Tamil Nadu truck driver’s eight-year Saudi ordeal ends

Selvaraj, who was charged with drug trafficking and stealing a truck and consignment, has been proven innocent. The Tirunelveli native, presumed dead by even his family, heads home thanks to a Riyadh-based social worker.

By   |  Published: 11th Aug 2020  12:05 amUpdated: 10th Aug 2020  11:40 pm
Selvaraj with social worker Shihab Kottukad

Jeddah: When Selvaraj stopped his vehicle to ask for directions from a Turkish driver, he hadn’t even the foggiest idea of what lay in wait for him.

Selvaraj, a driver working for a petroleum company, was to deliver the petroleum products at Khafji, a town bordering Kuwait and the address was written in Arabic. So he did what anyone would have done. He stopped his vehicle at a roadside petrol pump and asked for directions from another truck driver. Little did he realise that the Saudi police was keeping a surveillance on the Turkish driver in an anti-drug trafficking operation. As Selvaraj took down directions and scribbled in Tamil, police swooped and arrested him along with the Turkish driver.

Thus began the travails of Selvaraj, eight years ago. His pleading and protesting innocence fell on deaf ears and he was thrown into jail and the vehicle confiscated. But the judge hearing the case was convinced about his innocence and ordered the police to reinvestigate his involvement in the drug trafficking case. The police did indeed clear him of the charges, but by then, he had to spend six months in jail and more trouble awaited him. As he failed to deliver the consignment at the address in Khafji, his employers believed he decamped with the truck and filed criminal cases. Not only the employers but his contractors too filed several cases against him.

After being acquitted in the drug trafficking case, Selvaraj was dropped back to his place by the police, but by then his truck was damaged and the consignment stolen. Thus began his long and arduous effort to get himself cleared of the charges, for the criminal acts he never committed. During the prolonged struggle that spanned over eight years, he had to trek 460 km to reach the Indian Embassy in Riyadh for assistance. That was not all. He had to spend countless days on the streets without food.

Selvaraj had more misfortunes lined up. He could not call back his family members as he could not get a phone or a sim as his work permit expired. He could not get his passport renewed. With no information on his whereabouts, Selvaraj’s family members back home in Maharajnagar of Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu believed he could have been in killed in an accident and had even performed his last rites. The truck driver suffered all the ignominies of being accused of running away with money and truck, but managed to absolve himself of all the crimes. And it took eight long years for him to do that.

But at last, lady luck smiled on him when a Riyadh-based social worker Shihab Kottukad took up his case. With the help of the Indian Embassy, he managed to get a ticket for Selvaraj to return home in a flight being organised under Mission Vande Bharat. “I have suffered a lot and lost a lot during the last eight years, but happy that finally justice prevailed, I was proven innocent,” Selvaraj told in an emotion choked voice.

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