It was an incredible scene: over 100 Indian workers, allies, and press packed into the lobby of the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC. Embassy staff had set up a microphone for the ambassador, whom you see here listening to Saket Soni, and had wireless mics for workers and allies to speak. The ambassador started with a long statement saying the embassy’s doors were always open for Indian citizens, India was founded as constitutional state on respect for the individual, and this should only be the beginning of a dialogue between the workers and the embassy.
Sabulal Vijayan responded with an account of how he and nearly 600 other workers were trafficked to work for Signal, then set the tone for the next 2 1/2 hours with a question: Where were you when the company came after me and the other organizers with armed guards in March 2007 to lock us up and deport us? Where were you when they drove me to a suicide attempt when they chased me into my trailer bathroom and I slit my wrist to commit suicide? Where were you while I lay in a hospital bed for three days?
About a dozen of the workers held photographs of the loved ones they have been apart from for 18 months now: sons, daughers, wives. At the rally in Dupont circle before the meeting with the ambassador, Aniesh Thankachan gave a fierce, tearful account of the pain of being separated from them:
“You see these pictures? These are our familes. They are the reason we came here. We were told that we would be able to bring our families on permanent residency visas. Once we came here we learned that these promises were false. I cry at night. I can’t tell my family what’s going on. I listen to my children on the phone and I weep. Our families are the reason we’re here. They are why we are on this satyagraha.”