Indian expatriate community is reportedly the largest ethnic community in UAE constituting roughly about 30 per cent of the country’s population. Though most of the Indians living here are employed, about 10 per cent of the Indian population is the dependent family members. Among the Indian States, Kerala is the most represented followed by Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. However, Indians from the Northern States, all put together, also form significant portion of the UAE Indian population. Both the Indian Embassy and the Consulate in Dubai have a separate Wing to cater to the needs of the Indian community. This Wing also attends to issues like repatriation, settlement of labour disputes and taking up issues with the concerned State Governments back in India.
The Indian community in the UAE, numbering 2.6 million, constitutes 30 per cent of the total population. It is the largest expatriate community in the country. It uniquely provides a breadth in terms of numbers and depth in terms of categories of workers employed which distinguishes it from every other expatriate community in the UAE.
The profile of the community has changed with the evolving needs of the country: in the 1970s and 1980s, when the principal requirement here was for blue – collar workers, the Indian community was blue – collar to the extent of 85-90 per cent, with a negligible percentage of professionals. In the 1990s, as the need for professionals to meet the need of the expanding Service sector emerged, the profile of the community changed, and today, 15-20 per cent of the Indian community is made up of professionally qualified personnel!
Up to the early 1990s, the Indian workers used to face serious problems in regard to the failure to implement contractual obligations by employers as also in respect of their working and living conditions. Grievance redressal mechanisms were also grossly inadequate and frequently biased in favor of the employer.
Over the last five years there has been a steady improvement in the situation both in respect of the treatment of workers as also with regard to grievance redressal mechanisms. Today, the UAE Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs are working closely to evolve a new arrangement that would make the system of recruitment and contracting more transparent.
In 2007, the UAE authorities were deeply concerned when two strikes involving Indian workers took place. In one instance, there was violence on the streets against police personnel, while in the other, Indians, along with workers of other nationalities were involved in a coordinated “sit-in” involving over 40 thousand workers at 26 sites across the UAE. While initially the UAE authorities tended to think in terms of extremist conspiracies, we were able to persuade them that the principal source of the workers’ anger was the fact that the UAE Dirham was pegged to the US Dollar and was thus yielding for the lowest category of workers at least Rs. 1000/- less per month than what his wages had yielded earlier. The grievances of these striking workers were settled through a ten per cent increase in wages across the board.
An analysis of the situation of the workers reveals the need for considerable reform at home, particularly in regard to the functioning of recruiting agencies and their role in promoting the scourge of “illegal”, as also the need to finalise legally binding and enforceable contracts in India itself before the workers reach the UAE. Happily, given the positive and constructive approach of the UAE Government, the stage is now set for a significant improve in regard to the welfare of our people in this country.
The UAE population presently is estimated to be around five million of which 2/3rd are immigrants from foreign countries, including India. The break-up of Indian emigrants in UAE is as follows:
65% belong to the blue-collar category (employed mostly in construction companies, municipalities, agricultural farms)
20% belong to the white collar non-professional (clerical staff, shop assistants, sales men, accountants, etc…) and
15% are professionals and businessmen and their family members.
Indian Associations and Prominent Indians in UAE
The Indian community has played a major role in the economic development of the UAE over the last 35 years. The Indian community is respected for its technical competence, sense of discipline and its minimal involvement with criminal activity compared to other expatriate communities. However, the main point in its favour is its non-involvement in local and regional political issues. In view of these qualities, Indian expatriates enjoy an advantage over other nationalities like Chinese, Koreans, Filipino, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Arab expatriates.
Five eminent Indians from UAE- Yussuf Ali, Syed M. Salahuddin, B.R. Shetty, K.Kumar and Dr. J.R. Gangaramani have been honoured with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award. In 2008, Mr.Yussuf Ali, was conferred the Padma Shri by the President of India. In 2009, Padma Shree has been awarded to Dr. B.R. Shetty and Sunny Varkey.
UAE has a system of registering social organizations of the expatriate community and, within the guidelines laid down by the UAE Government, such associations can function freely. There are 5 registered Indian Associations in Abu Dhabi, and one each in the other six Emirates. The registered Associations are umbrella bodies and smaller cultural/ethnic groupings (affiliated to the registered Associations) also function under them. These Associations take care of the welfare of the Indian community and conduct cultural/welfare activities regularly, including sports activities.