Tuesday, Jul 05, 2022
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The Great Gujarati Migration And The American Dream

The desire to move out of Gujarat is not new. Migration of Gujaratis to the US and other countries happened in three phases which began after land-holdings of the otherwise landed and rich Patidars decreased with the expansion of families; a process that had started years after the Land Ceiling Act came into force

Indian diaspora in US
Indian diaspora in US Getty

Jimmy Patel of Ahmedabad recently completed his engineering studies from a reputed private university in Ahmedabad but is desperately applying for admission to just any US institution for higher education. “Many youngsters not just from Gujarat but also from across the country are looking at avenues in the US,” says Jimmy.

Ditto Chintu Patel, who is studying civil engineering in Atlanta, US. “There is corruption and nepotism in India…But in the US, you get appreciation, good money and status. This is the reason many Patidar youth prefer to move to America,” he says.

Jimmy and Chintu are not exceptions. They are a part of an increasing number of Gujarati youngsters, especially from the Patel community, wishing to somehow move to the US. Ask Ashutosh Patel, studying in Tennessee, US or Nirav Kadiya, who has settled in Canada for the past seven years. “I graduated in India but could not find a suitably paying job. There are many like me who wish to migrate to the US, Canada or the UK,” Nirav says.

The desire to move out of Gujarat is not new. Migration of Gujaratis to the US and other countries happened in three phases, says sociologist Gaurang Jani, who teaches at the Gujarat University in Ahmedabad.

“The first phase was in the mid-60s when educated doctors and engineers migrated to the US through proper legal means; that’s when the brain drain began. In the second phase, their extended families started moving as they were sponsored. And in the latest wave, all classes of Patidars started moving to the West and didn’t mind taking up sundry jobs and errands that would otherwise be below their dignity to do back home,” says Jani.

This rush started, concurs veteran journalist and Patidar welfare activist Jyotindra Patel, when the land-holdings of the otherwise landed and rich Patidars decreased with the expansion of families; a process that had started years after the Land Ceiling Act came into force. Simultaneously, agriculture gradually became more expensive with the rise in input costs as against erratic remunerative prices for the crop.

“Hardik Patel and the thousands of youngsters who joined the 2015 agitation for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category were an offshoot of this situation. They don’t wish to get into agriculture but want to take up modern-day jobs but with increasing privatisation of education, it too became expensive. So, there is this generation which is neither here nor there,” explains Jyotindra Patel.  

He is not off-the-mark. Little else explains the fact that the very Patels who considered themselves as higher castes and were at the forefront of two violent anti-reservation agitations in Gujarat in the 1980 and 1985, were now strongly pitching for reservation benefits for themselves under the OBC category.

In search of a bride

Besides better money and lifestyle, the need for this status symbol of having at least one member of a family – especially of marriageable age – in the US, also spawns from a social malaise among the Patidars, especially in the largest north Gujarat districts of Mehsana and Gandhinagar, of a skewed sex ratio.

As a result, families of many Patidar youngsters virtually buy girls to get their sons married – in other words, they pay a huge dowry to move the girls of their choice to the US.  

The Patels usually don’t prefer to marry outside their community while they have a skewed sex ratio of 926 women to 1,000 men, according to the 2011 census. This was 927 in 2001. And the child sex ratio as on 2011 was 842 against 801 in 2001. And economically well-off towns like Mehsana or Kalol have a child sex ratio as low as 725-760.

“It is a status symbol for the Patels to have at least two people in a family in the US. In fact, our boys find it difficult to get a bride if they are not settled in the US,” says Bhavin Patel of Dingucha village, whose elder brother is in America.

“You will find only elderly people and senior citizens in many villages but they are taken care of by the money sent by their children and the non-resident Indians (NRIs) who went abroad send huge donations to help the people,” he says.

Thousands from Gujarat’s Patidar (or Patel) community through several decades have been fortunate to find their American Dream, often by hook and by crook.

And there is a huge community structure not only in India but across the US, which not only helps them reach there but also settle down. There are temple trusts in hundreds of Patidar-dominated villages in North Gujarat, which receive huge donations during festivals.

These trusts get donations from Patels settled abroad and in India especially during Diwali, poonam (full-moon night) and Holi puja at the community temples in the villages.

The latest instance in March was a donation of roughly Rs 1.13 crore by a US-based Patidar, who had requested his identity to be kept confidential, to the much-revered Vardayini Mataji Temple in Rupal village in Gandhinagar. As many as 3,000 notes of $50 each were used as garlands and other decorations at the temple.

This money, according to the temple managers, would be used for the welfare of the community. “Needless to say much of it would also be used to fund those who wish to study or migrate to America,” a community leader said, requesting anonymity.

Villagers fear to speak on record after the Canada incident where a family of four froze to death while trying to illegally enter the US though they are sure it would not make them give up their American Dream. “Things would soon settle down and there would be other ways,” a villager says.

Take Dingucha village in Gandhinagar district’s Kalol taluka (tehsil) where the Patel family who died in the Canada blizzard belonged to.

Chasing the American Dream

“People here are willing to spend any amount of money to somehow reach the US where the large and powerful network of the Patel community takes care of them,” says a police officer associated with the investigation of the racket after the Canada deaths.

Requesting anonymity, he says, “You would not even recognise that almost everyone in Dingucha village or for that matter many villages in Gandhinagar and Mehsana districts are veritable agents helping people to migrate.”

The Dingucha village also has a Brahmani Mataji Temple Trust, which receives huge donations, “and it helps bright youngsters financially to study abroad and gives loans at 0% interest without an EMI”, says Bhavin Patel, 35, a farmer in Dingucha who also has a small fabrication unit.

There is a huge support structure from the community once you reach America. For instance, once a couple reaches any American city they are picked up by their prospective motel-owner employers and are properly put up there. “They don’t have to spend anything since their living expenses are taken care of by the motel owners,” says Jyotindra Patel.

The couple gets paid $150 a day for housekeeping work, besides the tip of $30-40 by the guests staying there. “A staggering $200 a day would be Rs 14,000 assuming a dollar to be equivalent to Rs 70. Plus no expenses on their stay and food. Many of them can hardly manage Rs 10,000-12,000 a month back home in India,” Patel points out.   

And that’s why the rush to escape.

(The writer is Editor, Development News Network (DNN), Gujarat. Views expressed are personal)

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