Punjab's Italian connection

My brother and I were booked to travel on a Virgin Atlantic flight on March 17. We got out of our car and headed for the Terminal 3 gates - and as it always happens, my father got waylaid by Punjabi youth travelling abroad to earn a better living. My brother and I study at a boarding school in the US. Every Delhi airport departure/arrival is the same for our family - with my father meeting a multitude of young, unskilled Punjabis headed out of the country to earn a decent living and send money to their families back in the village.

The difference now is that most of these youth are not going to the UK or Canada. They are going to Italy.

The night before our departure, TV news channels were crying hoarse about the Italian marines, who had been allowed by the Indian Supreme Court to go to Italy to vote and how the Italian government had informed India that they would not be returning to face trial.

Columnist Shobhaa De commented, "Gelatos may soon replace kulfis, and Parmesan and Mozzarella have more takers here (in India) than the humble paneer." Another columnist Meghnad Desai said that India should cancel all import orders to Italy and suspend visas for Italian businessmen.

There are 141,000 registered Indians living in the northern regions of Italy. Counting irregular immigrants, the number is estimated to be 190,000. Indian immigrants to Italy mainly hail from two states -- 80% from Punjab and 20% from Kerala. Italy now has the second largest Indian population in Europe after the UK. Within Italy, the largest Indian population is found in Lombardia (Milan is its capital). Most people from Punjab work in the agriculture sector and dairy farms.

So here we were at the airport where swarms of Punjabis were headed for Italy and I could recall every news channel and newspaper screaming how dare Italy and even hinting at a possible Sonia Gandhi connection. Of all the TV news commentators and opinion pieces in newspapers, not one expressed concern about the 190,000 Indians living and working in Italy dependent on those wages. So when Desai wrote about cancelling visas of Italian businessmen in India, I hope he knew there are only 700-1,000 Italians living in India and half of them are Christian missionaries. Even if they were sent back, they'd not starve but what about the 190,000 Indians in Italy if they were asked to leave?

Also, Ms De, it's not about designer stuff by Dolce or Armani but about survival, it's about access to basic education and health care. Most Indians have not heard of (singer Luciano) Pavarotti.

Now that the Italians have sent the marines back to India, we must introspect. The law of the land must prevail but next time let us temper our reaction with responsibility. Let us not forget the large Indian population employed in Italy because we failed to provide them jobs back home.


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