"they started forcing me to indulge in immoral activities"
Several Punjabi women are languishing in Oman with no hope of returning home.
One woman from Kapurthala survived the ordeal thanks to the efforts made by Rajya Sabha member Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal who brought her back with help from the Ministry of External Affairs.
But not everyone is as fortunate as Rani*.
She returned from Muscat after spending two months there. Rani said that Punjabi women are being taken to Oman on the pretext of a job.
They are being allegedly sold to locals there and are being forced to perform sexual favours for them for survival.
Rani said a group of 35 other young women from Punjab – who were duped by travel agents in India and are now trapped in Oman – are waiting for their rescue.
According to her, there are several other such groups of trapped women there.
These vulnerable women are beaten up, threatened and forced to perform sexual favours.
If they resist, they are left to starve for days.
On March 16, 2023, Rani said her aunt had sent her to Muscat on the pretext of a false job.
She said: “My aunt said that I could earn a good amount of money there (Oman) while working as a ‘caretaker’ in a hospital with a promise of a Rs. 30,000 (£290) per month salary.”
Rani went to Oman on a tourist visa.
Her aunt charged Rs. 70,000 (£680) before she and other agents in Muscat sold Rani to some locals for Rs. 1.50 Lakh (£1,400).
Rani continued: “When I landed there on March 16, the agents there took my passport and phone, and I was locked up in a room. No food was given to me.
“Later I found that 35 other women from Punjab were also locked up there. I was put up with them.
“When I asked the agents to send me to the hospital for the ‘promised’ caretaker job, they started forcing me to indulge in immoral activities which I resisted and refused outright.
“The refusal came with a price as they beat me up mercilessly.”
She called her aunt and asked why she sold her. Rani’s aunt said she must “do whatever they ask you to do”.
“Like me, 35 more women from Punjab are sailing in the same boat.
“A small meal a day is provided to these trapped women in Muscat so that they don’t die.
“The Punjab government should launch an awareness drive against such frauds in the state.
“The poor and uneducated women are sitting ducks. They are the main targets of such agents who are moving openly and doing things in an unabashed way.”
She went to Muscat to earn money to support her daughter.
“We live in a rented house in Kapurthala. My husband is a taxi driver, and it’s hard for us to make ends meet.”
On May 16, 2023, Rani’s husband met Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal and with his efforts, she returned to India within five days.
Seechewal has now appealed to the Centre to monitor bogus travel agents and take strict action against them.
Many of the women are made to sign a two-year agreement by the travel agents, causing a problem for their return.
As they are uneducated, they are easy targets.
When the condition is not fulfilled, huge sums in lakhs are demanded from their poor families to send them back to India.