When just reporting is not enough

IN Media Practice | 28/01/2016
As an expat reporter in Bahrain, Anwar Moideen’s stories uncover the lives of poor Indian workers and touch the conscience of local people.
MOIDEEN’S account

Pictures from Anwar Moideen’s Facebook page of the impact of his stories.

 

I left Mallapuram in Kerala when I was fourteen and a half to find work in Bahrain. After working as a driver, a supermarket helper and then as a salesman for a few years, I stumbled into photo-journalism and began freelancing. My big break came when I was offered a job in 2008 at Al Watan, one of the leading newspapers of Bahrain. I am presently heading the reporting and photography department and am also a regular contributor to DT News, an English daily and 4PM News, a Malayalam evening newspaper.

But in this article I want to explain how, in a place like Bahrain, it is not possible to report a story, take pictures, file the copy and then go home. I had plenty of work, endless human interest stories. Many of my reports were about expatriate Indians working in Bahrain, many from my home state of Kerala, and the immense problems they face, especially poor labourers. Where to begin? They are harassed by the authorities over their papers, paid badly, not paid at all, exploited mercilessly and suffer accidents and injuries (70 per cent of Indians work in the construction industry).The odds are stacked against them. In recent years, a large number have committed suicide.

If you are working as a reporter in your own country, you can walk away from such individual after you have heard their story. But when you are an expatriate yourself and you know that these fellow expatriates have no safety net, no friends, no money, no network of relatives, no contacts, no local NGO to help them  – nothing, in short, to fall back on - it is impossible to walk away.

You feel compelled to take an extra step and give them a helping hand, either by pursuing their case with the relevant authorities, accompanying them to hospital or a government office, by forcing employers to treat them better, or by enlisting the support of the local community.

"The journalism I have been practising is one where I get totally involved, where I follow up to see what has happened to somebody and where I have to arouse the concern of the wider community so that help comes in."

 

In this situation, with Indians numbering about 400,000 out of a total population of 1.3 million (the largest expatriate group in Bahrain), the journalism I have been practising for the past 15 years has willynilly become a different animal. It is one where I get totally involved, where I follow up to see what has happened to somebody and where I have to arouse the concern of the wider community so that help comes in. 

Here are the stories of some of the people who were helped by my photo-journalism. Read them to see the infinite variety of difficulties that can afflict expat Indian workers:  

  • After a story in Al Watan, numerous expat workers were moved from a dilapidated building to a decent one. The greedy owner was warned and fined by the authorities.

  • The Ministry of Labour intervened in the case of 500 labourers employed by Asker Chapo Company after they were forced to work on lower wages. The company officials were brought to book.

  • A labourer, Mr. Ramalu from Andhra Pradesh, lost his passport when a fire gutted his room. I helped him sort out the issue with local immigration officials and he was able to return home.

  • An Indian homemaker, Shabeera, was abandoned by her husband after trapping her in debt. Following my story on her, a few businessmen came forward and extended help to settle her debts.

  • AnIndian housemaid, Tracyamma, who was subjected to frequent abuse by her sponsor was rescued and helped to go home.

  • A divorced Bahraini mother of four children who was homeless was granted a roof over her head by the authorities following my story.
     
  • Bangladeshi Arif Hossian was hospitalised after being involved in a road mishap and later arrested because he was in violation of the Kingdom’s residency laws. Because of his weak physical and emotional condition, I accompanied him on the trip to Bangladesh.

  • A sex racket was bringing Asian girls to Bahrain in the guise of domestic workers before forcing them to engage in prostitution. Subsequently, 18 women were rescued by the police. 

  •  Mr Mani faced cruel harassment at his workplace. I was able to solve the issues and contribute to sending him back to Kerala safe and sound.

  • An employee at a local store, Mr. Abdullah, was seeking financial help to pay the medical expenses for his nephew, Mr. Cheelil Ishaq who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and needed urgent surgery.

  • Govind Kumar suffered a worksite injury when a five-tonne mechanical engine pressed down on his body for more than an hour. His sponsor had, in any case, been subjecting him to inhuman treatment. He did not help Kumar with medical treatment for his injuries. Media coverage forced the sponsor to release his papers and arrange a flight for him to India.

  • Labourer Tari Ram was badly burnt while cooking a meal for himself. Al Watan highlighted his case and many people came forward to help him, including the General Secretary of the Bahrain Federation of Expatriates Association.

  • Mallya, an  illegal resident, woke up one day unable to move. He had become paralysed as he slept. He was taken to the main official hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex, where he stayed for a few months. When doctors saw no improvement in his case, he was left on the streets. Eventually, with the help of generous residents, we were able to give a ticket to Mallya to go home to seek treatment.

  • Last year I helped more than 200 illegal workers from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan,  Kenya,  Sudan, Nepal, Philippines, and Indonesia go back home by helping them with tickets and emigration formalities.

If I was able to help these individuals, it was thanks to my readers, social workers and compassionate officials. The stereotype of Gulf employers and residents as being indifferent to Indian expatriates has some basis but my experience has shown me that, when they read these heart-breaking stories, they often respond with compassion, money and practical help.

The very fact that they read my stories shows that they are interested in the human side of expatriate life. Moreover, the fact that I have received numerous awards and appreciation certificates for my work also indicates that Bahraini society is alive to the sufferings of Indian labourers. In 2009 alone, I was recognized seven times through awards and certificates.In 2012I received an Appreciation Certificate from the Bahrain Parliament for my media coverage, the Best Photojournalist award from the Muharraq Hala area for my media support for Bahrain (2011) and I was the first Indian to win the 2010 Photographer Media Person award from the Al Hiddi Council for my media coverage.

It is very difficult to evaluate the impact of journalism. There are too many imponderables. In my work, though, I have seen the end result, and it makes me happy.

 

 

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