The Brain Drain - we have heard all about it countless times. The phenomenon of well educated Indians leaving their homes and seeking employment on foreign shores is age old. It is even covered in the school curriculum and that’s where I first heard about it. Being the daughter of an NRI who was part of the brain drain wave I understood immediately what was being taught. It is terrible for my home country, my text book read. At the time, I believed it but now I am not so sure.
Having completed my education up to graduation in Dubai, I found my first job there. The starting salary was AED 2,000 (around INR 24,000), which I considered to be reasonable but not great. Within two years post graduation I was earning AED 4,500 (approximately INR 54,000), a package I was happier with. It was at this point that I got married and moved to Bangalore. As I restarted the whole process of looking for work once again, my hubby informed me that my salary expectation of INR 45,000 a month was ‘ridiculous’. I accepted this reality when I joined an MNC at a salary of INR 25,000. Yet, people told me I was being paid well. Four years on and I still don’t earn as much as I did when I left Dubai. Its no wonder people seek employment abroad, though there is more to the brain drain than just pay scales, as I was soon to discover.
For starters, I had to work an extra hour as part of my ‘normal’ work time. Instead of 9 to 5 elsewhere, 9 to 6 is the norm in India. I found that to be odd but was still content, an extra hour not being such a big deal. However, I soon realised that leaving the office on time was a rare occurrence. In fact, whenever I left from work sharp at 6, wide eyed colleagues would look at me and say “Leaving so early?” My reply of “I am leaving on time” drew plenty of smirks. Soon, my boss started thinking of me as someone who is not putting in enough ‘effort’ (translation: Hours). Before I knew it, I was working well past 6:30pm to bring my ‘performance’ to an acceptable level. And I still didn’t get a decent pay rise!
This got me thinking. Back in Dubai, I was an expat and yet treated as a human being by employers. Not some machine slaving away for over 10 hours each day without appreciation. What frustrated me more was the fact the people are so used to working here that no one complains. With 10 hour days, in addition to at least 2 hours travel time in metropolitans (Bangalore doesn’t even qualify as one), and I was left with barely any time to relax at home. Pretty soon, I experienced a new phenomenon which I had evaded in Dubai – Stress. From speaking to fellow NRIs who had returned from other countries, I came to know that the difference is as stark. It also shocked my that labour laws for MNCs are different from local companies, giving them virtually a free hand as to what terms of employment they set. This leads to a lot of exploitation, with people putting in a ridiculous number of hours without earning any over time.
Considering that I am on home turf, as opposed to a guest abroad, I feel like a slave in my own country. Being an Indian, I expect my rights to be protected, even if I work for an MNC. A fair pay for a fair day’s work is not too much to ask. If working conditions in India were to improve, it wouldn’t take a worldwide recession to reverse the brain drain. People would be happy to stay here and build a life for themselves. I am not an economist and not sure of the reasons for the existing condition and why it has not been remedied. All I know is, if Dubai can do it, so can India.