By M.S.Shah Jahan
My dear Sri Lankan brothers and sisters,
This may be the last Eid-ul- Alha – Haj festival for me in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or even from this world, as I believe my fate will be decided soon. If I am found innocent I will be sent back home, otherwise I may be beheaded in due course. That will be the end of this poor girl of a poverty stricken family in Muttur who came all the way with a determination to help and feed her parents and siblings.
In the beginning, I overheard my father reluctantly whispering to my mother, that a man has been pestering him that I could be sent to Saudi Arabia as a house maid to relieve our misery. My mother was shocked and said “little girl, how to send like that, she knows no evil”. As time passed it looked the man has been pressing and though my father was agreeable, my mother was not. I could hear her saying, “eat or starve, let us stay together”. Yes we were eating some times and starving many times. We never ate to full stomach. I could bear hunger thinking as if I was fasting. But at times I could not see my younger ones lying in a corner with nothing to eat and hopelessly expecting daddy to bring something.
Therefore I made up my mind and told my parents, explaining our pitiable condition at home, I was prepared to go abroad to work as a maid. My father was aghast, mother burst into tears closing her face. I said “don’t worry Umma [mother] I will look after myself. We cannot live in poverty like this for ever. As the eldest child I have some responsibility. I will do it.”
I have never been to a big city except a section of Trincomalee town. Never have I seen a big bus station or railway station. But I could see planes flying in the sky from China Bay Air Force base in Trinco. Never had I imagined that one day I too would get into an aero plane. Well, I encouraged myself to travel to a far away country all alone, though everything was awesome to me.
The rest is history; yes my history, Rizana Nafeek’s history. As you all know, I have been languishing in this prison for the past five years for no fault of mine. I may be released or killed soon. It doesn’t matter. But one thing I wish to emphasise here is I am innocent. I never killed the child. I had no ground what so ever to take such an evil step on an innocent baby.
It was not the first time I fed the boy. When he was given to me that day I accepted with obedience. Because I have come to this Arab land with a determination to work like a bull to see my family members eat three meals a day. I never knew what was in my work contract. Nevertheless I was prepared to do any job asked from me at any time of the day or night.
When Beebi noticed that something went wrong with the baby, she screamed, yelled, shouted at me angrily in Arabic which I could not understand. Baaba [Master] also came to the scene. Next moment I was slapped left and right and kicked like a foot ball. “Allah! Allah!” I shouted and said “I didn’t do any wrong” in Tamil but it did not get into their heads. They made couple of telephone calls. Few relatives and friends came running with big shouts. I was standing in the corner of the hall and sobbing as I could not bear the pain of such inhuman attacks. We are poor no doubt but not criminals. My father or mother never touched me.
I presumed they rushed the baby to the hospital. In the meantime police arrived with ‘Ooi Ooi’ siren sound. People there spoke to police pointing at me. I started trembling. I have been scared of police from my childhood. During my school days if I see a police man passing me, I used to stop talking and look at the other way in fear. Now I understood I am in real trouble. The police handcuffed me. I cried. They asked me to walk along with them. I resisted. They pulled the chain and threatened in Arabic. It was paining. So I obeyed.
My mind flew to Muttur. ‘Dear Umma, if you know your daughter’s plight at this moment your heart would stop. But Umma I did not do any harm. Therefore don’t worry. I leave it to the All Mighty Allah. He will guard this innocent goat from all these ferocious lions’. I was taken to a police station. Some discussion took place among the officials there. I was asked to sign on few Arabic papers. I signed in Tamil. I was locked in a cell with few women. They all surrounded me and asked me to stop crying assuring they would help, wiping my tears with a towel.
Some asked me questions in different languages. I explained in Tamil. I can’t say whether they understood or not. But among them one or two were quite fluent in Arabic and they inquired from a junior officer who said something about me to them. There were two Sinhala ladies too from whom later I learnt Sinhala. They came forward and inquired “Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka?”. I nodded yes raising my head from my hand. An elderly one hugged me and rested my head on her chest. I felt like as if I was under the care of my own mother.
After two days, I was summoned to the front office. A dark, slightly fat Indian man asked me some questions in Tamil. His Tamil was not my Tamil. It was not even the exact Tamil we hear in Tamil cinemas too, little different. But I understood it to some extent and poured my story with my sobbing. This was the first time in two weeks after I landed in Saudi I had an opportunity to speak Tamil.
But I noted the Indian man was not swift enough to understand my story. He translated my conversation to an official who recorded it in a note book asking some questions off and on from him and me. Finally they asked me to sign and I did. I was thinking I may be sent out after recording my statement. No I was not. It was not the end of my ordeal but the beginning I realized.
In the beginning the way things were moving here I felt my life would soon come to an end tragically, and I had no option but to cry and plead from Allah only, which I regularly do with all my prayers. I go to sleep every night praying Allah for my release, and wake up for early morning prayers, with the belief that this day will bring me good news. Of course in the prison enough facility is provided for prayers and reading Quran. But the present situation does not give me much hope because I am staying here for too long in the prison after working in my Beebi’s house only for two weeks.
My parents visited me. Though their presence gave me lot of happiness, I could not talk much but cried only, “No, No I didn’t do.” I could not stop my tears pouring too, and no words came easy from my mouth. In return they also sobbed and wept. That was the best they could do blaming our fate.
Besides, I was told few good Samaritans paid the astronomical legal bill on my behalf. I will be thankful to them throughout my life. Even if my head goes before the sword here, until my last breath, I would pray Allah for the well being of their families for trying to help this hapless unknown-unfortunate girl spending so much money.
Also I know you, my Sri Lankan brothers and sisters of all faiths do pray for me. Here I ask especially the Muslim brothers and sisters to remember me in their prayers in the day of Eid-ul- Alha prayers. I know no sword will fall on any one until the Haj is over.
Finally, I sincerely thank the Government and the President of Sri Lanka and all those numerous men and women who did whatever possible for my freedom. I love to see you all in Lanka – alive, not in a coffin. Failing, Insha Allah we shall meet in Jennathul Firdouse [paradise], as I am sure I will have a place there since I am totally – truly, innocent.
[This is a Fictionalised account based on facts]