By Ranee Mohamed
Khanzul Maharifa Abdul Kareem was in her early 30s when she left her husband and three children to go to Dubai on a sad night in April 2006. She had heard about the affluence and dreamt of bringing back some of it to her broken down home in Selva Nagar, Seruwila where hunger and hardship were punctuated with the tears of her three children.
“I am a fisherman and it is not every day that I am able to feed them. We are poor, helpless people. My wife insisted that she can bring us out of the darkness. Though she had worked overseas for a short time when she was single, I was frightened to see her go. The responsibilities of our two daughters and son fell on me. I knew that I had to look after them until she returned. On the night she left, we clung together and cried,” said Ibrahim Hasan, (45) speaking to The Sunday Leader.
“I consoled my children, telling them that time will fly and that their mother will be back soon,” recalled Ibrahim. But time did not fly. After receiving one letter in about five days, Ibrahim did not hear from his wife again.
Life had been even worse for Kanzul Maharifa as she had no one to call her own. “All the way on the flight I prayed that I get a kind madam and master,’ she said when contacted by The Sunday Leader.
But alas, Shamsul Maharifa’s wish did not come true.
When she reached her assigned house in Abu Dhabi she found that she had to do the work of 13 people.
“The lady of the house was Yemini and she was always in a bad mood. She was very rude to me. Besides this, her violent temper made my life miserable. I did all the work in the house with hardly a complaint. Yet whatever I did, even if it was my best, the lady of the house was never satisfied. She yelled at me and argued with me. When I asked for my wages, things could not have got any worse,” said Kanzul Maharifa
However, it was to send some money home that Kanzul Maharifa had made the trip and the sacrifice.
“It was about 50 days after I had started to work. Time flew but no one gave me my salary. When I asked for my wages, my madam would go into a rage. I was very distressed because I knew that my children must be starving as my husband may not be able to work for long hours,” said Kanzul Maharifa.
One day, Kanzul Maharifa was determined to pursue the matter. Ï asked for my wages and there was an argument. I was persistent. The madam took an iron bar to beat me, just as always,” cried Kanzul Maharifa.
“Before she could attack me, I pushed my madam, causing her to lose balance and fall backwards. The fall caused my Madam to knock her head on the concrete wall,” explained Kanzul Maharifa.
“The Madam was admitted to hospital. That was the worse time in my life. Madam was away in hospital and I was ill treated by all. I was scorned upon and not given food nor any basic needs. I was so frightened,” said Kanzul Maharifa
The death of her Madam, a few days later was the death knell for Kanzul Maharifa. She was taken into custody and sent to the Central Jail in Abu Dhabi.
“I did not do anything intentionally. I pushed her to defend myself,” insisted Kanzul Maharifa. But her words were of no avail.
“I was taken into custody and after seven or eight days, I learnt that my Madam had died at hospital due to the head injury. I was produced in Court where I was sentenced to death,” said Kanzul Maharifa recalling the terrifying ordeal.
“I shouted out and cried. My thoughts went out to my three children. I wanted to live because of them. I wanted to see them again. And this meant that I had to die without seeing my children,” recalled Kanzul Maharifa. My daughters came to mind, and from between their beautiful faces, the innocent face of my little son smiled at me.
“My heart, my mind and my very being raced towards them; I thought about their food, their school expenses and about their future and safety. I could not bear it anymore. More than anything else in the world, I wanted to be in Sri Lanka. The conditions and circumstances did not matter. Whether we were rich or poor did not matter. I wanted to be close to them,” said Kanzul Maharifa trying to capture the anguish.
“The court inquiry was translated in Tamil. I had explained to them what really had happened on that day,’ recalled Kanzul Maharifa trembling with fear at the memory of this terrifying time.
“The Prison Authority in the Central Jail in Abu Dhabi central jail asked me whether I had anyone from our Sri Lankan Embassy who would appear on my behalf with a lawyer. This was because I had an appeal in the High Court after a month. I informed them that I had no such person. I feared that if I inform the embassy they would ask me why I came there to seek help. So a lawyer from Abu Dhabi government took my case,” said Kanzul Maharifa
“ I was sentenced to seven years in prison. I knew I was innocent and that it was not my intention to kill my Madam. It was an accident and this was also proven in court,” said Kanzul Maharifa.
After an appeal was made, it was proven however that there was no attempt to murder, but that an incident had occurred when Kanzul Maharifa tried to defend herself from an attack.
However, Kanzul Maharifa was imprisoned for seven years.
Kanzul Maharifa went on to allege that she is disappointed and bitter that no officer from the Sri Lankan Embasy had shown any interest in her case.
“I did not face any bad times in jail. There were three people in a cell. They treated me in well. I spent a great deal of time praying to God. Once every week we had to clean all the cells . Then we were divided into groups, other than that I was never ordered to do any work there,” she said.
However, Mahrifa went on to say that it was unhappiest time in her life.
“I met people of different nationalities in that jail. An Indian girl who was in the jail was very kind to me. She had even gone to the length of sending a message to my husband and children in Sri Lanka that I could fly back to my motherland after completion of my punishment if my family is able to provide an air ticket,” she said. “I was informed by her friend who had met her in jail that my wife will be able to get back to Sri Lanka if an air ticket is arranged. So with the greatest difficulty, I managed to send her a ticket. It dawned on me then that nothing mattered more than having her here with us,” said Ibrahim Hasan.
Kanzul Maharifa Abdul Kareem who was born on February 15, 1972 returned to Sri Lanka in early August. She now lives in her home in Selva Nagar, Torpu, Trincomalee.
“I have decided that I would never ever leave again whatever situation or difficulty that may arise. I now realise that all these difficulties in my life are insignificant compared to those words I heard – sentencing me to death. I compare these precious days and nights and the soothing smiles of my children to those miserable minutes I spent in prison,” said Kanzul Maharifa in tears.
“I have returned just the way I left, without a cent. I am without a cent today too. But I do not worry about that. I think I have come back richer and luckier . For to me it seems like I have returned from the grave,” said Kanzul Maharifa as she held her children closer.
The Embassy Worked Tirelessly…
Meanwhile, Hemantha Kahawalage, the Labour Welfare Officer of the Sri Lankan Embassy in the UAE had the following to say as regards the case of Khanzul Maharifa:
“It is with great pleasure that the Embassy of UAE announces the pardon given to Abdul Careem Kanzul Maharifa who was accused of causing the death to a sponsor’s wife by repeatedly hitting her head and face with an ornamental pot and Sharia Court issued Capital punishment in 2006 on her.
She was arrested on April 30, 2006. The case was appealed subsequently, but her acquittal was challenged by the public prosecution. The Embassy and the External Affairs Ministry in Sri Lanka have been continuously working on this matter since the alleged incident and at last there is good news that the request for clemency has been granted and she is out of the said death sentence. She is free and she was sent to Sri Lanka on July 31, 2011.
This is one of the rare cases of the Sri Lankan Embassy in the UAE worked tirelessly and continuously for the freedom of this lady to the credit of the staff and the previous Ambassadors and especially the Consular Division of the Ministry of External Affairs of Sri Lanka .
Ambassador Sarath Wijesinghe after assumption of duties personally took charge of the case and made representation to various statutory bodies with the help of the Embassy staff. There are lot more cases pending on capital punishment and other offences. There are over 250,000 employees in the UAE which remits large sums of money to Sri Lanka making remittances the main income of the nation. The crime rate of the Sri Lankans are very low when compared to the other ethnic groups. It is inevitable that these incidents do take place when people work in difficult conditions. There are problems confronted by the employees on various reasons mainly discrepancies caused by errant job agents which causes rifts between the employers, sponsors and the workers. The SLBFE has taken steps to regularize and harmonize the agreements and to bring about speedy settlements for the workforce in the UAE. The workforce of the UAE is highly skilled and respected in the highest esteem.”