Analysis: The Question Of Employment In An Election Year

Analysis: The Question Of Employment In An Election Year

Why are so many Indians continuing to rush to risky places in search of a better life when the world is wooing India?

Patralekha ChatterjeeUpdated: Wednesday, April 17, 2024, 11:11 PM IST
article-image
Representative Image | File

India heads to the polls amid high-decibel talk about ‘Amrit Kaal’ and sunny forecasts about the country becoming the third largest economy by 2027 with a GDP of $5 trillion, overtaking Japan and Germany. But amid all the euphoria about New India’s billionaires, bold and the beautiful, its growing geo-political heft, here is the puzzling question — why are so many Indians continuing to rush to risky places in search of a better life when the world is wooing India?

“Modi ki Guarantee works for all at home and abroad. Seventeen Indian workers, lured into unsafe and illegal work in Laos, are on their way back home. Well done, @IndianEmbLaos. Thank Lao authorities for their support for the safe repatriation” said External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

This comes on the heels of another ongoing rescue saga, from Cambodia. The Indian government has rescued 250 Indians who were trapped in Cambodia and reportedly coerced to run online scams. A slew of media reports suggests that there are thousands more still stuck in Cambodia, and forced to carry out cyber frauds on people back home.

Undoubtedly, Indian diplomats in these countries worked hard to rescue those who have managed to come out of the clutches of scamsters, and the external affairs ministry’s recent advisory asks Indians to rigorously check the background of prospective employers in Cambodia and elsewhere.

But chasing dreams in risky terrain is not a new story in India. Over the years, successive Indian governments have evacuated Indian workers stranded in foreign conflict zones. Some died before they could be rescued. Desperate Indians in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘New India’ continue to vote with their feet to escape poverty and joblessness at home, just as they did in ‘Old India.’

The rescue story in Laos and Cambodia, beautiful countries with magnificent monuments, but among the poorest in Southeast Asia, is only the latest chapter in that grim saga.

Southeast Asia is on the radar but not the only destination for Indian workers in search of a better-paid job, regardless of the risk. In recent times, Indians, lured by the prospect of well-paid jobs in Russia, have been tricked into fighting in Ukraine – a pointer to online scams that target the desperate and the unemployed. Indians are also going to war-torn Israel following recruitment drives by Israeli organisations looking for blue-collar workers.

All this evokes a sense of déjà vu. “This is not the first instance of such deception targeting Indian youths. In a similar incident in October 2022, a total of 130 Indians were rescued by authorities after falling victim to a fake job scheme that promised employment opportunities in Thailand but were instead forced into cybercrime activities in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, targeting Western countries,” observed The Laotian Times last month.

Typically, a well-paying tech job in Thailand is the dangled carrot but the actual ‘work’ is in other countries and sometimes involves perpetrating fraud.

Many are now arguing, including on national television, that it is the fault of the victims, that New India offers enough work opportunities, that people should take micro loans i.e. Mudra. But victim-blaming misses a key point -- millions of Indians are surviving rather than thriving. The soaring GDP does not capture the per capita gross domestic product, or the India story, fully. Household debt is on the rise. Household savings are down to a 50-year low. Around 800 million Indians depend on the government’s free food grain scheme. There is widening inequality.

To fixate on rich and successful Indians is to miss the context of desperation stemming from an economy that is benefiting some at the top but not creating enough jobs for the millions of young people joining the labour force each year in this country of over 1.4 billion. Extreme desperation stems from the dearth of decently-paid work that drives so many Indian youngsters into taking up up blue-collar jobs in dangerous locales, including war zones.

The desperate include the educated —- 42 percent of India’s graduates under the age of 25 remained unemployed, compared with 11% of those of the same age group who are literate but have not completed primary school, according to a 2023 report from Azim Premji University in Bengaluru that is based on official data. This is even when upward mobility had increased, and caste-based segregation and gender disparity had come down.

Vulnerability is compounded by an acute lack of awareness about the magnitude and modus operandi of online scams and of cyber-fraud schemes. “Victims, mostly young and tech-savvy, are promised jobs and then lured into illegal online work ranging from money laundering and crypto fraud to so-called love scams, where they pose as lovers online,” a BBC report said.

A 2023 briefing paper by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for South-East Asia noted that “hundreds of thousands of people from across the region and beyond have been forcibly engaged in online criminality. States within the region are trying to identify actions and policies to address this phenomenon, while criminal actors are reacting by finding ways to change and relocate their operations, building new centres across the region and upgrading existing compounds.”

Taking advantage of the lack of decent work opportunities in many countries, the business shutdowns during the Covid pandemic, lack of social protection, and particularly the reduced job opportunities for young graduates, the report pointed out, “Traffickers were easily able to fraudulently recruit people into criminal operations under the pretence of offering them real jobs. Digital platforms greatly expanded the reach of organised criminal actors engaged in online fraud, enabling them to target recruitment of people in different countries and from different language groups.”

“It is important to acknowledge that there are two sets of victims in this complex phenomenon. People who have been defrauded through online criminality are victims of the financial and other crimes committed by these scam operations. Many have lost their life savings, taken on debt, and suffered shame and stigma for having been scammed. On the other side, individuals who are coerced into working in these scam operations and endure inhumane treatment are victims of serious human rights violations,” it added.

Geopolitical heft does not fill the belly. Achchhe Din for all may eventually come, but meanwhile there is a family to be fed, bills to pay. Dangers lurk everywhere, but a better domestic job situation would be a potent deterrent. There is no getting away from the domestic jobs issue, whoever comes to power.

Patralekha Chatterjee is a writer and columnist who spends her time in South and Southeast Asia, and looks at modern-day connects between the two adjacent regions. X: @Patralekha2011

RECENT STORIES

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Result On June 4 To Decide BJP-JDU Alliance's Fate

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Result On June 4 To Decide BJP-JDU Alliance's Fate

UP Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Modi's Win Margin In Focus Now

UP Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Modi's Win Margin In Focus Now

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Misa Locked In Keen Contest With Old Foe

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Misa Locked In Keen Contest With Old Foe

Rising Temperatures, Greater Risks To The Food In Your Thaali

Rising Temperatures, Greater Risks To The Food In Your Thaali

The Growing Irrelevance Of Mayawati And Her Party

The Growing Irrelevance Of Mayawati And Her Party