Envoy to meet exploited Indian workers in US

March 21st, 2008 - 11:00 am ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 21 (IANS) As a group of Indian workers alleging exploitation at a US shipyard continued their march to Washington to draw attention to their plight, Indian ambassador Ronen Sen agreed to meet them March 26. About 100 workers, who quit Signal International’s shipyard in Mississippi after alleging maltreatment, began a Gandhian-style satyagraha march from New Orleans to Washington to protest the Indian government’s alleged failure to protect them and sought a meeting with Sen.

On March 17, Sen had conveyed to the Indian workers his willingness to meet them at a mutually convenient date and time to see how their legitimate grievances and concerns could be addressed, the Indian embassy here said Thursday. Thereafter, a group of workers had unilaterally decided to march to Washington to meet Sen on March 26, without specifying the time.

The ambassador has decided to cancel some prior engagements outside the capital and return to the capital by mid-day on March 26 to be able to receive the Indian workers at his office, the embassy said.

Declaring “his (the ambassador’s) doors were always open to any of his fellow citizens of India”, the embassy said: “Whenever Indian citizens have faced serious difficulties, the ambassador has dispatched officials from the embassy or the relevant consulate general to the place of any incident to extend all support that is required, and to report their findings to him.

“Whether it was the case of Anand Jon, the fashion designer under detention in Los Angeles, or Indian students who were victims of violent assault in different parts of the country or in other cases, embassy or consulate general officials have been available to extend all possible assistance and closely monitor further developments,” the embassy said.

Accusing the Indian ambassador of abandoning them, the workers began a march to Washington to demand a mass meeting with Sen and urge him to put pressure on the US government to halt any expansion of its guest worker programme until it reaches an agreement with New Delhi to take care of the interests of workers.

The workers, who have also filed a lawsuit against the company, are marching through areas once known for racism, echoing African-American activists’ march to the capital to win basic human rights, as well as Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Dandi march.

“Mahatma Gandhi’s salt satyagraha exposed the tyranny of the British tax system. Our satyagraha will unmask the US guest worker programme as a system of bonded labour,” workers’ leader Rajan Pazhambalakode said at a rally in New Orleans before starting their march.

The workers have also criticised the Ministry of Overseas Indian affairs officials for meeting a Signal officer earlier in New Delhi. They have also accused the Indian embassy of sending a team last week to Mississippi and New Orleans and holding closed-door meetings with some workers at Signal’s premises, which may further endanger the workers.

“Our own government turned its back on us after we were treated like slaves,” said Sabulal Vijayan, one of over 500 Indian workers on whose behalf the suit was filed in a federal court in New Orleans.

The workers allegedly paid $20,000 to Indian and US recruiters on false promises of green cards but received 10-month H2B guest worker visas and worked at Signal in deplorable conditions.

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