Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, India’s extremely history-conscious national poet, would surely have composed more stanzas akin to this touching one: “He khoniker otithi, ele probhate kare chahiya, jhora shefali potho bahiya” (O my guest-in-transition, how does one perceive the early morning search for the fallen shefali flower, looking so helpless at its predestined path) — thereby catching the eternally varying mood, colour and ambience of the 17.5 million strong Indian diaspora, spread worldwide, as reported by the International Organisation for Migration in its Global Migration Report 2020.
The interesting part of this, however, is that Indians are global toppers on two counts. First, India is the largest country-of-origin of global migrants, with 17.5 million living abroad, followed by Mexico’s 11.8 million and 10.7 million Chinese. And second, these 17.5 million Indian migrants remit $78.6 billion to their country of origin; followed by the Chinese ($67.4 billion) and Mexicans ($35.7 billion).
The figure to note is this $78.6 billion remittance, that clearly shows how much India’s economy gains in bridging though partially the wide $184 billion foreign trade-origin current account deficit. The migration of India’s 17.5 million abroad, therefore, owes to economics, and the prospect of a better life and a better standard of living.
There are three main factors which make individuals leave their homes and hearth. First, natural calamity: like drought, flood, fire and earthquake. Second, owing to man-made violence or bloodshed, like war or civil war, which leads to unavoidable and inevitable mass-scale forced migration. In 1947, the partitioned Independence of India is one such instance. Third, overseas economic prospects, beyond one’s own shoreline. During British times, the preferred and convenient destination for Indian fortune seekers was Southeast Asia, especially (then) Burma and Singapore, as the door to the West was virtually shut for native Indians. There, however, could be a fourth factor: adventure; which constituted a prelude to the “migration” of Western imperialists to rule over the four As — Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa.
Before that, however, it was teaching, preaching ideologues, military, missionaries and machine-guns that did the squabbling weak in. The use of force, as usual, emerged as the ultimate instrument for subjugation. As it happened in the 15th and the 16th century when adventurers like Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Magellan forcibly threw open the doors of America, Asia and Australia for their monarchs to send representatives like traders/financiers, followed by flag-bearing fighters with swords. Argentina to Australia, Aden to Afghanistan, Canton to Calcutta, Madagascar to Macao, Surat to Shanghai and Hong Kong to Alexandria fell under the Western powers and the settlement of their ruling class.
That said, the fundamentals of contemporary migration, however, appear to be turning into a heavy mixture of the economics of empire with the emotion and fear of extinction as can be seen in some parts of the globe, in which India is also included. Who migrates? Why? How? Where? When? With what consequences?
The world today appears to have woken up to an “existential” threat of the “migration” issue, with several semantics. “Immigration”, “immigrant”, “infiltration”, “refugee”, “asylum seekers”, “silent invaders”. All used as psychologically effective terms to defend and justify as alibis to take stock of the situational awareness across the globe, wherein the four most affected continents are Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. The different reasons for different situations notwithstanding, the defining moment of “immigration or migration”, however, today emanates from slogans of the “economics of invaders” and the “existential threat to the indigenous”, without doubt.
Take the 17.5 million Indian diaspora. Isn’t it a fact that virtually all went abroad for better economic prospects? And some to make the lives of their families back home much better? Indeed, if one broadly categorises the types of migration by Indians, what emerges is that a large chunk of those going to study in the West tends to stay back either permanently or for the long term. Those going to the African countries, on the other hand, consist of businessmen, industrial entrepreneurs, white collar as well as blue collar workers in resource-rich nations from Libya to Nigeria to South Africa. Their number isn’t small. In Europe, Britain remains the preferred destination for study, business, jobs and settlement. A shared language is inherently a strong bond and advantage. However, hitherto non-preferred and unexplored nations like Germany, France, Spain, Sweden and the Balkans too now attract Indians.
The destination which continues to be the most powerful magnet of all nevertheless is the United States, whether under Donald Trump or any other President. President Donald Trump or no Trump. Any US university, good or bad, is in the eyes of ordinary, innocent and gullible Indians, is “one of the best universities” of the US, or indeed the world. America remains “the land of opportunities” for most Indians. Hence, this “American craze” recently led to several cases of expulsion of sizeable numbers of Indian illegal immigrants.
Nearer home, Middle Eastern/West Asian countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Qatar and the adjoining states still attract India’s labour, service personnel, infotech experts, engineers and entrepreneurs. Traders doing import and export too constitute a big chunk. Nevertheless, the country to be watched is China, with special reference to import and export — rather more of import from China than the other way around. Hordes of Indian traders reportedly are found in wholesale markets of Chinese cities, with some fortune seekers in desperate search of, and access to, the matrimonial market for smoother business and closer bonding leading to higher profits, despite a yawning gap in linguistic competence.
Beyond Asia, Australia and New Zealand are two attractive destinations for migration no doubt; but dark clouds have started gathering across the globe in race relations. What the reasons are remain a complicated and puzzling issue, but one thing is certain. Migration for any diaspora, Indian or non-Indian in South Asia, is bound to emerge as more complex and turbulent in the days to come.
One of the main reasons for this, this writer believes, is the population boom in all major South Asian countries. Countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan are undergoing demographic booms, even today, thereby leading to the supply-demand mismatch from land, water, resources to food items. There also are significant loopholes, included in which is the traditional factor of corruption, across South Asia. The polity, “money” and “illegal migration” have been the norm for rather too long; supplemented by a hopelessly unbridgeable Bangladesh border in the east and the “legal migration” through the “open border” of the landlocked state of Nepal.