Sending Indian Workers To Israel Is A Dangerous And Retrograde Step – OpEd


It is morally repugnant, reminiscent of the British-era’s indentured system and is no solution for India’s unemployment problem.   

On April 12, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a notification asking Indians not to travel to Israel and Iran in view of the deteriorating security situation there. It also advised Indians who are already there to register themselves with the Indian embassies, take precautions about their safety, and restrict their movements to the minimum.

But it is amazing that the Indian government had not thought of such an eventuality when it entered into a deal with Israel in November 2023 to send thousands of workers to that war-torn country to replace the 200,000 Palestinians who were expelled after the October 7 Hamas attack. 

Michelle Buckley of Toronto University and Paula Chakravartty of New York University write in Boston Review dated April 11, that in December 2023, when the toll in Gaza had surpassed 15,000, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu reached out to his Indian counterpart,  Narendra Modi, to remind him of the “strategic partnership” that they had built together since 2014 and requested Modi to dispatch Indian labour to replace the expelled Palestinians.

In fact, in May 2023 itself, long before the Gaza war started, India and Israel had signed a bilateral agreement to send 42,000 Indian labourers to Israel. 

Israel was in the midst of a construction boom and India had a huge youth unemployment problem to solve. And Modi, instead of ensuring an employment-oriented economic policy, sought a quick solution by providing jobs in Israel for unskilled Indians.

The deal was to be for a three-year period. Israel was looking for 100,000 workers. And by October, there were already about 18,000 Indians working in Israel, mostly in the Care Sector. 

Flaws in Deal

However, the deal with Israel was immoral as Modi had abandoned India’s time-tested policy of supporting the oppressed Palestinians and encouraging peace efforts.  

Buckley and Chakravartty allege that India and Israel “dusted off a time-worn strategy from the colonial archives” to revive the iniquitous 19 th.Century “indentured labour system”. 

Thousands of poor Indians were shipped off by the British to work in plantations in far off British colonies and made to work under demeaning conditions.  The indentured labour system was but slavery with some cosmetic modifications.   

As under the indentured labour system, the workers for Israel are being  recruited from the impoverished  areas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana.

Enticing Workers

Buckley and Chakravartty say: “In the states of Haryana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where unemployment rates for young men, especially since the pandemic, remains high, centralized, government-led recruitment drives are advertising construction work in Israel which will pay more than the jobs in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar typically on offer. “

“Seeking to recruit groups of workers by the thousands, governments in both states have been offering signing bonuses on top of the promised wages.”

“In one recent drive in the city of Lucknow, the state government of Uttar Pradesh issued a broad public call for applicants, promising a INR 15,000 bonus for successful candidates which would be transferred to the worker’s employer in Israel and then paid out to the worker “at the end of his tenure.” 

“In an unusual stipulation, workers must sign mandatory contracts of no less than one year, and in keeping with Israel’s existing temporary immigration program, their work and residency in the country are capped at a maximum of 63 months.” 

There is also rank communalism here.  Hundreds of Indian YouTube videos and recruitment ads touting work in Israel make it clear that only “Hindu workers” should apply.

 “All the workers know that Muslims will not be considered for the work visas—meaning that the thirty-eight million Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, one of the main suppliers of construction labour to Israel, are shut out,” one YouTuber told the Israeli newspaper Haraatz

The Israeli government fears Muslims. By this token workers from Pakistan and Bangladesh are not welcome.   

Safety  Neglected

Indian unions and labour federations have criticized the Indian government for its lack of concern for workers’ safety, the press reported. 

The head of the Steel, Metal and Engineering Workers Federation of India called the plan “a very wrong decision by the Indian government to send its workers to work in such dangerous working conditions. There are serious safety concerns for workers in Israel right now.”

“Nothing could be more immoral and disastrous for India than the said export of workers to Israel,” it declared. “That India is even considering exporting workers to an active war zone shows the manner in which it has dehumanized and commodified Indian workers,” the head said. 

Domestic Unemployment 

The Modi government mistakenly thinks that sending unemployed workers to Israel will help solve the unemployment problem in India, which is huge.  

According to the India Employment Report 2024 of the ILO released on March 26, though the proportion of youth getting an education increased from 18% in 2000 to 35% in 2022, the percentage of youth involved in economic activities decreased from 52% to 37% during the same period.

Unemployment in India is “predominantly a problem among youth”, especially those with a secondary education or higher, and that it has intensified over time, the report said. 

In 2022, the share of unemployed youth in the total unemployed population was 82.9% The share of educated youth among all unemployed people increased from 54.2% in 2000 to 65.7% in 2022. 

The first thing to note in the first India Today/CVoter ‘Mood of the Nation’ poll of 2024 is that 64%, is that the economic situation has deteriorated or remained the same in the past decade (under the Modi government). Over one-third say their situation has got worse since 2014. 

The survey had 35,801 respondents covered between December 15, 2023 and January 28, 2024,  in all Lok Sabha segments across all States.

On unemployment, 71% say the situation is either “very serious” or “serious”. A whopping 54% of those surveyed say the jobs situation is “very serious”. 

Formal employment is going down. State jobs or “bhartis” have been postponed for years with an entire generation preparing for ‘competitive examinations’ feeling left out and out of job. The Armed Forces deciding to switch to the ‘Agniveer’ model of hiring soldiers on short-term contracts has led to many giving up the idea of a career in the armed forces.

“Current household expenses are difficult to manage”, and this worries 62% of those surveyed. If you add those who worry about raised expenses but still say it is manageable (33%), this makes price rise a concern for 95% of those surveyed. 

The survey shows that in the past ten years economic policies are being drawn up to help big business as 52%, say so. Only 9% think economic policies are benefitting farmers, 11% are of the view they support small business and only 8% say they benefit the salaried class.

An analysis by India Ratings and Research for FY22 and FY23, cited by India Today, “shows that wages for lower-income groups, comprising agricultural rural workers and unskilled workers, saw negligible growth, if at all. In contrast, wages for corporates, representing the top 50% of the income bracket, increased by over 10% in the past two years.” 

Going by the ‘Mood of the Nation’, the people have caught on to how policies are hurting those at the bottom of the scale disproportionately. 

The medium, small and micro sectors are among the most important pillars of the Indian  economy. At present, there are more than 60 million MSMEs in India providing 110 million jobs. The sector contributes approximately 30% to India’s GDP and has a share of approximately 50% of India’s exports. 

But demonetization, the pandemic and GST have together hurt the sector. India’s poor system of education and job-training means degrees are often considered worthless by employers. 

Sending Indian workers to Israel is morally repugnant, reminiscent of the British-era’s indentured system and is no solution for India’s unemployment problem. GDP growth without employment generation is a recipe for disaster.  

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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