It was sometime in 2013, on the border of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, that an American company had hired technicians to set up a small establishment on the Afghanistan side. CMB (identity withheld) had joined an American company as a boiler technician for a monthly emolument of US$1,000 (Rs. 50-52 thousand at the exchange rates prevailing then). Upon arrival, CMB found that the American company had run foul of the authorities and locals and decided to abandon its operations, leaving its employees to fend for themselves.
CMB, being an Indian national, was down to his last US$100 and was in need of help, but help did not come from the Indian legation based there. It came from an unlikely source.
The Americans had a aerial lifeline to bring in supplies, and men and women from USA travelled on the trans-Atlantic military flights, which stopped at middle eastern bases for rest and refuelling before proceeding further south to remote bases in Afghanistan. This life line required no paper work to ferry men and women in and out of Afghanistan.
CMB had an added problem – his Visa had expired and he was told to travel to Kabul to get his visa renewed. Travelling in Afghanistan by road, especially for a foreigner, is a risk factor that is upped by several orders of magnitude, and most foreigners avoid local overland travel for fear of kidnap and assassination, which is an ever present reality. CMB was in real trouble and did not know what to do.
In the midst of all this turmoil, it was as if the helping hand of God had descended. The only functioning liquor bar at that outpost was in need of a barman and CMB conveniently filled the post with food and stay assured for a month. Now, the prospect of getting him out of Afghanistan to safety was of prime concern, and events took an unexpected turn when the American ferry flights agreed to take him on board on the condition that CMB would get off at Dubai, which CMB did and took a connecting flight to India.
Now, the question is, why do Indians venture into dangerous destinations to work for 40 to 50 thousand Rupees a month? CMB was not the only case encountered. There were a host of other Indians who filled in jobs like that of AC mechanics, cooks, washer-men, etc. at the US and Allied bases. The kind of jobs that the Americans and Allies were not interested in doing. Moreover, getting South Asian labour is cheap, and they can also be bullied, intimidated, forced to work overtime for pittance, shouted at, asked to do dangerous jobs all for US$1000.
If they die on the job, there will be no court cases or compensation. There is no mechanism in place for compensating those who die doing dangerous jobs. Inquiries about a dead worker are usually met with the reply, “There was nobody by that name here,” and there is no way to get to know how an Indian worker died in those remote places, unless the base commander decides to talk, which never happens as the running and upkeep of a military base is not his domain, but is outsourced to US-based contractors.
These contractors bring in the labour, who are restricted to their sleeping quarters and work area. They do not have the freedom to move freely about the base. There have been instances of Indians working as truck drivers in the Middle-East ferrying supplies to foreign military bases braving air strikes and ambushes.
Contrary to public opinion, well paying jobs are hard to come by in India. What is the definition of a well paying job? It is a job that provides food on the table, sends children to good schools, provides for medical emergencies, pays a housing mortgage and has some left over for a rainy day. But usually, that is not the case.
For a majority of the population on the lower end of the spectrum who cannot do more than drive or exercise guard duties, it is barely rent and food that they can manage. If the number of children in the household goes up, then food becomes a round-robin algorithm.
Former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam said that his mother used to go hungry to make sure he is fed. The harsh reality is that India neither provides education nor jobs to its ever-increasing population. Merely opening schools for children will not cut the ice as children will need motivation to study, they must be taught to think and there should be rewards associated for ground-breaking lateral thinking. Einstein, Isaac Newton, Gauss, Niels Bohr and Euler are not the prerogative of the West but were carefully nurtured by the West. They had an audience for their ideas and those who heard them welcomed them into their institutions. India is too far from such a paradigm.
If an Einstein or Newton were to take birth in India, our system would clip their wings and beat the ideas out of their heads. Hey, but what about Ramanujan? Oh yes, but he came to fame because the British took interest in what he had to say, and hence the world knew Ramanujan. Yes, there were CV Ramans, Bose and Chandrashekars and others, but for a billion plus population the number of people that stand out are small, and we should have had more ground-breaking ideas born in India than in the West.
The insane percentile race to get into premier institutions is staggering. What would happen if more and more people start getting 100% marks? On what basis would enter premier educational institutes? This clearly shows that our education system is geared towards rote learning and high marks rather than creativity.
We are creating the perfect labour for western civilizations. The West will create Facebook and Google and we will create CEOs for them. For those at the lower end of the spectrum, who cannot get their head beyond the basics, life is going to be one big struggle unless they are brave enough for the rough and tumble of politics; but most are not.
So, what is the moral of the story? If you need recognition, head West. If you want to feed your family, head West. If you want a well paying job, head West. If you got a great idea and want it implemented, head West. NRI is the name of the game. Did I hear someone say Quit India Movement?