2019 - Ongoing
Shefali walked slowly in the heavy downpour, suffering terrible pain in her legs, yet she had to appear at her new job, as she no longer had her old work in Saudi Arabia. She had been hospitalised for nearly two months after being beaten with an electric cable by her Saudi employer. Fortunately she survived the beatings, and returned to Bangladesh with injuries.
In 2018 according to the local NGO BRAC, 1,000 Bengali maids returned to Bangladesh escaping extreme physical and sexual abuse. At least 311 bodies of female migrants were repatriated from Middle Eastern countries, mostly from Saudi Arabia, between January 2016 and June 2019. Among them, 53 cases were of suicide, 120 cases were of death due to chronic diseases and 56 cases were homicide, documented. Every year hundreds of female migrant workers return to Bangladesh after such abuse and in some cases after untimely death. Their migration abroad, undertaken at the cost of mortgaged land and belongings, was to support their families back home, in exchange for the life of a servant in a foreign household. Their suffering often knew no limits – starting from underpayment, denial of food and sexual exploitation, some resulting in unwanted pregnancies. Society and family members have outcast them as they have no idea how to explain to their children their father’s identity.
Beauty, one of the maids returned home after losing her mental stability; she remains shackled as she often behaves violently with her family members. However, when I met her on two consecutive days, I found her friendly and was moved by her emotions. She gradually revealed her tragic story concluding every sentence with the line “Why did it happen to me?! I didn’t do anything wrong!” Beauty repeatedly suffered sexual harassment from recruiting agents, employers and others.
I can still vividly remember those days of nightmares, screaming and crying that day when I was verbally harassed and continuously threatened by a Saudi guy over the Skype during an interview in 2015. I was so miserable that I left my job, stopped interacting with people and at one stage stopped going outside of my room. When I read about the condition of Bangladeshi female migrants about their harassment, I traveled to Bangladesh from Kolkata, India. As a female photographer I felt a strong urge to document their stories of ‘modern slavery’ and share it with the world for making a change.
Photographing traumatised and injured victims is deeply challenging. I take the challenge to portray them as distinguished human beings.
They are not some mere victims or poor labourers but someone’s sisters, wives, daughters or mothers. Most importantly they are human beings, hence entitled to their rights and deserving of respect. It is their hard work abroad that annually brings in around 15 billion dollars every year to Bangladesh’s economy but sadly at the high cost of ‘The pain of slavery'.
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