About this Blog

This blog is intended to provide a platform to initiate some discussion on Kerala diaspora . It is expected that more chaos will follow in many labour exporting societies across the world if the prevailing philosophy of increasing labour migration for development is not changed. You are requested to post any material related to the issue or initiate any discussion on any aspect of Kerala Diaspora .

2010, മാർച്ച് 13, ശനിയാഴ്‌ച

Return Migrants in Kerala

Global economic recession has accentuated the pace of the return migration from labour receiving countries. The policies of giving larger share of jobs for natives, abandonment of large scale construction, mega infrastructural projects and economic crisis in the oil industry have pushed the marginal and low paid migrant workers in many foreign countries, particularly Gulf countries to return to India temporarily or permanently. Retrenchment of many jobs, closing down of industries and sudden changes in the immigration rules are expected to increase the rate of return migration.

The complexities involved with the “return migrant” in labour sending societies are multifold. Firstly the return migrant will suddenly become an unwanted guest within the home which s/he created through decades of hard work. Sudden drain of remittances will push the return migrant and the family to economic jeopardy. The economic dependence, which the family developed over a long period of time, will force the return migrant to engage in quick money making activities or borrowing to meet the demands of the family. Once such efforts fails, the comforts given by the remittance economy with its never ending consumerist hunger will translate into quarrels, which otherwise eliminate the fragile peace that exists within the families. Kerala being the state with largest number of suicides, alcoholism and reported cases of mental illness, the return migration will further complicate the social life.

The Government, the single largest beneficiary of the migrant remittances has no credible plans either to rehabilitate the return migrants or to use their skills. The utilisation of capital has been restricted to few areas of human activities such as acquiring gold ornaments, construction of houses and investing in private bankers and stocks which offer security and higher returns. The lack of imaginative plans for the utilisation of capital and skills will end up in speedy drying up of the savings of the return migrants which will force them to migrate again. Thus the return migrant will soon become prospective migrant and cycles of migration and displacement continues.

The urbanization of the land at the expense of agriculture and lack of development of secondary sectors of economy in state like Kerala hardly provides any avenue for finding employment within the state. The return migrant comes back with international exposure and technical skills have no avenue to use his / her skills. The young generation groomed for migration through an education system also offers stiff competition in the migrant labour market. Thus the return migrant would be confronted with great difficulties in getting the same job back or acquiring new one after remigration in the previous destination or new place. By this time the return migrant will well past the age and the competitive edge the young people have in the labour market will become determinable for their survival

During the self imposed exile or during the working years abroad the migrants develop multiple levels of anarchical attitudes towards sex, caste, religion and many other social issues and identities . The sex ratio among men and women in the migrant communities of Gulf countries are abysmally low. It is variedly estimated that for 10 men there is only one woman. The able bodied young men and women who are physically separated in their barracks or living quarters have to live for years without ever having even the smell of opposite sex. The easy availability of pornography and illicit alcohol even in the migrant labour markets of orthodox societies such as Saudi Arabia further contributes to the perversity of the mind of the migrants. These young men and women formulate unreal and sometimes dangerous levels of mental attitudes towards opposite sex. Considering the fact that lack of healthy sex life during the young years of a person can contribute to under development of the mind will soon contribute to social anarchy. Thus it would be important to understand the link between return migration and sexual violence in Kerala.

When the return migrant realize that she/he has to eventually get out again, will use the brief period of his/her stay at home to show off their “achievement” by lavishly spend their savings on many unwanted and wasteful expenses. Many times this appears as a kind of psychological revenge they take against those who treated him/her badly during their pre departure days. This “vengeance” blinds the return migrant to the social reality and engages them in wasteful spending and may lead to violence.

The general atmosphere in Kerala favours out migration. The whole purpose of getting education is to get a job somewhere outside Kerala to live peacefully and comfortably. To some extend this peace and comfort are achievable for those who migrate to other states in India or western nations where land can be purchased and can attain equal citizenship rights. Whereas in the case of Gulf countries such peace and hope does not exist as the large majority of migrant laborers are in a state of limbo as far as the immigration rules are concerned where they can never purchase land or become citizens with equal civil rights. This perpetual insecurity on the part of migrant labourers in Gulf countries force them to build houses with maximum possible amenities within Kerala for which they even borrow huge money. Also debt accumulates for meeting wasteful luxuries in marriages, temple church and mosque building and festivals. Once the borrowings reach a point of no return the migrant labour either voluntarily gave up life or become part of quick money making industries of the underworld. The linkages between return migrants from Gulf and underworld mafia in Kerala are a pointer to be seriously probed. .

The migrant labourers in Gulf, because of their inability to settle down, keep strict vigil about their identities such as caste religion, political association etc. From countless village level community organisations to branches of left extremist groups, there are hundreds of such organisations exist in Gulf countries. These migrant labourers fed by television channels and newspapers also contribute to this regionalism. In Gulf countries large majority of migrant labourers are living in ethnic enclaves where they engage themselves in a kind of self denial about other communities. The laws of restrictions pertaining to free movement of the migrant labourers also contribute to the formation of ghettos that would not allow them to reach out to other communities who are also facing similar hardships. The way in which migrant labourers are physically controlled in these Gulf countries, reminiscent of the colonial ways of labour control, contribute to the growth different kinds of parochialism about caste, religion, language, nation and other identities all of which are self serving and fanatical. Thus even after international exposure, the migrant labour in Gulf countries are actually living in their own Ghettos of artificial identity. The return migrant, largely cut off from the reality back home, comes back with all kinds of deprivation and loneliness suddenly finds themselves in a society which is entirely different from what s/he dreamt of. Thus the return migrant who is unable to cope up with this change feels that home doesn’t belong to them and develops an attitude of denials and again make attempts to escape.

The migrant labour communities across the world are forced to lower their prices because of the competition in the labour market In Gulf and South East Asian countries the migrant labourers from Kerala are pitted against their competitors from other labour exporting societies of Bangladesh, Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka etc. This excess of labour or glut in the labour market , a factor of advantage for the employers and recruitment industry will push the social development in the labour sending nations to create more and more migrant labourers even when there are no real demands exist in the market. This situation will work as a major factor against the migrant labourer’s bargaining power in the labour market and will force them to sell their work at cheaper rates. Also the aviation, petroleum, automobile and other industries encourage more migration for their profits thus create cycles of migration. So the return migrant in Kerala will become part of global migrant labour community who is always on move not by choice but by design.

Internal Migration to Kerala

One of the most striking features of the labour market within Kerala in the past decade is the increasing presence of migrant workers from other states of India and neighboring country of Nepal . Kerala being the largest supplier of global migrant workers in the world also seem to be the destination point of many migrant workers from economically poor regions. These migrant workers, single as well as families can be seen engaged in skilled, semi skilled and unskilled jobs. These migrants are being recruited not only in the major infrastructural projects such as port and harbour, railways etc., but have a strong presence in traditional occupational categories as labourers and helpers in agricultural sector, masonry, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, hotel and domestic works.

The pull factors in Kerala to become a major destination point of these migrant workers are many. Firstly the relative economic affluence that Kerala society presently has, due its migrant remittances, contributed to relative high living standards. The development of Kerala in many social spheres attracts migrants from poor regions where the animosity against them is relatively low.

The large scale migration of skilled workers from Kerala migrating to Gulf and other rich countries have created a severe shortage of labour in almost all spheres and demand for workers in many essential services are growing. The middle class and neo rich Keralites mainly return migrants and their dependents prefer migrant workers than natives due to the relatively less problems migrants creates during the working hours. The wage structures in Kerala in many sectors of employment are much higher than other parts of India. Thus a migrant labour is preferred than natives even for domestic help where the “troubles” of trade unionism doesn’t exist.

A cursory glance at the demographic character of this internal migration reveals that majority of them are from agrarian background. Landless farmers, agricultural labourers, marginal farmers who have lost their livelihood on account of globalised agricultural practices form bulk of this migrant group.

One of the major migrant groups presently working in Kerala are the labourers from the hilly districts of Northern Bengal. The major factor for their migration is the closure or abandonment of tea plantations. It is argued by observers that the in the past decade the owners of these closed and abandoned plantations pledged the plantation land as collateral security to raise huge finance from public financial institution. Instead of investing on the plantation they diverted the capital to other more profitable industries such as IT, construction, capital market etc leaving behind the plantation to decay.

The employees in the tea plantations were one of the best protected labourers in India. The enactment of plantation Act by Government of India ensured them with decent wages, health care, insurance and proper education facilities for their children. With the diversion of the capital and eventual closing down or abandonment of the plantation all these labourers became job less and lost the minimum facilities guaranteed by the system. Years of poverty forced them to migrate to other states such as Kerala

The observers argue that though this migration appears as voluntary it is actually executed through an elaborate network of recruitment agencies who operate in the poverty stricken area which according to them is the best “catchments zone”. In many cases advance money has been paid to the family of the migrant much before they depart their homes . The cost for travel and other incidental expense are also being met by the agents. Once arrive in Kerala they are being allocated to the construction site or work place. In most of the cases shared accommodation with several inmates in small room with own cooking facilities are the living conditions of the migrant workers.

Due to language factor the migrant labour keeps away from direct communications with native people. Also the recruitment system appears to have close links with construction and real estate mafia and under world operatives.


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