Migration: Escape from Poverty

By Prabhakar Timble
20 October 2011 07:49 IST

International, intra-national, inter-state and intra-state migration is as old as the hills. Apart from the minor stimulus of novelty, adventure and quality of life, the major reasons for migration is to break the vicious circle of poverty, deprivation and the lack of opportunities. Despite the losses: of identity, of agreeable neighbourhood and of security in an unknown land, migration has proved to be the golden choice for people to find answer to unemployment, economic exploitation and unproductive life at home.

France, Germany, Canada, USA, Britain, Australia and the Gulf world have millions of migrants. Each one of this nation accounts for nearly 15% of foreign workers in their labour force. Millions of Indians have migrated to the rest of the world. It is estimated that Goans migrated to other States of India and other parts of the world is around 25% of its population. The migration still and will continue. Immigration into this tiny State is also a regular phenomenon. Rough estimates suggest that migrants account for 20% of Goa’s population.

Escape from equilibrium of joblessness

Migration is good for the families and children of those who migrate and those who remain behind. All those who move, better their position. They contribute to the economic development of the regions to which they migrate. They solve their personal problem of absolute poverty and also of those who remain at home since they turn productive and are no longer a burden on their home family as unproductive consumers. This is a natural remedy discovered by the poor without waiting for the government to implement alleviation programmes for them. Migration is a vehicle independent of the government to answer the problem of dispossession and denial of minimum levels of living.

Many including governments and planners look at migrants as guest workers. Locals consider them as trespassers and fit to be thrown out once their economic utility gets completed. This is due to poor understanding of facts and hence not a valid proposition. The migrants come with families and merge with the local population. As time matures, their children join schools, they become citizens, voters, adopt the language of the locals, participate in their cultural exchange, social fiestas and though initially face rejection, later get fully integrated with locals. At a later stage, their children and grand-children are not available for the same occupations for which the families migrated initially. Their children refuse to work at construction sites or in sweated factories or in municipal services. The economy needs the first generation unskilled and semi-skilled workers once again.  After passage of time, these initial migrants look with suspicion and distrust the new migrants who enter as labour.

Stop migrants, halt development

It is true that migrants do not get the credit they rightfully deserve as economy boosters. Europeans do not hold the Asian workers in equal esteem. President Barack Obama speaks unkindly about immigrants. They are painted as job thieves.  ‘Amchi Mumbai’ fanatics terrorise the migrants from Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Telgu and Kannada speaking belts. Bengaluru locals cry hoarse only for Kannadigas. Goa also is a witness to such intermittent eruptions and more so during the election season.

This is because of our failure to see the larger picture. First of all, migration and immigration is inevitable. At the most, it can be considered as a need of development or a sin of underdevelopment. If we boot out migrants, the real estate and construction industry will definitely come to a grinding halt. Hotels will have to be closed. Factories would suffer. The same will be the situation in hospitals, nursing homes and municipal services. Fruits, vegetables, fish and essential goods would be in a sparse supply.

The contribution of the migrant population in terms of purchasing power along with the high propensity to consume also sustains self-employment, entrepreneurship and small business enterprise of the locals. This informal and unorganised economy will be in doldrums if the slice of the migrants is sucked from the population cake.

Migration has social and economic impact on home State and also the receiving State. There is a resource and brain drain from the home State. But, what could be done if the home State planning process is totally unconcerned about the brain drain? The skilled, trained and educated human power is solving the challenge of opportunities on their own through migration. In-migration is associated with pressures on land, civic amenities, social  and cultural stress due to influx.

Guns at migrants is perverseness

Let us understand the perceived costs of migration. What is clearly professed is social disturbance and conflict due to the threat perception to identity and culture. This should not be blown out of proportions because acculturation i.e. a change in the cultural behaviour through contact with another culture is also a happening event. Taking Goa as an example, the immigrants of the 80s and 90s could be the neo-Goans of the future. I am speaking of the work force which served the requirements of Goa. Their children have taken education in local institutions, made Goa as their home, learnt the local language and danced side by side to the cultural tunes with the local children of their age. They are treated as “outsiders” in the State of their parent’s birth.

As a contrast to this, statistics shows that majority of the (“niz goemkars”) locals fear for the future of their children and demand a foreign tongue supported by government funding even at the primary level. Many of us think of earning our bread outside the shores of India. We love to use this freedom of choice on behalf of our children before their birth. There is nothing wrong in this since I believe there is nothing wrong in migration for better opportunities.

The second threat perception is that the available employment opportunities are grabbed by migrants. This also needs to be examined against the facts. Employment is not fixed and a static concept. In fact, migration increases opportunities of employment and entrepreneurship. The third issue arises because of the pride of the home State since it is perceived that migration measures the failure of the State to take care of its people. There is also a guilt feeling amongst the migrants for having left the native land. This is natural and can be true if the decisions are not planned and voluntary.

People welcome international and interregional flights of capital. However, with movement of human capital or resources we do not seem to be relaxed. The threat from capital which has captured Goa’s coastline, land resources in the hinterlands and politics of the State would probably be irreparable. In our luxury to “live in the past” and pontificate about the “good old days”, we label the migrants as vote banks, hunt them as outsiders and treat them as unwanted.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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