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Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management

The patels in philadelphia

The economic rationale of human trafficking

When the popular media raucously reported the arrest of Bhartiya Janata Party Member of Parliament, Babubhai Katara, usual politics apart, what intrigued me most is the economics of infamous human trafficking trade. Though human trafficking is not new to our economy, what blows a sane mind off is the amount of money involved in the trade (a report states that Punjab alone accounts for Rs 120 billion of human trafficking trade a year). In Katara’s case too, it has been reported that people paid anywhere between Rs 2.5 and Rs 3 million to him and his coterie, to be smuggled out to the United States, UK or Canada.

So, before Katara is tried, convicted and put behind the bars (if at all that happens), there are a few pertinent issues and ironies. Though I am unaware of the finer details of what Katara and his accomplices did, if they did not forcibly traffic people, we should think twice before we punish them, (at least on the grounds of trafficking per se). I say this because, considering that we as a nation have opted for a free market (and knowing very well that markets don’t have morality), like any profit seeking free marketer, what Katara did was to tap that urge within Indians to migrate to the US, UK and Canada, and charged a price which was purely driven by market forces (imperfect market, though).

Also, over the years, it has been reported that, of people trafficked internationally, mostly are either from Punjab or Gujarat. It is a well established fact that both Punjabis and Gujaratis have traditionally been the most enterprising communities of India. When these prudent communities choose to pay an unjustified price, decide to serve a foreign nation as a second class citizen in a third grade job, it becomes a matter of national disgrace. It turns into a bigger disgrace, when they knowingly opt to spend a fortune (by selling their assets or at times spending the lifetime incomes of their parents) and lead a reckless life abroad (at times even in jails), at the cost of investing the same in India and leading a dignified life. What’s more, knowing that almost 30,000 Indians are languishing in foreign jails on charges of illegal immigration, the madness within millions of Indians to migrate at any cost continues with impunity.

In the given scenario, if agents like Katara have been successful in extracting such obscene prices (a price which is beyond the reach of more than 80% Indians) from an economy which is underdeveloped, then more than the enterprising nature of his crime, the extent of madness of people desirous of leaving this country gets conspicuously reflected. It is obvious that some Indians are so frustrated, that they do not mind risking their money and lives and end up in a foreign jail, than live a free life in India.

In light of all this, now you tell me: Is Katara alone or does it includes all those who had taken up the responsibility of restoring the sense of pride and commitment amongst Indians?


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