Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Migrant Syndrome


The word ‘migrant’ mostly refers to a state where an individual is away from home for purpose of work and employment. Sometimes there are other border issues, which is not my focus of attention in this post. Thus a migrant is in a state of ‘unhome’ where he/she is away from the comfort and familiarity of the home and hearth. Of late, the word ‘migrant’ has been sporadically colouring newspapers and news in general. If an individual is away from his/her home does it also mean that there is a greater sense of recklessness and wanton abandon? We have also heard of the clich├ęd phrase, “home away from home” and so I would presume that the migrant leaves his/her natal home in search of greener pastures and adopts the new place as his/her home. When one adopts the new city/town as his/her home, then he/she is liable to behave in the new place as he/she would do in his/her natal or native place. But in many cases this does not seem to be the norm.


The new place is treated with callousness and a sense of foreign which cannot be like one’s home or even nearer to it. There comes a sense of freedom and independence which borders on the promiscuous and the unethical. Probably this is one reason why the migrants are seen with a certain disdain by some political parties. This attitude of the migrant also came about in many episodes in the recent past. I would like to highlight some incidents in Goa where the word ‘migrant’ has raised its ugly hood quite often in the recent past. There have been several crimes (read rape, molestation, kidnapping, murder) where the main suspects are perceived to be migrants who commit a crime and then escape. That a local person cannot commit a heinous crime in his/her own place is collective opinion of the police as well as the general public. But my question is, ‘Is the police trying to nail the migrant as a soft target thereby completely negating the hand of any others in the crime?’ No matter what crime takes place, the first comment is that “The hand of migrants is suspected.” I cannot tell whether the statement is a general one or a carefully investigated one.


Are migrants all that dangerous? Or are migrants of a particular class seen as dangerous? But the same migrants also belong somewhere. It would be interesting to observe their behavior in places where they have been born and brought up. There they aren't migrants or unhomed people. In their native place, they don’t have the tag of criminals or law-breakers. Is there something which goes wrong when one leaves the safe confines and familiarity of one’s home and family? Is there no sense of accountability in the new place which has willingly given them employment and shelter? After all, the host city/town has embraced their skill and given them a place to earn their livelihood which was unavailable in their home-town or village.


I don’t blame the police or the public in looking at a migrant worker with suspicion. At times, I also cannot stop having a certain feeling of doubt when I see someone who I can identify as a migrant. After the Delhi episode, I cannot but see every foreign looking construction worker/labourer/driver without thinking of the rape. I know that I am over-reacting but the incident has left me quite bitter and scared. I wonder if the same individuals would have done a brutal act if they were at home with members of their kith and kin. And this situation is not in India alone. There have been many such instances in many other parts of the world as well where migrants are not those who seek employment and sustenance alone but also those who cross porous borders and boundaries illegally and are known as refugees who are also in a state of unhome. There have been many studies along these lines but not many to prove that the state of being unhomed also leads to many criminal and wild activities. 

This post was a thinking aloud post. I would like to hear what you have to say on this issue. 

Image: Internet

34 comments:

  1. Very complex issue but it hurts when one is categorized as an immigrant purely because of the way one looks or the language one speaks. India is a non-uniform country and such stereotyping can be really hurtful and a hindrance.

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    1. True that, Rachna. India is definitely a diverse country and most often the ones who are below the middle-class section get beaten around and accused of committing crimes.

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  2. Complex issue but well written. The us & them divide will always be there because birds of a feather do not accept others as their own & vice versa.

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    1. More than acceptance, it is the issue of crimes committed by the migrants that I want to focus. Many times locals are let off easily unlike the migrants. And, the recent Delhi issue was caused by migrants. What is this whole migrant syndrome about, I wonder.

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  3. The divide exists all over, but unfortunately there are times when it is your own who is out to get you...

    You have shared what is within most of us.. :)

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    1. Yes, it is. Tamil Nadu, for example is filled with many workers who are sourced from UP, Bengal and other places for working in construction sites. They are mostly the ones who tease girls, keep staring and ogling. Well, I don't say that locals don't do that but the outsiders seem a bit brash and aggressive.

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  4. Given that more than 90% of sexual abuse crimes happen amongst people we know and often in confines of "home", the "unhomed" individual is but a soft target. Yet, we have theories like the bare branch theories which speak about how being cast in a foreign place with no anchoring of love and comfort of a home and wife creates antisocial activities. And yes, the rare occurences of sexual crimes from the unhomed is violent--more because they need to escape from the crime. At home the crime doesnt result in death because perpetrators can use other means like fear or dependency or social honour and what not to shut up the victims. We need to reread the whole migrant storylines in our media. Thanks for bringing this to the fore.

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    1. Quite a sociologist's perspective, Bhavana and very right as well. And yes, we need to reread the whole migrant storylines. Thanks for coming by, dear Bhavana.

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  5. What I find difficult to understand is the issue of 'migrants' within one country, Susan. We're all migrants aren't we? So imagine if we were viewed with suspicion in every state but our own? My great grandparents would still be stuck in a small village in Goa!

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    1. Corinne, we are migrants but then we have also settled in the land where we have migrated. We have a proper home, facilities and other aspects of life that has made us comfortable. Now the migrants that I talk of, are not settled in the place where they have migrated. They continue to be in an in-between state. My prime focus is a certain section of migrants - the daily wage earner types.

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  6. I don't know much on this issue, but I have heard from my friends in US that migrants (from other countries) are the hardest workers there as it is difficult for them to establish themselves (compared to natives).

    Destination Infinity

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    1. I don't deny that, Rajesh. Migrants are hard workers for they always feel threatened and hence perform very well but sometimes some cases a different personality takes over.

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  7. ur fear is not unfounded. The very reason big cities around the world have more crimes is because of this migrant floating population - who cant be traced, dont haeve a record etc. they don't "belong" and hence they feel empowered to do what they otherwise wouldn't dare to!

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    1. I like how you use the positive word "empowerment" here.

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  8. The issue of immigration is such a hot topic here in the U.S. Unfortunately many people do equate immigration with crime. It's an interesting factor that you bring in - the one of homelessness. I wonder if I felt displaced, stressed, trying to understand a different culture, if I wouldn't turn to crime. I don't think so, but the question is worthy of more research. For now, I think it's safest to try to refrain from judging based on stereotype. There are many, many good, hardworking, law abiding immigrants. My grandparents were.

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    1. We aren't judging, Myrna, just discussing some possibilities. In Delhi, India recently there was a brutal crime and all those who were arrested were migrant labourers.

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  9. Susan,
    That's smthing quite thoughtful to think abt. The way you hav approached it here is with a considerate eye, that their loneliness due to "home away" forces them to commit crime.Mite b! But wat I personaly feel s dat living away, being a young man, with loads f energy boiling within, and wid the gr8 sense f freedom n thots of "who cares", they just liked doing it. These aren't planned cases, rather it's just a mater of choice or decision they make - in seconds!! Yes, frustration cud also b a case! But, in frustration, you mite break things or beat sm1 around - u can't commit such blunders! That too s a small word. Yes, v should not be stereotypical as I won't say the whole immigrants comunity at any place is spoilt. I wud realy like to read more coments.

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    1. Some stories are different and some known. Nothing is planned as you said, but being away from home also takes a certain fear and responsibility. It's just like a homosexual is closed and confined at home but when he/she is in another country, which is free and accepting, they feel free. I'm just explaining the 'being away from home' factor better. And yes, no stereotyping and judging.

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  10. When you leave the confines of your home, you are bound to feel a sense of gay abandon. For most people, this can mean exploring into hitherto unknown avenues (Doing something productive.). But for a few, it can mean trying out social, legally and morally prohibited stuff. The rapists of Delhi might have had this attitude that fateful night. It would have been their idea of fun. It feels so draconian to us, but to them, it was a night of treat.

    The only way out, like I was saying in our CBC, is to develop a proper education system. Of course, values and ethics should begin at home too. The responsibility rests on the shoulders of the parents, teachers and all elders. We need to ensure that at least our future citizens turn out to become civilized individuals.

    A thought provoking post indeed, Susan :)

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    1. But most migrants don't even have access to school. They start working at a very early age.

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  11. You've tickled the thinking cells! This issue of misbehaving or forgetting the civilization is largely with blue collar workers I think. There may be a perception that they can do anything and get away with it. Especially if they are from a country which is seen up above the country they migrated to. Or there may also be a gut feeling that they are strong enough to take on anything. The very state of staying away from home induces an individual to do so many things. Reason being his folks will not know what's going on with him.

    As you've mentioned, this individual behavior (rude, barbarian or civilized) largely depends on the way they were brought up in the family. The surrounding neighborhood and the people they deal with, plays a role as well.

    PS: Contrary to this, our fellow Indians show their best culture and civilized activity when living on foreign shores; following every rule and ethics. The moment they land in India, the first thing to do outside the airport is litter! Agree? :)

    - Anand.

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    1. Family plays a pivotal role, I agree. Your PS was intriguing because I recently read how Indians are always targeted for their crude behaviour like skipping queues, talking loudly, playing music loudly, etc.

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  12. In my opinion, I think it is easier to single out migrants and demonize them hence any crime that gets committed by migrants is publicized more than one that is committed by a 'local'. Usually for one criminal migrant, there are thousands of hard-working migrants. In any place, if a foreigner commits some crime, it will get more attention and publicity than if the same is committed by a local.

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    1. More than easier, statistics prove that migrants do commit a lot of crimes. The recent Delhi episode is an example. I don't deny that there are many hard-working migrants but I don't even say that migrants are the only criminals.

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  13. How interesting to read this since immigration reform is a hot topic in the US right now. I also visited your gratitude blog. Very nice.

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    1. In US there are a different set of problems than here. But they all border on the same lines - Away from home.

      Thanks for coming by dear Galen. Much appreciated. I'm happy that you visited my Gratitude blog as well.

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  14. True, the word migrant does convey poverty and all its attendant woes (crime, manual labor, peripatetic stints, even homelessness). But many people don't realize that most jobs they wouldn't be caught dead doing are done by migrant workers. They are demonized by most, even by the police, as you said, but in truth they are one of the most abused sectors of society.

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    1. Quite right, Age. There are labour problems everywhere ans the migrants help ease that by offering their services. Both the host and the migrant labourer are being mutually helpful to each other but often relocating to another place yet being unsettled does pose a lot of problems. Inspite of all that one shouldn't stereotype migrants, I reckon.

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  15. I would say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. That is not the place to exhibit one's sense of freedom. No wonder they are targeted by the local people.

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    1. Unfortunately being away from home does give the individual a sense of freedom and carelessness. I just wish they understand that freedom is not hurting or harming anyone.

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  16. By far one of the best posts I have read of late. There are several points you make, dear Susan; I am an migrant and I am not dangerous. I adopted this culture as my own while keeping mine alive.
    The fact that the police in India spots a migrant faster than a native, is a common stereotyping assigned to minorites. We see it in the States all the time where blacks get killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and suspected of a crime.
    Violent people will commit crimes anywhere. They might find places away from home where they can hide in obscurity, but their evil spirit goes with them wherever they go.

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    1. Thanks Myriam. You are a migrant, right but you have chosen to settle down to the place you have migrated to. So, you cease to be a migrant. You have a home and hearth in place unlike the others who float between the host country and their native place.
      You're right about violent people and their spirits.

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