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Qatar…From Afar: Riyality Check

During my time in Qatari jail from May 1 to 12, all because a parent of a 12-year old student at Qatar Academy believed his son’s version of an incident, I met a number of Nepalese and other inmates. Apparently, there were about 250 inmates in total. A majority of them came from Asia–the Subcontinent or Far East. There were some Qataris too. (I guess the ones without ‘wasta.’ I wonder if anyone tried for the Villagio fire ever spent any time in police custody during the trial and after the verdict.) I didn’t hear about, or see, anyone from the West.

In that I went to work in Qatar to make money partly for my family back home (in Nepal), I was no different from the Asian migrant labourers. While I made good money, most of them had come to Qatar to make just a bit of money, just several hundred Riyals a month at most, in exchange for working like a slave. (What I saved each month was comparable to what they made in a year!) But instead, they ended up in jail!

Had I been in their shoes…

I could have been falsely charged of a crime by my employer. My employer could have charged me with murder without my even knowing the cause of death of the victim! I could have not been paid for eleven months and my employer could have dropped me off at the police station simply for asking for the monies owed me and requesting to be relieved of the contractual obligations so that I could return home. I could have been accused of theft simply because the crime occurred often and my supervisor needed someone to blame. I could have been falsely charged by the authorities, and thrown in jail, for murder by association, not necessarily because I was an accessory to it.

As an uneducated construction worker, I could have made the mistake of putting a toothpaste in an open book which turned out to be the sacred book of my host country and could have been thrown in jail for the transgression.

I could have been a teetotaller picked up by the police, while walking home one evening, and thrown in jail suspected of being drunk. I could have been picked up at night for simply being out and about, or on my way to my room and suspected of being responsible for something, anything they could come up with, and thrown in jail.

Stories such these were many. A steady stream of migrant labourers arrived in jail, daily. Every day, the Nepalese amongst, them would invariably make a stop in our cell where they would be grilled.

While in jail, I could have ended up as a cog in an endless cycle of pointless trips to judicial offices with no clear end in sight, with hardly any knowledge or understanding of anything about the whole process and, worse, with no help or assistance of any kind. At the public prosecutor’s office and in the court there could have been no mother-tongue language support, no representation of any kind etc.

I could have had not a single person in Qatar supporting me in my bid to clear my name or to get a fair trial. With hardly a single person or institution outside reaching out to me or showing any concern about my case, about the injustice meted out to me, I might as well have ceased to exist, as far as the people outside were concerned.

I could have had not a single person outside the jail that I felt I could reach out to for help. I could have no friend or family who I felt, or I knew, could do something about my situation. As far I was concerned, the world outside might as well have ceased to exist.

In other words, I could well have been dead to the world, and the world to me.

All that for the simple reason that I came from the “wrong” part of the world–Nepal or India or Pakistan or Indonesia or Sri Lanka or some other Asian country whose citizens work in Qatar as migrant labourers–and therefore, considered subhuman and expendable. (That’s about 2 billion people–almost a third of the population of this planet–written off by a population about 350 thousand Qataris. The population of Nepal alone is almost 100 times that of Qatar.)

All that because my life in Qatar has very little or no value.

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About me..in short

I am a Tibetan-Buddhist, one-time International Chemistry/Science teacher with a Jesuit education in a Hindu country (Nepal), an international education in a catholic country (Italy), a liberal arts education in the bastion of freedom and democracy (the US), with teacher-training down under (Australia), but whose choice of musical instrument is Australian (the Didjeridoo), choice of sports is American (Ultimate Frisbee), choice of dance genre is Latin American (Merengue and Salsa), and yet, still has faith in the permanence and power of change!

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CONTACT: Email Dorje Gurung