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Kerala Muslims – Impact of Gulf Remittances

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Compiled by
Dr. Malika B. Mistry

Trends in Kerala’s Money Order Economy

Kerala’s is what we used to term ‘Money Order Economy’, a substantial population surviving on remittances. Earlier they used to send it by Money Orders. Today the remittances are made by inter-bank or intra-bank electronic transfers. Land-short, food-scarce and trade union afflicted work culture, the Southernmost state of India virtually survives on what its enterprising menfolk send it from outside. Muslims constituting a little above a quarter of the population, a sizeable section among them working as expatriate labour in the Gulf countries, it is vital for the community that it assesses its economic worth and plans for a better future.
We present below the outcome of the Inflexion in Kerala’s Gulf Connection: Report on Kerala Migration Survey 2011 (working paper no. 450) prepared by Zachariah K. C. and S. Irudaya Rajan, two social scientists working with Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor. Trivandrum.

Impact on Economy and the Society

Each year, Kerala receives around Rs.50,000 crore as total workers’ remittances from abroad. However, Household remittances in Kerala for 2011 were estimated to be Rs 15,129 crore only. Thus, a very vast majority of the Kerala households are not direct beneficiaries of the vast amount that comes to the state as worker’s remittances.
In spite of the constancy of the proportion of households that receive remittances at the state level, the proportion varies considerably by religion and by district. It was as low as 11.4% among Hindu households and 14.4% among Christian households, but as much as 36.6% among Muslim households. It was as low as 2.2% in Idukki district but as high as 36.3% in Malappuram.
The total remittances in Kerala in 2011 were estimated to be Rs. 49,695 crore compared with Rs. 43,288 crores in 2008. Remittances were Rs. 63,315 per household in 2011 and Rs. 57,227 per household in 2008.
Among the 14 districts in the state, Malappuram received the largest amount of remittances, i.e., Rs 9,040 crore which works out to Rs. 114,313 per household. In general, the southern districts experienced a decline in their share of remittances and the northern districts experienced an increase.
Muslim households received Rs. 23,089 crore or 46.5% of the total remittances in 2011. (Irudaya Rajan in his speech in a conference in Delhi in November, 2012,said that with this money, they could have bought the Kingfisher Airlines or start an airline with the name Air-Kerala) Hindus received Rs 18,089 crore or 36.4% of the total. The Christian community received Rs. 8,508 crore or 17.1%. The shares of the Hindus and the Christians were below their respective shares of the total population of the state.
On an average, a Muslim household received Rs. 135,111 as remittances in a 12-month period. A Christian household, on the other hand, received not even half of what a Muslim household received (Rs. 59,175). In case of the Hindus, the average remittance a household received is only about one-fourth of what a Muslim household received (Rs. 38,489).

International migration by religion

Muslims constituted 44.3% of the emigrants from Kerala in 2011 while Hindus form 36.4%. Muslims have been leading all through the recent years.
While there were 60 emigrants per 100 households among Muslims and 30 among the Christians, the Hindus have only 19 emigrants per 100 households.

Social Issues – Gulf Wives

“Gulf Wives” are married women in Kerala households whose husbands work and live outside India. Most of these women are wives of Kerala emigrants working in the Gulf region. In 2011, there were about 1.1 million Gulf Wives. The corresponding number was 1.06 million in 2008.
The proportion of Gulf wives is highest among the Muslims (24% of married women) and lowest among the Christians (5.9%). The corresponding percentage among the Hindus was not very much different from that among the Christians (6.7%).

Impact on Lifestyle
Households with an emigrant or return emigrant tend to possess better quality houses than those without an emigrant. The proportion of households possessing “luxurious” or “very good” houses shows a steady increase with the number of non-resident Keralites (NRKs) in the household, and is 24.2% for households without an NRK and 41.3% for households with one NRK, 50.3% for households with two NRKs and 65.2% for households with more than two NRKs.

Positive Impact on Educational Attainments

The Report concludes that over the years, the centre of population has moved northward. More and more remittances are ending up in the north. This Survey does not have much data on developments in education, health, industries, etc., but it is surmised that in recent years,
more of these developments have taken place in the north than in the south. For example, according to Kerala Migration Survey 1998, only 33.4% of Kerala’s population with secondary or higher levels of education lived in the north (Malappuram to Kasaragod) and the remaining 66.6% lived in the south and central regions of the state. By 2011, the
corresponding proportions were 39.0 in the north and 61.0 in the other regions. The proportion in the north has increased by 5.6 percentage points, whereas the proportion in the south and central regions decreased by the same percentage.
Similarly, in 1998, the north accounted for only 33.4% of employed persons, but by 2011, the corresponding proportion increased to 39. In 1998, only 15.6% of population in the north was employed in the private sector of the economy, but by 2011, as much as 32.4% of the north’s population was employed in the private sector. The corresponding percentages in the self-employment sector were 32.8% in 1998 and 36 in 2011.

Northward Shift in Geographic Aspects of Emigration

The largest number of emigrants originated from Malappuram district, a position it retained from the beginning. However, its share of the pie shrank somewhat in recent years, from 21.8% in 1998 to 17.9% in 2011. The story is the same in the other major centres of emigration: Pathanamthitta and Thrissur districts. On the other hand, districts like Kannur, Kasaragod have gained considerably in recent years. In general, there was a northward shift in the origin of emigrants from Kerala.


Based on the above findings of the Report, we can make the following policy recommendations:
1. We have noted that there are large remittances to Muslim community and households. Sachar Committee had recorded the deprivation of the Muslim community in India. The funds of the Muslims should be used for development purposes like setting up industries, enterprises etc. and empowerment of the community. Today they are used more to invest in houses, land, consumer durables etc., all forms of unproductive investment.
2. Every year, Kerala spends substantial amount on educating its youth outside Kerala within India. In 2011, this amount was roughly about Rs.1,703 crores or 3.4% of the total remittances to the state. So, there is a lot of scope to develop professional education within Kerala. Muslims should go for setting up quality professional educational institutions in Kerala.
3. The report has noted that there is human resource drain when the well-qualified Keralites migrate outside in large proportions. Some studies need to be done to quantify this drain among Muslims too.
4. We have seen that the percentage of Gulf-wives is highest among Muslims. There is a social cost when the single women are taking care of the elderly and the children. Studies need to be done on these single women (as husbands are working outside) as to how they cope and what is the social cost of handling day-to-day affairs, treatment from other members of the society, sexual harassment in the community etc.

Emigrants by Destination

The principal countries of destination of Kerala emigrants have remained more or less unchanged over these years, with 90% of the Kerala emigrants going to one or other of the Gulf countries.
Nearly 40% of Kerala’s emigrants live in the UAE and 25% in Saudi Arabia. In the last 3 years, especially, after global crisis, Saudi Arabia has gained about 2 percentage points and UAE has lost out by the same proportion.

Macro-economic Impact

Workers’ remittances to Kerala have a major impact on Kerala’s economy.
* Remittances were 31.23% of the state’s net state domestic product (NSDP).
* The state’s per capita income was Rs. 52,084 (2010), without taking into consideration remittances to the state, but it stood at Rs. 68,375 if remittances were also included.
* Remittances are 1.6 times the revenue receipt of the Kerala Government, 6.2 times what the state gets from the Centre as revenue transfer.
* It is more than twice the Government’s annual expenditure. It is more than 60 percent of the state’s public debt.

Keralites living in other Indian states by Religion

The vast majority of the out-migrants from Kerala (64.6% in 2011) are Hindus, more than their share in the population (56%). On the other hand, the Christians were about 24% of the total, also higher than their share in the total population which was about 17%. Muslims were only 11.4% of the out-migrants, much lower than their share in the total population, which stood at about 26%. Between 2008 and 2011, the share of the Hindu out-migrants increased from 61.7% in 2008 to 64.6% in 2011, the share of the Christian out-migrants declined from 30.9% to 24%. The share of the Muslim out-migrants increased from 7.4% to 11.4%. In spite of the recent gains in the share of out-migrants, the Muslims lag very much behind the other communities with respect to internal migration.

Internal Migration: To Which States?

Palakkad district accounted for the largest number of out-migrants from Kerala, a position it retained from the beginning. Thus, the Palakkad-Malappuram corridor is the most migration-prone area in the state, with Palakkad topping in the field of out-migration and Malappuram in going overseas. Kottayam district comes second in the order of out-migration followed by Kannur district.
The principal states of destination of Kerala’ out-migrants remained more or less unchanged over the years. Karnataka was number one in 2008; it is number one in 2011 also, accounting for 29% of Kerala’s out-migrants. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are the other two major states where Kerala’s out-migrants have made a living.