Shifting Demographic Paradigm in Punjab
What constitutes the wealth of a nation or an ethnic/ religious community are its economic assets and its human resource, more particularly its young, productive section of society. So long as these two assets remain productive and constructive, the life of its citizenary remains prosperous, worth living and meaningful. The moment its natural resources like land, water, minerals start depleting with their excessive exploitation without being replenished, they start affecting the livelihood of its dependent population. In the case of traditional societies such as those solely dependent on agriculture, this downward slide in the living standards of its people becomes very pronounced and quicker. Unless alternative avenues of work and livelihood such as those of small scale manufacturing units with smaller investments in capital, hassle free credit facilities and basic training avenues in a variety of skills for its youth are created by the State and its responsible political leadership, this young, inspirational human source and workforce either starts emigrating from its native land to greener pastures or starts getting trapped in a depressing whirlpool of defeatism and psychological depression. This trend is more pronounced in centuries old traditional societies based on agriculture than in some other societies based on other means of livelihood. These two trends of either leaving one's own home and hearth and migrating to distant alien lands or wallowing in one's own economic misery and finding a temporary refuge in drugs, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies have been manifesting themselves in Punjab and among the majority of its rural young Sikh population during the span of almost last two decades. Credible statistics available for both these phenomena are quite alarming and highly disturbing. It would be worthwhile to analyse both these trends in detail.
Emigration of a productive, young, aspirational human resource and work force from one's native land is to distant alien lands is always a two way process or a double-edged weapon. While it results in economic well-being and comparative prosperity of those who migrate successfully and settle abroad, it leaves their native land desolate and deserted. A few examples in this context from the Doaba region of Punjab mainly consisting of Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and Newashahr districts will illustrate this fact. As reported in a write-up in The Tribune, dated March 3, 2019, p. 9 not a single young educated suitable person could be found for the selection in the last Panchayat election for the candidature of a village Sarpanch in the 1200 populated village of Gilizian (Distt Hoshiarpur) The youngest candidate that its residents could find for this post was 62 years old. At least 80% of its residents are visa holders of USA or some other foreign country.
In the absence of its foreign settled residents, their palatial houses with their fancy designer gates in the Doaba region are either heavily padlocked or inhabited by elderly dependent parents or guarded by migrant Bihari family caretakers. Now some concerned NRIs from these districts are making arrangements for their health care at their doorsteps by providing a mobile bus fitted with all the diagnostic kits, paramedics and a doctor. These villages despite their palatial mansions present the looks of a deserted village.
While the first generation emigrants had been sending their earnings through remittances to buy more property in and around their native places and have constructed huge two-storeyed palatial houses in their villages for their families, their younger generations too are abandoning their homes and emigrating abroad. In the recently held three-day world Punjabi conference at Punjab Kala Bhawan, Chandigarh, delegates from diaspora Sikh community from foreign lands pointed to these very disturbing trends. Principal Sarwan Singh (retd.), a well-known, popular Punjabi author and Kabbadi commentator of yore told the audience that while he himself and his brothers invested their earnings in their ancestral village, their sons and grandsons have also migrated to Canada for whom they had created these assets. While nearly one and a half lac Punjab youth have emigrated to Canada either on study or work visas or through some others means this year, their capital wealth worth seventy crores had also gone from Punjab to Canada during this financial year. Thus it is a flight of both productive human resource as well as capital from Punjab, he told. He attributed this twin losses of productive human source and capital to the lack of good, quality education and employment avenues in Punjab, shrinking land holdings, diminishing returns from agriculture and short sighted, opportunistic polices of State's political leadership. On the other hand, the emigrated Punjabi youth who go on a study visa are made to pay exhorbitant fees by the foreign universities and have to live in congested overcrowded basement accommodations. According to Dr Manpreet Dhindsa Sahota, a college lecturer in English in a college in Canada, while a native Canadian student pays 2300 dollars for one semester in a college, an immigrant student has to pay 8700 dollars for the same semester. It is out of these dues that Canada pays for its social security and welfare schemes for its senior citizens. (Punjabi Tribune, Dastak, March 10, 2019).
These exorbitant fees for Punjab students have been paid by their marginal land holding parents either by selling or mortgaging their meager economic assets. Thus, this brain drain from Punjab is not only depriving Punjab of its productive human resource but also its economic assets. This emigration on such a large scale has another dimension as well. The vacuum created by the emigrating workforce is being filled by a similar work force from other Indian states like Bihar and Utar Pardesh, but not for wealth creation in Punjab but for taking their earnings to their native states. This incoming workforce, being non-Sikh and socially and culturally different, is also causing a big demographic change in the state of Punjab. As this two-way process of emigration from Punjab and immigration into Punjab is likely to persist in the coming decades, Punjab is likely to lose both its Sikh majority and Punjabi speaking state tag. It will also have further political repercussions as Sikh share in political power structure is likely to get reduced gradually. In the long run, Punjab is likely to lose its distinct religious, cultural and even political identity. Nothing is more damaging for a well-knit religious community like the Sikhs than losing its distinct religious and cultural moorings and becoming an insignificant part/ number in the anonymous mass of a majoritarian religious majority even in its own native state. Thus, it a quadruple (four dimensional) Whammy for the Sikhs and Punjab with loss of Sikh youth and their wealth and addition of non-Sikh human resource and flight of Punjab's wealth through their remittances at this stage. The increasingly intolerant and aggressive majoritarian Hindutva forces are already knocking at our doors while we ourselves are voluntarily creating a space for them. Preservation of distinct Sikh religious and cultural identity in the Sikh homeland is as obligatory for the Sikhs as earning their livelihood. Sikhs as a community and the Sikh religious and political leadership, as the custodian of this religious heritage, ethos and Sikh way of life, should take a serious note of this disturbing trend and make long-term plans and policies for its preservation and promotion. Another by-product or collateral damage of this exodus of youth combined with poor employment avenues and diminishing agricultural returns is working on the psychology of the remaining Sikh human resource who could not or cannot venture abroad or find any gainful employment in Punjab. Their sense of desperation and depression is resulting in increasing number of suicides among the marginal Sikh farmers, landless labourers and a very high rate of drug addiction among the Sikh youth. The recent surveys conducted by AIIMS in 2015-16 and State Universities recently provide alarming statistics. This fact of large scale addiction of Punjab Sikh youth to alcohol and other opioid substances is corroborated by the registration of thousands of cases and police arrests of drug peddlers and drug addicts in addition to the de-addiction facilities in almost all the primary health centres of Punjab State. The cinematic films like "Udta Punjab" released earlier has highlighted this grim scenario. The end result of large scale emigration, exodus and influx through immigration into Punjab, increasing suicides and drug addiction combined together have converted a once rich prosperous state and its dynamic and hardworking people into a deserted State and helpless frustrated human resource. Excessive use of fertilizers, chemical insecticides and pesticides and depleting water table, degenerating soil fertility, unruminerative prices of agricultural produce, alarming rate of unemployment and directionless populist policies of its political leadership have all combined and resulted into this economic, social and cultural rot. How painfully the following lines from the immortal poem "The Deserted Village" written by an 18th century British poet Oliver Gold Smith sum up the present state of helplessness of Punjab, Sikh youth, and its dwindling economy which the English poet had once written about a similar agrarian crisis in great Britain in the 18th century:
"And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand;
Far, far away thy children leave the land.
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay."
It is a wakeup call for all the stakeholders and custodians of Punjab and the Sikh community to save rich Sikh heritage, culture and Sikh way of life.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2019, All