Indra was recruited from Nepal to work in a family-owned high-rise building in Kuwait. Each of the elder couple’s 19 children had their own floor for their own family. Indra worked for a son who lived on the 22nd floor with his wife and 13 daughters. On the ground floor, the clan operated a discreet brothel, forcing the domestic workers to work there. Sometimes the grandmother sold tickets to the men entering. Indra fought back against the forced work. Her employers then tried to sell her off to other families in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, but she was returned each time over disagreements on the financial arrangement. The last time returned she was locked in a penthouse storage room. When she escaped, the employers tried to accuse her of stealing gold from them. The police realized from the CCTV footage given as evidence that she was actually climbing down the elevator cables to escape. Although she came home on a stretcher, most of her family members have since abandoned her, unsympathetic to the coercion she could not always overcome when sent to the building’s first floor.
“Two years before I left to work abroad my house caught on fire and nothing was left, only the clothes we had on. My youngest daughter’s whole arm was burned. My son’s hand was broken. I was in debt for the hospitalization, about 50,000. I had to buy new clothes and other things. My husband had left me years before, when I was three months pregnant with our third child. My sister-in-law’s husband fixed up the job for me. He told me that if I go abroad, I could earn abbot 70 dinars, which is equivalent to 22,000 rupees, and that it would be useful. I believed him, and I thought since my husband is not taking care of me, this income will help. My children can keep going to school.
“There was no training, no preparation. They got me a passport and filled in the forms. On a Saturday night they put me on a flight. There was no police check. They got me to leave my children at the bus park, and someone else took my children to my mother. They said I would have to pay 40,000 rupees for the travel costs when I returned. I just thought they saw my bad situation and were helping me.
“They told me from here that I was going to Kuwait to do domestic work. And I did in the beginning. An Indonesian girl did the cooking and I looked after the children. I was allowed to sleep two hours. I would sleep at 1 a.m. and wake at 3 a.m. Every day I had to wash the clothes of the children by hand. I had to wash the walls every day. For the first three months, they gave me the food left after they had eaten, if there was any left. That was two meals. It was okay for me—it was for my children’s welfare. I thought it was ordinary.
“One day, after I had been there three months, I was told to go downstairs in a black burqa. There were a lot of huge men wearing white robes and the head gear and I heard women crying. There were about 70 to 80 girls from all over, different countries, and men came there. I was told to go to one room and that’s when I saw my photo outside. I had been to India and been told about photos outside of rooms, that it’s a kind of brothel. I screamed and ran upstairs.”
They sold me to someone in Saudi Arabia
“That’s when they beat me and tried to force me to go back downstairs. I stuck a spear into a light socket. They thought I was dangerous and would kill them so they sold me to someone in Saudi Arabia but they weren’t paid the amount they wanted and I was sent back after working there two months. When I returned from Saudi I was told to go downstairs and work.
“The husband and wife both beat me and I don’t remember going downstairs because I passed out. The wife said, ‘Why did you come from Nepal if you’re not going to do this work?’ She was scratching me and pulling my hair. I had shoe prints on my body. I had never experienced anything like this or heard about these things. The wife used to be beat more. A group of men beat me and then I fainted. The man and wife beat me, but the wife beat me more. They would beat me every day until I went down. From the moment I returned from Saudi, they started beating me.
“That was when I broke through the window. I don’t remember, but I was told that’s what I did. Luckily there was a Nepali worker on the other side who took me to the hospital. I was hospitalized for one month. The police took my report. But after that I was sent back to the employer’s place. Four days after returning from hospital in that condition they sent me to Dubai. I couldn’t move my arms at all. I was straight. I went by airplane everywhere. I used the driver’s phone and called my agency in Indonesia. Two days later, they sent me back to Kuwait. The employer said, ‘You have created such trouble for me.’ He locked me up on the 25th floor. There were four other girls, Ethiopia, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka working in his household at that time. I had to drink water from the toilet because they gave me nothing for the 15 days I was there.
“When I was locked on the 25th floor, someone in the family had a hospital emergency. The whole family went to the hospital. The girls still in the house told me they were escaping. I slid down the cable of the elevator. My hands and feet were bluish from it. The walls were covered in my blood as I came down. The five of us went to the police.”
Abandoned in Nepal
“When I returned, I went to my sister’s house. They believed I did the sex work and I had no earnings. They paid the rent on the place, packed up their stuff and moved away. They said to me, ‘You have done this kind of work—you must have disease.’ They never asked what happened to me.
“Everyone has left me. The last time I went to my husband’s house, they wouldn’t let me in. It was three months ago. I was looking for the man who had arranged the job. My parents don’t come to visit me. My brothers spit on the ground when they see me and walk away. One sister in Bhaktapur visits me.
“It’s been two years and I haven’t gotten better, so I don’t have hope I’ll improve. Sometimes I just faint and I think it’s the heart condition. In the places where I was bitten, there are lumps on my breast. My spine was fractured. Over there they told me that I might have heart problems. Here they say it has worsened and I need a CT scan. The injuries are from the beatings. I can’t sleep on my side, I have to sleep upright.
“I am not working now. I can’t even wash my children’s clothes. I can only afford one sack of rice a month and we make a soup with salt. I have one room next to a bathroom that is shared by others. It’s a very dirty place. During the recent festival, my children were crying for clothes and the neighbour heard them and bought them clothes. I have registered them for school but I haven’t paid the fees. I try to sell little snacks on the roadside, but my back really hurts. Other unskilled workers around here see my situation and they all give me a little of what they can, like clothes.”