The dream makers on Grand Trunk Road
by Diditi Mitra
This poster on the wall of a building on Grand Trunk Road between Jalandhar and Ludhiana speaks volumes about the hopes and dreams that are sown in the hearts of rural dwellers in Punjab. It promises an unlimited supply of education, settlement abroad and employment. The obstacles to work and associated accumulation of wealth, along with changes in the social relations in Punjab, make such promises of success in a far flung mythical developed world attractive. According to Professor Ranvinder Singh Sandhu of Guru Nanak Dev University, crisis in farming as well as lack of opportunities in education and employment is a driving force of migration abroad for the youth in Punjab. The advertisement enticing people to travel overseas and expand their horizons is tapping into that frustration felt by the residents of rural Punjab.
At the same time, however, it is noteworthy that the poorest do not migrate internationally because they do not have the resources to leave. Only those with both financial and social capital needed to “purchase the passage” can make those attempts to be “successful.” Ashwini Kumar Nanda, project coordinator at the Center for Research on Rural and Industrial Development in Chandigarh, found exactly that in a study conducted on rural emigration from Punjab. Nanda found that 93 percent of emigrants from Punjab are non-poor and they occupy the top two wealth quintiles.
Cover Image: Anannya Dasgupta
My own research on immigrant Sikh taxi drivers in New York City has also shown that emigration is possible for those who have some amount of land which can be sold to pay toward the passage out of India. Furthermore, the rural Sikh immigrants I interviewed relied on resourceful friends and family members from whom they borrowed the money needed for the trip. And, the amount for the trip many reported can be very high if the visa is bought from an “agent” and/or an “agent” is needed to help the person jump the border without adequate documentation. The immigrants, thus, were part of a social circle with the knowledge and money to help. The presence of friends and family members abroad is an additional layer of support received by the newly arrived immigrants, a valuable resource for the Sikh yellow cabbies in NYC who had poor English language skills and low educational qualifications. Being plugged into a network of friends and family members upon arrival eased their transition into the new society, including search for strategies of permanent settlement (green card marriages for the ones who had arrived with fraudulent “papers”, for instance) and work.
Advertisements for foreign education at the bus stop in Jalandhar
It is precisely those dreams of success that seem impossible in Punjab and broadly, India that are captured by the makers of the posters.
But, there’s one other dimension of the dream presented by the poster above that begs our attention - the dream of a ’Western Education and Immigration.” The lure of the abundant and developed “West” is portrayed cleverly by the “dream makers.” To me, it continues the work of the colonial masters — they extend to the villagers, as they do for the upwardly mobile urban dwellers, the promise of a better world made possible for anyone willing to fly westward toward civilization!
(Go herefor the first post in the series)