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Why mini-Punjabs sprout in distant lands

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Drug menace, rural distress and dwindling businesses add to the people’s love affair with foreign lands

The last time I did a headcount on my high school group photo, I realised that half of my batch mates are no longer in India. Most of that half are in Canada and the rest in Australia or New Zealand. Many of those remaining are planning to move to Canada.

Yes, you guessed it right! I am from Punjab.

The 2016 Bollywood movie Udta Punjab revolved around the menace of drug abuse in the State. Interestingly, the same title could also be used to depict the silent exodus from Punjab. The word Udta in the title this time would not be about Punjabis getting high but flying off to foreign lands.

The two serious issues of drugs and mass emigration are not unrelated. The drug menace in the State is a grim reality, especially in rural areas. Parents, worried about losing their young sons to drugs, are left with no choice but to send them away.

The drug menace, however, is only one of the many factors fuelling the migration of youngsters, mainly to the West.

First of all, Punjab’s love affair with foreign lands is not new. Every Punjabi has at least a relative or a friend, or both, living overseas. Social media posts of a cousin posing in picturesque locations, wearing expensive items, give a fillip to the foreign aspirations of young Punjabis. A graduation course abroad is a ticket to live this dream of luxurious, flashy lifestyle.

For parents, a son studying overseas is a status symbol.

But more recently, it’s more of the push factors that are making the Punjabis look for greener pastures abroad.

The farming sector is in distress, and the younger generation does not want to toil in the fields. Dwindling businesses in these stressful times mean that setting up a shop would not ensure a stable future for the next generation.

And the age-old adage of education being the best investment isn’t convincing enough for the Punjabis. Why spend lakhs on higher education in India if there is no guarantee of landing a decent job, many would argue. A more viable option is to invest the same amount in settling down in a foreign land.

And when Punjabis think of a foreign land, the first image they conjure up is of the red maple leaf on the Canadian flag. A liberal Permanent Residency (PR) policy, flexible working-hour system for students and a large Punjabi diaspora have made Canada the preferred destination.

The modus operandi is simple — enter Canada on a study visa, do odd jobs to survive, and all the while, keep trying for the coveted PR status.

Punjabis see Canadian PR as the end of all sufferings.

And it is not just the students, even working professionals and business people are jumping into the emigration bandwagon, leaving everything behind, starting their lives afresh. In the end, it is about earning the Permanent Residency status, whatever the means.

It is not that those who are planning to leave are living in a fool’s paradise. They are well aware that life in a foreign land would have its challenges and that there is no guarantee of settling down there even after all the investments and risks involved. But staring at a bleak future here, they decide to take the plunge.

In this scenario, it’s no surprise that the IELTS coaching market in the State is booming. Large “study abroad” banners vie for attention in the commercial market space. Visa consultants show up on every other local TV advertisement, guaranteeing permanent settlement in any country of your choice.

Punjab, known as the land that gives birth to valiant men, is now becoming a factory that consigns unskilled labour to the developed world.

There’s no point in boasting about the rich demographic dividend if those in the prime of their lives are looking for ways to leave the country. The demographic dividend of today will tomorrow be living in Canada, paying exorbitant college fees, doing menial jobs, and paying hefty taxes to a foreign government.

The viral social media meme, Padhega India, tabhi to Badhega Canada (India will study, only then Canada will grow) doesn’t seem to be an exaggeration.

anirudh.mehra@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 12:31:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/why-mini-punjabs-sprout-in-distant-lands/article30124230.ece

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