When young Sohelrana, a Bangladeshi carpenter, contemplated a return to Singapore in hopes for second fruitful working stint, he thought his younger brother, Roni Miya, should follow.
Their father, a farmer, has kept his family of eight in good fiscal shape, but Sohel and Rony still harboured hopes of a better life for them. Early this year, they left their hometown of Norshidin within a couple of months of each other, arriving here in search of that dream.
Both found decent work: Sohel at a small security-lock provider, while Rony got a detail as a construction painter. Roni, just 19, was away from home for the first time, and Sohel, four years senior, made sure to look out for him, keeping in close touch via phone and regular meetings.
But just seven months after arriving, Roni was dead. Sohel’s fresh-faced, cheery brother had been found hanging on a towel in his Kaki Bukit dormitory.
Sohel was in disbelief. Roni left no note, and had no apparent reason to take his own life – single and teetotal, he didn’t mix with bad company and had indulged in no vice. His family hadn’t sensed any emotional strain over the phone, while colleagues didn’t detect any signs of psychological distress.
There was something else, however, Sohel learned. Roni had called home on October 27, the day he died, to say that he had gotten into trouble.
A day earlier, Roni didn’t get any work from his bosses, and decided to take on an outside job – an illegal but routine practice for some migrant workers who saw it as a chance to supplement their salaries. Rony cobbled together work permits for the workers involved – him and four others – and handed them over to the two agents who would make the necessary arrangements.
This time, however, the agents absconded. Roni and his co-workers were distraught, and filed a police report that same day. He was upset over the loss, and dreaded the potential consequences. He feared that he might be repatriated within days, or face further legal repercussions for taking extra work illegally.
It isn’t clear what became of the agents and the work permits. Unscrupulous parties are known to use illegally obtained permits to run rackets, selling or leasing them to illegal migrant seeking work. While new permits have security features that prevent easy forgery, some employers are seen to care more for form over substance, and fail to check them closely.
Sohel doesn’t know for sure if the loss of the permits had anything to do with Roni’s death, or if any foul play was involved. But he wants answers, with which his brother’s employers didn’t seem forthcoming.
According to Sohel, Roni’s former manager and supervisor asked him to sign a document granting him a lump sum payment – about S$500 – following Rony’s death, but the fine print required Sohel to waive any right to seek further recourse against the company. Sohel declined, even when the firm offered a larger payment of S$5,000.
Meanwhile, friends and colleagues have rallied around Sohel during his time of grief. His employers at Alliancz International granted him some S$400 in bereavement money and leave from work, even offering a return air ticket home to allow Sohel to tend to Rony’s funeral.
The answers Sohel seek remain elusive for now, but he holds onto to hope that the coroner’s inquiry may yet deliver them, and that the truth may still be told in time.
Postscript: A state coroner has ruled that Roni “probably killed himself partly out of guilt,” according to a Straits Times report published January 11, 2012.