WHEN ASWINI Kumar Nanda, project coordinator at the Centre for Research on Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) in Chandigarh, headed to Punjab’s villages to study migration patterns, he discovered just how much the state is besotted by foreign shores. Nanda says that of the 133 villages he visited across Punjab, he found only one (in Malwa) in which families did not have relatives living abroad.
“Migration to foreign countries has become a question of identity for Punjabis. It has become a status symbol,” says Nanda, who toured the villages for his study, Dynamics of International Out-Migration from Punjab, which he co-authored with INED Paris Project Coordinator Jacques Veron.
In a conversation with The Indian Express in the backdrop of the Panama boat capsize tragedy, Nanda on Tuesday said his data speaks volumes of Punjabis’ craze in chasing their dollar dreams. “Punjab is the only state in North India with a paradox: development leads to migration. Higher the land holdings, higher the migration among such families,” he said. His study has underlined that emigrants from Punjab are overwhelmingly non-poor (93 per cent) and largely belong to households in the top two wealth quintiles (approximately 75 percent)”.
“The main reason for this is that they can afford to go and there is a good support network in the country they want to go since someone from the family or friends are already there. In their pursuit, they also do not care if the country they are intending to go offers them enough opportunities to realise their dollar dreams. Even if the economy is doing badly, families back home in Punjab are not worried and are under the hope that things will improve some day. For them, it is a kind of investment,” Nanda said, adding that prospective immigrants overlook racial discrimination and even take up menial jobs abroad.
“They think that if they settle abroad, the future of next generation is secured,” said Nanda, whose study also pointed out that as many as 59 per cent of the international migrants from Punjab are low in educational attainment.
“But that does not mean that only unskilled persons are headed abroad. Doctors, teachers and those in in the IT sector from Punjab also nurture foreign dreams. A number of government employees have availed ex-India leave to go,” Nanda said.
He also dismisses the notion that unemployment in the state could be a driving factor for Punjabi youth looking towards foreign countries. “It is simplistic to say that unemployment is driving Punjab youth abroad. Had unemployment been the driving factor, Punjabis would have gone on to work in other states. But that is not the case,” Nanda says. “What adds to the urge of Punjabis to go abroad is the lifestyle of the person who returns. You can see these returnees wearing gold chains and other expensive items. This acts as a catalyst for others to chase the foreign dream,” he adds.
Lamenting the Panama tragedy, he said Punjabis are inherent risk takers. “This explains why they still want to go to trouble-torn countries in anticipation of work and good earnings. I remember when one of the researchers asked a family why they were sending people to a country with many problems. The family’s counter question to him was – You please only tell us how we can send our son there?” the CRRID researcher said.
He also slammed Punjab government for being oblivious to the issue. “The only thing government has been doing is organising programs like Parvasi Diwas. Such programs are only for the diaspora. The government should include the topic in question in the education curriculum. There is also the need to improve education standards, making youth skilled and creating backward and forward linkages so that they get ample opportunities here,” he added.
Former Professor of Sociology at Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), Professor Ranvinder Singh Sandhu, however, says factors driving Punjab youth abroad are the farming crisis, lack of education opportunities and unemployment.
“The aspirations of Punjabis are also very high. They are no longer ready to do any physical jobs here. Abroad, they are comparatively better paid for labour. Punjab faces a farming crisis. There is lack of good education opportunities. The state does not score any good in employment opportunities. All this mix drives Punjab youths abroad and ironically many times they are exploited by unscrupulous travel agents who push them to dangerous routes to go to foreign countries,” Sandhu said.
“Those who can manage to arrange money, try and if lucky land in foreign countries. Other such aspirants, who remain unsuccessful, get hooked to drugs. The scenario in Punjab is very disturbing,” he added.
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