Between Saqib And Ahmad: Who ‘Deserves’ To Be An Immigrant?

SAQIB and Ahmad (names changed) are Kashmiri young men, in the prime of their lives. But importantly, life chances determining differences, define the two: Saqib is an ‘uptown’ Kashmiri, upper middle class (by the standards of Kashmir). Both his parents are educated professionals and live in a spacious house. Saqib is ‘in the know’ about the world: he has access to the internet, is present on all forms of social media. More importantly, Saqib has been educated in one of the best schools of Kashmir. His parents are debating whether to send him to a good college in India or to enroll him in a Western university of repute. Money is not a factor for the decision; location and proximity to Kashmir and thereby family are. Saqib is excited at the prospects. He has vacationed in Delhi and Mumbai with his parents but now wants to explore the West. He celebrates his birthdays in snazzy cafes of Kashmir. His network of friends and acquaintances – from the same class- pepper him with adulation and greetings for his prospective westward journey. He is studying and getting tuition for GMAT and TOEFL.

Let’s meet Ahmad now. A denizen of Downtown Srinagar, Ahmad has been educated in a government school. Both parents —the father , a carpet weaver and the mother a shawl embroiderer whose daily struggle is making ends meet — have determinedly  retained him in school. Ahmad has three sisters that help the mother in her shawl embroidery work and household chores. One of the daughters, in the cultural and social context of Kashmir, is of marriageable age but poor finances of the family get in the way. Ahmad moonlights to supplement the family’s income and goes to a government run college,the only choice available to him. With no practical guidance about what course to choose and a somewhat poor academic record due to structural factors — government school education, no tuition, no other support — Ahmad is doing a BA. (The hope, a vague one, is that maybe, just maybe, one day he might get a government job, in the lowest pecking order of the hierarchy). There’s a ‘silver lining’ to Ahmad: a job broking agent, against a payment of one lakh rupees, an amount that the family has borrowed from friends and relatives, has promised a job in Dubai. What the job is, what the remuneration is, and other relevant legal and employment details, nobody knows.

These are snapshot profiles of two young men, whose life chances are essentially defined by the socio-economic conditions they were born into, a chance event but one that will leave an imprint on them beyond their lives. In all likelihood, Saqib will land in a US university, do an BTech or a voguish course that will land him in a job in the same country. His children will get the best education. If and when Saqib gets citizenship in the US, his parents will either join him in the country or against the granting of 10 year multiple entry visit visas, visit Saqib frequently.  Ahmad’s life, to the contrary, will be one of struggle, frustrations of an economic and social nature and even deprivation. His employment will be precarious, fetching him and his family little. He will borrow to get his sisters married and once his parents attain old age, he will struggle to take care of him. Shorn of a miracle , this pattern will be intergenerational.

 Among and between the two, who ‘deserves’ to be an immigrant?

It must be said that immigration is not an entitlement. It is what it is: a movement or flow of people determined either by the ‘push’ or the pull factor. The former refers to refugee flows and the latter more or less a choice(for some) determined by opportunities created by globalization. Implicit in the former is a moral bargain: it is owed to people facing life threats to be accorded a safe habitat(roughly). The latter is premised on a utilitarian calculus, which is usually a win- win bargain for both the immigrants and host societies. But, oftentimes, it is the highly skilled and educated immigrant who has it all going for him and her that is the prime beneficiary at a range of levels.

Broadly, immigrants have some value to sending societies usually by way of remittance flows. Over time, it has also been observed that there are some negative returns to host societies as well. But on balance, there is some correlation between development and immigration. The relationship could be more robust and vigorous if a moral component could be overlaid onto the utilitarian one, the kind that could allow people like Ahmad from downtown Srinagar to at least think about a ‘better life’. Is this possible? Possibly. But the real question is: how  can it be made possible and immigration of the pull variety not be merely an elitist phenomenon?


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Wajahat Qazi

Masters with Distinction in International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Worked as Associate Editor of Kashmir Observer.

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