Shooting in Qatar spotlights plight of Indian migrant workers

Haidar Ali was shot in the face by his Qatari employer and is currently unable to return to his family

Haidar Ali, 35, pictured here with his three year-old daughter, was shot in the face by his employer in Qatar when he asked for leave to visit his family and to collect his salary. He is currently in hospital and his case is being dealt with by the Indian embassy. Photo supplied by family. 
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Haidar Ali's youngest brother Afsar was eagerly waiting to meet him at the airport – his family hadn't seen him for two years.

The younger sibling had made elaborate plans to celebrate Mr Ali’s homecoming with a feast, with invites extended to relatives and neighbours.

But it was not to be, instead the family were confronted with the most terrifying news—the 35-year-old migrant worker had been shot and critically wounded by his Qatari employer.

“We were hoping to invite all our relatives for a feast. It was a big moment for us as my brother was returning after two long years,” said Afsar.

Haidar, a 35-year-old welder, had been blinded in one eye after he was shot in the face by his enraged employer, a Qatari national in Doha. The employer had reportedly been angered by Haider's request for leave to visit his family in the east Indian state of Bihar in October.

He was admitted to Hamdan Hospital for treatment and is now recuperating at the Indian embassy, where he is also pursuing a police case against the accused.

The Indian Embassy in Qatar also confirmed the accounts.

"An Indian worker, working at the home of his sponsor for the last six years, was reportedly injured after being shot by his sponsor. He has since recovered and been discharged from Hamad hospital," Shri Fahmi, First Secretary at the embassy told The National.

"At present, he is living under the care of the embassy. We have taken up the matter with concerned authorities in Qatar to ensure that justice is delivered to the Indian national."

The embassy statement added that a prosecutors was being prepared by Indian officials, and that the suspect in the shooting had been arrested by authorities.

"Follow up medical treatment is being provided by the hospital. We hope to send him to India soon. Our officials are helping him in calling his family in India," said Mr Fahmi.

Seeking medical compensation from Qatar

There are now questions as to how Haidar will remain the breadwinner for his family, given the extent of his injuries. His wife, three brothers, ailing father and six children all say the brutal attack has not just rendered him handicapped, but also left their lives in limbo as they seek monetary compensation from the Qatari government.

“My brother is in shock and pain. Our lives have been destroyed. He has young children – five daughters and one son, how will he arrange money for their education and marriage?” said Afsar, who had asked his brother for a watch as a gift.

Haidar Ali, 35, was shot in the face by his employer in Qatar when he asked for leave and to collect his salary. He is currently in the care of the Indian embassy. Photo supplied by family. 

“We depended on his meagre income for our living. But now he has lost one eye and suffered grave injuries on one leg in the attack. We do not know if he can ever work again. We want the Qatari government to compensate us,” Afsar said.

A family left with nothing

Haidar is from a nondescript village in the East Champaran region in Bihar, one of India’s most impoverished states, which suffers high unemployment. Many unemployed men in the region choose the life of a migrant worker to provide for their families.

Haidar's destination of choice was Qatar, where he moved in 2018 looking for greener pastures and a well-paying job. From his salary, he’d have to find funds for his ailing wife Naseema Khatoon’s heart treatment. Other pressing needs included saving enough money to educate his five daughters and helping Afsar’s education, as well as caring for his elderly father, 65-year-old Ammar.

For over two years, Haidar toiled as a welder for $466 a month, double what he used to make from his welding job in India. His brother said he shared a small space with co-workers at his employer’s garage in order to save as much of his salary as possible, which he sent home every month.

At times, he sent more than $243 for his wife's treatment.

Haidar Ali's five daughters and two sons depended on his work as a welder in Qatar. Now their future is uncertain, as he faces permanent disability. Photo supplied by family.

After years of communicating on WhatsApp video calls with family, Haidar planned to come home for holidays and booked a flight from Doha to New Delhi for October 30.

But his family are also now unable to visit him in hospital in Qatar. “With no money for the flight tickets and the coronavirus situation, I cannot even go there and be with him,” Afsar said.

'We will not let him go back to Qatar again'

Haidar is one of hundreds of thousands blue collar workers who migrate from poorer Indian states to Gulf countries each year.

Qatar hosts an estimated 7,45,000 Indian workers, the largest Indian diaspora group. Strict rules with no job safety push these poor workers to live in dismal conditions.

Some 1,678 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2012 and August 2018, almost 300 of them “unnatural” deaths, according to Indian government figures.

At their two-room dilapidated house, the impoverished family is counting down the days for Haidar’s safe return, with a vow to never send him again to Qatar.

“We are devastated. I never wanted him to go this far but he had to go to make enough money to feed us and save for our daughters,” wife Ms Khatoon said.

“I will not let him go back to that country again."