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NRI worker Commits Suicide,
Indian-owned garment factory in Bahrain erupts in revolt

Bahrain, MANAMA, 28 March 2005
Mazen Mahdi
Arab News

Five hundred Asian workers of a Bahraini garment factory rioted on Saturday night damaging machinery and factory premises after a fellow worker committed suicide.

Human rights activists expressed concern over the incident at MRS Fashions, which produces one of JC Penny brands, and called for a thorough investigation into a number of suicides at the factory in the past.

Madhu Babu, 28, was found hanging from the ceiling fan in an “isolation room” on the company premises. It was not clear why Babu, who is from Chittoor district in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, had committed suicide. Babu, who is not married, arrived in Bahrain eight months ago to work as a line operator in the factory.

His death sparked a riot among workers who went on a rampage for almost two hours and prevented police from removing his body. Workers blocked the path to Babu’s room thus hampering the efforts of medical crews and police. It was not until riot police stepped in that the workers ended their protest and allowed the police to remove the body.

The workers, mainly from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, branded the room where Babu’s body was found as a “torture room”. They claimed that workers were kept there as punishment for failing to meet target goals on production lines. They also claimed that two other workers had committed suicide in the past, another died of heart attack and five others went insane as a result of the harsh work conditions that require them to work more than 12-hour shifts daily.

“We get 37 Bahraini dinars ($98) as salary and if we meet production targets we receive up to 49 dinars ($130),” one worker said.

The workers also claimed physical abuse by floor managers and said they were not getting proper food or medical care.

Nabeel Rajab, vice president of the now dissolved Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), expressed concern over the incident. “Not enough is being done to investigate the suicides by foreign workers here,” he said from the scene. Rajab had intervened to calm the situation but without success.

The company’s general manager, Harinder Lamba, dismissed the claims of mistreatment as untrue. “Babu had chicken pox that is why he was isolated,” he said. “We are saddened over his death and his family will be properly compensated”.

“We are one of the model factories here in Bahrain and the Ministry of Industry has just nominated us for the prime minister’s 2004 Industry Excellence Award,” he said.

MRS Fashions was set up by a group of non-resident Indians (NRIs) based in Hong Kong and run by Indian businessman Sanju Mahthni, in 2000.

The factory produces trousers for the JC Penny house brand St. John’s Bay which is marketed in the US and Europe. It has a turnover of $12 million.


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