In May 2011, Guardian reporter Nesrine Malik learned of the suicide of an Indian in Dubai. The man in question was one of the city’s many blue-collar migrant workers. There was brief speculation as to the cause of death; apparently, he’d recently requested vacation, which his employer had refused to give him.
But by and large, as Malik reported, people carried on their day-to-day lives, not questioning the larger societal forces that compel an average of two Indians in Dubai – usually impoverished workers – to take their own lives every week. Nor was she the first to report this trend; the Indian consulate noted it as early as 2006.
Who are Dubai’s migrant workers? They comprise roughly 80% of the UAE’s overall population. Sources as diverse as the BBC, Human Rights Watch, the US State Department, and NPR have documented the various human rights abuses these workers face on a day-to-day basis – while the UAE government has largely fended off allegations and/or kept mum on the subject.
To list all these abuses would cover far more than the space allotted, so I’ll sketch out a few representative points: confiscation of passports, sleeping eight to eleven in a room, deportation for those who dare to strike, no breaks even in dangerously hot weather, wages held back for weeks or months on end.
One section of Johan Hari’s expose in the Independent, ‘The dark side of Dubai,’ ends with a particularly salient quote from a British expat: “Oh, the servant class…You do nothing. They’ll do anything!”
This woman’s words speak for themselves, painting a grim picture of a society riven with class divisions and distinctions.