17 not Required Indians

Bertha Journalism


Soniya Kirpalani


Production support

Went to Good Pitch


Short Synopsis

In April 2010, 17 Indian migrant workers were sentenced to death for the murder of one man in the UAE. But for the fact that family members pressured both the Indian and UAE governments for a fair trial, the men would have ended their lives as statistics for the death penalty. In following the families struggling for justice, director Soniya Kirpalani reveals the tragic plight of Indian migrants overseas. Following the brothers of one of the accused as they collect proof of his innocence, we are lead into an unseen world of migrant abuse. Through the trial, the Embassy’s defence team and human rights lawyers reveal how Indian politics and corruption obstruct the possibility of a fair trial for Indian migrant workers. In the making of this film, justice was secured for all 17 men.

Long Synopsis

April 2010 United Arab Emirates, 17 men are given the death sentence for the murder of one man. Their case would have been just another statistics, but for a few family members who garnered support from local media and human rights lawyers, to pressure both governments into an appeal. This case becomes the litmus test for UAE, a nation where 80% expatriates live under the diktats of 20% Emiratis.

Following Ranjeet Kaur fighting to save her husband Dharmpal’s life and Piarelal fight for his son, reveals the situation of Indian migrant families when the men go missing. Inequality, poverty, unemployment leads to a rush for overseas employment; most migrants sell their lands to buy ‘employment visas’; these men are trapped in illegal employment nets –enslaved from the moment they land overseas. Unable to return home, many go missing, leaving their families desperate.

Realizing their strength of numbers, these 17 families get the support of local media and Human Rights Lawyer Navkiran Singh. Researching Singh uncovers the Embassy’s darkest secret- over 1700 Indians languish in UAE jails - almost 200 of them on death row. Demanding a fair trial, seeking accountability, they pressure the Indian Embassy into appointing a defense team and launching an appeal process. But when Singh questions the treatment of the workers in Court, the Indian Consul gets him barred from UAE courts. 

Disheartened by the progress of their Legal Team, two brothers of the accused, Arjinder and Dharmendra return to UAE and start collecting proof of their innocence. Following them with our camera takes us into dark labor camps, ripping the façade, revealing blatant labor abuse. Finding conclusive proof, getting witnesses to prove the innocence of these men, the brothers hand it over to the Defense Teams. The case tilts in favor of the 17 accused, with no DNA proof, no eye-witness; UAE’s CID unable to prove its case the Defense Team seems confident of a victory.

But in a strange twist of events, the Defense teams doesn’t file defense or proof; when questioned they reveal the under-currents of political corruption miring their case. Bindu Chettur, the legal head, goes on record, accusing socio-political parties of buying ‘justice for money. S P Oberoi a local political aspirant uses a clause from the Shariya Law, to entice the victim’s family into taking a ‘Blood Money Compromise’ -an out of court settlement. This derails the fair trial, forcing the 17accused to accept ‘Guilt’. Though this grants them the Court’s clemency, it marks the 17men as ‘Murderers’.

Paying USD$1 Million Compromise SP Oberio appears before press like a messiah. The callous handling of the case by the Indian Embassy highlights the desperate situation of migrant workers in absence of proper representation overseas. Especially when a few days later, Oberoi goes on Punjab TV, demanding a ‘punishment fee’ from 17 families; insisting they sell home, lands or jewels to pay him.

Forced into a corner these 17 families have no option but to do his bidding. One rash move by the Indian Embassy of supporting S P Oberio’s bid to meddle with the fair trial marks the innocent men as criminals, compromising their dignity, leaving them at Oberoi’s mercy. Following the trial of these men, through - Human Rights & Defense Teams - with unrivaled access to 17 families, we reveal the horror of an Indian Migrant Worker’s life, when they are unrepresented and unprotected by their own Embassy in foreign lands.

Returning to India, Harjinder Singh (one of the 17 men) asks ‘Why did the Embassy and their lawyers not put in the proof of our innocence? Why did we Compromise an innocent man’s dignity is a question that lingers. Shot in HD & 5D the film has I min reconstruction of original crime and most of the dialogue is in first person.