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It estimated that India had the highest number of international migrants in the world; 18 million Indians were living abroad despite Covid-19 induced travel restrictions in 2021. The UN body estimated that 10 million Indians migrated between 2000 and 2010. But the numbers, enormous as they are, do not tell the whole story.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

The 2022 World Migration Report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs released last year had brought out the fact that Indians are migrating from their country in droves.

It estimated that India had the highest number of international migrants in the world; 18 million Indians were living abroad despite Covid-19 induced travel restrictions in 2021. The UN body estimated that 10 million Indians migrated between 2000 and 2010. But the numbers, enormous as they are, do not tell the whole story.

The pattern of emigration may also provide an insight into its causes. For, there is a clear class-caste divide in the two broad kinds of international migration from India. First, there are those categorised as unskilled and/or semi-skilled workers hailing from economically weaker sections of Indian society who move mainly to West Asian countries.

In the second category are students and professionals from more privileged socio-economic backgrounds who make a beeline for developed, capitalist countries in Europe, North America, and Australasia. The trend observed by experts is that upper caste or ‘General Category’ Indians comprise an overwhelming majority of those migrating to the West, while backward caste or ‘Reserved Category’ Indians have moved to the Gulf and form the bulk of the unskilled/semiskilled labour force of countries in the region.

What is common to both categories of emigrants, however, is the remittances they send back to India, thereby enabling their families in the home country to prosper, albeit this trend is much more pronounced among those from lower income and lesser privileged backgrounds.

The tragedy for India is that 75 years after Independence the desperation of its citizens to leave the country is so acute that despite a scarcity of resources, loans are routinely taken from a plethora of institutional and non-institutional sources, land alienated in one way or the other, and jewellery, farm equipment or livestock sold to cover the substantial cost of emigration.

Often, the costs incurred by those migrating are so high that remittances do not cover them. The UN body report highlights the gap between the migration expenditure incurred and remittances made by international migrants ($59 million in 2020) which leads to a net outflow of capital from the country not to mention the massive loss of human resources caused by widespread emigration.

Many families of unskilled workers who have pooled in all their resources to send at least one family member abroad are heavily in debt. But the desire to emigrate even among other members of these families, and the wider community they belong to, is as strong as ever. At the upper end of the emigration band, the departure of highly educated professionals only underlines the continuing ‘brain drain’ from India.

Over 850,000 Indians gave up their citizenship between 2015 and 2020. Evidence suggests this number will rise exponentially as Indians vote with their feet for a superior quality of life, better job opportunities, access to basic infrastructure, and to escape discrimination real or perceived.