Sunday, April 20, 2008

The dollar Machines

The classical dilemma of Indian immigrant workforce...

Salaam has been driving taxi in Dubai for more than a decade now. He drives the taxi for almost 12 hours a day and makes around AED 3500 per month. After meeting his own expenses he is left with around AED 2000, sends AED 1000 to his folks in Kerala and saves the rest. He is also getting his house constructed in Kerala, where he dreams of spending his post retirement life. He admits he is tired of living the life of a second-class citizen in a foreign country, far away from his family. He yearns to go back to India and take up the same profession which he is so good at – driving taxis. But he can’t, however much he may want to. Simply because his family and community back home would not permit him to drive a taxi as for them he is an NRI who makes ‘big’ money and that too in dollars. It is this social stigma that has literally forced him to stay back in the Gulf! His dilemma is such that he has to fend for himself in a foreign land with no help or consideration forthcoming neither from his own Government nor from his own family. And this is the story of not just Salaam, but of all those Naushads, Sulaimans and 6 million such drivers, technicians, plumbers, fitters and the likes, who are working in the entire GCC region.

According to a World Bank report, for the year 2007, India has topped the list of global recipient of remittances by clocking a staggering USD 27 billion, followed by China, Mexico, the Philippines and France. The main sources of these remittances are the rich nations of the world wherein the US tops the list with USD 42 billion of outflow and Saudi Arabia secures the second place with USD 15.6 billion. The report also states that the private current transfers had observed a growth of a whopping 30% for the first six months of 2007.

It is indeed unfortunate that the 5 million workforce in GCC and 20 million working elsewhere are at times subjected to inhuman living conditions, discriminatory behaviour and severe reprimand in terms of wage cuts. The situation has been such that the suicide rates among Indian workforce in regions like UAE are on the rise. There had been 70 odd cases in 2004 which went up to 84 and 100 in 2005 and 2006 respectively. These immigrant workers or ‘dollar machines’ as they are perceived in our country, under any circumstances have no reason to lead such miserable lives out there as they are bringing economic good for both the nations. They have been instrumental in a sustained flow of foreign exchange to the country and for the GCC, they bring in cheap source of labour which has helped them build a nation to reckon with, in an otherwise desert land.

It is not that the Indian government has done nothing. From time to time it has brought in interventions to secure the immigrant workers but then most of it remains on paper. When so many lives and so much forex it at stake, it is imperative for the government to negotiate hard with various governments to bring upon real time benefits for these workers. More than ‘dollar machines’, the likes of Salaams are the foot soldiers who are one of the major contributors to our national development!


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