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Why should a Keralite migrant in GCC vote.

by Rejimon K Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani and Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi with former Indian pacer S. Sreesanth, the BJP candidate for Thiruvananthapuram during a roadshow in Thiruvananthapuram, India, on Saturday. Photo - PTI

Keralites, the most politically energised south Indians -- who have selected a Communist front government some 60 years ago through ballot box -- will again be walking to the polling booths on May 16 to select their 14th government.

Development, sleaze, a 92-year-old Communist patriarch opening Facebook and Twitter accounts, a right-wing party ruling the centre and gifting a parliament seat to a film actor, eyeing opening accounts of current conditions in the state, the police groping in the dark over the murder of a woman, who was raped and the comparison of the state's infant mortality rate with Somalia, have been vigorously discussed not only in every nook and cranny of the state, but also in the region which has 2.7 million Keralites, fondly called Malabaris by the Arabs.

There were news reports that a few Malabaris in Kuwait plan to fly to Kerala on chartered flights to cast their votes.

From Oman, many Keralites have already gone to Kerala on 'emergency leave' to beat their political party drums in the poll campaign.

India being the biggest democratic country in the world and Kerala being a 100 per cent literate state, it is no surprise that Keralites do not mind to flying down to India to cast their vote, spending hundreds of dollars from their own pockets.

But are the Kerala migrants being hoodwinked by the politicians or have they failed themselves to recognise the issues and challenges they face as migrant workers? I think so.

If we leave aside the centuries-old trade ties between Kerala and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), it was at the end of the 1960s that Keralites started migrating to the land of petro dollars, braving the Arabian Sea, scorching sun in the deserts and hostile workplace conditions in search of a job.

However, even after six decades, nothing much has changed in the status of an ordinary Kerala migrant in the Gulf.

Of course, a few have found a place on the Forbes ' Richie rich list. But the remaining 90 per cent still face the same issues they faced when they came to the Gulf in boats at the beginning of the 70s and still struggle to make both ends meet.

During all the phases of migration, Kerala migrants are left alone to struggle without much protection or backing either from their central or state government.

As there is still no proper mechanism to ensure safe migration, potential migrants from Kerala are duped by crony recruitment agents during the first phase of migration itself.

Many fall into a debt trap by paying huge amounts of money to get a visa. Skilled workers, who look for a senior-level job in the GCC, may not be duped, but 90 per cent of the total Indian migrants fall into the unskilled category and are often cheated.

Interestingly, this is happening to Indian migrants, when even a small country, such as Nepal has implemented a free visa and ticket policy for its migrant workers. Coming to the second phase of migration, the time when a migrant worker lands in a foreign land, he is again left alone without much protection. A change in contract at the arrival point and related issues are the biggest challenges a migrant worker faces when he lands in a foreign land. At the most domestic workers, who are the biggest lot who migrate, are the most prone to violations.

As the government of India has failed to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was signed by the United Nations in 1990 and the International Labour Organisation's C189-Domestic Workers Convention, which will ensure better rights for domestic workers, it does not stand a strong chance to question any host country if they violate these rights.

The Philippines, which has ratified the above said conventions, has been able to successfully protect its citizens working abroad. During the third phase of migration, where an ordinary migrant worker returns to his home country, he is again back to square one. The World Bank said in a report that Indian migrants (mainly from GCC countries) remitted $70 billion in 2014, which is thrice the Foreign Direct Investment receipt.

When FDI companies and businessmen get a red carpet reception, ordinary returnee migrants are left stranded without many facilities to even begin a start-up business.

When it comes to voting rights for expat Indians, other than a philanthropist's initiative, none of the Indian political parties have shown much interest in pushing to get voting rights for migrant workers. And the philanthropist's efforts need more time to see light.

Each and every Keralite social and political organisation in the region has held discussions on why they should vote and whom should they vote for in the state election.

However, heated debates on the lack of safe migration, rights protection and better rehabilitation facilities for returnees are common. A majority of the debaters are not even aware of the issues.

Politically-energised Keralites often get carried away by trivial issues. Here in the region also, the same thing has happened. Keralite migrants have forgotten their needs and should discuss their issues and vote for the parties, which can fulfil their needs.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:May 14, 2016
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