At the time of drought, a distressed farmer often deserts his cattle unable to provide fodder and water. That some 10,000 Indian workers are starving in the Middle East after being laid off by their employers amid an economic downturn is not surprising, as they are not viewed any differently from cattle in the region.
Even at the best of times, workers from India, and for that matter the sub-continent, live sub-human lives. Treated more like indentured labour, the life they lead is hard; earning even a modicum of respect from their employers is harder.
The root problem of their misery lies in their “devalued” identity. India may be a nuclear power, an emerging economic powerhouse, a land of million opportunities that’s shaped success stories such as Satya Nadella and Indra Nooyi. But in the Middle East, India remains a country associated with blighted lives not worth any premium.
Indians – rich or poor, well-placed executives or low-paid workers – face the harsh realities day in and day out. For those in well paying jobs in the Gulf, life is cool despite the sweltering heat. Tax free money allows for cushy comforts and frequent continental trips. But even they have to compromise when it comes to dignity.
At queues in government offices - be it immigration or the health centres - being Indian is a liability. You are often made to wait longer and spoken to when the turn comes harshly. Even at your own workplace, one is made to feel cheap. You could be someone senior in the organisational hierarchy, but yet cannot bring your aged parents for a visit. Your fair-skinned Western expat subordinate can, even if they are 100 plus.
The differential treatment plays out at public spaces on a daily basis and horror stories keep piling up. A chartered accountant who hasn’t been able to visit India in the last five years since his employer would not grant him an exit visa. Or a doctor who hasn’t seen his young wife ever since both went to attend a wedding at a local sheikh’s family. The wife entered through the gate designated for women and never turned up on the other side, leaving the doctor to keep waiting at the gate meant for men.
Middle East is great as long as the going is good. But things can go horribly wrong all of a sudden, if you find yourself at the wrong side of law, or someone locally influential.
There are instances of Indians being jailed or deported for overtaking someone powerful on the road. Or for picking up an innocuous fight with someone influential at the shopping mall. Their Indian passports do not have the power to bail them out of sticky spots, as an American or a British passport does.
Middle East is an ideal place to make quick legitimate money. But if one wishes to also have a first-rate life of dignity and respect, that’s perhaps chasing a mirage.
The writer spent over a decade in the Gulf. Views expressed are personal.