Pravasi Bharatiya Divas jamborees in the capital may make news, but it is the small pravasi’s contribution to the country that is rarely celebrated. Kerala’s 25 lakh migrants pump in a whopping Rs 26,000 crore into the country every year. As a result, at least one-fourth of Kerala’s unemployed are able to get by.
There are five lakh Indians in Kuwait and 15 lakh in Dubai, the majority of whom are Malayalis. Most of them send their earnings back home as they do not have the right to invest in the Gulf. Further, irrespective of the number of years they stay there, they are not entitled to citizenship. The bulk of them are from the labour class which explains why they do not get the attention that the educated creamy layer which goes to the West and the US does.
Gulf jobs have been a lifesaver in a high unemployment state like Kerala. Interestingly, the standard of living in the households of the unemployed with a relative in the Gulf was better than in those in which members were employed in the rest of the country. But there has been little appreciation of these migrants in India. They face governmental apathy and general indifference from society. "But, we aren’t bothered on this count. We have to toil in alien lands to support our dependents. At times we really feel we are neither here nor there", says Ahmed Kutty Haji, on vacation from Saudi Arabia.
On the Pravasi Divas meet, Kutty says, "Instead of spending crores on such functions, first let them take a country-wise census of migrants. Neither the state government nor the Centre has any idea how many of them are abroad." Agrees Pravasi Bandhu Trust chairman KV Shamsuddin. "The remittance of middle and lower income workers from the Gulf are major contributors to local economies and they comprise the largest segment of the NRIs. But their issues are always neglected," he complains.
One major problem is that of women workers from Kerala being duped by touts who lure them to the Gulf with promises of lucrative jobs.
However, according to Non-Resident Keralite Affairs secretary Jiji Thompson, the state government has finalised a number of programmes for the welfare of migrants.
(With inputs from Sweta Ramanujam, Mumbai)