Patrice Riemens on Sat, 19 Sep 1998 22:20:38 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> "What it means to be an Indian working abroad"

 “What it means to be an Indian working abroad” 
by Edgar Martins <> 

(reposted with permission from the author)

        I have just returned from the Island of Ignorance where I had been
working for a few years. I had concluded that I would rather enjoy poverty
in freedom than riches in Slavery. My days on the island, I chose to end
as I had spent my time in a gilded cage. The door was open and it was my
prerogative to choose.

        I had gone there through agents in Bombay who never warned me of
the dangers I was to encounter on this tiny island. The statistics were
deceptive, the money looked tempting and besides, in today's modern
bureaucratic world, poverty needs a passport. The fish in Goa would not
bite and the cost of living had skyrocketed. Our cashew seed, mangoes,
shrimp and valuable fish stocks were not meant for us.  The country needed
foreign exchange and what better way is there when one is poor than to
send our youth abroad to be debased and our products for the enjoyment of
those who will send us '24 carat' money. I left hoping to come back with
savings to build a house and to give my wife and children the amenities of

         Alas, now that I am back, I realize the battering my dignity took
from the citizens and government of the Island of Ignorance.

         This tiny island used Indian rupees as their currency and its
economy was controlled by India which appeared much more prosperous. Till
about 40 years ago, Britain ruled this island which was part of a larger
Island, and India too. Movement to this island was unrestricted. But
suddenly beneath the sands of this hellhole there were discovered valuable
diamonds and this island to suit the greed of the British was separated
from the larger land mass and declared independent. The king of the larger
entity has ever since attempted to reunite the two parts. But Britain and
the U.S. who exploit the diamonds will not hear of this.  This pattern,
Britain has followed since it went out to rule the waves in the name of

                  So I flew to serve on this island.  It will shock the
reader that 50,000, more than the total Goan diaspora in East Africa lived
and worked in 'El Dorado'. In my baggage, I carried a Bible and a rosary
to be able to be closer to my maker - for comfort and solace when I found
the going tough. But the infidel who checked my baggage confiscated these
and I was told rudely not to question his discretion. I took a cab to my
new home. I had been warned that I could not drink - yes I mean alcohol as
this is a no-no in the religious practices of these islanders. I was
dictated to as to what I could read and what I could drink from the very
moment I stepped down on the island. This was not all.

         When I started work, I noticed that I was paid a third of the
wages of the other teachers, corrected 4 times the work of the 'duffers' I
was teaching. My salary was a third of the amount a mother received from
the Government when a child is born to keep him well fed and to grow up an
imbecile. I silently resented my position and the affront to my dignity.

         Liquor is obtainable - yes moonshine made on the premises of the
wealthy locals by servants they employed from Sri Lanka, India, Bangla
Desh and the Philippines. This 'moonshine' was made from easily obtainable
sugar, dried raisins and other fruit. It was a risky brew and many who
broke the law and drank this distillate suffered ill effects.  The
unwritten rule was never to disclose the source of the liquor come what
may. My pockets were stocked with cardamon, sweets and even garlic to mask
the smell of liquor if stopped and searched - and searches were often
carried out at certain undetermined points by the police. The locals could
and did drink copiously and were immune to searches. Police would not dare
enter the compound of a local to search it - the area of the abode was
vast. At birth the government assured each and every citizen enough land
to live.  This largesse was for local consumption and not for expats. The
expats outnumbered the locals and they received no benefits from the king
who ruled to look after the welfare of the locals.  The shops and stores
are well stocked and comparable to those in America. Water for use is
obtained from desalination of sea water. Every little thing is imported
based on the export of diamonds. Nothing is manufactured. There was on
this island a church which was by a strange coincidence allowed to be
built by a previous king when the island was poor. The other churches were
temporary shelters that had to be rented.

         The population believed in polygamy. Servants were obliged to
surrender their passports to the masters which were returned only at the
time of departure. They were forced to work from dawn to dusk and were
paid a meagre wage which by Indian standards were fair. Food,
accommodation and clothes were provided. Every year the master changed his
entire wardrobe and discarded his Gucci shoes, Dior suits and the dresses
of his many wives. All is left to the servant to choose and many gathered
things that they could take to India to benefit their families and
friends. Go to the airports of any Indian city and you will notice Indians
returning from the Island of Ignorance happily tugging huge mattresses and
valises - toys discarded by their arrogant employers.

        The roads are like the autobahns, wide and spacious. Driving is
hazardous. If bumped from the back and the culprit is a local, do not
argue but drive away and accept your lot. If one does not heed this rule,
one is left to bear the expense of repairing the vehicle of the local who
is to blame in the first place. The road to the airport is a straight run
and often littered with carcasses of battered cars which are promptly
removed like a murderer who hurriedly removes traces of his misdemeanour.
I have even seen some look like concertinas or split in two. These are
American cars - gas guzzlers. The toll is horrendous. Many an Indian and
his entire family has been wiped out and the Indian government powerless
to intervene.

        Rape of domestics and pressure to convert are common place
occurrences.  Illtreatment even by members of the royal family is common.
A Tamil servant of two princesses went through hell (teeth pulled out with
pliers and fed like a dog from a bowl placed on the floor) till finally
while accompanying the princesses in England, escaped. This incident made
headlines in the British press but no word was leaked out in the local
press. A Filipino who murdered the rapist had to run the gamut of being
sentenced to death, imprisonment, lengthy court battles after her
government and other interceded. Even if innocent, the onus is on the
expats and their lives are at the mercy of the family of the rapist. The
Filipino was lucky to return to her native place where she breathes the
air of freedom after having seen hell on the Island of Ignorance.

        Many have accomplices in their evil ways. Here the British and the
Americans collude with the King of this island. The dignity of an Indian
is of secondary importance and India will not bat for you on the Island of
Ignorance. Open a newspaper and read the advertisements for nannies wanted
from Asia for the British expats or local families. When over there I was
curious to learn that a Goan wanted to test the waters.  He advertised for
a British nanny to do light housework. The British Embassy immediately
went on the offensive and requested the local government to investigate
the matter. How could an ex-colonised expat dare to put such an insulting
ad in the local newspaper? He was hauled before the police and warned
never again to repeat such an insult and the paper was warned never to
accept such ads. I ask myself, where is the Indian government when its
citizens are debased outside its borders?  They are only concerned with
the diamonds and our cash which helps the economy.

                I had forgotten what it meant to be colonised by people
inferior to you - to be insulted and to suffer indignities for the simple
reason that I wished to better the lives of my family and I. Now while I
cast my rod in the backwaters of my village praying for the fish to bite
and watching the mudslippers frolicking on the edge, I can feel my dignity
return to me in tiny dozes. My clothes are simple, my fare too but my
pride to drink my feni without fear and to thank the Lord by reading this
cherished Book give me pride to be back in Goa.
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