Wounded in the line of dutyA Nepali factory worker in Malaysia loses a limb but gets help from colleagues and both governments
This is the 31st instalment of Diaspora Diaries, a regular series in Nepali Times with stories of Nepalis living and working abroad.
It had been nine years and one month since I had been working in Malaysia. I was planning to return home for good after reaching the 10-year mark. But I met with a life-threatening accident at the steel plant where I worked. It was dangerous work, and the explosion reminded me in the cruelest way just how dangerous it was.
I was unconscious for five days in hospital. When I came to, I realised I had lost my left hand. I wept. As a worker who has only done physical labour all my life, what was I worth without my hand? The idea of returning home made me uncomfortable. I felt like it would be better if I just died there in Malaysia, disappeared without trace.
Losing my hand, I had also lost my sense of dignity, confidence. The desire to isolate myself just grew stronger. But as time passed, I started coming to terms with reality. Malaysia was a second home to me. Of my nine siblings, seven have previously worked there.
I had family and friends there who reached out to me, took care of me, fundraised for me and showered me with love. It was evident that I had earned the goodwill of people who stood by me at the lowest point in my life.
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Life in my village in Ramechhap was difficult growing up given our economic background. I had no education or skills. To get a job that paid liveable wages overseas felt like the only option. After nearly a decade in Malaysia, I was well liked by my supervisors. I had good duty hours. My struggle in Malaysia allowed me to provide well for my family.
In those nine years, I came home thrice on vacation. I had gone there with dreams and ambitions, but I was on my final flight home, maimed and dispirited. I had narrowly escaped death, but dreaded homecoming. I only told my family back home about my situation 15 days after regaining consciousness at the hospital. They were shocked and heartbroken, and insisted I come home immediately.
I hung around in Malaysia with a missing limb. I refused to return home without compensation for my workplace accident. I wanted to benefit from their social security scheme and although I heard there were provisions for such support, being able to access it entailed paperwork and constant follow up.
In particular, it also required the employer’s proactive support and follow up as they are more aware of the SOCSO program and how to access it than workers like us are. I also relied on informal support of friends and family until I got this sorted out. I may have lost my limb but my responsibility as a father continued so I decided to persist. I had nothing to lose after what had happened.
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I used to be offered food and basic items for free from shops frequented by Nepalis, Bangladeshis and Vietnamese. They gave it out of love, but I used to feel bad as I felt these were handouts out of pity and it was discomforting and perhaps hurt my pride. I would feel bad about having these ungrateful thoughts, and for the reluctance to appreciate their generosity and kindness. These were complex emotions to deal with.
My persistence finally paid off. I now get a monthly disability benefit of 824 Ringgit ($185) via bank transfers from SOCSO every three months. If I face any problem, the foreign employment board in Kathmandu supports me. I will benefit from this throughout my life which is a relief. It has helped me with some of my household expenses, and has ensured my children’s education.
The Governments of Nepal and Malaysia have signed a social security agreement that makes it easier for people to benefit from the scheme in case of accident or death. The agreement provided me with strong support to claim my dues. I am hopeful that the Nepal government can facilitate such support by following up with the employer or the Malaysian government because workers like me do not necessarily know how to work the system there.
For workers who face mishaps like I did or families of the deceased, I hope I can serve as an example or source of information about what is possible during these trying times.
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I get Rs2,100 as a disability benefit from the Nepal government as I am categorised under the ख category of disability and not क. But without my limb, I cannot work at all. What can I do with a meager Rs2,100? Which is why the lifelong Malaysian SOCSO benefit is important for me.
Through the contributory Foreign Employment Welfare Fund and mandatory insurance under Nepal’s labour approval process, I also received a one time support of around Rs800,000 which provided some financial relief. Thankfully my labour permit was valid, if not, I would not have been eligible. I worry about those in my situation deprived of benefits because they do not have a valid labour permit or are unaware of social security benefits like the SOCSO scheme.
Even after years, I can feel the weight of my missing limb. My phantom fingers feel like they are tightly clutched together and causes pain and discomfort throughout my waking hours. I use prosthetics but it is heavy and unnatural. I still break down when I watch shows like Indreni that cover similar stories.
The memories do not go away, and the tears do not stop. When the odds are heavily stacked against you and you are left with lasting scars, lifetime social security support can at least provide something reliable to fall back on.
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Translated from an interview with the author. Diaspora Diaries is a regular column in Nepali Times providing a platform for Nepalis to share their experiences of living, working, studying abroad. Authentic and original entries can be sent to [email protected] with 'Diaspora Diaries' in the subject line.