Flying away from the nestGovernance falls in the hands of regressive forces when the engines of change exit the system.
In the ethno-national euphoria of the triumphant community after the 16-point conspiracy, a police officer pulled out the 14-year-young Neetu Yadav from his hiding place in the bushes in Janakpur, and shot him dead at point-blank range as another policeman nailed the bewildered boy to the ground.
After the promulgation of the controversial constitution, almost all Madhesh-dependent parties have discarded their original identities and have acquired different names. The 9/11 in Madhesh has begun to fade from public memory. Were Neetu alive today, he would be a promising young man of 22 years. What would he be doing had he survived the brutal bullet in the face? Perhaps the same thing that many of his cohort from Madhesh are doing: Queuing up for a passport or haggling with a manpower agent for the right price to find a job in Malaysia or West Asia.
The compulsion to get out of the country as soon and as fast as one can isn't unique to Madhesh. The scene at the Gaddachauki-Banbasa border point in Sudurpaschim province is often depressing. The trickle of men lugging their worn out bags and heading for home in the hills wear a tired and discontented look. Most out-migrants exiting the country to get back to their jobs or in search of some work somewhere in India appear equally anxious.
Despite the exhibitionism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of which the over IRs41-billion G-20 extravaganza was the latest example, the Indian economy isn't exactly booming, and even the projected growth is mostly of the jobless variety. But the prospect of finding work anywhere in Nepal is so bleak that it still makes sense to borrow some money from the local loan shark and try one's luck in one of the several metropolises of India.
The commotion at the Rupaidiha-Jamunaha crossing for outbound labour from Karnali province is worse as daily wage earners from the other side of the border add to the confusion of exiting seasonal migrants with their bulging backpacks. Long queues are formed as Indian security personnel open plastic jars of pickled bamboo shoots and grimace at the smell.
The Sunauli-Belahiya border is slightly more streamlined as buses between New Delhi and Kathmandu ply through this route. Nepali pilgrims can be seen taking a rented car for Gorakhpur, the nearest city that connects the rest of India with road, rail and air networks. As one goes east from Lumbini, there are more wage earners coming in than going out. Industries on the Birgunj-Pathlaiya Industrial Corridor find it cheaper to hire skilled and reliable labour from across the border.
A significant section of the labour force from much of Madhesh and parts of the Koshi plains have been going to West Asia and Malaysia for over two decades. Many of their children have now joined the flight. Sadly, there has been little enhancement in the skill of second generation out-migrants except that almost nobody these days is completely illiterate.
The panoply of emotions on the faces observed in the holding area outside the departure hall of Tribhuvan International Airport ignites mixed feelings. After having lived or worked abroad for more than a year and completing a short visit home, most returnees appear relieved. Life of a construction worker in West Asia is tough, but one knows what to expect from everyday life. In Nepal, uncertainty at every encounter is the only certainty.
The outbound labourers from Madhesh, clutching their papers in one hand and balancing a tiny bag in the other, look completely lost in the melee. Outbound migrants from the hills and mountains often have someone to see them off. They wear a slightly frightened but expectant look. They may have heard stories of suffering abroad, but they have also seen the improvement that remittances have brought in the lifestyle of their relatives or neighbours.
School graduates headed for educational institutions abroad are easily identifiable with their brand new rolling suitcases, fancy backpacks and either a khada or a garland round they necks as they take selfies with their middle-aged parents from urban bourgeois families. This is the group that Finance Minister Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat targeted with his controversial statement about discouraging students without a 50 to 100 percent scholarship from going overseas for further studies.
The exodus—the Ministry of Education issued over 100,000 formal No Objection Certificates (NOC) for further studies abroad in 2022—is more due to the unavailability of employment opportunities than the state of educational facilities in the country. In the ratio of population, the size of outgoing students is much higher than India, from where 750,365 students went abroad in 2022.
The opportunity cost—the potential forgone profit from a missed opportunity—of higher education for an average family is so high that it makes much more sense to send youngsters in search of work as early as possible. No point in getting an undergraduate degree when the best you can hope for is being a service personnel at a supermarket in Dubai.
The lower middle classes are investing in the prospect of a job for their children when they pay for “managing” a student visa to Australia or Japan with the “expert assistance” of one of the many educational consultancies. The return on investment made for education in the for-profit institutions of technical or higher learning in Nepal is mostly negative. It costs over Rs6 million to complete the basic degree to qualify as a medical doctor where the entry level salary is less than Rs50,000. The annual income works out to be less than the interest incurred on the capital investment.
When a large number of youths—proverbially the engines of every political movement for change—exit the system, the governance of a country falls in the hands of regressive forces. Long distance nationalism of diaspora communities even in democratic countries makes them root for demagogic populists in the homeland as they stay insulated from the negative impacts of their choices. Some of the most vocal supporters of Imran Khan in Pakistan stage protests in London and outrage through the social media.
The long distance ethno-nationalism of the Indian diaspora in the United States has been an important component of Hindutva politics globally. The demagogic exhortations of Mayor Balen Shah of Kathmandu and populist calls of parliamentarian Rabi Lamichhane are magnified through the social media by their devoted supporters in other countries who don't have to pay the price of the excesses of their icons. The well-oiled electoral machine of separatist-turned-nationalist CK Raut is believed to rely upon generous support of overseas Madheshis, primarily in West Asia but also in Australia, England and the US.
A significant number of "students" headed for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries will probably come back only for vacations unless things improve dramatically in Nepal to make the lives of returnees tolerable. Since that seems unlikely at the moment, here are a few lines from a Neil Diamond song of the 1980s for those flying to unfamiliar lands: "Turn on your heartlight / Let it shine wherever you go / Let it make a happy glow / For all the world to see." Farewell young friends; the aged shall wait for your homecoming.