Indian workers in US begin march to embassy in Washington

March 19th, 2008 - 12:22 am ICT by admin  

New York, March 18 (IANS) A group of Indian workers who claim to have broken a human trafficking chain in the US Tuesday began a march from New Orleans to Washington, DC, to demand a mass meeting with Indian ambassador Ronen Sen. Beginning a satyagraha to protest what they term as the Indian government’s failure to protect them, the 100 workers who quit Signal International’s shipyard in Mississippi March 6 and filed a lawsuit against the company, are travelling on foot 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 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 after a rally at the Department of Labor building in New Orleans.

On reaching Washington March 26, the workers will press for a mass meeting with the Indian ambassador, whom they excoriated in a letter Monday for abandoning them, their press release said.

The letter asked the ambassador to put pressure on the US government to restrict travel to India for Signal’s US recruiters.

The workers have criticised India’s 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’ letter also asks Sen to put pressure on the US government to halt any expansion of the guest worker programme until Washington has reached an agreement with the Indian government to take care of the interests of workers.

The US Congress is preparing for a session in which a massive expansion of the guest worker programme is at the top of the agenda, the press release said.

“These workers received a harsh education in the caste system of the US,” said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial Justice, which has organised the workers.

“The Indian government must look these workers in the face and decide: on what terms is India willing to send its citizens to become indentured servants in the US?”

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.

When approached by them, the US Department of Justice has opened an investigation into their charges of human trafficking.

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