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The Subtle Politics Of Migration In South East Asia

11/03/2016 12:43 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Imperial conquests by the European countries, especially Great Britain, left an indelible imprint on the Asian Subcontinent. Bengal was the first territory won by the British in 1757 at the Battle of Plassey, almost a century prior to the mutiny. Millions perished in the 1943 Bengal Famine while food grains were diverted to the front lines in Europe during the war.

Postcolonial histories are different in the sense that the theatres of suffering have shifted. Post-independence countries in Asia did not meet the aspirations of their populace, with the noted exception of Singapore which is an economic miracle.

Countries such as Bangladesh, which won its independence in 1971, are major manpower exporters along with the Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal in this region. Migration at any cost occurs due to economic despair. The burning hunger to provide for the family drives the migrant to sell precious assets to cover the economic cost of migration.

The migrant arrives in his host country with hopes and dreams, often to be shattered due to the unfair information asymmetry between him and the recruiting ecosystem. The exploitation begins from his village, often perpetrated by family friends or distant relatives. The migrant is at the bottom rung of the social hierarchy in the host country. He is the 'subaltern' in this context.

He was not necessarily always a labourer. But that's the kind of work he took on to earn his daily bread. He can write, sing, act and draw and he has talents like any other. The local activist sees him as a resource for the 'cause'. His muted voice is co-opted in global advocacy themes. He does not understand the issue as his language skills are a barrier.

The academic converts his story into a case study and artiste groups are interested in performances which have an exotic element.

But where is the migrant in all these contexts? After all, he cannot speak...

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