The Sunday Leader

Slave Punishment For A Sri Lankan Maid

  • Glittering And Oil Rich – But Cruel And Inhuman

The nails embedded in her hands and feet

By Ranee Mohamed in KamburupitiyaPhotos by Asoka Fernando

Forty Nine year-old Lahanda Purage Ariyawathie hails from a sleepy village called Batuwita in Kamburupitiya; a place where there is an unbelievable number of push cycles and winding roads on which cars seldom pass by. Here in Kamburupitiya, worn out women with worry lining their faces wander around with empty bags.
The only scope for them remained in the far off horizon that sunk at the end of the unending paddy fields and greenery.
And it is here that Lahanda Purage Ariyawathie brought up a son and two daughters. As she toiled in the paddy fields, it was not the scorching sun or the shortages at home that was cause for heartburn. It was the strange affliction that had struck her youngest daughter.

Ariyawathie after the surgery and The two inch long iron nails which were taken out via surgery Friday morning

“I was told that a germ had entered her leg and that was the cause for the abnormal swelling. There was nothing I wanted more in life than to cure my daughter. Each time I saw her shuffling by, it broke my heart. My husband is a mechanic and I was a labourer harvesting paddy only during the season. My son was doing menial labour too and there was no hope for us,” said Ariyawathie, tears flooding her eyes.
“I was determined to go overseas and earn the money to cure my daughter and build a house in place of our mud hut.  So I approached an employment agency called Lek Raj,” said  Ariyawathie.
Investigations revealed however that there is no mention of Lek Raj anywhere in the documentation that initiated her travel to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
It is instead under the name of Ismail Abdullah Ibrahim Bin Bayal that M/S Diamond Star Recruitment is registered. The address is stated as  P.O. Box 56068, Al Sawaidi, Riyadh. The local office address is No. 8, Maligakanda Road, Colombo 10.
As March approached, Ariyawathie had been excited about her new job and the money she was going to earn. She had spent the nights dreaming of her daughter walking around in a beautiful little house.

Surgery in progress

And it was these dreams that she took to Riyadh on March 25 this year. “I was amazed at the difference. I had never seen such lights, such buildings. But my heart was at home, among the greenery, in my mud hut, with my children,” said Ariyawathie in tears.
She hoped to work hard and win the hearts of her employers. “I am used to working hard. I had worked in paddy fields and lifted the bundles of paddy. So I know what hard work is,” said Ariyawathie who was known in the village to be a live wire.
The first day with her new employers in Riyadh had been good. “They gave me food to eat and I did not feel threatened,” recalled Ariyawathie.
But as the days flew by Ariyawathie found that the demands on her were tremendous. She had to polish the three storeyed house, wash the three toilets everyday in addition to washing and cleaning other areas of the house.  It wasn’t the lifting and washing of carpets that were about 50 kilos in weight that was getting her down but the constant calling out from the three daughters and four sons and the Madam and the Master of the house asking her to fetch this and that.
“They spoke in Arabic and gave me instructions in Arabic. The training that I received here was not recognised by them. Each time I brought a wrong item to them, the children would hit me with whatever that is nearby. Most often it was a shoe or some hard object. They would hit my face and my head,” said Ariyawathie, closing her face with her hands at the memory of the beatings.
She hoped that things would improve for her. She hoped that someone in the house would show her some kindness. “But compassion was the last thing in their hearts. The Master was about 65 years old, he was tall and big made, with a beard. The Madam was about 55 years old. I have never met two people as fearful as them,” said Ariyawathie trembling at the very thought of their stares and glares.
“If I brought a different item than what the Master asked me; or if I did a different chore, the Madam would storm towards me and drag me along to a room. The Master would then come along with iron nails and as the lady of the house held my mouth, he would drive the nails to different parts of my body,” said Ariyawathie showing her hands and toes, all studded with black heads of nails which have now been covered with blackened flesh.
“It was the most traumatic experience, the most excruciating pain. But I could not scream for the children too would stand by me with knives and make signs that they would slit my throat if I shouted. The Madam was strong and held me down each time the Master drove the nails in,” cried Ariyawathie.
Ariyawathie had endured the pain as she felt the blunt nails rip into her muscles. At most times the Master had pushed old nails into her flesh as she bled from the painful punctures. “But I endured it because I was frightened that they would slit my throat. I have seen how they used to kill animals in the backyard before meals – the goats and the lambs – and I thought that they would slit my throat that way too,” said Ariyawathie.
There seemed to be long nail like objects sticking out from every part of her body, markedly in her feet and hands.
“I wanted to get out of that house, but there was no way. They kept telling me that they were not letting me go. Each day they were driving more and more nails into my body,” said Ariyawathie.
So Ariyawathie devised a plan. She let the blood flow and rubbed it all over her body. She scratched her head, bit her nails and did things that caused much revulsion especially among the daughters of the household.  “One day the 11 year old daughter saw me with blood all over my body and face and she felt nauseous. I hoped I was achieving my end, I hoped that I was getting closer home.
“Then one day in August, the Madam threw a black abaya at me. She told me in sign language to wear it. I thought they were taking me to the doctor as they had pierced nails right through both my knees the previous day and I could not get down the staircase. I was moaning in pain with every movement,” said Ariyawathie
She had been overjoyed when she was taken to the employment agency instead of to the hospital. “There was a gentleman there who spoke Sinhalese. He told me that these people don’t want me anymore and want to send me back to Sri Lanka,” she said.
It was when she landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport that happiness entered her heart. She had no anxieties for she was ignorant about the metal detectors at the airport. And it had been her good fortune that neither the Saudi airport authorities nor the Sri Lankan airport authorities were able to take note of the metal in her body.
And it had been the last nail on her coffin when she came home without a penny and found that their mud hut had collapsed due to the rain. Plus Ariyawathie had 23 nails within her to worry about. She found that every muscle in her body was aching, every bone, every movement was causing a searing pain.
“She did not tell any of us of the ordeal she had endured. She told us that the ‘thorns’ from the date palms had caused the injuries to her body,” said her son Chamin Priyadarshana. Priyadarshana, a mechanic, had stopped talking to his mother because she was determined to go to Saudi Arabia. “I just did not want her to go and we had a heated argument over her intended job and I stopped talking to her after that,” Chamin told The Sunday Leader.
Gunapala, who is married to the eldest daughter of Ariyawathie, speaking to The Sunday Leader said, “We opposed her plan, but she was determined to go. There was nothing we could do,” he said.  “I am a labourer and I am not financially affluent to help Ariyawathie to build her house or cure her daughter, so I had to remain silent,” he said.
“We are in tears today because of her pain. We want justice for our poor mother. We want her cared for and compensated for all the anguish she has endured,” they said.
As Ariyawathie prepares to have the iron nails embedded within her removed, the psychological trauma remains untreated and ignored. As she battles the pain and shudders and trembles in her sleep, she is not alone in her struggle for justice. People all over the world seem to share her pain and tremble at the torture she has endured.
It was to Dr. Nimal Jayasinghe that Ariyawathie had first revealed her innermost pain. Having administered an anti tetanus vaccine, Dr. Jayasinghe had advised Ariyawathie to get herself admitted to hospital.
“Some of these nails are over three and a half months old. When these nails are taken out I hope to start life again, but here in Sri Lanka. I will not go abroad again, I will not think of it either. I will also stop every single woman I know from going overseas, especially to Saudi,” said a bruised Ariyawathie.
It is very unlikely that Ariyawathie will be able to work in the paddy fields again. And  with the news of her emaciated body being  subject to a double torture  within  five months – of having nails driven into her body and then having those areas cut open and the nails pried out and away from the growing flesh,  people the world over, have expressed shock, sympathizing with this poor housemaid who had to undergo a primitive agony in an oil rich, glittering, developed land.

First Time In The History Of The Hospital
Dr. Kamal Weeratunge, Chief Surgeon of the Kamburupitiya Hospital speaking to The Sunday Leader said that he and his team had been preparing for the surgery to remove the nails within the body of Ariyawathie for the past four days. “We made the preoperative investigations. Today, two anaesthetics and two surgeons are ready and the theatre staff too are prepared to conduct the surgery. We hope to take the nails out within the coming hours,” said Dr. Weeratunge. It is for the first time in the history of the Kamburupitiya Base Hospital that such a surgery is being performed.

38 Comments for “Slave Punishment For A Sri Lankan Maid”

  1. Psycho

    Do you expect a fair deal from the tribal, barabaric Saudi Government. They treat non Sudda expats as dirts.

    If these buffoons are true to their barbaric laws, this poor lady should be allowed to slam 23 nails into her employer. Lets see how eye for an eye works. They might order blood money (another rich/poor divide)

    • shan

      Psycho i never thought i would agree with you. Yes these are some of the Most barbaric humans.

      Let this be an eye opener for all of the lankans, and the government. Just like what India did, let us stop our sisters being exported as slaves to these countries.

      Women should not be allowed to go abroad for domestic jobs!

    • Sunila

      Well said. I hope the Sri Lankan Govt. will take appropriate measures to punish the perpetraters of this barbaric act.

  2. Ruwan

    Are these bloody Arabs are humans or animals??

    • Anil

      They are Pigs

      • arab

        We are not pigs! we hate these acts more than you do and although I do not trust the Saudi govt. nor any other arab govt to give this poor lady any kind of justice, I wish you will keep talking about that criminal Saudi s an individual, and not all the Arabs.

        I live in UAE and have an Ethiopian house maid, she does not know how to read and does not know any of her rights, I give her more salary than what is mentioned in the contract, and always ask my self: Why did her family let her leave to a foreign country, uneducated, helpless, with no power to defend her rights, she have a 6 years old child left behind, believe me no money in the world will let any one leave his child behind him and travel to a foreign country in this way.

        My point is: any Srilankan woman who wish to travel abroad should be educated and taught about her right and how to act in case of violence, police and embassy will give her rights, also the government should make strict condition like allowing her to have a personal mobile and giving her a day off every week where she can leave the house unconditionally, this way she face any violence because she will be able to act accordingly and go to police.

        • The Patriot

          Dear Arab brother,

          I agree with you that not all Saudi’s or Arabs are bad and I denounce some of the comments made against the entire Arabs!

          The truth remains that the non-white foreighners are treated as sub-humans by considerable percentage of the Saudis. Law and order in the UAE is 1000 times better than Saudi Arabia. Having lived in both countries, I can tell you that the treatment of foreigners in UAE cannot be compared with that of Saudi Arabia.

          Standard of Dubai Police is as high as UK. When we turn to the authorities in Saudi for justice, we are rediculed or blamed for offences we went to complain about! We are addressed as “Rafeek” which is used by the Saudis for a low level person, although it means “Friend” in Arabic. From the time we land at a Saudi Airport, we endure the sub-human treatment, even at a professional level! This was the very reason why I left Saudi Arabia!

          There are very good Saudis who treat the maids as one of their households. This is evident at airports when the whole family comes to send of their maids on holiday! But, there are also cases where the maids leave in coffins and wheel chairs!

          Our Sri Lankan government and the Mission in Saudi are partly to be blamed for the mis-treatment of labourers and the poor housemaids. The least Saudi government should do is to provide justice to this poor lady and punish the offender as per the Sharia Law!

  3. Randi

    It is time the government had some kind of oversight and monitoring of these maids particularly in Saudi Arabia. Many of these poor people have been abused and even killed. There should be some Sinhala speaking hotline over there, so that these maids can call in and complain. The governments of all these domestic workers in Asia, should have some kind of alliance, so that they can demand these middle eastern countries have to be answerable for the inhuman treatment of these uneducated workers.

  4. Peter

    I totally agree with Randi. It is long past the time for the SL government to provide some degree of protection and assistance to these ladies working in the Middle East. It is a national disgrace. They have been raped, murdered and brutalised with no action by the government. And this has been going on for many years. Agents working out of SL must be licensed and approved by the SL government. As in many other things money and corruption hold sway. Does SL not respect women?

    • azath

      You are correct, this has to be regularized with stringent laws. these maid bring a huge amount of foreign currency but they are humiliated at all levels mostly by their masters and agents.

  5. Dr AA

    Damned Arabs are barbaric people. Saudis in particular are morons who flaunt their Oil wealth. Americans kiss up to them because of their Oil so they think they are untouchable.

    • Singam

      Do not lump all the Arabs together. It is a criminal act of a sick couple and they should be punished for their atrocity. By the way there are more barbaric criminals enjoying luxurious life in Sri Lanka who are capable of killing forty thousand or more people in one day. these criminals are also hoping that they are too untouchables. Certainly not long!

  6. Anil

    Saudi are backward Bunch of Camel Jockeys who have evolved into the 21st century only because of their oil wealth. Iran, Iraq were countries with a history behind them. Saudis are scum

  7. milinda ratnayake

    Muslim fanatics ,islam a loving religion what a joke cruel and barbaric. loving religions preach to love other people……. but who is to blame ourselves.if we have good governance we do not need to send our people to slave for others.

    but our leaders are more keen to get a third term than to uplift the quality of life of the people of the land, cost of living is only a burden to the masses.

    so more nails need to be driven to make a point!!!!!!!

  8. hatim

    I can’t believe the racist comments from readers and how much hatred they carry. just google “Saudi aid to Sri Lanka” or visit:
    it is not about humiliating you with the aids but to demonstrate that we are not as bad as you think.

  9. Prof. Kopan Mahadeva

    This is a most pathetic story. Are we living in the 21st Century? Sri Lankan Government must take immediate steps diplomatically to obtain justice for Ariyawathie. I am sure the authorities are already at work on this.
    Islamic leaders in Sri Lanka could also play their part along the religious path to get that family who tortured this poor Sinhalese lady to build a house for her family in Sri Lanka as a fair compensation.
    Sri Lanka’s reputation is affected by sending our women for slavish domestic jobs abroad in search of foreign exchange.
    Finally, I see this as an example of the sort of extreme problems that arise when one party does not understand the language of the other — basic and simple communication problems that should not be allowed to exist in any state in these modern times. Let us solve our own language-related problems without any delay, through a new and fair-minded Constitution.

    • I have worked in Saudi Arabia as a journalist for 14 years. I know of the brutalisation of expatriate workers. It is terrible. I have even written a book on the subject: Mutawas, Saudi Arabia Dreaded Religious Police ( published by Turtle Books, Mumbai —, which tells a lot. My heart goes out to Ariyawathi and others who have suffered like her.

    • gamarala

      Dear Kopalapillai Mahadeva, Where are you. Remember Brodie days.
      Every day one migrant worker from sri lanka slaving in the middle east, dies, most probaly killed. Many of the ‘housemaids’ become pregnant. The arab nations must be the most cruel of all. Their religion is only a facade.

  10. SUJEE

    This is fault of SL government. Why did they allow our sistes to go and work in damn arab world? Everyone know How arab behaves. They are animal beings and donk know how to treat people. Let SL ministers send their wives and sistes to work in middle East.. So pathitic amd sad…

    • GonThakkadiya

      Suji, our leaders and ministers are clever than you and I. They already sold and profiteer their wives and daughters to these Bedouins into a profession known as the world’s most ancient avocation and wanton profession to barbaric donkeys which have less IQ’s than their own camels they heard. So what do you expect from cavemen stilled trapped in the 8th century.

  11. It is a barnaric act. to feed her family she suffer a lot . Please tell your srilankan government not to do this to tamil prisoners in jail. Do you know the srilankan army is putting chilli powder to the private parts to the tamil prisoners everyday. Can these people feel sorry for this too. afterall these people are of your own people.

  12. jake

    what do you expect from Bedouin’s who suddenly became rich? These Saudi’s think they are “cultured” because of the oil wealth. Most of the real Arabs left this land after the Wahaabi tribes started to annhilate anyone who did not believe in their doctrine of Islam…These bedu’s are not going to last nor the guardianship of the US. Pretty soon the deck of cards is going to break in to pieces starting from the east and from the south west….

  13. Ratna

    Of course, any kind of torture must be condemned. Whether it’s done by a foreign government or our local government to any citizen, the inhuman acts must be punished.

    Tamil migrant review in Canada hears of torture
    Dyonisius said the woman, who is asthmatic and doesn’t have proper medication for her condition, maintains she was tortured in Sri Lanka and has cigarette burns on her chest
    Read more:


    USA, stop supporting kings and help those countries to turn to democracy. no democracy, no justice. lack of democracy is the main reason for all ills in the middle east.

  15. Saudi

    let me say that i pray to god to punish who did this to this respected lady .

    and i am sure the saudi law will be applied to them and they will get punished for this ugly torture .

  16. [...] a resident of Batuwita, Kamburupitiya had left her home in March this year for work in Saudi Arabia, but was soon subject to inhuman torture at the hands of her two [...]

  17. ajith

    America bombed poor iraqis but safegurd Saudis. Most human right violations are happening in western protected Saudi arabia than any other arabic country. Time to open our eyes and thow the Saudi royal family and create a democratic republic in Saudi Arabia which cares for it’s people and everyone else.

  18. Mido

    The housemaid cannot pass security checks at Riyadh and Katunayake airports with the nails in her body,

  19. ramba

    jara satthu

  20. janthu

    Singam, When terrorists declare war on the innocent, retaliation is to be expected. Ariyawathi’s story is different. She is an innocent human being.

    • John

      This is ridiculous but it happens to all domestic workers to some varying degree, all over the middle east. I’m from Abu Dhabi and this is fairly common. What’s even more surprising is that its not only the Arabs involved but I’ve seen and heard families from “developed” nations turn barbaric to their domestic help. Human rights is something waived off when some one from an unprivileged background comes to the Middle East. A sample can be seen at Dubai’s huge airport which is a popular transit point. Its amazing how immigration and security officers can behave this way. If they exhibit such behaviour at a display point I wonder how they will be at their homes.

      More than the respective Govts and embassy providing training for domestic workers on how to deal such behaviour, training and education must be provided to the people, at least to be reminded to behave like human beings.

  21. A. A.

    As I read those stories, I get heart ache on the people who get treated brutally. However what makes me more frustrated even is people comments whereas they do not reply fairly.. How come whenever a crime done by an arab or a muslim it is the highlight of the case but whenever an even more brutal crime done by an american/ European/jewish/christian the crime gets the highlight look into the world record of crimes where do they come from? I believe any such brutal crime is unforgivable whether it is done by any nationality or religion such people do not belong to any.. What we all should be agreeing on is that the Saudi government admit the wrong that has been done to the woman and the family should prosecuted as they deserve, also both governments should be taken action toward such thing not happening again and making sure that human rights are applied to their citizens and enforced world wide.

  22. maimoon

    Hi mido! same doupt i have??????????????

  23. Ratnapala

    simpe – let all the Sri Lankan community just burn the quoran. Muslims are fat smelly pigs.

  24. sarath

    Saudi Authorities already denied that srilankan gov or Muslim communities in srilanka have shut their mouths. i wonder any justice have been done to that poor woman. at least Gov should put pressure upon job agencies who sends people to theses countries without checking employers criminal records. its a well known fact that Arabs are barbaric and they never never regards other humans as human. they are real bruits. the world must condemn and detest these kind of inhumane act.



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