reach India and is at a friend's place in Malaysia.
Singh was attracted by an advertisement that promised good salary for working aboard a ship in Malaysia as a seaman. He reached Mumbai in July 2014 and got accommodation in the seamen's colony in Belapur. It has offices in Haryana, Mumbai and many other places. "As soon as I came to Mumbai, Mumbai-based agent Bhupender Singh, who runs Diksha Marine Services, started following me to pay him so that I could be sent to Malaysia," he said.
"I got carried away by the offer. He told me that I would get Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 a month. I paid him Rs 1.50 lakh for his services," Singh told mid-day from Malaysia. Singh added, "On reaching Kuala Lumpur in August, an Indian-origin agent who is based in Malaysia, gave me temporary accommodation for ten to twelve days," he added.
Explaining further, he said, "One day, he asked me to get into a vehicle that belonged to CM Fibre Processing Sdn Bhd."
It is a unit of an oil palm factory based in Sibu, Sarawak, set up in 2007 to convert palm oil waste into raw fibre for export.
It is a subsidiary of the Sri Minyak Group Bhd, which was established in 1986, and has dealt with a major oil and gas company in Sarawak for over 26 years.
On reaching the factory, the agent told Singh that he would have to work there. That was the last time he saw the agent.
"They have guards who are built like bouncers. They beat us if we fail to report to work. I have been surviving on rotten and stale food for the last three months. They have thrashed me on several occasions. The supervisors torture us labourers in the middle of the night. They walk into our rooms, ask us to wash utensils and clean our rooms just to harass us," Singh recalled.
Workers were made to slog for 18 hours a day in unsafe conditions. One day, Singh had a terrible fall from the top of a furnace and fractured his hand. Instead of helping him, the guards kicked him saying he had purposely done so to play truant from work.
"I was injured in September, a month after joining the place. I was not given any medical aid," he said. The supervisors even deducted a large chunk of his salary and paid him only Rs 3,600 for August.
When Singh got completely saturated, he decided to follow Sapaliga's footsteps and escape to freedom. When everyone was asleep, Singh climbed up the hill in pitch darkness with a broken hand and reached the other side.
He got into a bus and reached a friend's place 500 kilometres away from the factory.
"I am happy to escape, but I have nowhere to go now. My passport and visa are with the agent (Prabhat) and he is nowhere to be found. I have to go to the Indian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, but the only way I can go there is by flight," he rued.
Many more trapped
According to Singh more than 24 Indian workers are trapped as slaves in the factory. All of them were lured with the promise of a seaman's job on a ship.
"The youths have come from Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh. Apart from Indians, there are several youngsters from Myanmar as well," he stated.
"There is a constant influx of workers. Most of them are promised a job on a ship, but end up in the slavery racket," he said.
The inspiration's tale
Lokesh Sapaliga's 'foreign job' lasted for 25 days and he had to 'escape' the ordeal that started with a job offer at an oil rig in Malaysia. He ended up in a factory where he was made to toil for 20 hours, eat food that even stray animals wouldn't, and made to sleep on bedbug-ridden mattresses.
And then the day came when he ran through a jungle to his freedom.
Sapaliga managed to flee from the factory in the dead of the night, collected his passport from the agents and flied back to India.
He had also captured Narender's plight on his phone camera.