The story of two migrations and one reverse migration in Kerala

Interesting piece from P. Anima of Business Line. She points how years of migration from Kerala to Gulf led to rising job vacancies. These were then filled by migrants from other states especially North India and North-East India (where else??). Now, with rising nationalism in  Gulf, one is seeing reversal with people heading back from Gulf. How this will change the dynamics in the labor and social economy is yet to be seen.

There are over 25 lakh internal migrant workers in Kerala, according to the 2013 report from the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation, and they send home over ₹14,000 crore each year. They are mainly semi-skilled and unskilled workers from West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and can be found in sectors ranging from construction and agriculture to manufacturing ndustry.

There is another face of migration too in Kozhikode, that of people like Usman Chattamchira, who moved to the Gulf when he was in his twenties and has returned 15 years later. Chattamchira lost his supermarket job in Saudi Arabia due to its nationalisation policy. His immigrant life had begun in the Saudi deserts, handling searing hot cement blocks in the construction sector. He later moved to mechanical jobs in workshops and then the supermarket. Now settled into the two-acre rubber plantation he bought on the outskirts of Kozhikode, Chattamchira’s worry is his 27-year-old son, who had to give up his salesman job in Saudi Arabia after the Nitaqat laws became tougher. “He now works as a driver in a small company. We have to sustain ourselves. His wedding had been arranged, but didn’t happen because he returned from the Gulf. I hope my son will be able to go back one day,” he says. Chattamchira has enough technical knowledge, but no certificates to show. “A rehabilitation programme for us should look to tap our skills,” he adds.

Kerala’s history of migration is peopled by the Mahapatras and the Chattamchiras alike. The Keralites migrating within the country and abroad, significantly the Gulf region, opened up job opportunities back home, which the impoverished migrant labourers from north India stepped in to fill.

This delicate balance is now in danger of being disrupted by a reversal of Gulf fortunes. Saudi Arabia’s nationalisation policies, beginning with the 2013 Nitaqat law, the continuing slump in oil prices and the resulting economic slowdown have directly dented the Keralite’s Gulf dream. The layoffs at distressed construction firm Saudi Oger is the latest episode in this painful saga. “Of the 24 Indians who returned, none are Malayalis,” says Najeeb H, general manager of the Non-Resident Keralites’ Affairs Department (NORKA)-Roots, which acts as an interface with the Kerala government. He says that the Keralites at Oger have opted to stay back and wait for the company’s fortunes to turn. Nevertheless, Najeeb is only too aware that a large-scale reverse migration from the Gulf may be inevitable in the near-future — the “terrible truth” is how he describes it. That, in turn, raises the issue of the rehabilitation of those returning.


There is very little discussion on various aspects of labor mobility in India. It has tremendous ramifications across multiple sectors.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: