MIGRATION FROM PUNJAB: Canada Remains Number One Destination While Half-Truths Related To Punjab Migration Still Exist                      

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

Migration out of Punjab has reached such proportions that it can now be called “Exodus”. However, the reasons given for this situation appear to be more half-truths than complete truth. Canada remains number one destination for the Punjabis who are migrating out of Punjab in ever increasing numbers. The two most common reasons given are: There are no jobs left in Punjab. People who migrate to Canada are very happy there. However, both of these statements are not completely true. I will give several examples from my experiences in Canada and in Punjab which will seriously challenge both these assertions.

The most prevalent reason given for migration out of Punjab is that there is economic compulsion. However, there is qualitative change in the class of people who are migrating out of Punjab. Before, it was mostly the uneducated or less educated rural peasantry which made the bulk of migrants. However, now it is the children of educated middle class who form the leading group of the new migrants. Most of them are passing the ILETS test and are supposedly going for the higher studies. The earlier migrants used to send money back to India and most of them wanted to buy land in Punjab with the money they saved. This raised the prices of land in Punjab.

Now, the middle class is spending their life time saving on the tuition fees and other expenses of their children who have gone for so called higher studies. Some have to sell their land or urban property to meet their expenses. Even after finishing their studies the children usually do not send any money back home. Instead they tell their parents to sell their land or other assets in Punjab to help them in settling in Canada because they do not plan to come back to India. The result is that the land prices in Punjab have drastically fallen.

The most common reason given for leaving Punjab is that there are no jobs here. However, this is only partially true. I was giving a lecture on Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the Gujranwala College Ludhiana. This was sponsored by the Punjab and Sindh Bank. An executive of the bank also spoke there. He said that the most common demand of their customers is that we should provide them Punjabi speaking employees. He asked that how could they do that because 95% of their employees are non Punjabis? They are unable to find Punjabi employees. We can see all over Punjab that the banks have to hire a large number of non Punjabis because they are not finding Punjabi applicants.

I know a young man who was a DSP in Punjab Police, a job very much sought after and he left for Canada to become a taxi driver in Toronto. I also know a young army officer who was going to become a brigadier but he chose to drive taxi in North America another young man who became a colonel at a very young age and will definitely reach the general rank wants to migrate to Canada. He will not mind doing any menial job there. A very well respected retired professor from the Punjabi University told a gathering of scholars that he helped three young people to get very good jobs at the university but all the three left their jobs and migrated. There are a few cases where the young men who inherited land worth hundreds of crores left that behind and chose to become taxi drivers, truck drivers or do other menial jobs. Certainly we cannot say that economic compulsions played a role here.

The other assertion that Punjabis in Canada are much happier than Punjabis living in Punjab is also not completely true. A recent migrant to Canada who retired as a principal of a college in Punjab wrote an article in one of the Punjabi newspapers in Canada that if there is a heaven on the earth then that is in Canada. An elderly man called her and asked her that how long she had lived in Canada. She said that she had been in Canada for only two months. The man said that if after living in Canada for two years she would write the same article then he would believe her.

Many elderly people are not happy with their lives in Canada. An elderly man was asked by his children to join them in Canada. After living there for a couple of months he did not like living there and returned to Punjab. However, he did something unique. He asked all the elderly people he came across that how they felt there. According to his survey, more than 70% replied that they felt like they were in a jail here. I narrated this story to a group of journalists. A very well known NRI from Canada was also present. He interrupted me and said that it is not 70% but 90% who feel that way.

I was frequently invited to different religious, social, cultural and literary functions, particularly in the Vancouver area. In one of the Gurudwaras in the heart of Surrey, the President of the Gurudwara told me that a very large part of the Sangat (congregation) was suffering from depression and he had to request the BC government to start a depression awareness program in the Gurudwara Sahib. I talked to some psychiatrists who practice in the BC and they told me that depression was extremely common in the Punjabi community and some families were devastated because of depression. My own impression is that the incidence of depression in the Punjabi community in Canada is much higher than the incidence of depression in Punjab. Moreover, in some cases of depression the psychiatrists have recommended to take the person to Punjab as a part of the treatment.

Immigration is a very complex and complicated phenomenon.  So far, many Punjabis are viewing it from a linear one track mind, economic only approach. Therefore, we have been unable to fully understand the problems associated with it. We need a multilateral and multi dimensional approach which takes into consideration economic, social, cultural and ethical aspects to understand this phenomenon and to address the problems associated with immigration.

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.


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