Syed Ali, at Long Island University researched (mostly through informal interviews), the ‘culture of migration’ among Hyderabadi Muslims. In the paper, Ali says that the research also applies to Hindus in Hyderabad to a great extent, and by my own experience I think it applies to the whole of India. Indians remain the second largest immigrant group to become American citizens and Indian cinema increasingly uses the NRI story in many movies. Out-migration from India has become an established phenomena and as Ali says,
the culture of migration has a generalised effect upon the social atmosphere in which certain types of life choices and social interactions occur.
Hyderabad, is a particularly interesting to study migration, because it is a city with considerable economic development and investment, offering substantial employment opportunities, especially in the IT industry. Yet, Ali finds a great desire to migrate, regardless of caste, creed and gender. He says that migration is
perceived as an easy escape from the India that many young educated men and women in Hyderabad have learned to dread
The key words to think about here are perceived and learned: Does migration really solve an individuals problems ? Are the problems facing these individuals real or imaginary ?
The answer to the first question, it turns out depends on the status and the nature of the migrant. In many cases, the migration of lower caste and status individuals changes the economic and correspondingly the social status of their families. Thus, immigration provides not only financial, but also social capital. Ali describes the case of a history professor (from a Nawabi family) and his servant,
his (the professor’s) former servant’s son, … went to the Gulf as a mechanic for fifteen years and bulit himself a large house. The professor lives in a small rented flat in the Old City. What is the relation now ?
There were other cases where a migrant laborer (male or female) provided funds not only for a economic but also a social transformation. I personally feel that this kind of migration has a very positive impact on the country, it is a kind of foreign investment that leads to both direct economic and social transformation. And certainly these individuals and their families would have faced far greater obstacles to progress in the absence of migration.
But, there is another level of migration, that of highly educated and (relatively) highly paid professionals. Ali finds a great desire to migrate within this community too, mostly to the US. He reflects that this desire is not necessarily based on financial benefits, but mostly on social and cultural ones,
.. being a migrant in itself has become a status marker. … They (the migrants) become highly valued commodities, irrespective of what they were before the transforming act of migration. … Those who manage to get abroad are seen as victorious, and to the victor go the spoils.
Migration thus, has an enormous impact on the marriage prospects of an individual, something that is central to how Indians see themselves. It has lead to an abolition (at least in urban areas) of traditional notions of caste, but instead created new notions of ‘caste’, revolving around the NRI. Ali examined six months of matrimonials in the most widely read Urdu daily in Hyderabad and found that,
Not once did any of the ads mention the caste of the person advertised, nor did they specify the caste of the partner sought. What was common, however, was advertising that the person in the ad had some kind of foreign visa, or that a foreign visa holder was sought.
It is interesting that young Indians brought up on boy-meets-girl Bollywood fare do not question the logic of an arranged marriage, if the marriage provides the desired migratory avenues.
Ali, points out an extremely worrying truth in urban India,
Not migrating, or rather not wanting to migrate, is perceived as ‘deviant’ behaviour. Those who choose not to go must defend the decision, rationalising their abnormal stance
This fact has the important effect of channeling the aspirations of young Indians in a direction where migration is likely. Very often, the choice of a course of study is made not on the basis of how interesting the individual finds it or even what the job opportunities (in India) are, but on the possibilities of future migration. India’s future top journalists, conservationists and sociologists, today might be in a cramped Engineering College. It is the responsibility of parents I feel, to assure their children of support regardless of their choice of profession in life (as long as they work hard), instead it is most often parents themselves that condemn their children to a lifetime, spent thousands of miles away from their home and their ambitions.