‘Raped, blackmailed and cheated’ in Mauritius
Desperate to lift her family out of poverty, Roksana (real name withheld) flew to Mauritius three years ago to work as a sewing machine operator.
To pay for the trip to the east African country, she borrowed at a high interest. But her dreams for a better life shattered barely a month after she joined Firemount Textiles Limited in May 2019.
Her factory owner, Anil Kohli, a Mauritian businessman of Indian origin, allegedly raped her several times with the help of a Bangladeshi worker.
They also allegedly videotaped the crime and threatened her with releasing the video if she opened her mouth.
In fear of getting into further trouble in a foreign land, and stopped being paid, Roksana obliged, and the abuse continued.
To save herself from further abuse, she married a security guard of the company, she said.
She was finally sent back home by the company on December 17 last year, six months before her contract ended. She said her four months' pay was due at the time.
"I went to Mauritius to overcome poverty. I was sexually abused instead. I want justice," she told The Daily Star recently.
Upon her return, the 32-year-old filed a complaint with Bangladesh's expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry in January detailing her experience.
Talking to this newspaper, she recounted how she sought help from the Bangladesh High Commission in Mauritius, but to no avail.
She now runs a grocery shop that she set up with borrowed money. She took a loan of Tk 2 lakh from Probashi Kallyan Bank, and used parts of it to start the shop and the rest to repay the debt she incurred to go to Mauritius.
She had good reason to want to go abroad.
Her family plunged into extreme poverty after her father had married another woman and stopped supporting them. Being the sole income earner of a five-member family, including her mother and three younger brothers, she was struggling to foot the bills with her meagre income from a garment factory in Dhaka.
A woman working at the Mauritius garment factory then advised her to get a job there. Roksana managed to get her passport with the help of a broker and reached Mauritius through a recruiting agency. It cost her Tk 1.10 lakh, of which Tk 70,000 was borrowed.
AN ABUSIVE GANG?
After the first month there, a Bangladeshi co-worker named Munni Begum suggested that Roksana get intimate with Anil Kohli, she alleged.
"Munni tried to persuade me saying that this would help me earn more, visit Bangladesh more frequently at the company's expense and even get jobs for my brothers there," she said.
When she refused, they stopped paying her. The HR officials asked her to contact Munni, allegedly a close aide of the factory owner.
She did, and Munni took her to Anil's office where he raped her for the first time, Roksana alleged, adding that Munni and Anil beat her up when she protested.
Over the next one year, the man raped her six times, before she married an Indian man, Anand Chauhan, in May 2020, she said.
She said the Indian man married her with full knowledge of her abuse.
However, enraged by Anil's past abuse of his wife, Anand uploaded a video on YouTube, warning Bangladeshi female workers not to join the company.
This landed him in jail after the owner filed a defamation case. Anand is still in prison there, she said.
A week before her return to Bangladesh was confirmed, Roksana tried to lodge a complaint against Anil with the Mauritanian authorities at Port Louis. But officials there asked her to report the matter to the Bangladesh High Commission instead.
At the Bangladesh High Commission, an official recorded her complaints and assured her of investigating the matter. But no one went there before her return, she said.
She was finally able to file a complaint with the expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry upon her return. Muhammad Rehan Uddin, deputy secretary of the ministry, then wrote to the first secretary (labour) of Bangladesh High Commission in Mauritius, asking him to look into the matter and take action.
Suman Acharjee, the first secretary (labour), wrote to the ministries of foreign and labour affairs in Mauritius on February 21, requesting them to take action.
On request of the Mauritius foreign ministry, he wrote to the Bangladesh expatriate welfare ministry in June to send them a translated notary copy of the victim's allegations.
Roksana told The Daily Star that the ministry contacted her and that she submitted the documents yesterday.
Sarwoer Alam, in charge of the desk concerned at the expatriate welfare ministry, told this paper that the documents would be dispatched either yesterday or on Sunday.
A REPEAT OFFENDER?
Earlier, another female migrant worker from Bangladesh brought similar allegations against Anil.
The 24-year-old who joined the factory as a helper in February last year, filed a case with Rampura Police Station in Dhaka on July 11 last year, against eight people.
They include Anil and Shah Alam, a Bangladeshi who ran a canteen for workers at Firemount Textile.
The six others, including the recruiting agency owner, were accused of trafficking and abetment to rape.
According to the case statement, Shah Alam took her to Anil's house on April 30, 2020, where Anil raped her.
Later, both Anil and Alam raped her on several occasions, videotaped the crime and threatened to leak it on social media.
Upon investigation, Rampura police submitted a final report saying, the complainant's "statement primarily proved" the offence of rape. However, the report noted that they cannot pursue the case as the alleged incident happened outside Bangladesh.
According to the report, the woman went for an out-of-court settlement after filing the case.
Contacted, the woman told The Daily Star that she does not want to comment on the issue anymore.
When contacted by this paper, Anil, through his legal counsel, termed all the allegations false. He said the allegations raised by Roksana were motivated to extort the company and to secure the release of her partner from jail.
He also claimed that Roksana was paid in full and was also paid for her return air ticket.
About the allegation of the other worker, the company lawyer said a Bangladesh court dismissed the case and discharged all accused after a final report by police.
Presumably Munni and Tania, the two alleged aides of Kohli, picked up the calls from this correspondent, but upon hearing the allegations they said they were not the people Roksana described.