Why are Indians running away from India?

Quite a few years ago I had given a lecture at my alma mater IIT Kanpur. I asked the students if I had the power to grant them a US green card how many would like to migrate.  In the auditorium of around 200 students most raised their hands. This pursuit of excellence can be helped by the constant exposure of students to lectures by achievers. Students at an impressionable age once inspired can do wonders in later life. 

Anil K. Rajvanshi Apr 21, 2024
Representational Photo

According to the latest data from the Government of India, every year about 2.5 million Indians migrate overseas. This is the highest rate of migration in the world.  Not only are average Indians migrating but high-networth Indians are also leaving and taking up foreign citizenship.

Discussions with some of these Indians going abroad reveal that they are going because of better prospects, better living standards, and the environment. Most of the foreign countries discriminate against Indians and yet Indian students and others die to migrate.  So, what is the reason that lures millions of Indians to get out of India?

Not invested in the India story 

The most important reason for Indians migrating is that they consider their native land as a place with little future and are not invested in the emerging India story.

Quite a few years ago I had given a lecture at my alma mater IIT Kanpur. I asked the students if I had the power to grant them a US green card how many would like to migrate.  In the auditorium of around 200 students most raised their hands.

I was pained to see this response that the cream of engineering students from the most prestigious IIT wanted to get out of India and wondered if we will ever have good engineers and people who will build this country.  Most of these students said that they will go for higher studies and will come back but the records show that this rarely happens.  

Little confidence in India's future

One of the main reasons for Indians wanting to leave is that they are not attached to the prevailing narrative of an India on a growth trajectory and set to become a global power. They had never felt for India – the only attachment was to their family and everything else was bad here.  Hence, they want to run away.

It is not the fault of youngsters since they are constantly reminded by their parents, peers and others that nothing will be achieved here and they should look for greener pastures outside India. This is the story of all developing countries.

Being smart and internet savvy, and being aware of the world, the youngsters are also aware that there is a lot of unemployment and corruption in the country, the present politics is very divisive and polarizing, and the general environment is not very conducive for growth, and development. Deep down most Indians somehow do not have confidence in the future of the country.  

In all my talks I tell these students that although this is the situation presently but if they will not rectify it then who will? The youth of the country are its future, and they have a very important role to play in improving the country and making it great. I also tell them that wherever they will go they cannot shrug off their Indianness. They will always be attached emotionally to India so why not make the country great so that they do not have to leave it? But there seem to be few takers for this challenge as most want to look for greener pastures. 

Seized with a sense of idealism earlier 

All over the world change has been brought by the youth of the country. During our freedom struggle against British rule, it was the youth of India that provided the main strength to Gandhiji’s movement.

My attachment to the story of India

I also tell in all my talks that I left everything in the U.S. in the early 1980s and came back to rural Maharashtra since I was too attached to the story of India to stay abroad.  I narrate to them the events and forces in my life and what and why I did it, in the fond hope that it might inspire the youngsters to live and work in India.  

My father Jagdish Rajvanshi had gone to jail in the 1942 Quit India movement. He was only 24 years of age and a large number of his friends of similar age participated in the movement. His idealism and love for the country inspired me and made me understand and read about the great spiritual traditions of India and its rich history. These are some of the things that helped me get attached to the emerging India story.

During my IITK student days, we talked about and discussed the events happening in the country.  There were no distractions from the internet and social media so lots of discussions took place.  In the present scenario, the whole focus is on the “me" generation.  So, everything is measured with the yardstick of what is in it for me.  

Whenever I talk to youngsters anywhere in the country, I am pained to note that the affairs of the country do not enter their vision field. They are too focused on getting good-paying jobs with excellent packages. So, most of the time their discussions are centered around the jobs.

Greed for money

However, I feel it is not the students’ fault only. Society puts too much pressure on them to make money.  Somehow in the present society, nothing else matters except money. A person’s worth is measured by how much money he/she makes.

Most of the world copies the American way of life hence the greed which is the hallmark of present American society has also seeped deeply into the Indian system. Very often students have told me that I am one of the very few speakers who talks about the country and how students can help to make it better. Most of the corporate speakers talk about which is the best job and where you can make the most money. 

I also feel that when students do not have any higher thoughts or ideals to achieve then money becomes the important goal. The mass media fuels this idea and projects that one has arrived when one makes lots of money and the lifestyle of the corrupt and super-rich is shown as a role model.   

Very often I have found that bright students want to achieve something in their lives.  They have the capability of delivering on expectations no matter how tough they are.  Yet they are not expected or directed to higher and noble goals and so do not know what to do.  If they are made to do hard work to achieve them, they will do it and feel satisfied.  An empty mind is a devil’s workshop. 

Also, they are not challenged in their college days to strive for excellence. Because most of the professors and teachers themselves are mediocre and do not know better.  So, it is like Kabir’s doha “Andha Andhe Theliya – dono koop parent” (Blind leads the blind and both fall into the well).

What needs to be done?

There should be a continuous discussion in all classrooms about the ethics of work and how each student can help improve society by bettering their surroundings. So, in schools, they should be made to do physical things like keeping school clean and well-maintained.  More and more hands-on projects should be made part of the curriculum. Also, students should be guided to be involved in local community development.

Students should be exposed to the great historical traditions, arts, and philosophical thought of ancient India. Too often we do not teach students the greatness of our culture. The success stories of how periodically India has imparted great thought to the world like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Yoga etc. should be taught. It will help students get inspired and feel proud to be Indians. I also feel that a thought that combines spirituality with technology can be a new paradigm of development.

Students should also be encouraged to excel in whatever they do.  But for this tradition of excellence to be developed we need excellent and dedicated teachers who will make subjects interesting and then coax students to excel.  Today students are exposed to the world because of the internet.  They should be encouraged to take up a hobby and excel in it.  

This pursuit of excellence can be helped by the constant exposure of students to lectures by achievers. Students at an impressionable age once inspired can do wonders in later life. There should be a national program of inspiring figures visiting schools and sharing their life lessons with the students.

Once the bug or DNA of excellence gets into the students, they will be suitably inspired to work with passion.  It will become a way of life. This will help them to be creative expand their horizons and help them get attached to the India story.

(The writer, an IIT and US-educated engineer,  a 2022 Padma Shri award winner, is the Director, of Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra.)  

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I love how you break down complex concepts into simple, understandable language.