By M.D. Rassoldeen, Arab News

RIYADH: The Sri Lankan Embassy rescued on Wednesday an Asian maid who was kept as a virtual slave by her Saudi sponsor for 17 years.

Kusuma Nandini, 56, came to Riyadh in 1994 from Sri Lanka and was kept a virtual prisoner at her sponsor's home. She was not paid salary even once during 15 years of her imprisonment and forbidden from communicating with her relatives in Sri Lanka. This is a record breaking case in the history of housemaids in the Kingdom. This woman was kept as a slave at one home for 15 years and then transferred to the home of her sponsor's brother. There she was given a salary for two years,said Sunil Wijesinghe, labor welfare officer at the Sri Lankan Embassy.

According to diplomats, Nandini had forgotten her native tongue when she was rescued and behaved like a robot. She couldn't speak her native language and had forgotten her family members when she was rescued, said Wijesinghe.

After meeting other Sri Lankans at the embassy, the maid began remembering things and started picking up her native language, he added.

The Sri Lankan Embassy learned about Nandini's plight after her 25-year-old daughter, who lives in Kalutara, some 40 km from Colombo, informed the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry that her family had not been in contact with her mother for 17 years.

Embassy officials visited the home of Nandini's sponsor and those who lived there denied she was there. Officials persevered and were able to subsequently track her down and bring her to the embassy.
I came to Riyadh when my eldest daughter, Yamuna Vinodini, was eight years old. Now she is 25 years old. My son Ravika Priyankara was six years at the time, Nandini told Arab News, adding that she came to the Kingdom to earn money to pay for her children's education as her husband was not in proper employment at the time.

I am very happy and thankful to the mission in Riyadh for having rescued me from this house where I was working like a machine, she said, adding that she thought there was no point in thinking of her home in Sri Lanka as she was permanently imprisoned in the house.

I did not see sunlight during the past 17 years since no one took me out, she said. The embassy is currently taking up the matter with the authorities concerned to get the maid's outstanding salary, which stands at SR54,000. Nandini has, however, managed to save SR7,200 which she received in wages from her sponsor's brother. She does not have a passport or a resident certificate to prove she was working in the Kingdom.