Diya\'s Story - The Story of an Abused Foreign Domestic Worker

Posted on 15 October 2001

Diya's Story

Diya's Story

This presentation was prepared by Jaclyn Kee and presented by Rozana Isa for the
"Women at the Intersection of Racism and Other Oppressions: A Human Rights Hearing"

Organized by the Center for Women Global Leadership for the NGO Forum on the World Conference Against Racism, Durban, South Africa
31st August 2001

What I am about to present to you is the story of one of the residents at the Women's Aid Organisation's (WAO) shelter. She is an Indonesian woman who was employed as a domestic worker in Malaysia. Unfortunately, she is not able to be with us today because her passport was taken by her employer, but her employer denied it. It is currently lost. We would like to thank Diya for sharing her experiences with us. This is what she has to say:

My name is Diya binti Muliah*. I am 41 years old, married with three children. Because of the economic hardship I was facing in Indonesia, I decided to go to Malaysia to earn a living. I have worked in Malaysia once before, and even though I was sad to leave my family behind, I hoped that working in Malaysia will help to relieve the poverty that my family was facing.

I arrived in Malaysia on 7th March 1998. The employment agency met me and I thought I was going to work in a restaurant like I did before, but I was told I was going to be a domestic worker, a maid.

After six months, I was taken without any explanation by my employment agency to my new employer was a Chinese woman in her 30s. She told me it was safer for her to keep my passport in her bank and I entrusted it to her. Nobody advised me how important it was to keep my passport with me at all times.

My day started at 5.00 am every morning. I would prepare breakfast, do the laundry and wash the car. My duties included cleaning the house, cooking the meals and taking care of her son. I was forbidden to have access to the telephone or contact with anyone outside.

In the first month, I did my work peacefully. But I was unlucky. She began to be very abusive. She screamed at me constantly, grabbed me by my blouse and shoved me around roughly. She did not care if there was food for me or not, and soon I developed gastric pains. This made her so angry that she would throw me out of the house until the pain subsided.

All this I bore quietly because I had no choice. She still has not paid me any wages despite having promised me US$92 a month. When I asked her about my wages, she told me she would only pay me the total sum at the end of my two year contract.

After a year, the abuse became terrible. If I forgot her instructions, she would lock me up in the toilet for hours to "repent" and to remember the tasks that she had set out for me. I realized my complete dependence on her when she abandoned me on a dark isolated road at 1 o'clock in the morning. If she did not come back for me, I thought I would never see my family again. She has even threatened me with a kitchen knife to my throat. What if she loses control one day and kills me?

I have never felt so frightened and degraded in my life. There were many times where I would just cry silently because of my desperation. I did not know anyone in Malaysia; I did not even know how to call the police. All I could do was cry out in pain when she physically assaulted me.

Mercifully, that was what saved me. On 13th July 2000, I was whacked on the head and behind my back with a cane and one of the neighbours heard my cries and rang the police. I was shaking with tears of relief when the policeman arrived and I said, "My employer has been beating me. I cannot stand working for her anymore. Please help me". The policeman was very sympathetic and angry at my employer. My employer and I were driven to the police station, with the cane she used placed between us. After making the police report, he took me to WAO for refuge.

At first, I could do nothing but cry because I could finally express my bewilderment over my employer's treatment to me. I did my work properly. Why did she treat me like something less than a human?

When I arrived at the shelter, I just felt lucky to get out of the abusive situation. I didn't have any notion about my rights and felt that this was my fate. Only when the social worker explained to me that I can reclaim the wages in Court, did I then want to see justice for all that my employer has put me through. However, five months later, even though we had taken many actions we were not closer to our day in Court.

I was very thankful to be at the shelter. I felt completely safe and knew that everyone there had my best interest at heart. I was really missing my family and longed to return home. But how could I go home when the reason I have been away for more than two years was to bring some money home to help my family? I have nothing to show for my work but a painful experience.

Finally, after one year at the shelter, my employer was charged and I had to go to court for the hearing at the end of June 2001. I truly believed that my employer will get the punishment she deserves for what she has done at last. To my disappointment, the case was postponed. It was the first of seven postponements. Each time I went to Court, I hoped that it would be the last. Every time I saw my employer, I felt so small and worthless. How could she continue abusing me with this unending wait and denial? I was so angry at her I forgot myself and burst out in Court, "I am not the one who cheated you, you cheated me!" The judge had to intervene. I was so embarrassed by what I had done, but I was so angry and frustrated with her lies. How can the judge not see that this woman had physically tortured me for 22 months and four days, and cheated me of my pay?

The past 13 months seemed like an eternity. Life goes on for everyone, but all I can think about is "Will I get my salary? Will my employer be punished for being so cruel to me? When will I be able to go home?" It has been so difficult to be strong. I even had to miss my daughter's wedding because I knew it was important for me to be here for my case. I have fasted and prayed, but now I am starting to lose faith in the system. The entire process is so slow, not punctual and full of delays. I fear that there is no justice for what has happened to me.

I ask you, should I give up?

*Name changed to protect her identity

The story was written by having a series of interviews with Diya and compiling her answers chronologically. She also wrote her own experiences in Indonesian. This was translated into English and forms the core of her story.

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