Millennium Post

Migratory woes of bottom rungs

The ongoing civil war in Iraq has highlighted a crucial but neglected aspect of the global economic and political churn: the deplorably sorry plight of the migrant workers, especially those of South Asian/Indian origin. Millions of Indian wage labourers in the Gulf nations suffer daily abuse, but our government prefers to be a lame duck and do nothing to ensure their rights are respected. With Sunni militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) now wreaking havoc in the region, the government’s push to evacuate the Indians trapped there and bring them home has only reminded us of the hidden perils of international migration. Though some Indian nationals have returned from Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad, Basra, there are hundreds others who are still entangled in the war-like situation, becoming unwitting targets of a sectarian battle waged in the name of religious freedom. There are thousands of nurses, domestic helps, drivers, construction workers and others of Indian origin who remain in Tikrit, Samarra, Mosul – all felled by ISIS and sites of bitter war between the armed forces and the jihadists. But this overt crisis is only the tip of a much larger berg of exploitation and prejudice, systematically practiced by every regime in almost every country, especially the Gulf nations, but also in the West. What the Devyani Khobragade episode had cast a harsh light on was how unethically and inhumanly the maids and domestic helps are treated in the most developed countries by none other than their own compatriots belonging to the upper classes. The story of global migration, therefore, becomes one of a global class war, where the poor, irrespective of their countries of origin, continue to be underpaid and undervalued.

   There needs to be an immediate assessment of how the ministry of external affairs spends the hundreds of crores allocated to it to ensure good diplomatic relations with other governments and whether the money is spent only on funding unnecessary and frequent first-class travels and luxury hotel stays of politicians, bureaucrats and other who’s who of society. We need to know what fraction of wealth goes to ensure rights of Indians working as low-wage labourers in First World countries or Gulf nations, the part of the world that’s sitting on petrodollars and engineering devastating and endless wars. Not just India, but governments of all the SAARC countries should come together to form a global forum on the rights and privileges of their outstation nationals, whether highly-skilled, low-skilled or unskilled, who send huge remittances to the tune of thousands of crores every year and prop up a sagging economy during fallow fiscals. In this pyramid of global economic hierarchies, the bottom rung is always occupied by the marginalised men and women from developing countries, who face unbearably inconsiderate working conditions and inordinate hostility (racial, linguistic, classist, gendered), but, as far as India is concerned, could very well comprise the 30th state in terms of population and financial contribution to our economy.                
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