Migration’s Underbelly

Frying thin banana slices in a pan of boiling oil, our family servant, in our ancestral home in Trivandrum, Srija, cannot control her excitement. The smile that has made itself permanent on her coconut-tinged skin, says it all. Her husband has called her to the ‘Gulf’, as he claims to have secured a ‘big money-job’ in a ‘big sir’s company’. Equipped with nothing but the most basic form of literacy (being able to read and write her name) and her bare hands, she secures her hopes on a foreign country.

Lured by the scent of ‘good work and big house’, she dreams of a future adorned with flowing cash, with which she can educate her sons, aged 4 and 6 and send ‘big money’ home, to her aging parents in a village in Idukki, Kerala, similar to her rich uncle, who is a contractor in a construction firm in the Gulf ,and, whose foreign-made gifts to her children, keep luring her to give up the job of a family servant and follow her uncle’s footsteps abroad.

When asked about how she plans to set foot abroad, she informs me about her neighbour who is arranging for a visa but at a price which she quite obviously cannot afford. However, she is quick to add that it is just the initial investment which is high, and that she plans to take some loans from her friends and from the local moneylender. Her neighbor has promised her that all of this will be recovered, within hardly two months in the Gulf, she confidently states.

This is one of the thousands of stories that one hears in places like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where the number of workers migrating to the Gulf in search of a better life is humungous.However, little do these semi-literate workers know that a work visa is mandatory, to enter into any profession abroad. The recent case of 300 workers, being left jobless in Kuwait, reflects the underbelly of this migration-business that is causing immense labour displacement and unemployment in the concerned countries. Misguided and fooled by the allure of money, workers fall into the contractor-trap, completely unaware that foreigners require work permits, granted by the Ministry of Labour of the country and are only limited to certain sectors. The law governing the oil industry provides for a forty hour work week, over time pay, and thirty days annual leave. Women are even promised equal pay for equal work.

Contractors, often acquire lump sums from these workers, guarantee them a job and do a vanishing act immediately, out in the search of their next victims. Swindled by contractors, they end up helpless in an unknown nation, as a result of which, many resort appealing to another branch of equally unscrupulous agents, who guarantee a fake passport and an illegal wok visa, for an exorbitant price. Hence, these people are then left perpetually scavenging for money, lost in the dreary cycle of debt, loss, unemployment and poverty.

Of late, the government of India has taken certain initiatives to spread awareness among the masses, warning them against such practices, through mass-communication. However, going by media reports and migration figures, such efforts are increasingly futile against this business that has grown to be a multi-headed monster, causing immense plight in many countries. The best preventive measure would be to provide fruitful employment in our own country. However, this is possible only on a long-term basis, and will take years for realization in India. In the meanwhile, implementations of stricter labour laws, firm action against these merciless intermediaries, among other measures,, are some steps that could be taken to protect migratory laborers.

Neha Bhat


[Image Source: http://flickr.com/photos/sookie/218191651/]