What's Fuelling Gujarat's 'Great American Dream'?

Residents of a village in Gandhinagar are migrating to the US. What does it say about job opportunities in Gujarat?


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(This story was first published on 26 November 2022. It has been republished from The Quint's archives after members an Indian family were found dead near the Canada-US border on Thursday, 30 March.)

Video Editor: Pawan Kumar

Little Sujal Goswami dreams of America. The 12-year-old calls it his "fate." "We're all fated to go the US. Yahi humara dharm aur karm hai (This is our destiny and aim," he said, standing outside the house of Jagdish Patel in Gujarat's Dingucha village in Gandhinagar district.

Jagdish, 39, his 37-year-old wife Vaishali, their 11-year-old daughter Vihangi and three-year-old son Dharmik froze to death on 19 January near the Emerson town of Manitoba province while illegally trying to enter the US through the Canadian border.

Sujal Goswami, 12, is a resident of Dingucha village. 

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

The tragic death of this family in Canada, turned the focus, over 11,000 km away, on Dingucha — a village in Gujarat with a population of just over 3,000 people. Dingucha is barely 40 km away from Ahmedabad.

As per Mathurji Thakore, the village Sarpanch, at least 500 people from the village are currently living in the US. How many of them migrated legally? He does not know.

Dingucha has a population of over 3000 people.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

"People just want to leave, the means do not matter. Landowners sell their lands to arrange the money required for migration. Those who don't own lands borrow money at ridiculously high interest rates."
Mathurji Thakur, Sarpanch

The Quint visited Dingucha in the run up to the 2022 Assembly elections to understand the factors behind this pattern of migration.

The 'Patidar Pride'

According to the village Sarpanch, the Patidars (Patels), Maldharis, Thakores, and Dalits are the dominant communities in Dingucha. Of these, the Patels are the ones who migrate in most numbers. "The Patels have strong community strength in the US. When they leave India and reach there, the community takes care of them even if they don't have the documents," he said.

Dirghayu Vyas, a senior crime reporter in Ahmedabad, explained this in detail. He told The Quint that the Patel community, especially in the Mehsana-Gandhinagar belt, believes that going to the US is an instant ticket to improve their social and financial position.

Advertisements promising people of migrating with or without taking an IELTS exam.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

"In districts of Mehsana, Kheda and Anand, especially in Anand, you will find NRI villages. Most people from those villages live in the US. The trend is most visible among the Patidar (Patel) community from Mehsana. It's like a competition. People look at others around them and see them progressing in the US and as a result they want to migrate too. Whether that happens legally or illegally, it does not matter."
Dirghayu Vyas, Ahmedabad-based crime reporter

Strikingly, in Dingucha, the village walls are flanked by posters of institutes and agencies promising to send people abroad 'with or without' them taking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. The IELTS is a language proficiency test taken by people who wish to study, work or live in a country where English is the primary language of communication.

After the Patel family's death in Canada came to light, the Mehsana Police booked 45 persons for their alleged involvement in an illegal immigration scam. The accused were booked for cheating (Indian Penal Code section 420), criminal breach of trust (IPC 406), forgery (IPC 465) and criminal conspiracy (IPC 120-b).

"If people are being smuggled through the Mexico route, the agents charge Rs 70-75 lakh per person. There are two routes which pass through Canada. One is through Montreal and one through Vancouver. The Vancouver route involves people making their way throw snow. Montreal, on the other hand, involves boats. After you cross the sea, you enter borders of the Unites States. Then water bike riders pick these people and charge 10,000 dollars per person. All of this is arranged by the agent," he Vyas.

Village sarpanch, Mathurji Thakore (L).

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

'Where Are the Jobs?'

Hiral Thakore, 19, applied for the job of an Anganwadi worker in 2021 and then again in 2022. "I didn't get the job. Now along with my husband, I work as a labourer at a factory in Kalol," she told The Quint.

According to Thakore, villagers are desperate to migrate to the US because of lack of employment opportunities in the village. "There are jobs but not enough," she said.

As per data by the Centre for Monitoring Economy (CMIE), an independent think tank, the unemployment rate (UER) in Gujarat was at 2.9 percent in January 2018. It rose to 9.5 percent in February 2018 and dropped to 3.7 percent by December 2018.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, in April 2020, the state's unemployment rate rose to a high of 18.7 percent. Between April to July 2020, the national UER came down from 23.5 percent to 7.4 percent.

Thakore herself wanted to go to the US but couldn't because of a "lack of resources to do so."

Mathurji, the village Sarpanch, claimed that more than a search for employment, the migration is a 'scheme to elevate their social status.'

"People don't want to study after class 10, they don't want to do farming or business either. They only want to go to US. People have spent their lives here but were not able to even build their houses or make small donations. They were not able to progress. Once you go to the US, however, and return after five years, you become capable of donating at least Rs five lakh in one go," he said.

Vyas made a similar point. "The Patel family that froze to death were rich landowners. Vaishali Patel was a government school teacher. Sadly, money wasn't the only thing driving them to the US," he said.


'...But What About Dingucha? 

Even as the death of Jagdish Patel and his family shook the people of Dingucha, it did not deter them from following a similar route.

"With the incident making headlines across the world, authorities in India, Canada, and the US have become more careful. For a few months after the tragedy, all agents went underground," said Vyas.

Hiral Thakore, 19, applied for the job of an Anganwadi worker twice, and got rejected.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

Meanwhile, for 12-year-old Goswami the death of the family served as a reminder of how the place he, his father, and his grandfather grew up in is slowly becoming a ghost village.

"That incident (death along the Canadian border) scared me a bit. I wonder if everybody leaves who will live in Dingucha?" he asked.

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