Qatar is located in the Gulf peninsula of the West Asian region. The sovereign state of Qatar has shown remarkable progress and development during a very short period. Doha was considered an overgrown fishing village until 1940. By 1955, it had grown into an important city of the West Asian area and had become the capital of the independent state of Qatar by 1965. Now Qatar is one of the most economically successful countries in the world. With the development of Qatar, its citizens have also achieved a high standard of living. Allen J. Fromherz (2012) points out:
Qatari citizens, who endure the world’s most stifling heat and who were at one time forced to survive on brackish water and reduced to starvation by the collapse of the pearl market, can now live almost perpetually in an air-conditioned, climate-controlled bubble, moving between five-star hotels, five-star shopping malls, and even five-star universities (Allen J. Fromherz, 2012).
Qatar achieved remarkable change and progress in a very short period. Living conditions have changed gradually and Qatar has become one of the richest countries in the world with the highest per capita income. Qatar could achieve such astonishing progress because of the efficient utilization of migrant labour from across the globe. In 1980, the population of Qatar was only 0.2 million. According to United Nations statistics, the population has now reached 2.8 million and it is now the 141st most populous nation in the world. Due to the prosperity achieved from natural oil and gas resources, people from more than one hundred countries came to Qatar for various career options. Now the Qatari population is only 3.2 lakhs which is about 11.5 percent of the total population. The largest portions of the migrant populations are Indians, and they constitute 25 percent of the total population of Qatar.
The discovery of oil changed the entire situation and brought prosperity to Qatar and today the country is considered the second-largest oil-producing country in the Arabian Gulf region. Qatar has also benefited immensely from the hardworking nature of the Indian labour force and many good elements of the Indian value systems have also entered the Qatari social fabric. Some Indians have even reached positions like CEOs of multinational Qatari corporations. Indians have become Cultural Ambassadors of the country in Qatar, and they speak different dialects of Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, and Bengali languages. South Indian Restaurants and North Indian Mughal restaurants can be seen in abundance inside Doha city, the beautiful capital of Qatar.
Indians dominate professions like doctors and teachers in Qatar hospitals, universities, and schools. Many Indians also work as carpenters, plumbers, and construction workers. Most of the Indians come from Kerala but now Uttar Pradesh has taken the place according to the statistics given by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. Most Keralites are engaged in skilled work and others usually work in the unskilled sectors. Between 2011 and 2018, a large number of Indians have migrated to Qatar from states like Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh.
The Indian government has signed agreements on the regulation of the employment of Indian manpower with the Government of Qatar. In 2007, another agreement was signed to protect the labour rights of domestic workers and to protect them from malpractices done by recruitment agencies. In 2015, the Government of Qatar has also introduced several reforms like the abolition of the Kafala system (sponsorship system). Qatar has also abolished the requirement of an Exit Permit for 95% of the workforce in the private sector.
Other reforms introduced by the Qatari government include the setting up of the Exit Permit Grievances Committee in the Ministry of Interior, streamlining the recruitment process by setting up Labour Dispute Settlement Committees, bringing domestic-sector workers under a legal framework similar to other workers, creation of a support fund to settle the salary dues of workers of financially distressed companies, setting up of International Labour Organization Office in Doha and also the proposal to institute a system of minimum wages for various categories of workers. These initiatives indicate Qatar’s willingness to address the issue of labour rights seriously.
In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a two-day visit to Qatar where he addressed the Indian labourers in Doha and discussed the issues of the workers during his meeting with the Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. Modi’s visit culminated in the signing of seven accords aimed at boosting bilateral economic ties, including an MoU on Cooperation in Skill Development and Recognition of Qualification. Qatar and India have completed its fifth Joint Working Group meeting on labour and manpower development in Doha in January 2019.
A Historic Legacy
When migrants move from India to Qatar, they also bring their culture and lifestyle with them. They become the ambassadors of Indian culture in Qatar. They also enrich the Qatari society with their knowledge of arts and crafts. Qatar and India have a long tradition of business and trade. India has enchanted Arab traders for centuries with its cotton fabric which was traded through the silk route and Qatar was also linked with this trade from India. Allen J. Fromherz (2012) pointed out:
From India came cotton and essential industrial items. Qatar’s close relation to the Indian market led the Indian rupee to be the official currency of Qatar until 1966 when India devalued it. Most pearls that were shipped to India were processed, sold, and turned into jewelry. As one observer noted in 1951, ‘Peddlers may be found in most towns of the Persian Gulf with necklaces of Gulf pearls for sale; however, these have usually been imported from Bombay.’
Friendship and Cultural Relations
Qatar and India became close friends because of the cultural exchange created by the very large number of expatriate workers who went there in the last few decades. The year 2019 was celebrated as India-Qatar Year of Culture. When the Indian Prime Minister visited Qatar, nearly 45 cultural events were organized by the Indian embassy with the help of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Qatar. These events included exhibitions, fashion shows, art displays, dance performances, and musical concerts. Other organizations in the cultural front also existed in Qatar like Museums, Katara Cultural Village, Qatar Posts, and the Qatar Foundation.
There is another important organization, The Indian Cultural Centre (ICC), Doha which is functioning under the aegis of the Embassy of India. It is an umbrella community organization for Indian social and cultural activities. The objective of this centre is the advancement of social, cultural activities of the Indian Community in Qatar. The other objective of the ICC includes promoting the rich Indian culture among the expatriates of all nationalities living in Qatar. The ICC is dedicated to functioning as a body of the Indian Embassy to strengthen the deep-rooted friendship and cultural relationship between and India (Courtesy: Indian Embassy, Doha).
Qatar has also supported declaring 21 June as the International Day of Yoga. The 1st Yoga day was celebrated in Qatar. It is also notable that a commemorative stamp to mark the occasion was also released by Qatar Post in June 2015. Qatar has also allowed Ayurvedic Medicine as an alternative system of medicine and the Qatar Ministry of Health prepared a legal framework for allowing the practice of Ayurveda. Several Indian schools in Qatar take care of the educational needs of the Indian Diaspora. Examples are the Santi Niketan and Delhi Public School, Doha. These schools provide quality education to the Indian expatriate community in Qatar and focus on Indian culture and civilization. These schools also give teaching jobs for Indians. Doha Film Institute (DFI) was created in partnership with Qatar Museums and the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival celebrated Qatar-India 2019 Year of Culture by screening three films by Indian filmmakers this month. Doha has become an attractive location for moviemakers from South India. With the effort of the Indian embassy and Qatar government, an Indian Sports Centre (ISC) has been established as a community-based organization. The purpose of this centre is to promote various sports and games among the Indian community and also amongst other expatriate communities in Qatar. The Indian embassy in Qatar indicated that this centre also aims to support Qatar in hosting various national and international sporting events in a sustained manner.
Qatar is a truly multicultural society with the highest GDP and highest per-capita income. This is a country that has huge deposits in hydrocarbons and natural gas as well as a lot of oil reserves. This is the country that is the top producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the world. India has a huge population and Qatar is providing a lot of expatriate opportunities for Indians contributing to the foreign currency remittances into the country. India has signed many agreements with Qatar on economic and security issues. Qatar and India have to focus more on human resource development which can be beneficial for both countries.
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Allen j. Fromherz (2012) Qatar a modern history Georgetown University Press Washington DC
Qatar’s migrants: how have they changed the country? As cited on https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/sep/26/qatar-migrants-how-changed-the-country
Qatar Population and Expat Nationalities 26 August 2019 as cited on https://www.onlineqatar.com/visiting/tourist-information/qatar-population-and-expat-nationalities
Population of Qatar by nationality – 2019 report as cited on https://priyadsouza.com/population-of-qatar-by-nationality-in-2017/
India, Qatar ink pact to protect rights of expatriate workers,” The Economic Times, November 20, 2007
Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), “List of MOUs/Agreements signed during the visit of Prime Minister to Qatar,” June 5, 2016, as cited on https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/26869
De Bel-Air Demography, Migration, and Labour Market in Qatar Françoise as cited on https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/32431/GLMM_ExpNote_08-2014.pdf?sequence=1,