The super-wealthy Arab emirate of Dubai -- already notorious for its love of bizarre, vulgar, self-indulgent buildings and construction projects -- is planning to build a huge replica of the famed Taj Mahal, the very symbol of India.
Dubai -- a tiny nation that already boasts such monstrosities as the Burj Dubai (tallest man-made structure on Earth) and the Al-Maktoum International Airport (the largest commuter hub in the world) -- seeks to spend a cool $1 billion to construct something called the Taj Arabia, which will be much larger than the 17th-centiry original 1,400 miles to the east in Agra, India.
The replica will actually comprise a complex that will feature a 300-room hotel, stores and other commercial buildings. Most improbably, the complex will also include replicas of other world-famous structures like the Pyramids of Egypt, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China and Leaning Tower of Pisa.
(The original Taj Mahal is essentially just a tomb dedicated to Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved third wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jehan.)
Developer Arun Mehra (who is of Indian descent himself) said the complex will be finished by 2014 and will also be known as the New City of Love, according to BBC.
Mehra, chairman of Link Global Group, a UAE-based real estate and energy firm, said in a statement: "The new project ... is built around the Taj Mahal, which is a symbol of love and will include various facilities to encapsulate the beauty of life, love and romance mixed with the long-established Mughal architecture."
However, Dubai’s apparent veneration for the legendary Indian mausoleum stands in stark contrast to its treatment of migrant workers who originated in the Indian subcontinent. Like the remainder of the UAE, Dubai has attracted hundreds of thousands of workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who toil long hours at low pay to help build the magnificent skyscrapers that have transformed a once-sleepy Arab coastal village into a glistening, super-modern fantasy land.
So many South Asians and others have arrived in the UAE that they now account for 90 percent of the workforce and a majority of the population. They send tens of billions of dollars of remittances home to their impoverished families.
But theirs is not a happy lot.
In fact, the building of the aforementioned Burj Khalifa and the Maktoum Airport involved strikes by South Asian migrant workers who complained about their poor wages and terrible work conditions -- most of them were subsequently arrested and deported.
Human Rights Watch assessed the grim situation of South Asian migrant workers in the UAE.
“Despite their value to both their home countries and the societies in which they work, many migrant workers suffer from discrimination, exploitation and abuse,” HRW said in a report.
“Migrants, including large numbers of women employed as domestic servants, face intimidation and violence, including sexual assault, at the hands of employers, supervisors, sponsors and police and security forces.”
HRW also lamented that “sponsors and employers often confiscate migrants' documents, including passports and residence permits, restricting their freedom of movement and ability to report mistreatment. Migrants in the Gulf states typically can't obtain an exit visa without the approval of their sponsor or employer, sometimes placing them in situations that amount to forced labor.”
It is doubtful that any of these migrant workers will be able to afford to stay at the Taj Arabia anytime soon.