Go back to the decade of the 1990s. It was the time when India inaugurated economic liberalization and a slogan called globalization began to capture the political imagination of the whole world. National boundaries have become blurred, economic integration and cross-border migration have gained momentum, as world leaders have bought the story of globalization before it even begins to play out.
Fast forward to the present day. As a result, globalization is no longer seen as the panacea it was 25-30 years ago and migration, previously seen as a desirable social process that supported the cause of a global community, is now viewed with apprehension and scared. What caused this 180 degree turn?
Before answering this question, let’s take a quick look at some numbers. According to one estimate, some 17 million Indians lived outside the country in 2017 and around 391,000 went abroad as unskilled migrants. According to the 2001 census, 259 million people have migrated from state to state and from village to village.
Every day, the country welcomes migrants into its fold while simultaneously seeing a flow of ethnic Indians move abroad to work or become citizens of the world. It is a typical cycle, although not necessarily vicious from the point of view of the emigrant – on the one hand, the desire to improve one’s economic lot provides the stimulus to emigrate and, on the other hand, the Financial capacity to emigrate provides mobility for the mover. The cross-border population movement promotes multiculturalism, stimulates economic growth and is also known to improve work ethics.
But there is the downside of migration. For starters, it has the potential to radically change the demography and culture of a nation, especially when the influx of foreigners is complemented by an exodus of the ethnic population. The other aspect, which has recently appeared due to the spread of the coronavirus, is the potential of the accepting nation to import diseases from abroad entering or returning from India. Everyone’s uncle will tell you that the coronavirus has spread from Chinese migrants to the populations of their host countries, and that the disease has spread to India due to the influx of Indians returning from India. foreigner and foreigners visiting the country. There is little argument against the theory that entrepreneurs, businesspeople, salaried employees and performing artists who travel to different parts of the world have greatly contributed to the spread of this disease in India. This is particularly true in the case of semi-skilled and unskilled Indian migrants returning from the Middle East.
The fallout from that is pretty obvious. The traditional reception given to those who returned from destinations inside and outside India has given way to much fear in particular, in cases where the returnee comes from the United States and Europe , or Mumbai, Pune and Kerala, where the Covid-19 infection is endemic.
Covid-19, in fact, seems to have sparked an older theory about HIV / AIDS that had made a deep inroads into the country through lower middle class migrants and the working poor. This segment has traditionally been treated with great disdain in big cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad, the wealthy sections considering them unclean and keeping them at more than one arm, although they have no qualms about use their work in their factories and homes. This problem is most visible in the larger metros like Mumbai, where austere lines have practically branched out of the city in the segment of poor slum dwellers, chawl and basti residents, and wealthier classes living in the towers.
However, the coronavirus is different from AIDS in that it has destroyed this great divide and made the wealthy sections understand that the disease is agnostic for economic status. Unlike AIDS, it is not largely limited to the poorest class, and that you could contract with as much, if not more, the ease of your neighbor or best friend than you could do with your maid or your factory hand. Suddenly, work colleagues and social circles have become the new untouchables, to use a particularly harsh term. You do not practice social distancing with your laundress or maid – you practice it with those of your gender and your stature.
One argument says that it is also out of context to believe that poor migrants are the main vectors of epidemics in the host country. Most often it is the opposite, and they contract illnesses in the country of destination and bring it home.
This state of mind is illustrated by a folk song popular among women in the villages of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, which says:Railya na Bairi, Jahajiya na bairi, Paisawa bairi na, Mor saiya ka bilmawe re paisawa bairi na” (Neither the rail nor the ship, only money is our enemy, to take our husbands to distant places for work).
The sum and the substance, however, is that if economic mobility adds to GDP and foreign exchange reserves, it also has negative effects in the form of epidemics that have the potential to cause large-scale destruction of humanity. . The silver lining, as history has shown, is that humanity has this remarkable potential to rise from the ashes and reinvent itself.
A friend from the district city of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, who was blocked due to the spread of the coronavirus, sums up this understanding of globalization very well with this wise advice: “ Save yourself from Bideshi and Pardeshi” Bideshi is the Hindi word for foreigner, although it also refers to the native who settled abroad or stayed there for consecutive years. Pardesi is the term used by North Indians to describe migrants seeking livelihoods in other countries.
Warning: the opinions expressed are personal. They do not reflect the views of Business Standard.