OF MAID RAISES SERIOUS QUESTIONS...
Sri Lanka has been sending migrant workers to Middle
East countries for more than two decades, and the
issue of the majority of them, especially females
being subjected to various forms of harassment, from
not being paid to being gang-raped or being killed,
has also prevailed ever since.
Though, there had been instances where they returned
home with burn injuries or with permanent
disabilities, it is for the first time that Sri
Lanka experienced the bizarre story of a 50-year old
housemaid returning to the country with 24 nails
rooted into her body – a handy work by her employer
in Saudi Arabia.
L P Ariyawathie was born in 1960 and was 50 years
old when a sub-agent in down south Walasmulla helped
her secure employment in Saudi Arabia as a housemaid
through a registered foreign recruitment agency in
Though the generally accepted regulation is not
to send female migrant workers above 45 years of
age, the agency informed her that she could,
however, make it as she had an appearance of a
40-year-old, Ariyawathie’s husband, L. David told
David is a regular visitor to the Kamburupitiya Base
Hospital where his wife is receiving treatment since
last Sunday (22).
When The Nation went to Kamburupitiya hospital,
Ariyawathie, the victim of this most cruel act
perpetrated on housemaids in the Middle East, was
yet to undergo a surgery planned for three hours by
surgeon, Dr Kamal Weeratunga.
“For years, we were living in a small clay house
– rather a hut, and I wanted to earn some money to
build a house where we all can live safely without
the fear of the walls collapsing even in a small
thunder shower. The odd jobs I and my husband did
could not even support three meals a day. Then only,
I met this other woman who had come from Middle East
and doing well now in a neighbouring village. She
told me that she will help me to find a job in a
house in Middle East and introduced me to a sub
agent in Walasmulla,” recalled Ariyawathie from her
She said she followed all the requirements and
was not asked to forge any document.
A mother of three and a grandmother of two,
Ariyawathi was recruited as a housemaid in Saudi
Arabia in March this year and sent to work in a four
storied house of nine occupants.
were seven children of various age groups apart from
baba and his wife. The first week went without any
problem. But from the second week the problem
started. Whenever I say a word in Arabic- which I
learnt in my 15-day training conducted by the Sri
Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau, they started
laughing. Every time they asked me to do a
completely different thing from what I knew. They
said the Arabic I speak was wrong,” Ariyawathie
She said she was not paid in the first three months
and whenever she asked about the salary the employer
threatened to cut her throat.
“After three months, I was taken to a medical
institute- I don’t know for what- but they said I
have to get a medical certificate after being there
for three months and it is only after that I will be
paid. Even though I was told that day that I’ll be
paid that didn’t happen for the entire six months I
stayed there,” she added.
Speaking about the harassment, she said “It started
when a plate was broken by accident. baba (employer)
asked me whether I am blind and tried to prick
something in my right eye. When I covered it with my
hand, they pricked a needle kind of thing on my
forehead above the eye. Likewise, baba rooted nails,
pins and needles into various parts of the body
while his wife gagged me,” reminisced Ariyawathie.
She said she was simply scared to try and escape.
She feared if she did so or protested against their
harassments, they would kill her.
“When the wounds got worse, I tried to act in a
disgusting way thinking they might despise me and
send me home. I kept on begging baba to send me home
but they didn’t take any notice. However, on August
19, they asked me to get dressed and gave my
passport and baggage. Then they took me to a place
to get tickets. I don’t know whether it was the
embassy or the agency,” she said while noting there
was a Muslim, who spoke in Sinhala.
“He asked me why I was limping but baba gestured me
not to tell anything. So I said I fell and have a
leg pain. He negotiated and asked baba to pay me
three months salary but they gave me only two
months’ salary,” Ariyawathi said.
Ariyawathie said she returned to Sri Lanka on
Saturday (21) and got herself admitted to the
hospital as she was suffering from pain.
Ariyawathie’s son and two daughters said, “We didn’t
want our mother to go. But she was very adamant
about it as it was the only option she found as a
way out from the poor situation we are in”.
Ariyawathie’s dream to build a proper house where
her family could live safely and happily, which is
what any mother dreams of, is quite understandable.
Her children say that as if an ill-omen, a few days
before Ariyawathie returned home, a wall of their
house had collapsed due to heavy rains.
The unsaid story
Though, physical harassments are common in the
Middle Eastern countries, the horrifying treatment
to which Arayawathie had been subjected to by her
employer, baba, in driving various types of metal
objects into her body, has raised serious concern in
the minds of various parties in society. Many marvel
that she survived this ordeal for days and weeks
that she returned home.
According to the chief medical officer of the
Kamburupitiya Base Hospital, Dr Prabath Gajadeera,
Ariyawathie had not revealed the reason for her
hospitalisation at the beginning.
was a bit confused at the beginning. She had told
the doctors and the medical staff that she got a leg
pain as she stepped on a nail the other day. It was
only after getting an x-ray of her feet, we came
across more than one nail inside. It was only after
that she confessed that she was subjected to
harassment and that there were several other nails
inside her body,” Dr Gajadeera said.
Dr Gajadeera said the victim not suffering from any
infection as a result was possibly because the nails
being heated before being rooted.
“She said they heated the nails before rooting
them inside. However, it could be coincidence that
none of the nails or needles damaged her blood
vessels or nerves. Also, she was lucky that the
needle they rooted on her forehead didn’t damage or
enter her skull in which case it would have been
fatal,” the surgeon said while stressing that all
the nails were rooted in a pattern that did not
cause severe damage.
It is unlikely that any of us cover only one eye if
someone was attempted to drive something to our eye,
let alone attempting to root a needle. On impulse,
we humans cover or hide our entire face-unlike what
Ariyawathie did. As she said, maybe she could have
done it through fear of being killed.
various sections as well as authorities are of the
opinion that Ariyawathie could have been used by her
employer, who could be a member of an extremist
Islamic group, as an experiment. However, this will
remain a suspicion until and unless Ariyawathie
comes out with any untold stories-if there are any.
These concerned groups also ask as to why
Ariyawathie did not complain any form of harassments
when she was taken to the Sahana Piyasa at
Katunayake by Bureau officials. The excuse she gave
for then also was tha ‘I thought ‘they’ will kill me
if I complained to the authorities.’
Ariyawathie and her family believe that she was
subjected to these harassments due to lapses in the
training programme which has been made compulsory by
the Bureau for all migrant workers who are been
recruited as housemaids.
blacklist Saudi Arabia - Ranjan
politician, Ranjan Ramanayake is reputed for voicing
concerns about the plight of migrant workers ,
especially those stranded in the Middle East
countries. He is of the opinion that the reported
and unreported number of cases over the past decade
or two is ‘more than enough’ for the government to
seriously think about blacklisting Saudi Arabia.
“According to my personal opinion and research for
about 10 years of the countries we send workers to,
Saudi Arabia is the worst. It is followed by Jordan,
Kuwait, Lebanon and Abu Dhabi. Our mothers, sisters
and daughters undergo unspeakable harassment. I
personally know these as there are many occasions
where they cry over phones asking me to do something
to get them back. They are subjected to inhuman
abuse from being gang-raped to removing body parts
by force and torture,” he said.
He said that the SLBFE, Foreign Ministry and the
Labour Ministry, the present government and all past
governments are well aware of this fact.
“My problem is, knowing all these, why do they
keep on sending women to these
countries-particularly Saudi without taking adequate
safety measures. Of courses, the law of Saudi is
funny so that not the SLBFE, even the president of
this country will not be able to do anything. Let
alone taking action against this stupid and inhuman
employer, I challenge this government or even the
Executive President of this country will not even be
able to contact the Saudi King just to convey his
dismay over the issue,” Ramanayake aired.
He also said that according to the law and attitude
of Saudi Arabia, our mission in Saudi will not even
be able to knock the door of the employer who rooted
nails into Ariyawathie’s body.
“Our embassy, on one hand, is not bothered about
taking up issues and on the other hand, does not
have a backbone to take up issues with Saudi people.
If this is the case, what is the point of having an
embassy in Saudi Arabia?, ” he questioned.
He said he has no issue about Sri Lanka sending
workers to European countries and Cyprus or even
Dubai as these countries respected human rights.
“Saudi Arabia will never ill-treat people of an
European country, America or even Asian developed
country. They always ill-treat people from
developing countries like ours. But India set an
example for us by taking a decision to stop sending
female workers to Saudi. Why cannot we do the same?”
He also said that foreign countries “have taken Sri
Lanka for granted and have left no space for
lobbying or protesting when needed because of
short-sighted and not so strong policies”
He added: “For instance, if the authorities here try
to press charges against the employer, all Saudi
Arabia got to do is issue a simple threat of banning
Sri Lankan recruitments. The moment they issue such
statement, our authorities will back-off,” he
According to Ramanayake, it is a vicious circle
where mothers, daughters and sisters of the country
are subjected to harassments.
“For instance, a husband is willing to sell his
wife to the sub-agent to influence the agent to take
her to an agency. I’m not exaggerating, but these
are facts gathered from being personally involved in
conducting so much of research into this burning
problem. Then, that particular woman will keep on
being abused by the recruitment agency here,
recruitment agency in that country, from her old
employer, then from his friends, again by the grown
up sons and their friends. The dilemma won’t end
there. Supposed she somehow managed to escape to the
embassy in these countries, she will be forced to
sleep with the welfare officer there and even other
officials and sometimes be sold out to customers and
at the end without sending her back, they will force
her into employment in another house. While she
suffers there what will happen to her family here?
It’s so dastardly. Her daughter here might get
sexually abused by her own drunken father, brother
or by a relative. That is why I say this has now
become a social issue. Moreover, I’m ashamed to say
this, but the truth is that we have become
international pimps. Not only the government but
without any age difference we all men who have
become pimps by sending or rather selling our
mothers, sisters and daughters to be enslaved and
abused,” he said.