Trial of brutal murder of Bangladeshi maid in KSA
Frightening details have emerged of a female Bangladeshi domestic worker who was tortured and killed at her employer's house in Saudi Arabia. According to a report in The Daily Star published on Friday, Abiron Begum Ansar, a 40-year-old maid from Khulna who went to the kingdom in 2017, had to endure unspeakable horrors while cooped up in a Saudi household of eight members. According to her family, during her stay there, she was brutally tortured. Her employers would not give her food, and they would beat her, pour hot water on her body, and even put her head into a grill, they alleged. At one point, her family completely lost communication with her. After her lifeless body was flown back to Bangladesh on October 24, 2019—before being kept in a Saudi mortuary for seven months—family members who saw the corpse described it as "so horrible that we could not look at it".
This could have been yet another case of torture-leading-to-death of a hapless migrant worker, a group that remains as inconspicuous in their life as in their death. But subsequent developments in Abiron's case offer hope that justice, however delayed, may not be denied. The Daily Star report mentions progress in the trial of the case in a Saudi court, a rare instance in the country. The three accused arrested in the murder case have been denied bail, and the court will hear their case on January 20. If the victim family's demand for Qisas (or retributive justice), which forms part of the law in Saudi Arabia, is honoured, it will serve as a deterrent for other exploitative employers and set a legal precedent for similar cases in the future. This is especially significant for Bangladesh, which had to see about 500 bodies of its female migrant workers flown back over the last five years, at least 200 of them from Saudi Arabia alone. The law must be evenly applied to all responsible for those deaths, and Bangladesh must do everything within its power to ensure that justice is served and the usual suspects for the migrants' misfortune—local agents, recruiting agencies and corrupt government officials—aren't let off the hook.
Abiron's case also brings renewed attention to the deeply exploitative global multi-billion-dollar migration industry, where migrants, especially domestic workers, are subjected to frequent abuse with few rights and little freedom. Domestic workers, mostly women, have to suffer a litany of exploitation at the hands of their employers including forced labour, beatings, sexual assault and underpayment. But their sufferings and deaths often remain unacknowledged. Given how this industry works, involving multiple stakeholders, the policy options for both labour-sending and labour-receiving countries may be limited. But each has a duty to do its own part, in curbing corruption and reducing sufferings. The Bangladesh government must work harder and collaborate with its partners and counterparts to give its large migrant workforce a fighting chance to live and work with dignity.