A BET­TER LIFE OUT­SIDE IN­DIA

Mint ST - - FIRST -

You’ve prob­a­bly been part of a wish­ful draw­ing room con­ver­sa­tion dis­cussing how the time may have come to leave In­dia and seek a bet­ter life else­where. Like me, you might even know some­one who has left or is due to leave soon. Maybe you are one of those par­ents who urge their chil­dren grad­u­at­ing in in­ter­na­tional uni­ver­si­ties to stay put and not be in a hurry to rush back home.

There are enough rea­sons to leave if you have the re­sources or the op­por­tu­nity. In New In­dia, unity hides in a cast-iron statue, its syn­cretic his­tory com­pressed in a struc­ture that’s only 183m tall. From dystopian bovine-re­lated lynch­ings and other tar­geted hate crimes to air pol­lu­tion—that mur­der­ous equal­izer that doesn’t care about your re­li­gion, caste, gen­der, eco­nomic back­ground or po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion— there are an in­creas­ing num­ber of threats your priv­i­lege can’t pro­tect you from. Jobs are scarce, and the in­ci­dence of cancer is ris­ing alarm­ingly.

It’s no won­der that 17 mil­lion peo­ple opted out of In­dia just last year—and this dur­ing a time when the mi­gra­tion of our un­skilled work­ers fell by 25%, ac­cord­ing to the Asian Devel­op­ment Bank’s Asian Eco­nomic In­te­gra­tion Re­port 2018. We topped the list of peo­ple leav­ing their coun­tries—china was a dis­tant sec­ond at around 10 mil­lion.

In re­cent months, hu­man rights ac­tivists have been jailed, elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives spew hate speech and any dis­sent is la­belled anti-na­tional. An anti-es­tab­lish­ment Face­book post could al­ways get you jail time in In­dia, but now even for­ward­ing a What­sapp meme against the prime min­is­ter can re­sult in an ar­rest. Once we re­acted to such news with out­rage, now we shrug.

It’s clear to ev­ery­one that pol­i­tics will just get uglier be­fore the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion. You are at an ad­di­tional dis­ad­van­tage if you are a re­li­gious mi­nor­ity, woman, Dalit or even the par­ent of a young child who has a one in two chance of en­coun­ter­ing sex­ual abuse. It’s no won­der peo­ple are say­ing bye.

As we found out ear­lier this year, an An­tiguan pass­port can be had for ₹1.3 crore and a hand­ful of other Caribbean des­ti­na­tions are quite com­pet­i­tively priced. While the US, UK, Canada and Aus­tralia have been favourite mi­gra­tion op­tions for In­di­ans for as long as I can re­mem­ber, coun­tries such as Bel­gium, Swe­den and Nor­way are mak­ing it to our list too, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in The Times Of In­dia that quotes min­istry of ex­ter­nal af­fairs statis­tics for 2017.

For young pro­fes­sion­als, a bet­ter qual­ity of life at th­ese last three des­ti­na­tions is just an air­plane ride away. In Jan­uary, my neigh­bours Astrid and Dilan, both 32, will leave for Gothen­burg, Swe­den, where Dilan has found a job as a project man­ager. They’ve been think­ing of mov­ing for the last three­four years, largely be­cause of health and safety rea­sons and be­cause of an in­creas­ing aware­ness of their re­li­gious mi­nor­ity sta­tus.

“I’ve never had asthma but th­ese past few years ev­ery cou­ple of months I’ve had ter­ri­ble at­tacks. The mo­ment I leave Ban­ga­lore I’m fine,” says Astrid. Ad­di­tion­ally, she says, track­ing In­dia’s rape cul­ture has ter­ri­fied her so much she has stopped her news­pa­per sub­scrip­tion. “I don’t feel safe here. I love wear­ing dresses and lit­tle shorts but I don’t feel com­fort­able wear­ing them here. I even carry a stole ev­ery time I wear any­thing sleeve­less and the mo­ment I feel some­one star­ing, I cover up. I re­al­ize that I’m chang­ing,” she says, adding that she’s linked her Ola and Uber apps to her hus­band’s so he knows ev­ery time she takes a cab. “We are Catholics and both of us feel like for­eign­ers in our own coun­try. I feel like we are fish out of the wa­ter un­less we are with our own Man­ga­lorean or Goan com­mu­nity.”

When they tried out the Swedish ex­per­i­ment ear­lier this year, they found they missed noth­ing about Ben­galuru ex­cept their fam­i­lies and a few close friends. “Many In­di­ans tell us we will find it dif­fi­cult to ad­just but in our minds we are like, ‘no we fit in re­ally, re­ally well. It’s here that we find it dif­fi­cult to ad­just’,” says Astrid, who’s learn­ing to cy­cle be­fore she leaves. The cou­ple also plans to learn Swedish so their new coun­try of res­i­dence is an eas­ier fit.

Which brings us to the ques­tion that’s hang­ing over many of our heads th­ese days. Why do those of us who can leave, stay? Maybe we stay for those who can’t leave—our par­ents, our grand­par­ents, or even friends who might need our help if things get worse. Maybe we want to fight for what we be­lieve is our idea of In­dia. Or maybe it’s more selfish. Maybe we stay be­cause we know we won’t be able to ex­ploit house­hold staff in Eu­rope, or be­cause we know that there will be no one to fetch us a glass of wa­ter ev­ery time we holler. Maybe we stay be­cause it’s eas­ier to carry the bur­den of slurs such as ur­ban Naxal and anti-na­tional than ra­cial slurs we are likely to face else­where. Maybe we are still here be­cause the world is in­creas­ingly be­ing ruled by quasi fas­cists. Here at least, we are boss of our own back­yard.

Maybe we stay be­cause we feel like there’s no place like In­dia, even if what we call In­dia is es­sen­tially the beau­ti­ful bub­ble we’ve cre­ated for our­selves. My bub­ble, for in­stance, has blue skies, great weather, wide pave­ments, amal­tas and gul­mo­hur. I work from home so my bub­ble is traf­fic free. We re­side in a mixed neigh­bour­hood and my bub­ble is largely har­mo­nious; my daugh­ter’s two best friends are Mus­lim and Chris­tian.

Sure we shake with rage and de­spair ev­ery time we sneak a peek out of our bub­ble, but maybe that’s not enough to start from scratch some­place else. Maybe we stay be­cause de­spite ev­ery­thing, this is home.

Priya Ra­mani shares what’s mak­ing her feel angsty/agree­able.

@pri­yara­mani livemint.com/priya-ra­mani

Sev­en­teen mil­lion peo­ple opted out of In­dia just last year.

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