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NRIs have close ties with Dubai, but live in fear of deportation

India-UAE trade is worth US$67 billion, trade that is the work of small, medium and big businessmen, women, and families.

Kashif-ul-Huda  Dubai | 3rd Nov 2012

Today Dubai is all about high-rise buildings, huge malls, and traffic. REUTERS

alman Siddiqui, a businessman, is a witness to the Emirates' path to economic progress. In 1978 when he first arrived in Dubai there were very few proper roads and fewer multi-storied buildings. Today Dubai is all about high-rise buildings, huge malls, and traffic. Indians can take pride in the economic development of United Arab Emirates: while they benefited from its growth they were also the ones who built this city with their sweat and blood working as labourers, construction workers, traders, professionals and businessmen.

The history of business relations between India and the Emirates goes back hundreds of years. Even today, walk along Dubai Creek and you will see dhows from neighbouring countries doing their bit to take part in import and export — lifeblood of business in the Emirates. Indian ships continue to follow the maritime path of thousands of years to sail back and forth between Dubai and India.

Economic links became stronger with the British controlling India and Persian Gulf region. A symbol of this strong tie was the Indian currency, which was common in circulation in this region before Emirates adopted Dirham as its national currency in 1973.

At first Indians came as traders, bankers, and merchants. It was not until the oil and construction boom of the 1980s that the number of Indians coming to the Emirates shot up significantly. Current estimates of Indians in the UAE vary between 700,000 and 1.3 million. According to Prakash C. Jain of Jawaharlal Nehru University, "A survey conducted in the UAE found that 35% of the Indian community hailed from Kerala, followed by Maharashtrians, Gujaratis and Goans. The majority of Indians were Muslim (56%) followed by Christians (26%) and Hindus (16%)."

No mention of Indians in Dubai will be complete without acknowledging that Dubai had been for some time home for smugglers and criminals as well, who enjoyed Dubai's trading status to make money smuggling gold and electronics into India.

India-UAE trade today is worth US$67 billion. These billions are the work of many small, medium and big businessmen, women, and families. Indian Muslims have also done very well in the business environment of the UAE.

I asked S.M. Syed Khalil, director of the Jashanmal Group why Indian Muslims seemed to have done well in the Emirates, but we don't see similar level of success by Muslim businesses back in India. "In India, we suffer from discrimination by government officials," he said. He also attributes the success to Dubai's no-tax regime and relatively hindrance free business environment.

But it is not just businesses and their jobs that keep these NRIs occupied. There are a number of cultural organisations that are actively keeping the traditions and culture alive. Dubai mushairas have been very popular since the 1990s among both Indians and Pakistanis for the quality of the verses recited as well as a way to bring finest poets from both nations on one platform year after year.

Plays, classical dances and cultural programmes in different languages are patronized and appreciated by the Indian Diaspora. When it became difficult for M.F. Husain to live in India, he chose Dubai as his base. Dubai gave him the freedom to work while remaining close to India in spirit and distance. Journalist Mazhar Farooqui was close to Husain and has many stories to share of the famous painter. Farooqui is also the leading force behind Aaghaz Foundation, a group that is working in the field of education and empowerment in Lucknow.

Farooqui is not alone; many from the Gulf countries actively participate in social work back home. They not only send money but are involved in grassroots work to uplift the community.

Proximity to India and the uncertain nature of their future in the Emirates ensures that Indians in this region keep their ties to their motherland strong. Indians have been living here for decades, in some cases for three generations, but there is no mechanism for them to get citizenship here. They can be deported at the slightest infractions and without any due process of law.

An additional fear has been added to the fear of deportation. My visit to Dubai coincided with the news of the arrest of Fasih Mahmood in Saudi Arabia. Fasih is an engineer from Bihar who was arrested by a team of Saudi and Indian authorities.

The news of Fasih's arrest was met with unusual quietness in Dubai. The manner of his arrest was not unlike the other terror-related arrests in India, illegal detention, no official confirmation, lack of information. For a community already concerned with what is going on in India, this news has hit too close to home.

The Gulf has contributed immensely to the economic uplift of Indian Muslims. This land till now provided a safe and stable place from the anti-Muslim violence and political uncertainties of India of 1980s and 1990s. Now all of a sudden it appears that this place is not safe anymore.

Kashif-ul-Huda is the editor of

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