When we think of malaylis, one of the few things that come to mind is their connection with the Middle East or as they call it “Gulf”. Every 3rd house in Kerala has at least one member living in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and Oman. The gulf is basically a miniKerala; Keralafornia. They have been around for decades now, and have become such a major force of the gulf and India’s economy that, some of the richest Indians are now Malaylis. In fact, the owner of ‘Lulu Hypermarkets’;Mr. Yusuf Ali, is one among the six Malaylishaving their names featured in Forbes 100 richest Indian list. Others like Sunny Varkey, Ravi Pillali and even Joy Alukkas have benefitted from this close ties between Kerala and the gulf.
However, the question arises that why did they move to the gulf region? Why are so many of them are still there? And how is it benefitting Kerala financially?
To find our answers let’s walk downto the 1950’s when the Middle East commenced its trade in oil with other countries. It provided more job opportunities as the demand of labour inclined. Since these countriesfaced dearth of cheap skilled labour, migrant labourers from Kerala arrived. Kerala at that time was facing high unemployment and unstable political environment, leaving business in deplorable state. A lot of these migrants were Muslims from Kerala who realized it was easier to move to the gulf than live amidst some communal tension back home. That was when 13 Malaylis men boarded a yacht from Mumbai and headed to Qatar. But mass migration only started between mid 60s and thus began the era of Gulf boom.
This mass migration enabled them to acquire ample of wealth. The community turned posh and brought surprising gifts for their families upon returning home. And what else did they gain? No Taxes!!
As of 2016, total money sent back to Kerala stood at 1 trillion rupees (approx). That is even more thanthe GDP of few countries itself like Albania, Mongolia andMadagascar.
After sometime people turned away from the yachts and ceased to move from Kerala to the Middle East which increasingly became a fully fledged money guzzling game. Recruitment agencies became one more way to enter the Gulf. It usually wasn’t very easy owing prevalent ‘red tapism’. These agencies would send a certain number of people to work with projects mentioned under thecontract. The sponsorship system; Kafala, limited migration to a large extent. If they wanted to start a new job before their contract was up, they were forced to get permission from their current employer. This often made workers vulnerable to abuse or being exploited.
The women suffered the most as they didn’t have opportunities to work with the companies initially and worked mostly in the domestic sector which wasn’t covered by labor laws. Later, an unfriendly law named as ‘Nitaqat’ of 2013, coerced many Indians to move back to their origin.
In conclusion, Even today the gulf money is the backbone of Kerala’s economy with almost 20% of population still depending on it. The phenomenon of migration to Gulf nations allowed Malaylis to lay down a strong foundation of economic, social, and political ties between both the regions making gulf a Keralafornia.
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