Of Migrants and Elephants | Sunday Observer

Of Migrants and Elephants

In the midst of very depressing news of rampant corruption came a ray of sunshine. This cat listened to, Face the Nation program on TV I news on Monday September 4 where a distinguished panel was interviewed as probingly as usual by Shameer Samsudeen, the anchor of the Monday night talk show. The topic was migrant workers, particularly, unskilled women migrating to mostly Middle East countries. Being invited to express their views, observations, opinions and data on the topic selected, were, Swairee Rupasinghe of the ILO, Dr Bilesha Weeraratne of the Institute of Policy Studies, Manjula Randeniya of the Bureau of Foreign Employment and Sonali Wadugebaduge of Maharaja Organisation, this time not the questioner but the questioned.

Monday’s talk show

Dr Bilesha Weeraratne it was, who originated the ray of sunshine that this cat gloats over. She said, the number of female migrant workers who went overseas, mainly to West Asia, had decreased slightly while males had increased. Hallelujah was Menika’s response. Total number was 243,000 in 2016. Asked whether the decline in oil prices had had an effect on recruitment of migrant workers, she said it had – less had been hired, but the total value of remittances (7.2 m in 2016) had not significantly decreased. Reason? Migrants went for better paid jobs and were mostly skilled or semiskilled so they could not be so easily exploited.

This was really good news to this cat since she had worked voluntarily in an organization concerned with labour and thus migrant labour had come within the organization’s purview. She was horrified to hear tales of woe narrated by sufferers themselves. Some had not been paid; some ill treated by their female employers to the point of torture; some near starved and kept almost prisoner. Stories came up of women returning home to find all their hard earned money squandered by husbands. The fact of fathers or grandfathers, uncles or neighbours forcing sexual relations with daughters left to fend for themselves or in the care of an old crone of a grandmother, were truths. This while the migrants shed sweat and tears, sometimes their very blood, to remit money home.

Yours truly wondered why for goodness sake women left young children and migrated for jobs that paid them paltry salaries. Wanderlust, the urge to get on a plane and travel abroad, never mind where, and believing in the pot of gold in the desert, were reasons. Another, even stronger was an abusive husband, or seeking a way out of a burdensome life. In this last instance of course, many jumped from the heated pan to the blazing fire. Once in a while you got a woman who once she was ensconced in her place of work found she could not cope, was often lazy or ill and even psychologically a misfit. The lure of going abroad or escaping her home, clouded her perception of what she was in for. Seminars on migrants took this cat to foreign countries in the East, senders of migrant workers themselves. It opened her eyes to the fact that Sri Lankan women were the largest in number and the worst exploited. Even a decade or two ago, India and Bangladesh forbade women going overseas as cheap labour, instead encouraged men to migrate. Pakistan had very few women going for unskilled jobs and the Filippino maids knew how to look after themselves and not be exploited. They were competent in English and familiar with modern domestic equipment. They were a sharp contrast to the shy, vulnerable Sri Lankan domestic worker. Heartening news.

So is it any surprise that this cat was delighted to hear Dr Bilesha Weeraratne paint a different picture to that which she was familiar with. This feline remembered how those organizations involved in looking to the welfare of migrant workers wished more men would venture forth. No, they preferred to stay home and freely spend money sent by slaving wives. Wonder how they changed in attitude. Probably, it’s the skilled labourer who now ventures forth.

Of elephants and marauding creatures

Controversy swirls around the recent statement made by Deputy Minister Karunaratne Paranavithana advocating the gifting of elephants to foreign countries to ease the human-elephant conflict which is worsening by the day. The population of both, humans and elephants has increased and humans have encroached on traditional elephant land and corridors so the pachyderms naturally retaliate.

Even this cat raised her voice in anger when elephants were gifted to countries that suffer winters. But, if elephants are sent in batches and never alone to tropical countries with sanctuaries or better, forests to live in, it may save both, human and elephant lives. Of course, the elephants must be middle aged or older ones; and NOT to be incarcerated in zoos.

This cat remembers reading about the twin problems of overcrowding and scarcity of vegetation in a reserve in Africa where the elephant population increased rapidly. Culling was not resorted to. Instead, some teenage elephants of both sexes were transported to an unpopulated stretch of forest. This is possible in vast Africa. Trouble ensued with the energetic young ones rampaging – bringing down trees and indulging in severe in-fighting. As a solution a matriarch was transported to the newly habituated forest. With the arrival of the disciplinarian the obstreperous young ones calmed down and peace prevailed!

Electric fencing alone seems insufficient to contain the conflict in the wilds of Sri Lanka. So why not investigate colonizing elephants as D S did with people: send them to uninhabited jungles in foreign lands with similar tropical climatic conditions. The human-elephant conflict may be mitigated, and neither suffers, not even the elephants saved from explosives et al.

The Deputy Minister has also advocated the killing of wild boar and monkeys. Cruel and shuddery to ahimsa proclaiming persons. But, problems need solutions. This cat is Buddhist and taking another’s life is not to be. But consider how these animals oft times are so destructive and invasive that cultivation cannot be undertaken. So save a boar and let a family starve or help the farmer to till his land and grow his crops?

The Deputy Minister’s twin solutions cannot be thrust aside. Let those who shout at even good suggestions go on shouting, but the idea has to be given consideration.