In a different era, bailing India out of trouble across 22-yards was his day job but as a Member of Parliament, Harbhajan Singh recently got an opportunity to perform a bigger duty – rescuing a distressed Indian citizen, held captive in a foreign land. One of India’s greatest bowlers, who was nominated by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to Rajya Sabha, recently played a very significant role along with Indian Embassy in Oman in rescuing 21-year-old Bathinda girl Kamaljeet Kaur, who was “illegally held and manhandled by her employers”.
Her passport and sim card was also confiscated.
Asked about the incident, Harbhajan told PTI, “This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Indian Embassy in Oman and our Ambassador Mr Amit Narang. His contribution has been invaluable.”
“As far as my intervention is concerned, this Rajya Sabha seat is to help people in need and a daughter of our country was in need. I just did my job. It was very nice of Indian Embassy to call me up and inform that Kamaljeet is back home in Punjab, safe and secured.”
Kamaljeet, who is now back in her native place Barkandi village in Bathinda, and her father Sikandar Singh, spoke to PTI about their week-long ordeal and how travel and placement agents in Punjab are bleeding poor families financially with a promise of a better future.
Kamaljeet was supposed to join an Indian family but was moved to an office straight from the airport.
“My father is daily labourer and we are a family of three. Being the eldest of three siblings, I wanted to help my father and I had approached a local agent named Jagseer Singh, who promised me the job of a cook with a hindi-speaking Indian family in Oman,” an emotionally exhausted Kamaljeet started narrating her harrowing story.
“It was towards end of last month that I left for Muscat. I was told that if my service turns out to be satisfactory, I will be employed either in Singapore or Australia where there is a big Punjabi population.
“But the moment, I touched down and left the Muscat airport, I could sense that there was something wrong when I saw the chaperone who accompanied us,” she said.
Kamaljeet was taken to a place, Falaj Al Qabail by the Omani agent named ‘Arban’ and when she was asked to put up in a big office room, she understood that she had been duped by the agent.
“There were two ladies Maryam and Seema who were in charge of around 20 women, all Indians, working over there. They first took my passport and sim card. No explanation was given as to why.
“I was being forced to wear a burqa and learn Arabic language. It was some office and not any Indian family,” she recollected past week’s horror.
However Kamaljeet mustered courage and bought a new sim card to get in touch with her family and narrated her nightmare.
“I was scared and I told my father that these are not right people and I needed to get out. There were so many distressed girls held captive. I felt so helpless but as luck would have it, they came to know that I have bought a local sim. I was beaten with a stick that day.” His father Sikandar meanwhile contacted the local agent Jagseer, who then threatened him and asked for Rs 2.5 lakh to release his daughter’s passport.
“Meri beti ko kut rahein si. Main darr gaya si. Makaan girwi raakh diya aur paisa agent ko diya (They had beaten up my daughter. I was scared for her safety. So I mortgaged my house and loaned Rs 2.5 lakh and gave it to agent),” Sikandar said.
It was then that the father got in touch with his brother, who knew a local AAP leader.
“An acquaintance of my uncle in Punjab knew MP Harbhajan Singh ji. When he was told about me, he immediately got in touch with Indian Embassy.
“I can’t thank Harbhajan ji enough. Unki bahot bada help raha aur unke phone ke baad mujhe Indian embassy se call aaya. (After Harbhajan called up, I got a call from Indian Embassy). Just three hours from my flight on September 3, they handed me my passport and sim card.” Kamaljeet said the officials from the Indian embassy gave her a lot of confidence and in fact asked her why did her father pay the agent.
“They were very nice and cordial. They told me ki aapne agent ko paise kyon diye. Hum toh aapko waise hi chudha lete. The embassy officials also checked on me to enquire if I had reached home safely.
“But my appeal to government is to ensure that all those girls, whose passports are confiscated and made to work against their wishes should be rescued from slavery.” Harbhajan, who is one of the biggest icons of Punjab, said that the problem is deep rooted.
“In Punjab, we have families, that sell off everything to send their children abroad in hope of a better future. Some I know have even spent 50 lakh. There is a nexus is Punjab where innocent people are being misled and duped financially.
“We need to break that nexus. It’s not just about one Kamaljeet but hundreds who are being sent to other countries by means of illegal trafficking,” he said.
But would he have been able to help Kamaljeet had he not been an MP? “Yes, my political profile did help and I could use that access to call up the Indian Embassy. But if you know me, had I just been ex-cricketer Harbhajan, I would have still used all my might and seen to it that she returned home,” he concluded.