Hard Times for Punjab’s Migrants

_45292839_old_men466.jpgThe World Bank estimates that nearly six millon Indians working abroad sent $30 billion home in 2008. Of those, it is estimated that Punjabi non-resident Indians sent between $150 million to $160 million. It should come of no surprise that Punjab is feeling the ramifications of the global economic downfall (Maple Leaf Sikh recently blogged about the impact on Canada’s Punjabi community). Many migrants have learned to live frugally within their host countries so that they can save as much as possible to be able to send the money back home to Punjab. In turn, Punjab relies heavily on income invested back into the region by it’s migrants. Take Pyara Singh for example. He has been living in Germany for the past 14 years while his parents, wife and two children live in Giljian, Jalandhar.

Pyara Singh is on his annual visit home from Hamburg, Germany, where he works as a cook in a pizzeria… In this village of 300 homes, almost every family has sent one or more of its members to foreign shores. And the remittances they have sent back over the years have helped the residents here live a life of affluence that many in India can only dream of. Many of the houses have been built in the last few years and most are large. Some have expensive SUVs parked in their front yards. The conversation here is peppered with references to children and grandchildren making a living in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Italy, France and Belgium. [link]

It is becoming starkingly clear that the global economic downturn has made individuals and communities more conscious of living within their means. Like the rest of the world, Punjab will also be struggling to make ends meet under its own circumstances.

A lack of industry and the outbreak of Sikh militancy in the 1980s also contributed to the flight of people to unknown shores in search of better prospects. “During the militancy, shiploads of men from Punjab fled to other countries and settled down there after getting political asylum. In time, they took their families and then friends and acquaintances too,” says Major Singh, a journalist in Jalandhar. “Punjabis can do only two things – they either join the army or they migrate. They have a craze to go abroad. But they are very hard working and they adjust well wherever they are,” he says.

Pyara Singh’s story is just one of many:

7.jpgMy husband lives in Germany but now with the downturn, his work is suffering. He’s sending us less money. We’ve cut down on our expenses – we spend less on clothes and we eat mostly vegetarian food. I also give less money to my children. I am very worried about the future, but my husband says, “Have faith in god, everything will be all right.” – Amarjeet Kaur

5.jpgAll my three children live in the US. We are landed people so we are well off, but they send us money when we need something. But now the situation is bad in the US, people who are going from here are unable to find jobs. No one’s making any profit. But no one’s returning home because there are no jobs here. – Joginder Singh Nambardar

At one end, the investments from migrants contribute to excessive lifestyles such as making outrageously large kothis (or houses). However, at another end are the investments being made by non-resident Punjabis to improve villages, provide clean drinking water and sanitary services, and to develop infrastructure. These investments will, without a doubt, also be reduced – so how will these previous efforts be sustained? Or will we now begin to see hybrid villages in Punjab – partly modern, partly unfinished due to the drop in investments in the region? Whatever the opinion, it seems clear that we’ll be hearing a lot more about the difficulties being incurred by Punjabis living both in Punjab and abroad.


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9 Responses to “Hard Times for Punjab’s Migrants”

  1. Jagjit says:

    The recession has been tough on everyone and it's hard for individuals to look beyond their own situation and imagine how it's affecting people less fortunate than themselves. So thanks for covering this story. So does this mean less migrants leaving Punjab and an increased number of unemployed youth on drugs?

  2. Jagjit says:

    The recession has been tough on everyone and it’s hard for individuals to look beyond their own situation and imagine how it’s affecting people less fortunate than themselves. So thanks for covering this story. So does this mean less migrants leaving Punjab and an increased number of unemployed youth on drugs?

  3. It is sad to read this. Times are getting much worse in Punjab. However as they say, the light comes when the night is at its darkest.

    Visit my new blog at http://sikh-reality.blogspot.com/

    Enjoy

  4. It is sad to read this. Times are getting much worse in Punjab. However as they say, the light comes when the night is at its darkest.

    Visit my new blog at http://sikh-reality.blogspot.com/

    Enjoy

  5. Sundari says:

    Jagjit, the drug abuse problem has been a constant issue for Punjab. I imagine it will be perpetuated by these difficult financial times.

  6. Sundari says:

    Jagjit, the drug abuse problem has been a constant issue for Punjab. I imagine it will be perpetuated by these difficult financial times.

  7. Ronak says:

    Unfortunately, it looks like Punjab is continuing to invest in it's wedding industry regardless of the economic downturn: http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/51835

  8. Ronak says:

    Unfortunately, it looks like Punjab is continuing to invest in it’s wedding industry regardless of the economic downturn: http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/51835

  9. […] However, remittances are easily subjected to ebb and flows in the worlds markets and these flows of money to Punjab can be easily disrupted by economic downturns. In addition, Punjab receives little attention from international development […]