Results and Trends II: the Gulf as continuing aspiration
In Calicut, many people describe Gulf migration as continuing to be a normalised part of life, expecting it to continue, although the benefits are not as strong as they once were. Gulf wages have dipped relative to Kerala; costs of living have soared in the Gulf.
The older generation recount spectacular gains and startling differences between Kerala and the Gulf which the post 1990s generation have not seen.
But because goalposts move, the younger generation do not expect golden lottery-style riches, as their grandfathers and fathers may have done. They have more sober expectations and are often willing to work for fairly marginal gains over what they could achieve in Kerala.
A typical response to my leading question about whether the Gulf is ‘over’, as is being widely reported, would retort that Calicut has always been connected to the Gulf, and always will be. People here have a deeper sense of history and connectedness and, I found, are more likely to see recent crises as a blip or as another specific moment in a long history in which, sometimes life and opportunities in Calicut are better, and sometimes the other side of the water is better.
In Mattancherry, I heard a lot of opinions which can be summed up as: there’s really nothing else for us here, and the only way we can ever hope to have a decent house and get our kids educated and supported according to contemporary aspirations is by bringing in Gulf money. Nothing any man can earn here will ever match what he can earn in the Gulf.
There are complex reasons for these evaluations, which I will be disentangling as I write up academic articles about the project findings. Opportunity – or lack of it – at home is as important as wage levels in the Gulf, and for respondents in these two Muslim pockets, risk continues to be relatively low, with access to good information, strong support networks and practical assistance once in the Gulf.
In the Mavelikkara area, it’s palpable that the strong culture of migration which existed in the 1990s seems to have died away. I’ll speak about that in my next post.