Dubai Dreams

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Job consultancies that have mushroomed in Kashmir are preying on the lower middle class and making quick millions. In absence of a regulation system, they have ended up ruining careers, finds Saima Bhat

His father is a chemist and elder brother working in a private firm. The two earning hands, however, didn’t change the family’s hand to mouth state. So, Shahid (name changed), 23, a resident of Batamaloo, the chemist’s son wanted to support his family so that his two younger siblings could continue their studies.

 In 2012, when Shahid passed his 12th standard, he uploaded his resume on an online job portal, OLX. Soon, he started getting calls from a local consultancy, KGN Consultancy, in Rajbagh. After initial reluctance, the caller, who identified himself as Saleem Manhas, persuaded for a meeting. There, he was introduced to a lady, Humaira, principal of a local kindergarten Smiling Strawberries. They said they are partners with contacts in Qatar.

A convinced Shahid left his passport with them, to process his documents and get the visa as soon as possible. But before leaving for Delhi, Shahid was asked to pay Rs 25,000 and he was given a receipt (of school). Then there was a long pause for three months but an anxious Shahid would call them quite often. “Once they felt I may create a problem for them they asked me to pack my bags as my visa was ready,” Shahid remembers.

In Delhi, Shahid and another job-seeker were asked to pay Rs one lakh each to a consultant, who, Manhas said was his associate. “We were given multiple tourist visas to Malaysia,” Shahid said. “Our tickets were ready but we had to cancel them because of certain immigration rules like having the minimum US $ 500. As a result, we had to cancel our tickets a number of times which led to an escalation in our expenses by Rs 40,000.”

They eventually landed in Kula Lalampur. For two days,  they stayed at the airport waiting for the local agent to receive them. They would call Manhas and he would tell them: ‘the agent is coming’ or ‘why do not you hire a hotel’. Then finally, he told them to go to another state for twenty days. The two boys moved out of the airport and were wandering, seeking some agent to own them.

“Instead we once found ourselves locked in a local hotel room,” Shahid remembers. “They had seized our every belonging including our passports and were threatening us.”

Luckily, however, Shahid found their passports in a table drawer; they stole them and literally ran away to the airport, from where they called Humaira. “She started crying on phone and at the same time she threatened us of registering a police case.”

For next six days, they stayed in the airport and somehow got in touch with a Kashmiri who took them home and finally helped them fly back to Delhi.

In Srinagar, they went to Raj Bagh police station where they lodged FIR 98/2014 under section RPC 420 against Manhas and Humaira. “Later, Police informed us that the accused are residents of Poonch and they (police) won’t go to Poonch,” Shahid said. Two years have passed and there is no update. “Who will pay me for those horrible days,” Shahid asked.

Police said there are countless cases of this nature. “Number of registered cases won’t give you an exact number of duped cases,” one officer, speaking anonymously, said. “Victims approach police just for recovery of their money because they know the judicial process is long and expensive. They do not come to us for justice, by the way.”

With surging unemployment, these cases are widespread. In June 2017, Haji Ghulam Mohammad Mir of Konan, Bandipora allegedly duped over 600 aspiring job seekers, including 150 students, by minting crore of rupees from them. Posing as “licensed/authorised agent”: for various Middle East companies, Mir sells his “dream jobs” and then switches his phone off.

An insider says each consultant earns nearly Rs one crore a year, which doubles if the size of the consultancy is big.

Dubai, where already more than 10,000 Kashmiris work, is the dream destination. The “consultants” get them visiting visa and bid them adieu. But most of the aspirants manage to return with great difficulty.

In November 2017, at least 13 youth who had gone to work as security guards are returning after a month’s struggle. With six of them already home, seven are still stuck in Dubai. Nine of the youths are from Srinagar City and two each are from Pampore and Islamabad.

One of the youths who succeeded in reaching home said they were promised a job in Dubai by Srinagar-based Al Safeer International Consultancy. At the Constancy’s Zaldagar office, they paid Rs 40,000, per head, an amount later increased to Rs 90,000. They were supposed to draw a salary of Rs 40,000, excluding the accommodation charges, to be borne by the employer.

Again, they reached home with the help of Kashmir ex-pats. Since they had overstayed their visa, also allegedly fake, they had to pay a penalty of 5000 Dirham (Rs 89000) each. Now the agency is claimed they were duped by their Dubai partner.

Offering a peephole view of consultancy functioning, one consultant, wishing anonymity said: “For admission in colleges in India and Bangladesh, the college gives us commission of minimum Rs 2 lakh per student. And the cost increases with the lower rank of colleges and with more students. We earn from colleges and then from students as well.”

 For providing jobs, the consultants have to get in touch with the agents associated with big companies. “Bigger companies like in Gulf do not go for direct recruitments. Their HR’s outsources the hiring process. It is this third party that sells these posts to smaller agents like us. If they sell it to us for Rs 50,000, we take its double amount from the candidates,” the insider said.

In Kashmir, class fourth jobs that require 10+2 qualification are in great demand. “These youth usually belong to lower-middle-class backgrounds and once they are duped, it hardly makes a crisis,” people well-versed with the system said.

In 2011, Bilal Ahmad Wani, 25, a resident of Pulwama, after graduating thought of shifting his base to Saudi Arabia. His father, a labourer, was unable to meet all expenses of his family of four members. As a result of which his two sisters had to drop out from school in class 10th.

Wani used to see an advertisement in local newspapers daily: “coffee makers needed for Saudi”. On basis of this, he enrolled himself for a diploma in hospitality management. Finally, in 2012, he got in touch with a local consultancy, Al Riyaz International at Red Cross Road, who helped him to get a job in Riyadh as a coffee boy for which he paid Rs 85,000.

Next day he was asked to immediately leave for Mumbai, where he was made to sign a ‘handwritten job contract’ of a storekeeper against a payment of 1200 Riyal. His tickets were delayed for ten days and he had to bear those expenses himself.

Once in Saudi, Wani was surprised to know that he was made to sign the contract of a labourer for two years. “The room they provided was a filthy pit. You won’t believe how I lived in those circumstances,” Wani said. A year later, in 2014, when Kashmir was flooded in September, Wani pleaded before his boss to let him go home as his home was under water. He was given an ‘exit visa’ means for next three years he can’t travel to that country.

At home, Wani has started working with a local restaurant to help his father. “Before moving to Saudi, we had a small piece of land of 25 marlas and I requested my father to sell it off at Rs 3.75 lakhs.” Out of that amount he spent Rs 2.5 lakhs for his diploma course at International College of Aviation (ICA), Parraypora.  “I convinced my father that I’ll earn later and will buy much bigger property,” says disheartened Wani. “At ICA, we were told that after our diploma, we will get jobs where we will earn Rs 40,000. Leave money aside, even their certificates are fake.”

An apple grower’s son completed his post graduation in food technology and got a “job” in Riyadh. There, he was given the job of a sweeper. “Everyday, he would call, the family would get into mourning,” his father, who wishes to stay anonymous, said. “Finally, I negotiated the deal with his employer and paid him a huge penalty and he set my son free.”

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