Apr 27, 2012

The Great Exodus [117/365]

In Kerala, there are just two goals in life-
1) Go to the Gulf, try to make a ton of money (or not) come back to Kerala in about 5 years, build a huge house, and live off the land. Some enterprising 'Gulf returnees' might even start a business to compliment their former lifestyle in the Middle East.
2) A second and a newer goal which is in vogue with the younger generation would be to study until your masters and get a government job. Apply for a job overseas, take a long leave from your government job, work abroad for a few years while still on the government's payroll and then come back to apply for a voluntary retirement. 

There has been plenty of cultural references to how rosy a job and a life abroad is. Specially in the Middle East.
Among those who travel to find work in the Gulf, I find it humorous that men would marry and then live abroad separated from their wives for five to ten years before they return to India. It is painful even. Men who see their wives only every third year, and women who have to mother and nurture their children all by themselves. Much like a prison term interspersed with short periods of parole.

Infamously, Immigration agents sell the 'Gulf dream'. Ordinary Joes' and Jennys' earning in 7 figures, living in accommodation that is paid for, eating food that is subsidized, traveling in company transportation and getting to save and send all the rest back home to Kerala. This is a very enticing dream if it wasn't a nightmare.

Having born and brought up abroad, I've seen how millions of Indians live bordering the poverty line in tiny tin roofed, badly ventilated shanty homes outside all the glitz and glamor of the cities that they helped create.
Many Indians reach here after paying anywhere between Rs 1 and 2 lakhs (approx $3500) for a visa, only to end up doing menial jobs that they would normally never touch with a barge pole back home in Kerala.
Many of the immigrants have their travel documents seized by their 'sponsor' the day they land, end up as prisoners in an hostile country, unable to search for another job or return home.

Many are so badly treated by their 'masters' that it can be termed peacetime torture. Many of them suffer in silence while some fight back, in vain. Human rights activists are not a favorite class of people. Their human rights records are nothing to write home about.
A majority of them do get to return home. Their spirit and bodies broken. Yet, none of this really will deter the next wave of eager Gulf immigrants looking for that dinar - rupee conversion. Little they realize that what they actually earn puts them below the poverty line in their destination countries.
But then, how can you blame the 'candidate'?
Organized immigration syndicates are a powerful force to reckon with. In cahoots with the External Ministries and immigration officials, the rupee greases a lot of palms. 
The Arabs need cheap labor. One who can build modern cities of wonder and amazement while still making sure they won't have the power or clout to revolt or demand for better living conditions. It's a win-win situation.

While there are thousands of workers from the Subcontinent who are trapped in a vicious paradise that won't let them go, mainstream media and most Indians back home will never get to hear their cries for help.
Their fervent pleas are muffled by the rush of foreign exchange coming in. But on the rare occasion that one 'prisoner' is freed, I wonder how the situation of the 9999 immigrant workers who are still stuck, is going to change.

In a land where we fight a beleaguered country for justice, can we expect justice for all who need one too?
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