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In Gujarat, the 'American Dream' turns deadly – Deccan Herald

“Ye kya ho gaya, saheb (what has happened)?” says D D Yadav, as he breaks down on the floor of his two-bedroom flat in Chhatral, Kalol taluk of Gujarat’s capital, Gandhinagar. “What else could be a bigger punishment for a father than to see the death of his son while he continues to live?” he asks, choking on his tears as he collapses to the floor in grief.
Two weeks ago, his younger son, Brijkumar Yadav, 36, became the latest to have died in pursuit of the ‘American Dream’. The phrase is used to describe the idealised notion of a better life and opportunity in the United States. In pursuit of this dream, Yadav had engaged the services of agents to illegally enter the US.
According to his family, Brijkumar, his wife Pooja, and their toddler had left for an unknown destination in November. After a month, on December 17, the family in India was informed that he had died due to a “heart attack”, far away in Mexico.
However, foreign media reported that Brijkumar fell to his death while climbing the 30-metre-tall metal wall on the Mexico-US border, also known as the Trump Wall. Reports stated that he was carrying his son while scaling the wall. His son and wife also fell, but are reported to have survived.
Brijkumar was the third generation of the Yadav family settled in Chhatral, an industrial town. His grandparents had migrated from Gonda in Uttar Pradesh. The society where they live has about 600 flats, largely occupied by migrant workers from UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha.
After finishing his graduation in Commerce, Brijkumar started working as an accountant in one of the dozens of small factories in Chhatral Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC). His brother, Vinod, tells DH that Brijkumar was earning about Rs 15,000 a month. The Yadavs were living peacefully, given the fact that both sons were cumulatively drawing about Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 a month and the family was living in their own house.
Trafficking rackets thrive
“Sab toh thik chal raha tha pata nahi kyun chala gaya (Everything was going well, I do not know why he left),” the senior Yadav says. The family says that they had no idea that Brijkumar had planned to go to the US, either legally or illegally.
Their story matches with that of another family who lost four of their loved ones in a similar incident in January last year, near the Canada-US border.
A half-hour drive away is Dingucha village, famous for being the place of origin of many non-resident Gujaratis who are settled in the US.
Along the row of tenements is the house of the Patels. A few months ago, Madhuben and Baldev Patel’s younger son, Jagdish (39) his wife, Vaishali (37) daughter Vihangi and son Dharmik, were found dead near the US-Canada border.
“I have nothing to say, as our tension has not gone away. No one is at fault and there is no meaning of speaking against anyone,” Baldev tells DH.
Financial prospects
Having heard about the recent death of Brijkumar Yadav in the news, Patel says, “Such incidents are not going to deter anyone who wants to go. These people do not consider anyone’s opinion before going…they must have their own reasons to go like this…” He adds that the financial prospects could be a major motivator.
Apart from the tragedy that connects Patels and Yadavs, they also share similar economic backgrounds. While the Yadavs survive on private jobs and pensions, the Patels have about 10 acres of agricultural land and their two sons, including Jagdish, worked in private firms to make ends meet.
The Patels and Yadavs are not alone in their pursuit of the American Dream. The US Census Bureau data estimates that about 5,87,000 undocumented Indian immigrants live in the US. In fact, India has the third-largest share of undocumented immigrants after Mexico and El Salvador.
Over the years, the number of people emigrating from India to the USA has only increased. This is evidenced by the increase in Indian detainees from 76 in 2007 to more than 7,600 in 2019.
The perils that people face while crossing over the border are well known. So why do so many dream to go to America, risking their lives despite having a decent income in India?
Support system
One explanation is the strong ‘support system’— a network of Indian American families, which helps them land a job. “All you have to do is to reach the United States anyhow and the rest will be taken care of. The only condition is that you should belong to the ‘42 Patidar Samaj’. There is so much hand-holding by the community already settled here,” says a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) from the United States.
The 42 Patidar Samaj that he refers to is a close-knit Patidar (Kadva) community, largely from north Gujarat, who keep to themselves when it comes to “roti beti ka rishta’’.
It is because of community support, many NRIs and Patidar community leaders say, that unskilled workers get the courage to travel all the way to Mexico or Canada borders.
“Primarily, socio-economic reasons are the root cause behind such incidents. It is a social issue because back home the community looks down upon works such as sanitation and carpentry,” says Dr Vasudev Patel, an NRI from Mehsana. However, the same group of people do not mind doing these jobs in America. Besides, earning dollars and a better lifestyle are also major factors that drive them to come to America illegally.
He explains that among the undocumented Indians living in the US, Gujarat leads the chart followed by Punjab and Haryana. Among the Gujarati undocumented migrants, Patels form the largest group.
A majority of the undocumented migrants are employed in retail businesses like motels or food joints owned by Gujaratis. “Despite knowing that they have come illegally, the owners would employ them but pay far less than what has been prescribed under the law. There is a lot of exploitation,” he adds.
Various factors
Back home, the community leaders say that the shrinking land holdings, unemployment, poor education are some of the factors driving the youngsters abroad for better pastures.
Historically, Gujarat has been exposed to the outer world due to its business community and the existence of a 1,600-km-long coastline. Post-independence, the trend of settling abroad started with professionals such as doctors or engineers.
“Expensive education, privatisation and shrinking job opportunities have made the youths desperate to follow what we call the American Dream. For the youth, it is not just a dream but a living reality. They have always known relatives settled abroad and live a much better life. No one comes back and that’s the model these youths are following,” says sociologist Gaurang Jani, who retired from the social science department of Gujarat University.
A network, on caste and religious lines, helps Gujaratis who sneak into the US or other developed nations, Jani says.
How do these migrants make the journey?
In both the Patels’ and Yadavs’ cases of crossing over, the Indian police have not been able to investigate beyond a preliminary inquiry. The reason — the Patels travelled to Canada using legal documents as tourists. Police are still investigating how the Yadavs reached Mexico. They suspect that the family travelled on tourist visas. In that case, it would not be considered an offence in India since an illegal attempt to cross over happened in foreign land.
While Gujarat’s Crime Investigation Department awaits a response from Interpol, from which it has sought details on the Chhatral case, senior police officials say that the investigation cannot progress much since most of these cases are not legally tenable as offences. If any, the offences have occurred in other countries’ jurisdictions —  Canada, Mexico and the US in these two cases.
Besides, both families have maintained that they were clueless about the planned illegal entry. “We have recorded the statements of the family members (Yadavs), but they have not said anything that helps the investigation,” says Additional Director General of Police, CID (Crime), R B Brahmbhatt.
Another senior police officer who was part of the investigation into the Dingucha case says that the family members were able to identify the names of the agents who might have arranged the journey. The police have registered several separate cases against agents involved in human trafficking to the US.
In one such case, a suspect on the ‘wanted’ list, Bharat Patel alias Bobby, was arrested and over 90 passports were recovered. When the police nabbed him, these passports, said to be genuine, were found in different locations in Gujarat.
After the investigation, the police booked Bobby for cheating and forgery among other charges in a separate case. Police suspect that Bobby from Mahesana district is part of an international racket involving the trafficking of people from Gujarat and Punjab to the US and other countries.
In a chargesheet filed in February last year in another case, the police stated that Bobby and others made various passports using forged documents. They obtained Nigerian visas, from where they guide their clients to Mexico and arrange entry into the US. The mastermind of the ring, Charanjit Singh, a resident of Rajouri Garden in Delhi, is wanted in the case.
“People are ready to pay Rs 75 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore per person to enter America for better money and opportunities,” says a police officer posted with CID (Crime).
“Earlier, the traffickers were using fake passports and visas to smuggle economic migrants abroad, particularly the US by air. But over the years, due to advancement of technology among other things, new methods are being adopted which are not as risky for the agents,” says a senior police officer.
These methods involve travelling to Latin American countries and then crossing the border into the US illegally. However, the officer adds, the individual faces serious, life-threatening risks while passing through water channels, dense forests and deserts.
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