Instagram Chronicle of Gulf migration and memories

By Caroline Osella|April 28, 2019|Media|2 comments

Here is an extraordinarily rich and well-curated account of Gulf – South Asia connections from Ayesha, who has been working for some time now on this.

What’s especially exciting about this project is that it is coming from people who themselves have been part of this history; that it takes us back to some of the earliest photographically-recorded moments and memories; and that it acknowledges the two-way nature of these longstanding connections.  This project puts detail, texture and emotion into academic works and theories which plead for us not to start Gulf migration history in the 1960s, and not to imagine it as a one-way travel. In Calicut, we know families who have histories of 19th and early 20th C marriage with Gulf Arabs, charitable and educational institutions founded back in the early 20th, and all kinds of deep entanglement.

I know I’m going to be spending a few hours wandering in this poignant space. I hope you do, too.


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  1. Hi there,

    I came across this blog a few days ago – firstly, I would like to thank you for shedding light on a topic that is quite close to my heart as a second-generation Dubai resident. If I may, I would like to offer one point of feedback:
    The term “migrant workers” seems to be loosely applied to anyone of Indian origin that lives in the UAE, and does not take into account the differentiating factors among these groups (for example, number of years lived in the UAE, family presence/support, income and education levels). Am curious why the more generic “Indian expat” term was not used instead? Though also a catch-all term, it seems to cover these differences more accurately and is often used in prominent newspapers in the UAE . Migrant workers is a term that often denotes blue-collar labour – if this is the group being studied then this would work perfectly fine, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case here, as some posts mention a wide range of professionals such as engineers, entrepreneurs and doctors.

    I think there is an opportunity to create a vocabulary that more accurately depicts these differences and is less reductive in nature. Just my 2 cents! Thank you.

    1. Thanks for engaging. And this is actually something that we talk a lot about in migration studies and in the REALM project – you could even say you’ve hit the nail on the head about a controversy 🙂

      Because, yes, ‘expat’ in mainstream media and popular usage always pulls up the idea of Euro-American-Oz migrant: basically the white migrants. And everyone else, for reasons of race and class, is not given the expat label. For us in academic critical migration studies, we try to resist the ‘expat versus worker’ divide and for us, everyone, from the North American dentist to the Pathan labourer, is a ‘migrant worker’. Then we start to nuance and talk about class, race, gender, religious community. But everyone is on a temp contract, temp visa, subject to labour law, and so on.

      The people I’m working with for REALM cross all kinds of social classes and jobs – day labourers and engineers, and plenty of service and technical workers in between. It’s simplest for me to shorthand everyone as ‘migrant worker’ but I take your point on board. We need to shift the public representation and perception of migration and starting to insist on using the ‘expat’ term could be part of that.

      On the other hand, as Neha Vora has pointed out, there’s a desire among some Indian middle-class, business and professionals in the Gulf to distance themselves and pull prestige over their co-nationals and sometimes the call to use ‘expat’ reflects a refusal of solidarity or empathy with the labourers.

      And then again, at the same time, working in Kerala, I have the handy NORK or NRI or PIO tag available.

      Naming: always a tricky thing. Thanks so much for reading and getting me to think again about all this – I need to reflect a bit more, I think; and hope you’re enjoying the blog. It’s been a great project and we’re all excited about what we’re finding out.

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