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Mar 12 2010

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Editorial: Tragedy of 'bullied' worker trapped in misery

By Les Horton, Gulf Daily News

I am sure the room-mates whose bullying appears to have driven suicide victim Viliyaveettil Ashokan to his death meant no real harm.

This tragic, 37-year-old father was, by his own brother’s account, different. He was quiet, didn’t make friends easily and kept to himself – which would isolate him from a closeknit group.

It made his colleagues uneasy and he apparently became the target of suspicion and ridicule, bad enough if just in the workplace, but unbearable when he had to live amongst the same people.

His loneliness must have been crippling and his despair eventually so great that he tied a piece of cloth around his neck and hung himself from a tree, leaving behind a widow and child.

Had there been just one friend within that group of room-mates, one person with whom he had felt able to strike up a relationship, to share his thoughts and troubles with, this tragedy may well not have happened.

It is very easy for the “herd” to isolate someone who doesn’t fit in and even remarks made in jest can amount to bullying if they are sustained and result in their target feeling ridiculed, unwanted, or even hated.

I have a friend who went to boarding school in her home country while her parents were abroad and one telling remark from her was that there was no escape, because ‘home’ was the school dorm.

It is the same for many expatriate workers brought here on bachelor contracts, then put into dormitory-style accommodation, either sharing rooms in flats or houses, or in purpose-built labour camps.

They cannot go home to their families at the end of the day, they cannot seek the comfort of loved ones, or the smile of a child, to wash away the stress.

In short, they are denied all the emotional support structures many of us are privileged to enjoy.

If they do not get on with the people they work and live with, life can become a nightmare, with nowhere to go for solace.

Mr Ashokan at least had a brother, whose home he would go to in the evenings, returning to his shared accommodation only to sleep, but in the end this was not enough to escape what he described as “torture”.

His dormitory bed is empty now and I doubt that his room-mates will sleep easy for sometime, knowing that they helped drive him to his death, albeit without such ill-intent.

Hopefully they and others will learn something from this awful, avoidable tragedy.

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