October 07, 2017

Source: Bigstock

Still, a human existence in which migrating and working as they do represents a betterment, or at least the prospect of a betterment, seems to me a frightful one. And if there were anyone or anything to thank for my having avoided such an existence, I should gladly thank him or it. It is certainly not by my own efforts alone that I have avoided it.

I am told that conditions for Indian laborers in the Gulf have improved of late years, however hard they may still seem to us. If it is so, it must be principally because of the improvement of conditions in India itself.

Is the system unjust? It is certainly unfair: Fortune does not distribute its favors in any ethically rational way (unless you believe in karma, in which case there must have been an awful lot of bad previous lives lived in South India). But unjust? That is a much harder question to answer.

Let us suppose that we came to the conclusion that it was unjust, not only in its detail but in its whole. Would that mean it should be prohibited or destroyed?

If we did so, hundreds of thousands of people (and presumably their dependents) would have lost a chance of betterment of their lives. Only if, by losing that chance, they would have a better chance of betterment, which is intrinsically uncertain, would the prohibition or destruction of the system be a benefit. And this would suggest in turn that, at least in certain circumstances, there are desiderata more important than justice. So all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, after all: a comforting thought.

Nevertheless, these considerations do not assuage my unease altogether. My hosts (who, of course, have lived much longer in the Gulf than I) told me that they were prey to the same unease as mine, but they deliberately put it out of their minds as soon as it came into it. And having discussed the matter at some length, we went to an excellent Lebanese restaurant, our appetite unimpaired. The waiters were Indian.


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