“Monthly tax is not too much in Portugal,” says Satpal Gholiya, a small farmer in Gholpura village of Haryana’s Karnal district. His son, 29-year-old Kuldeep Singh, drives a taxi in Portugal and has Permanent Residency (PR) there. Seven of Gholiya’s nephews have also moved abroad.
“Two of them have gone to the USA, three to Germany and one each to Portugal, Greece and Spain. Three of my nephews are the only children of their parents, but they have chosen to move abroad,” he said.
Local residents say that several villages in Haryana’s Karnal, Kaithal and Panipat districts have seen increasing numbers of people, particularly youngsters, who have migrated abroad or intend to do so.
Residents of Gholpura estimate that around 130 youths from the village, which has a population of around 1,500, have already moved abroad.
Satpal Gholiya’s younger brother Suresh Kumar, the sarpanch of the village, says, “In the age group of 20-30, the craze to move abroad has grown fast in the past five years. After 10+2, the youth want to move abroad. They want to lead a comfortable life. If a family member goes abroad, this inspires the person’s relatives as well as others in the village. The reason is simple – agriculture has become a profession of losses, government jobs are almost negligible, and private jobs are also too few and pay inadequately.”
Taking into consideration the increasing fascination of the youth towards moving abroad, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, on April 30 this year, announced that the state government had set up an Overseas Placement Cell “to provide employment opportunities to the youth in foreign countries as well. A target has been set to send about 1 lakh youth abroad in the first year.”
Many of the youths who have gone abroad, or are preparing to do so, belong to the Ror community. The Ror-Marathas came to the region to fight the third battle of Panipat against Ahmad Shah Abdali’s forces in 1761. After the battle, they settled down in Panipat and neighbouring areas.
Vikas Mehla, a member of the community, explains why many are choosing to migrate abroad. “Sinking land holdings and lack of employment, coupled with better connectivity to Delhi because of the national highway (NH44), have helped push the youth towards fulfilling their dreams (by going abroad). Now, they send money to their families here to buy good cars and build good houses,” he said.
According to Mehla, in the Ror-dominated villages of Baldi, Kutail, Bastara, Dadupura Roran, Sultanpur, Shamgarh and Jhinjari, a member from almost every household has gone abroad.
Harvinder Singh Kalyan, a two-time BJP MLA from Gharaunda in Karnal and a member of the Ror community, says the increasing interest in the community towards moving abroad is a positive development. “Our children have aspirations of progress, and the developed countries, especially after the coronavirus pandemic, need a workforce. So, this is a win-win situation for all parties.”
School student Tanvay (13) has officially added a surname, Choudhary, to his name so as not to face any difficulties on that front in his bid to go abroad soon after passing class 12. “It’s my dream to go abroad, no matter what work I find there. All children of my age want to go abroad,” he said.
Tanvay’s father Sushil Kumar went to Greece four years ago and got PR there last year. “Every year, my father spends three-four months of winter with us in the village,” says Tanvay.
According to a farmer, Ramesh Gholiya, his younger brother Suresh (35) earns Rs 1.8 lakh per month by driving a taxi in Spain. Bhavya, a four-year-old in the Gholiya family, says, “I will go to the USA.”
Many in these villages are gearing up to write the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exams and the Pearson Test of English (PTE). Slogans in Hindi saying “Chalo Canada”, as well as posters and writings on the wall advertising IELTS and PTE coaching can be seen everywhere from the national highway to the small village streets.
Gholpura sarpanch Suresh Kumar says many in his village were inspired by the number of people who moved abroad from Kaithal’s Dherdu village.
According to Dherdu sarpanch Sewa Singh, more than 400 people from the village, which has a population of nearly 1,800, have migrated abroad.
“There is hardly anyone left in the village who is above 15… As many as five grandsons from my extended family have gone abroad in the past five years,” he said. His three daughters are settled in Australia. His only son, Devi Lal, just returned home after spending some months with his sisters in Australia.
Sewa Singh says, “Most of the farmer families have just 2-5 acres of land, which doesn’t give any profit to them. Due to unemployment, these families were finding it difficult to get their sons married here. They were forced to look for brides in other states. Now, they sell one acre of land here and send their sons or daughters abroad.”
Pointing to his big tractors and a swimming pool in his fields, he says, “The families whose members have gone abroad now have costly cars, like (Hyundai) Creta. Some have gone to Italy at the age of 15, and are both studying and working there. The trend of moving abroad has escalated in the past two years, with most of the youths moving to Australia and Canada.”
He says the history of people migrating abroad from the village started with a man named Jai Singh Golan, who had moved to Italy in 1965. According to Singh, Golan built a palatial house in the neighbouring town of Kurukshetra, where he stays whenever he returns to India.
The two sons of Vedpal Dahiya, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste and worked as a tailor in Dherdu, have also migrated abroad. Aman (26) and Vikas (25) moved to Australia. Aman cleared IELTS around 10 years ago after completing his school education, and moved abroad. Aman’s mother Dayawati (40) says, “It took Rs 12.5 lakh to send him there. I sold my gold and our plot, and took loans from every relative. We even took an advance to sell my house for Rs 2.5 lakh.”
However, she says, sending him to Australia was a good idea. “Soon after settling there, he started to send money to us. We have cleared all of our loans. We have withdrawn our decision to sell our house, too. Three years ago, my husband and I went to Australia for three months. One year ago, Aman got Permanent Residency and took his younger brother Vikas there.”
Aman’s father Vedpal says he no longer works as a tailor because his sons are sending enough money. “I feel no youths will be left in the neighbouring 100 villages in the coming 10 years as all of them would have left for foreign countries by then,” he predicts.
Those who could go abroad by legitimate means, have used the method popularly known as “donkey flights” to enter foreign countries, particularly the US. According to locals, illegal migration is a popular option among the youth of these Haryana villages, many of whom are well versed in the routes of the “donkey flights” – which refers to the method of getting to a foreign country via multiple stops.
However, such trips don’t always have happy endings. A 20-year-old from Dhanora Jatan in Kurukshetra district, Nitin Kumar died in Hungary while likely being taken to Austria by agents in October 2022. Sub-inspector Vinay Kumar, the inquiry officer in the case, had earlier told The Indian Express that the agents had plans to take Kumar to Austria via Dubai, Serbia and Hungary after a deal was agreed for Rs 12 lakh.
“Nitin Kumar was probably being taken via road in Hungary when he died. His postmortem took place in Hungary’s capital Budapest, and the cause of death has been stated to be suffocation.”
Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij recently said that cases of “kabootarbaazi” (human trafficking) are increasing in the state. “Earlier also I had formed an SIT headed by the then IGP Bharti Arora, which had arrested 589 people and curbed it. Now, the cases are coming again, so an SIT has been formed under IGP Sibas Kabiraj of Ambala Range, which includes SP of Ambala Jashnadeep Singh Randhawa and SP of Kaithal Abhishek Jorwal. The SIT has started functioning and has issued a toll free number – 8053003400 – on which people can register their complaints,” Vij said.
“People sell their land, jewellery, houses and give money to these “kabootarbaaz” (human traffickers) to go abroad, and these kabootarbaaz loot their hard earned money. All of this will be eliminated in Haryana,” the minister added.