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Trapped in a nightmare, in search of dreams

Indians are soaring to distant lands in search of a better life. But things don’t always turn out as planned. HT takes a look at the migratory Indian.

india Updated: Apr 21, 2008 02:24 IST

A nurse in a US hospital, a teacher in a UK school, a mason at a Saudi Arabian building site, an engineer in Switzerland and a corpse in the snow-clad mountains of Slovakia.

Indians are everywhere, and have been for a while. An estimated 10 million Indians work abroad — that’s almost the size of Delhi’s population.

They hail mostly from Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. And they move to UAE, Saudi Arabia, US, UK, Kuwait, Oman and Canada.

There is a growing demand for Indian workers abroad, especially in countries whose people are ageing or don’t want to do certain kinds of work.

In 2007, they sent home a massive $27 billion (Rs 1.08 lakh crore), according to a World Bank study. That’s the biggest earnings by expatriates of any country, including China.

But if you dig deep, there are many untold tales — of false promises, poor pay, inhuman living conditions.

Since March, the Hindustan Times has been reporting about a group of 120 Indians in the US protesting bad living and working conditions at a shipbuilding facility in Mississippi.

Last week, HT reported about Indian workers in Kuwait who were held after they went on strike protesting that they are not being paid as much as promised.

Most protests die young; the strikers are out by the next flight home.

The ministry of overseas Indian affairs admits it is concerned by reports of abuse, cheating and fraud in manpower trade.

There is also a growing realisation that the government must do more – change laws, lobby hard with other countries to ensure our people don’t come to harm. For many Indians who go abroad the risks are high. But salaries are much better than what’s on offer locally.

The United States, for instance, is a major healthcare destination. It has an acute shortage of nursing staff – around one lakh workers as per an estimate. A nurse can earn around $5,000 a month (Rs 2 lakh) -- substantially more than any nurse can make in India. It comes as no surprise then that Indians continue to go abroad, undaunted by scary tales from the snow-clad mountains of Slovakia, a shipping yard in Mississippi or a construction site in Saudi Arabia.