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Every calamity brings in its wake an exodus of Indian expatriates and students from countries where they had chosen to work or study. They want to return to India – they want to get back home. India, with its vast population and its people’s great aspiration to go overseas for income and livelihood, is really a source of labour for countries around the world. At this time, I am making no distinction between the different kinds of people who go abroad but using the generic term ‘labour’ to describe the lot. However, the matter of their repatriation and the duty of the Indian government not just to undertake evacuation but also their subsequent rehabilitation is a daunting task. This has been made even more challenging in the times of a full-blown COVID 19 pandemic because they cannot be sent home as easily as in any other evacuation operation. They would have to be quarantined, tested, treated, looked after and then sent back when they are fit to travel and do not pose a risk to others – all this at a huge risk and cost to India.


This is the equivalent of a ‘migrant labour’ problem of international proportions but far more complicated. Every organ of the Indian state is already stretched to handle the epidemic within the country. Now this additional task will also have to be undertaken and as always, we will do so to the best of our abilities. Just to explain the predicament briefly – by a conservative estimate, we could be looking at more than two hundred thousand evacuees spread around the world across age groups. This is not a small number. It will need a massive effort in terms of immigration, transit of the evacuees by air and sea followed by subsequent rehabilitation and repatriation to their homes. It has been reported that 11 countries have asked India to take back our citizens. One has even issued a deadline for their evacuation failing which it has held out a threat of bilateral relations getting soured. We must never forget such threats when the crisis is over.

Let us broadly list the categories of the people in question. The first are students, many of whom have either not been able to secure a higher education seat in India, several who have the money to afford an expensive education and a relatively smaller number who are genuinely brilliant and seek better research opportunities in universities abroad. Notwithstanding the description of the students, most of them continue to live abroad and service foreign economies on completion of their education. Next we have working professionals who go abroad for the lure of money and a better standard of living. They could be individually brilliant but again they work for the benefit of their country of residence. Then we have the migrant Indian blue collar workforce across the world. They comprise construction workers, paramedics, nurses, domestic workers and employees in small organisations who directly contribute to infrastructure growth and service sectors of foreign economies. Of course, they do send remittances back to India but that is meagre compared to the contribution they make to the countries of employment. The final group comprises tourists who make the most immediate and visible contributions to foreign economies.

When the going gets tough, all these people are immediately rendered ‘unwanted’ at the spread of a virus, a natural calamity or the outbreak of any internal disorder. We have witnessed several occasions in recent years when large-scale evacuation operations had to be undertaken because host countries could not look after our people who were significantly contributing to their well-being and economies. Our nationals also want to get back for their own reasons but what is often left unsaid is that in times of crises, there is clearly a treatment differential between that given to native citizens as compared to the expatriate workforce – second-class treatment without a doubt. This ‘use and throw’ mentality displayed by foreign countries is something which every Indian must recognise and reject by every means at our disposal.

My advice to these countries is “If you do not want Indians in good times and bad, please do not issue visas and work permits to them.” My appeal to all Indians would be “Study in India, work in India, travel in India, help fellow Indians in need and contribute to India’s wealth.” Finally, my suggestion to expatriate Indians is “Return to India. Do not go back to ungrateful destinations. Live with pride in your own country or where your contribution is respected at par with native citizens.”

Subah ka bhoola agar shaam ko ghar aa jaye toh usey bhoola nahi kehtey.

15 Apr 20

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