Indian butcher:'I was tortured for days by American soldiers'
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A 32-year-old Indian butcher is finally back home, after slaving away for nine months in a US military camp in Iraq where he ended up although travel agents had promised him a job in Kuwait.
Aliyarkunju Faizal is today grateful to god for saving him from what he says was a nightmarish experience from which he feared he would never be able to escape.
Faizal told IANS in a telephonic interview that he was kicked and beaten by American soldiers who forced him to work for long hours daily and made him cook pork in violation of his Islamic beliefs.
Stung by the charges, the US embassy in New Delhi promised to investigate the allegations of torture and illegal detention of Indian workers by the US military in Iraq.
"We are looking into them," an embassy spokesman told IANS. "We take all reports of abuse seriously and all allegations of mistreatment are investigated.
"We are committed to treating all persons under coalition authority with dignity, respect and humanity."
But the embassy's comments are no relief to Faisal, whose story began some 10 months ago when he left for Kuwait after paying Rs.75,000 for a visa. It was a princely sum he raised by selling his wife's jewellery in the hope of making a decent income in Kuwait. But once Faizal, who hails from Chathanoor near Kollam, reached Kuwait he was told that he would have to work in Iraq.
"I had no option but to listen to what my employer told me. I was not alone; there were three other youths from my village too.
"We were taken by bus from Kuwait and reached Talafar near Baghdad. Only then were we told that we would have to work as helpers in the American military kitchen to prepare food for American soldiers," said Faizal, speaking to IANS.
"Our work was very strenuous. We had to slog from early morning until late at night. We were under constant supervision of Americans, who used to abuse us and physically abuse us if we were seen taking rest even after heavy work.
"We just could not register our protest. The only complaint we could make was to our company people. We told them to send us back, but they would say 'yes' but do nothing," said Faizal.
"I was promised 60 Kuwaiti dinars, which was around Rs.9,000. But when I called up home I was told that all they received every month was Rs.4.500. I just couldn't stand this and felt enough was enough and decided to get back at any cost."
But the worst was yet to come - and it happened during the holy month of Ramadan.
The soldiers asked Faizal and the other Indians to cook pork. When they protested saying as Muslims they were forbidden to cook or eat pork, the troops made it clear that they would not get paid otherwise.
"They made us cut pork and cook it, which is against my religion. But we prayed to Allah and did everything because I knew if I did not do it, I might never see my three children and wife," recalled the man.
Finally, his employers relented and agreed to send him back to India. But that did not happen easily.
"For one month we waited in Baghdad. Every day we were told we would leave the next day. We did not lose hope. Most of the time I was praying.
"Finally we were put on a bus to Jordan and from there on a plane to Mumbai and from there I travelled to my house in Kerala on April 30."
Faizal's wife Sophida said: "Allah is great. He gave me back my husband and never ever will we think of going to the Middle East. We will be happy with what we have here."
Agrees Faizal, who has resumed his work as a butcher.
"I will work hard and repay my debts but I am really happy I am back. I will not think of leaving my wife and children ever again," he said.
Also Tuesday, Hindustan Times reported that two other Indians from Kerala suffered a similar fate in Iraq and that American soldiers virtually holding them let them sleep for just two hours every day.
"We were slaves in American kitchens. We barely got two hours of sleep. Any slip-ups and we were tortured for days," it quoted one of the men, identified as Hameed, as saying.
Hameed claimed he escaped and returned to Kerala after the barrack where he was put up was attacked by the anti-US Iraqi militia.
The Americans in the camp told the Indians that they had "bought" them for a hefty amount and that they would have to work in the kitchen and do other odd jobs.