Girl at Delhi Airport

Dai, will they put me in jail?” The girl, probably in her mid-20s, asked me after I showed her the gate that would open after a couple of hours for her flight to Kathmandu.

“Who? Where?”

“Indian police here. Or Nepali police in Kathmandu.”

I looked at her. She was pretty; dressed in worn-out jeans. “Have you studied in college?” I asked her.

“No. I got off with a boy when I was in last year of my school; he turned out to be a drug-addict and I left him to go to Gulf.” She said, now more frank and honest with me. Earlier, when I asked her name and address in Nepal, she stared at me a couple of minutes before uttering a name and an address.

“Why you think they would put you in jail?” I returned to a question she asked earlier.

“Now, you have helped me this much, I think I can tell.” She said, sighed as we sat on waiting area of the gate at the New Delhi’s new airport.

***

This story is nothing new. It happens almost everyday. She was one among half-a-dozen Nepali girls who were stranded at the airport. She was returning home while others were there to leave for an unknown country. But despite having a work visa, and all documents required to board a flight, Air Arabia denied to board them saying that they do not have return tickets.

The airlines would have had to fly them back if they were to denied entry into the country they were bound to. Thus, the airlines officials at the Delhi Airport didn’t board them asking for return ticket and in a cruel way neither offered them lounge nor any food for 72 hours when they called back and forth with their agent in Kathmandu to get the return ticket.

Finally, they were to return Kathmandu and take another flight on another route.

The girl I was talking to (and whom I should only refer as Nira for anonymity) came from a city outside Kathmandu and missed a flight due to delay. She was holding a lounge entry card by airlines, but she didn’t used it fearing an arrest by Indian police.

She was trying to hide herself in the crowd!

***

Nira got into bad habits while she was in school. It began with cigarettes and went up to weeds. “I didn’t inject anything.”

On a particular day, while she was on high after a smoking session with some boys and girls, she blurted out that her family was looking to get her married as soon as she finished school. There was a boy, she told them.

Next morning, she found herself in a room she had never seen. A boy who probably liked her had made her smoke more and brought her to his home with him. She was so embarrassed in the morning that she could not go home despite request from her parents whom she talked over phone.

“A bad decision, I would’ve gone home and no one would know that I spent a night with a boy,” she said. “And, not that we did what married couple do – it came much later.”

The boy was a drug-addict. But while she was only on ‘soft-drug’, he was on ‘hard-drug’ that he would inject on himself. They lived as a couple but there was no earning and the family was not very supportive.

She decided that she would leave the boy and try to earn – by going to gulf.

***

Gulf has become a popular destination for Nepali migrant workers. Nepal is an economy that is largely dependent on remittances and everyday hundreds leave the country.

In 2011, Nepalis working abroad sent back USD 4.22 billion in remittance and in 2012, it was estimated to be around USD 4.95 billion*.

Among them many are women – some of whom travel to India on road and fly out to avoid Nepali labor desk at the Kathmandu Airport. It’s another story that the airport at Kathmandu (and airlines flying them in and out) is the worst when it comes to how they behave with those Nepalis.

Most of the Nepali workers going abroad are unknown to the fact that they are actually holding Nepal’s economy at whatever place it is standing on.

***

Nira told me that she was put as domestic help in a big house. He was not treated ‘very badly’ as many others there.

“My owner was a good guy,” she said. “His wife was suspicious and she didn’t behave that well but it was ok.”

The problem was that he wasn’t earning a lot of money from the work. A friend of her told her that if she worked outside, then she could earn more. She fled the house.

“Kuwait has a rule that if one fled the house as domestic worker, and if the owner notified the police, police would come after you,” she said. Her owner ‘thankfully’ didn’t do that and she could work outside, illegal because her visa has expired.

Police soon found her and put her in jail for working illegally. Her friends sent all her stuff to Nepal and she spent three months in jail before she was ready to be deported.

“I was without shoes and money,” she said. “So I took this shoe from a friend and other Nepali women in jail collected a dinar each and gave me five dinars.”

She said she gave two dinars to phone attendant at New Delhi Airport after calling home and now have three dinars that she hoped to exchange at Kathmandu Airport to have money to go home.

***

I remembered Sita Rai, whom immigration officials and police looted at the Kathmandu Airport and also raped her before sending her back to home. We had a social media initiative called OccupyBaluwatar to ensure that the process to her justice began.

It was a sorry tale of Sita Rai – and Nira could be another victim. She didn’t have money or jewelery with her to be looted but she was young and pretty – and unknown to the dangers she could face.

“Is you passport yours?” I asked because Sita Rai’s passport has the other name.

“Yes.” I checked it and it looked perfect.

Then I asked her not to seek any help from police and immigration official inside the airport (how sad thing that is to tell her); gave her Rs. 1,000 and asked her to take a taxi and go directly to her friend’s house.

I told her not to tell her story to anyone. “If someone asked, tell him you returned home from Kuwait – that’s all. If immigration people asked, tell them you are deported, but nothing else.”

***

She left on a flight a couple of hours earlier than mine. I saw the plane flying, prayed that there wouldn’t be trouble for her and checked my flight on the giant screen.

It reads the flight to Kathmandu that was supposed to take the other six women has been delayed. I had left them at the gate saying they should not move away from there. So I hoped they would wait for the plane disregarding time.

A couple of days after I returned home; I called the number Nira had given me saying it was her home number. I small girl picked it up and said ‘hello’ in a loud voice filled with joy and excitement.

“Can I talk to Nira?” I asked.

“Yes, she is around but since it’s a puja here, everybody is busy, I am busy, so I will call her,” the little girl said. “Ok?”

“Ok.”

After a couple of minutes of distant noises, somebody picked the phone.

“Hello, Nira here,” she spoke. I was happy that she was home.

“Hello, hello,” she repeated.

I cut off the phone and said: “Good to know, you are back home.”

***

* Follow my friend Chandan Sapkota for data and analysis regarding remittance in Nepal.

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