12/15/2023, 17.57
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Mother fighting for her daughter, Nimisha, a Christian nurse sentenced to death in Yemen

The Delhi High Court recently authorised Prema Kumari to travel to Yemen to free her daughter, who is accused of killing Talal Abdo Mahdi with a high dose of sedatives. The latter helped her to set up a clinic but then took her passport, preventing her from escaping. Nimisha's home community in Kerala has rallied to her cause.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Two days ago, the Delhi High Court granted Prema Kumari permission to travel to Yemen, in derogation of a 2017 order that prohibits Indian citizens from travelling to the Middle Eastern country due to poor security conditions and the absence of an Indian diplomatic presence.

Prema will try to bring back her daughter, Nimisha Priya, by bargaining over blood money with the family of the man Nimisha is accused of killing, a crime for which Yemen's Supreme Judicial Council has sentenced her to death.

Nimisha left for Yemen in 2008 when she was just 19 and a recent graduate in nursing studies thanks to the support of her local church.

After finding employment in a public hospital in the capital, Sanaa, Nimisha told her mother, a domestic worker, that their days of poverty and hardship would soon be over.

Things turned out differently. In 2011, Nimisha returned home to marry Tomy Thomas in a marriage arranged by her family. The newlyweds then returned to Yemen, where Thomas found work as an electrician's assistant.

But because the pay was inadequate, after the birth of a daughter, Mishal, in December 2012, the father with his daughter moved to Kochi, where he now drives a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw).

Meanwhile, Nimisha decided to start her own clinic, but there was a problem. Yemeni law required her to have a local partner, which she found in Talal Abdo Mahdi, who ran a fabric shop nearby.

His wife had given birth in the clinic where Nimisha worked and in January 2015, when Nimisha had to return to India for the baptism of her daughter, Mahdi went with her.

Nimisha and her husband borrowed money from friends and family, raising 5 million rupees (US$ 60,000) for the clinic. Nimisha, confident, also started the paperwork for family reunification in Yemen, where, however, a civil war had broken out.

Although the Indian government evacuated 4,600 of its citizens, Nimisha decided to stay. "We had invested so much money in the clinic and she couldn't just get up and leave," Thomas told the BBC.

In addition to the conflict, things also begun to get complicated with Mahdi. According to the nurse's lawyers, when the Yemeni man went to Kochi with her, he "stole a photograph of Nimisha's wedding when he visited their home in Kochi and he later manipulated it to claim he was married to Nimisha".

But he did more: “he physically tortured her and took away all the revenue collection from the clinic.” On several occasions, "he threatened her with a gun" and “seized her passport to prevent her from leaving".

When Nimisha complained to the police, "instead of taking any action against him, they locked her up for six days”.

In the region, this kind of abuse against foreign workers is commonplace as migrants are often unable to escape since their employers take their passports.

So, imagine the shock for Nimisha’s husband, Tomy Thomas, when, in 2017, he saw TV news channels, report: “Malayali [Kerala] nurse Nimisha Priya arrested for murdering husband, chopping up his body in Yemen”. 

In fact, tired of the abuse, Nimisha had tried to free herself of Mahdi, but she did not intend to kill him, says K.R. Subhash Chandran, a migrant rights activist and lawyer who represents Nimisha's mother in the Delhi High Court.

Nimisha “too is a victim,” he said. “Mahdi had confiscated her passport and she was trying to get it back from him. So, she tried to sedate him, but she overdosed him and he died.”

On 13 November, Yemen's Supreme Council rejected Nimisha's appeal and upheld the nurse's death sentence, but acknowledged that, under Islamic law, her family could pay Mahdi's family “blood money” as compensation.

Nimisha's home community, aware of the abuses and violence against female workers in the Gulf, mobilised to save her.

A well-known business tycoon from Kerala, has already pledged 10 million rupees (US$ 112,000) to her cause, which is also supported by a collective, the Save Nimisha Priya International Action Council.

“I will go to Yemen and seek their forgiveness,” said her mother, Prema Kumari, also a resident of Kochi. “I will apologise to them, I'll tell them, take my life but please spare my daughter," said Prema Kumari. "Nimisha has a young daughter who needs her mother."

Despite the court’s decision, it will not be an easy journey for Prema, who will be accompanied by Samuel Jerome, an Indian who works as an airline CEO in Sanaa.

Given the circumstances, the Delhi High Court asked Nimisha's mother to file an affidavit stating that she is travelling at her own risk.

Sanaa is controlled by Houthi rebels, who, backed by Iran, are fighting against the Yemeni government, whose headquarters are in the southern city of Aden.

India does not recognise the Houthis. Prema and Samuel will have to fly to Aden and then face a journey of at least 12 hours by car to reach Sanaa and negotiate with Mahdi's family so that Nimisha gets a pardon.

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