Migration case study: Is labor migration changing the landscape in Kerala?
AAG Center for Global Geography Education

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Learning Objectives

 

At the completion of this case study, you will be able to:

1. Describe patterns of labour migration and associated economic, demographic, and socio-cultural changes in Kerala.

2. Understand the role of local and global economies in the flows of migrants to and from Kerala, from the past to the present.

3. Explain and analyze the types of changes to the landscape – cultural, ideological, material – we see in multiple destinations as a result of these migration patterns from Kerala.

4. Evaluate and critique the vulnerabilities and sustainability of a remittance-based economy such as Kerala's in fostering long-term development.

 

 

Introduction

 

In the Conceptual Framework for this module, you were introduced to migration as well as to different types of migrants. India has experienced all these forms of internal and international migration. As one of the most typical spatial flows, labor migration can be considered as part of long-term movements as well as temporary movements and is an important way for us to understand contemporary as well as historical flows of people, goods, cultures, and economies across the world. In this case study you will examine the global phenomenon of labor migration through a series of lessons, activities, and reflections that will ask you to engage in a comparative analysis of these patterns of movement. We will use the case of Kerala, a state in the western part of India, as the key focus for our examination. In each section of the case study, you will be introduced to particular topics concerning labor migration from Kerala, primarily over the course of the 20th century, including both the history and contemporary patterns of movement, transnational practices through which migrants are connected to both old and new homes, the spatial impact of their presence (in terms of influences including food, language, architecture and religion), and finally both the benefits and costs of building a subnational economy that is based in large part on remittances.

 

Kerala is an illustrative example through which we can examine these broad global migration dynamics in a local context. The state has a long history of labor migration, as you will learn, and has a strong reputation for achieving many human development goals including high levels of education, health, and civic engagement, as well as urbanization. Many communities in Kerala have had considerable experience of both sending emigrants abroad and seeing first hand the effects of return migration (or maintaining transnational ties). At the same time, Kerala has found itself at different moments vulnerable to the effects of global trends, such as political conflicts and economic downturns. It is an excellent site, therefore, through which we may see how labor migration operates, how it has changed over time, and to predict what some of its changing circumstances might mean for other regions that adopt similar strategies.

Activity 1: Database Review

1. Click here to go to access the UNDP Human Development Report interactive map of migration data (based on 2009 figures).

2. Click on the "Migration flows and stocks" tab.

3. Select India and Mexico (two well-known labor migrant sending countries) and the United States (a well-known migrant labor receiving country) and examine the available figures on migration from each of them.

4. Look at each of the three sets of data available (socio-demographic and economic indicators as well as migration flows and stocks) and pay particular attention to what information might be important for you to know when examining the question of labor migration.

5. After reviewing this data, take the following quiz from the UNDP available here.

 

Pause and Reflect 1:

What kinds of images and ideas come to mind when you think of 'the migrant'?

Have your perceptions changed after examining the migration data from the UNDP?

Do you have different impressions if we use the word "labor migrant" or "immigrant" or "refugee"?

 

Activity 2: Video Clips

Click on the links below to view some personal stories from labor migrants on why they have had to move for work.

 

Pause and Reflect 2:

This set of stories presents some sense of the vulnerabilities and risks faced by migrant workers in many different parts of the world, moving for different reasons and in very different contexts.

Given the hardships and challenges presented in these narratives, why do you think people continue to undertake these arduous journeys?

In what ways do you think the international community and national governments should treat these migrants?

What sorts of regulation should there be regarding such flows?

What kinds of protections might you suggest be put into place to safeguard the lives of migrants?

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Suggested citation: Bose, P.S., Chacko, E., Morgan, S., and Shekhar, S. 2010. Migration case study: Is labor migration changing the landscape of Kerala? In Solem, M., Klein, P., Muñiz-Solari, O., and Ray, W., eds., AAG Center for Global Geography Education. Available from http://globalgeography.aag.org.

 

Kerala and Migrant Labor

 

Different Waves of Migration from India

It is important to understand five distinct waves of migration from Kerala, and how each of these patterns has influenced the state's social and political process. Kerala has a history of over 2,300 years of exposure to different cultures through maritime trade.

1. The first generation of migrants from India during the early-20th century consisted of semi-skilled or quasi-professional workers going externally to present day Sri Lanka, parts of Malaysia and Burma, as well as internally migrating to cities in British India such as Madras, Calcutta, Karachi and Bombay.

2. The second wave of migration after the Second World War was to Singapore, Malaysia and different parts of India – to large cities such as Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, and Bangalore. Most of the people who migrated during the second wave, from 1945 to 1960, were high-school-educated, semi-skilled workers (typists, secretaries, office workers, and army personnel).

3. The third wave of migrants, from 1960 to 1975, consisted of people with technical skills and professional training (technology professionals, nurses, clerks, technicians, etc.).

4. The fourth wave, from 1975 to 1992 (until the First Gulf War), represented mass migrations to the Persian Gulf, the United States, Germany and other countries in Europe and elsewhere. The increasing demand for nurses in the health sector prompted a chain of migration to countries such as the US and Germany. One nurse was possibly responsible for the migration of an average of 20 people.

5. The fifth wave of migration (1993 onwards) had two or three streams. These included:

a. The relatively large migration of semi-skilled and unskilled labor from northern parts of Kerala, particularly Malappuram and Kannur;

b. Immigration of highly qualified professionals (engineers, doctors, IT experts, academics) to various parts of Europe, US, and other parts of the world;

c. Increasing emigration to the US by the family networks of nurses who migrated to the US and Europe during the fourth wave of migration in the 1980s.

Activity 3: Mapping Migrant Flows

1. On a world map, use different colors to show the five waves of migration from Kerala discussed above. Click here to download a map from NatGeoEd.org.

2. Use Google Earth or an atlas to locate the countries of destination from Kerala and explore the possible route followed by the migrants.

3. Review these five sets of migration flows.

4. Do you observe any common patterns or themes?

5. Are there significant differences between these flows, not only in terms of their time period but also in terms of their geographical footprints, regional connections or any other markers?

 

Post-1975 Migration of Indian Labor to the Gulf

Although Indians occupied clerical and technical positions of oil companies in the Gulf after oil was discovered in the region during the 1930s, the overall numbers were still small. Between 1948 and the early 1970s, these numbers gradually increased from about 1,400 to 40,000. When large-scale development activities started following the 1973 increase in oil prices in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE, an upsurge in the flow of workers and laborers began from India to the Gulf. India and Pakistan supplied most of such unskilled labor, registering almost 200 percent growth between 1970 and 1975. In 1975, Indian expatriates constituted 39.1 percent, Pakistanis 58.1 percent, and other Asians 2.8 percent of the total non–Arab emigrants in the Gulf. Since then, Indian migration has overtaken that of Pakistan and other Asian countries of origin. Further, since the Kuwait war of 1990–91, Indians have replaced even the non–national Arabs in the Gulf (such as Jordanians, Yemenis, Palestinians and Egyptians). From less than 258,000 in 1975, the migrant Indian population in the Gulf went up to 3.318 million in 2001 (Table 1a and 1b), which is now estimated to have crossed 3.5 million (Goud, 2012).

Country

1975

1979

1983

1987

1991

2001

Saudi Arabia

34,500

100,000

270,000

380,000

600,000

1,500,000

United Arab Emirates

107,500

152,000

250,000

225,000

400,000

950,000

Oman

38,500

60,000

100,000

184,000

220,000

312,000

Kuwait

32,105

65,000

115,000

100,000

88,000

295,000

Qatar

27,800

30,000

40,000

50,000

75,000

131,000

Bahrain

17,250

26,000

30,000

77,000

100,000

130,000

Total:

257,655

433,000

805,000

1,016,000

1,483,000

3,318,000

Table 1a. Indian Migrant Population in Gulf Countries

Source: Rahman (1999) and Rajan (2004)

 

Kerala_Figure1.png

Figure 1. Total Indian Migrant Population in Gulf Countries

Source: Rahman (1999) and Rajan (2004)

 

Admission to the GCC countries was not as difficult prior to the mid–1970s, but thereafter restrictions have been imposed by the host countries due to the fear of rapid growth of the non–national population. Thus it has been difficult for families to accompany the non–national workers to these countries, particularly unskilled contract workers.

 

Countries

Population

Persons of Indian Origin

Non-Resident Indians

% Age of Population

Bahrain

643,000

0

130,000

20.22

Iraq

23,000,000

50

60

Insignificant

Kuwait

2,254,000

1,000

294,000

12.80

Libya

5,800,000

400

12,000

Insignificant

Oman

2,300,000

1,000

311,000

13.52

Qatar

525,000

1,000

130,000

23.81

Saudi Arabia

21,500,000

0

1,500,000

6.90

United Arab Emirates

2,900,000

50,000

900,000

30.00

Yemen

7,676,000

100,000

9,000

0.62

Table 1b. The Indian Diaspora in the Gulf Countries

Source: Report of High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora

Division of Labor

A shortage of labor has long been prevalent in all the countries of the Persian Gulf, for an entire range of work – from professionals like doctors and nurses, engineers, architects, accountants and managers, to semi–skilled workers like craftsmen, drivers, artisans, and other technical workers, to unskilled laborers in construction sites, farmlands, livestock ranches, shops and stores and households.

 

A shortage of labor has long been prevalent in all the countries of the Persian Gulf, for an entire range of work – from professionals like doctors and nurses, engineers, architects, accountants and managers, to semi–skilled workers like craftsmen, drivers, artisans, and other technical workers, to unskilled laborers in construction sites, farmlands, livestock ranches, shops and stores and households. A large majority – some 70% – of the Indian migrants in the Gulf has been comprised of semi–skilled and unskilled workers, the rest being white–collar workers and professionals. Table 2 presents their occupational distribution till after the outbreak of the First Gulf War in August 1990. The fall in numbers in 1991–92 is directly related to the control by Government of India in issuing emigration clearance in the year following the Gulf War in 1990–91 when large numbers of Indians were evacuated from the Gulf by the Government of India. However, the classification more or less resumed although some changes might have taken place due to the demand tilting more towards skilled professionals as infrastructure development progressed in the Gulf. On the supply side, Indian government's monitoring and control of labor migration has been to streamline the process of emigration to some extent, increasingly in the last couple of years.

Category

1987-88

1989-90

1991-92

Laborer/Helper

91,196

58,779

17,345

Housemaid/Houseboy

891

0

1,938

Mason

8,550

8,913

246

Cook

3,550

2,070

239

Tailor

5,115

3,722

163

Salesman

1,580

4,121

147

Carpenter

6,361

6,939

145

Technician

3,539

3,389

136

Driver

6,562

6,724

131

Electrician

3,494

4,496

112

Mechanic (incl Air Cond)

3,562

3,263

111

Agriculturer

0

0

108

Painter

2,273

1,867

65

Office staff

3,916

1,385

56

Welder

1,497

3,272

55

Operator

1,309

1,342

39

Plumber

1,971

2,047

33

Foreman

927

983

30

Fixer/Fabricator

1,904

2,827

29

Supervisor

1,021

1,069

21

Paramedical Staff

1,349

434

18

Engineering Overseer

354

248

13

Surveyer

461

218

12

Fitters

0

0

0

Others

18,284

2,565

3,074

Total

169,666

120,673

24,266

Table 2: Unskilled and Semi-skilled Labor by Occupation

Source: Various annual reports of Ministry of Labour, GOI, cited in Rajan (2003)

 

Generally speaking, the Indian migrant communities in the Gulf maintain close contacts with their kith and kin in India, involving frequent home visits. They also keep track of political developments and socio–economic changes taking place in India through newspapers, radio and television. At times of natural disasters like earthquake in India, they have also come forward with donations, and deposits in India Development Bonds.

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Kerala and Contemporary Flows

Kerala.png

Figure 2. Location of Kerala State, India

Source: Richard Hinton

 

Migration from Kerala

The majority of overseas Indian workers (OIWs) come mainly from the three states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, though Karnataka overtook Andhra Pradesh by a big margin in 2005 (Table 3). However, most of them have originated from Kerala. This had led to the establishment of a separate ministry for non–resident Keralites, and international airports at Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi.

 

Some of the other states having a sizeable number of total labor emigrants to Gulf are Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan. The emigration clearance data gives an underestimate of Keralite worker migration to the Gulf because a person holding a graduate degree is exempt from emigration clearance, and the number of such graduates is very high among the Kerala migrants to the Gulf. Compared to the rest of India, Kerala contributed an average of 25% of emigrants in the 21st century, down from an average of 35% in the 20th century. In other words, one out of every three or four Indians living in Gulf has been a Keralite. A preceding study conducted in 1998–99 had concluded that migration had provided the single most dynamic factor in the otherwise dismal scenario of Kerala in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In Kerala, some scholars have argued that migration has contributed more to poverty alleviation than any other factor including agrarian reforms, trade union activities and social welfare legislation (Zachariah and Irudayarajan, 2008a).

 

State

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

Kerala

155,208

154,407

165,629

167,325

156,102

91,720

60,445

Tamil Nadu

70,313

70,525

65,737

64,991

63,672

69,793

47,402

Andhra Pradesh

35,578

34,508

30,284

29,995

38,278

30,599

18,983

Maharashtra

35,428

32,178

26,312

25,214

25,146

24,657

9,871

Karnataka

34,380

32,266

33,496

33,761

40,396

11,535

5,287

Rajasthan

25,243

27,418

28,374

18,221

28,242

19,824

9,809

Punjab

14,212

12,445

11,852

11,751

12,414

26,876

15,167

Others

68,156

61,638

53,650

62,956

52,174

80,160

32,588

Total

438,338

425,385

415,334

414,214

416,424

355,164

199,552

Table 3. Workers Granted Emigration Clearance of Government of India by Major Indian States, 1993-2005

Source: Various annual reports of Ministry of Labour, Government of India

 

According to a recent survey from the Kerala Statistical Institute, Trivandrum, international migration has remained absolutely stationary during 2003-07 (Zachariah, Irudaya Rajan, 2007). The number of emigrants had been 1.84 million in 2003; it was 1.85 million in 2007. The number of return emigrants had been 890,000 in 2003; it was the same in 2007 also. The number of non-resident Keralites had been 2.73 million in 2003; it was 2.74 million in 2007 also. Migration rates, however, experienced some significant decline.

 

The emigration rate declined from 26.7 per 100 households in 2003 to 24.5 per 100 households in 2007. The corresponding decline in return emigration rate has been from 13.0 per 100 households to 11.7 per 100 households. The rate of non-resident Keralites (NRKs) per 100 households declined from 39.7 to 36.2.

 

The proportion of Kerala households with an NRK each in them has remained more or less at the same level as in 2007; it had been in 2003, 25.8 percent. Three-fourths of the Kerala households are yet to send out migrants outside India. And this situation has not undergone any change in recent years. Gulf migration from Kerala is not as widespread among Kerala households as it is often depicted to be in the media (Rajan and Zachariah 2010).

 

Spatial and Socio-Cultural Patterns of Kerala Migration

Some important trends to keep in mind when considering contemporary migration in Kerala:

 

Migration to Southeast Asian Countries

The table 4 facilitates comparison of India labor's migration to the Gulf countries against an increasing flow to Malaysia in south–east Asia, a country which has overtaken at least five of the seven countries of the Gulf in recent years.

 

Destination Country

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

United Arab Emirates

55,099

53,673

95,034

143,804

175,262

194,412

Saudi Arabia

58,722

78,048

99,453

121,431

123,522

99,879

Kuwait

31,082

39,751

4,859

54,434

52,064

39,124

Oman

15,155

30,985

41,209

36,816

33,275

40,931

Bahrain

15,909

16,382

20,807

24,778

22,980

30,060

Qatar

n.a.

13,829

12,596

14,251

15,325

50,222

Jordan

n.a.

n.a.

n.a.

n.a.

2,576

1,851

Malaysia

4,615

6,131

10,512

26,898

31,464

71,041

Other, including

ocean island countries

62,600

39,865

83,193

44,044

17,492

21,333

Total:

243,182

278,664

367,663

466,456

474,960

548,853

Table 4. Indian Migrants to Gulf and South-East Asian Countries

Source: Compiled from GOI Annual reports 2004-05 and 2005-06. Overseas Indian, vol.1, no.4. April 2006.  

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Transnational Practices of Non-Resident Keralites

 

 Labor migrants and transnationalism

As page 9 of the Conceptual Framework notes, transnationalism theory posits that contemporary immigrants maintain transnational connections to their countries of origin and beyond. Those who travel abroad for work have, like so many other migrants, continued to maintain strong ties with their countries of origin. There are many reasons for keeping such connections active. In some cases the migration may be temporary – the work may be on a short-term contract, seasonal, or perhaps cyclical in nature. The migrant may in such a case either expect or desire to return to their former homes, which makes it only natural to maintain their connections. In other situations, the migrant worker is actively engaged with their place of origin while residing in a foreign country. There are multiple ways in which such engagements can occur.

 

Economic Involvements

Perhaps the most well known way in which labor migrants remain connected to their former homes is through sending back money in the form of remittances. Indeed, remittances are today one of the largest flows of money in the world, rivaling global oil sales in sheer numbers (MPI, 2012). The two world regions that currently see the largest interchange of workers and remittances are Latin America/US and Persian Gulf/South Asia. It is often difficult to calculate the precise amounts of money that are sent back as remittances each year because the practice can be extremely informal. While some foreign workers may transmit money through banks, money-transfer services (such as Western Union) or other official sources, the majority of remittances are transferred in ways that are not easily detectible. This may include simply carrying cash back home in a suitcase or using unofficial money brokers and lenders. The majority of funds go to families and friends, though many national governments are actively trying to convince their overseas workers to put their remittances towards more productive uses in things like development projects and businesses (Levitt and De La Hesa, 2003; Ley, 2004).  

Photo1.jpg

Image credit: P. Bose

 

A much smaller, though notable form of transnational economic practice includes investments and business ventures. For some overseas groups – such as the Chinese diaspora – the latter have been especially successful (though this is more in the case of trade-related migration rather than labor migration). Increasingly, however, some labor migrants are putting their money into investment schemes, government bonds and funds and development projects at the national, regional, local and even neighborhood levels.

 

In the case of Kerala, remittances are often popularly called "Gulf Money" and have been described by the state government as "the most dynamic contribution to the economy of the State", while labor migrants are described as "very high contributors" to that same economy. Indeed, Kerala is highly dependent on remittances to help support a much more affluent lifestyle than many other Indian states – the total remittances sent home by foreign workers was in 2011 some four times the state's entire domestic product (Zachariah and Irudayarajan, 2012). Other forms of economic impact of Non-Resident Keralites (NRK) include financial savings, real estate and business investments, and new home construction, in addition to creating business networks and developing financial expertise (Zachariah and Irudayarajan, 2008b).

 

Political Entanglements

The long distance nationalism practiced by many migrants abroad has a long history. Such politics might include supporting particular political parties and movements, helping to fund dissident organizations, or providing moral support for marginalized groups, all from afar. Labor migrants have not always had the time or resources to engage in such political activism, though there are notable examples like the Ghadr Party (a radical nationalist organization based in the western US committed to liberating India from the British in the early 20th century) and M.K. Gandhi's work in South Africa with the descendants of indentured and trade migrants there (Prashad, 2000).

 

In Kerala, the political impact of labor migrants overseas has been felt not only in party politics but more crucially in regional development as a whole. Indeed, the so-called 'Kerala model of development' – focused on achieving high levels of growth in quality of life indicators (such as literacy, infant mortality rates, and civic engagement) and addressing issues of land reform – has been considerably dependent on the influx of remittances over the past half-century. These inflows have also kept unemployment relatively low within the state and decreased poverty while at the same time increasing the industrialization and consumer culture of Kerala (Pani and Jafar, 2010; Singh, 2011).

 

Cultural Influences

The interaction between labor migrants and their home and host families have led to major impacts on the landscape as described in the previous section. What labor migrants send (or bring) back with them often has profound influence on a number of local developments, such as hybrid forms of music, dance, art, popular culture, cuisine, and architectural forms.

Muscat Tower in Ernakulam_sm.jpg

Sharja Shakes in Cochin_sm.jpg

Home of Yusuf Ali who made millions as a businessman in the Middle East_sm.jpg

Muscat Tower in Ernakulam

Sharja Shakes in Cochin

Home of Yusuf Ali who made millions as a businessman in the Middle East

Within Kerala the influences of the labor migrants can be seen in the use of Arabic words and names in the local culture. Examples include the naming of office buildings (Muscat Tower) and food (Sharjah shake) as well as the construction of large homes by successful labor migrants who returned from the Middle East to Kerala.

Images credit: Thomas Chacko

 

Within Kerala the influences of the labor migrants can be seen in many of the examples demonstrated in the previous section.

Activity 4: Remittance Patterns

1. Click here to visit the World Bank website with data on migration and remittance data from 2011.

2. Examine and compare India and Mexico (two of the major remittance-sending countries).

3. Identify common patterns and trends that you notice regarding the money that workers send back home.

4. Why do you think labor migrants send so much of their money informally back to former or original homes?

5. What are some of the reasons that they might be reluctant to use regular channels such as banks and money-lending businesses?

 

Activity 5: Exploring Norka-Roots

1. Click here to visit the website for Norka-Roots, an organization established by the state government of Kerala to listen to the needs of Non-Resident Keralites in multiple locations.

2. Review the website to learn what services are offered by Norka-Roots.

3. What do you see as the positive and negative aspects of long-distance connections between labor migrants and both their new and old homes?

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Migrants and Transforming Landscapes

As people settle into a new area, they change the cultural landscape. These effects are reflected in religion, architecture, food and language.

Religion

The state of Kerala has a very diverse religious makeup. Its principal religions are Hinduism (52%), Islam (25%) and Christianity (19%) (Census of India, 2010). Earliest outmigration from Kerala to the Gulf countries was dominated by Christians, but now nearly half of the emigrants to the Gulf region are Muslims. However, many Hindus are among migrants to the Gulf region. There are various experiences regarding the difficulty of Hindu Keralites to practice their faith in the predominate Muslim environments. For example, although there is a significant Hindu population in Saudi Arabia, legally, Hindus are not permitted to worship there as religious freedom is very strict. In fact, non-Muslim propagation is banned and conversion from Islam to another religion is punishable by death. In Qatar, Hindus do not operate as freely as Christian congregations; however, there has been no official effort to interfere with adherents in the private practice of their religion.

 

The estimated Hindu population in the Gulf States is shown in Table 5. The total population of Hindus in the Gulf States is 2.7 million.

Country

Hindu total

Saudi Arabia

500,000

United Arab Emirates

450,000

Oman 

300,000

Kuwait

200,000

Bahrain

100,000 

Qatar

90,000

Yemen

6,000

Table 5. Estimated Hindu Population in the Gulf States

Source: U.S. Department of State (2011)

 

Pause and Reflect 3:

What roles do Indian migrant workers play in Gulf societies?

Are migrant workers having – or will they have in the long run – a significant cultural impact on the Islamic Gulf countries?

Despite awareness of the lack of full religious freedom of Indian Hindus, why have the governments of sending and host countries failed to extend and impose protections?

How or when will circumstances change, and what role can human rights groups like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch play in this process?

 

Architecture

The most noticeable architectural influence of Keralite immigration on the Gulf region's landscape is religious structures. Hindu temples have been constructed in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Because all forms of non-Muslim worship are banned in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, there are no Hindu temples in these countries.

Activity 6: Exploring Norka-Roots

1. Click here to view an image of a Hindu temple in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

2. Search Google images for Hindu temples in India.

3. How are these temples different from the Dubai temple shown above?

4. Consider the religious cultures of both Islam (predominant in Oman) and Hinduism and explain why you think the structures look different in both cultures.

Food

The cuisine in the Gulf States has been influenced heavily by the Indian diaspora. Hundreds of years of trade and cultural exchange have resulted in significant influence on both cultures. One of the most notable influences of Indian culture on the Gulf region is the use of the Tandoor in cooking. More recently, however, the large influx of Indian expatriates into the Gulf region brought with it several cultural impacts related to food. There has been a large increase in the number of Indian restaurants and hotels that have been created in order to cater to the growing Indian population. These restaurants have influenced local cuisines.

 

Language

Indian languages have also had an effect on the cultural landscape of Gulf regions. These impacts can be seen in radio, newspapers, and television. Bahrain recently launched its first all-Indian radio channel. This channel claims to be different than other Indian radio channels in the Gulf region because it will broadcast in several Indian languages including Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil. Malayalam is a daily newspaper that was founded in Kerala in 1987 (Malayalam is a language spoken predominately in Kerala; it is also Kerala's official language). It has 9 Gulf editions entitled Gulf Madhyamam in the Middle East. Gulf Madhyamam is the oldest and largest Malayalam-language newspaper in the Middle East, with highest number of editions in the Gulf countries than any other daily in the Middle East. Additionally, Indian languages have become part of Gulf culture due to Indian television (Thussu, 2005).

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Possibilities and Challenges: The development potential of a remittance economy

 

Benefits

The Gulf region is the most preferred destination for labor migrants from Kerala, with over 2 million working in the region, particularly in countries such as the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman. The migrants work in a variety of occupations ranging from construction to high-skill professional services. These migrants are 'guest workers', who are expected to return to Kerala after the completion of their contracts, which typically last two to five years. Unlike countries such as the United States and Canada, the Gulf countries offer little scope either for family migration and unification or for permanent residency and citizenship.

Vulnerabilities

Kerala's heavy reliance on remittances makes it highly vulnerable to economic and political shocks that could result in job cuts and resulting losses of revenues. The vulnerability of Kerala's economy to such shocks has been documented. In 1990, Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait and soon after, the First Gulf War broke out. Thousands of guest workers based in Kuwait, including those from Kerala fled the country and returned home. This unexpected influx of returning migrants was a dual problem for Kerala, which was suddenly deprived of remittances from its citizens in Kuwait and also had to take care of the returnees, who did not know if and when they would be able to return to their jobs in the Gulf country. The first Gulf War ended in 1991 and many of the migrants returned to the Gulf countries, but during the period of the war, the Kerala economy was adversely affected. In 2008, the global economic recession accelerated the pace of the return migration from labor receiving countries. Migrant flows to these countries have also fallen off since the beginning of the global financial crisis, which also affected the Gulf region unfavorably. Abandonment of large scale construction and infrastructural projects and economic crisis in the oil industry have pushed low paid migrant workers, particularly those in the Gulf countries to return to India temporarily or permanently. The unskilled migrants themselves are vulnerable due to unscrupulous middlemen who assure them good jobs in the Middle East in exchange for large sums of money, but sometimes don't deliver on this promise. Some employers in the Gulf countries are also known to not pay the migrant worker the wages that they are owed. As employers of low-skilled workers usually hold on to the migrants' passports until they return to their home country, this also places the migrant laborer in a vulnerable position. Economists predict that as the Middle Eastern labor market gets saturated, the flows of labor migrants from Kerala and hence remittances will decline and the state's economy will suffer. Although optimists argue that the Gulf has survived past crises like the Iraq-Kuwait war and that the migration of labor from Kerala has kept up, a remittance-based economy may be unsustainable for Kerala in the long run.

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