"I wanted to die in Oman so that I could prevent my family from facing an embarrassing situation"

23 November 2021

In Undocumented: Stories of Indian Migrants in the Arab Gulf, the author Rejimon Kuttappan, a journalist and migrant-rights researcher, examines the lives of Indian migrants in West Asia via the stories of people from Kerala in Oman. The book probes questions surrounding human rights, exploitation, and marginalisation, political and legal issues and trafficking. This excerpt recounts the experiences of Appunni, who had migrated to Muscat from Kerala in 1993 with a valid passport, but had to live as an undocumented worker for over twenty years before returning with the help of an amnesty scheme announced by Oman. Upon returning home, he found that he was no longer welcome there since he had not made money. The author notes that “He now lives in a white Maruti 800, which he calls his ‘coffin.’”

After we exchanged greetings, I spotted a towel and a new Hamam soap, still in its wrapper, on the dashboard, while placing my backpack on the bonnet of Appunni’s car. I was surprised.

I asked Appunni why he was keeping a towel and a bath soap in the car. He said, “I don’t live at home, Reji. I sleep in this car, here. This white metal box is my home. And it will be my coffin, too,” he said.

It was worrying for me to hear that. Being in his hometown, he was not staying in his home?

Before asking him why, memories of Appunni talking to me when I first met him in Muscat came to mind. I met him for the first time on the shores of the Arabian Sea in Muscat in 2015. At that time, all he desperately wanted, was to go home.

Rejimon Kuttappan is an independent journalist, migrant-rights researcher, and author of Rowing Between Rooftops (2019) and Undocumented: Stories of Indian Migrants in the Arab Gulf (2021). He is also an ILO, Reuters, and NFI fellow on labour migration, modern-day slavery, and forced labour. He is also a consultant of ILO and ITUC.

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