Bahrain with a total population of 1.04 million and an area of about approximately 740 sq. kms, is the smallest of the GCC States. However, the proximity of Bahrain to other GCC countries and its location midway in the Gulf gives it a strategic importance. Bahrain’s very early exposure to foreigners, introduction to education in the 1920s and co-existence with Christianity (St. Mary’s Church in Bahrain was established in 1938), conditioned the Bahrainis in general, to an open and favourable attitude towards expatriates. The trade and commercial activity generated by the discovery of oil in 1932, especially the oil boom years of the early 70s, and later faced with declining oil reserves, Bahrain turned to petroleum processing and refining and transformed itself into an international finance centre. The growing economy led to the increased need to accommodate and make room for a large expatriate community.
Indians are known to have come to Bahrain as early as 3,000 BC when ships plied between Harappan settlements, Oman and Bahrain en-route to Mesopotamia in pursuit of trade. It is said that it was a group of Indians from Saurashtra that built the Anzac Temple in Dilmun (a cuneiform reference to Bahrain at the time). Indian scholar Romila Thapar interprets Dilmun as the ‘sacred land’.
In more recent times, Indian merchants had established themselves in Bahrain towards the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Others moved to Bahrain from Baghdad and Basra regions in today’s Iraq. At the initial stages they traded dates but gradually shifted attention to purchase and exports of the famous Bahraini pearls. These merchant families came from the province of Sindh and Kathiawad region of Gujarat. By around 1925, around 2500 Indian families had settled in Bahrain. Most of them were involved in small time retailing.
The discovery of oil in 1932-45, led to immigrant manpower gravitating towards the oil industry and its off shoot development activities. With the subsequent expansion of the Bahraini economy, Indians started emigrating to Bahrain to start business or take up jobs as managers, salesman, assistants, workers etc.
Demographic Features and the Indian Work-Force
Of the nearly 666,000 expatriates, approximately 350,000 Indian nationals form the largest expatriate community in Bahrain along with Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Filipino, Indonesians and Arabs of different nationalities. The Indian workforce is by far the largest of the expatriate workforce. Keralites constitute approx. 65% of the Indian community. The other major groups are from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and Punjab. Today 65-70% of the Indian expatriate workforce is employed in the construction, contracting & maintenance sectors. There is also a relatively small number of Indian housemaids estimated at around 12000-15000. They come mostly from states such as Kerala, Goa and Andhra Pradesh. The retail and other business activities include provisions, hardware, jewellery, electronics, etc. Some others have taken up jobs as storekeepers, chemists, carpenters, barbers, etc. In addition to the predominant blue-collar labour force, there is a sizable number of doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, bankers, managers and other professionals who play a vital role in Bahrain’s socio-economic development. Professionals, such as doctors, engineers, accountants, etc. have also found growing opportunities in Bahrain.
Today there is hardly any established Bahraini business organisation that does not have a senior or middle level Indian employee playing an important role in its operations. The top Bahraini business houses such as Al Zayani, Al Moayyad, Fakhro, Kanoo, Koohejis, Ahmed Mansour Al Ali, Abdullah Nass, Mohammed Jalal as well as companies like Bahrain Almunium, BAPCO, GPIC, banks and finance companies etc. have Indians in their senior or middle management cadres.
Indian labour enjoys a good reputation in terms of their conduct, loyalty, higher productivity and non-involvement in local affairs. There is a preference amongst Bahrainis to employ Indians over others.
With the largest expatriate community in this country, there are always ongoing labour and consular problems, which are attended to by the Mission. These mainly revolve around a variety of problems with local sponsors, premature cancellation of contracts, illegal stay, change of contractual obligations etc. A generally recurring problem relates to those who abandon their sponsors and work illegally or are staying illegally due to various compulsions and circumstances.
Role of the Embassy
The Embassy has taken number of ameliorative measures to address these issues. These are enumerated below :
The Embassy has established nodal points for regular interaction with the Ministries of Labour, Justice, Interior, Public Prosecutor, Immigration, Local Police etc. Such interaction has proved to be extremely useful.
The Embassy organizes Open Houses on the last Friday of every month. Such Open Houses provide an opportunity to the members of the Indian community to meet the Ambassador and senior officials of the Embassy on a holiday to take up non-routine consular and labour issues. These issues are then taken up with the nodal points of the Government of Bahrain for appropriate follow- up action.
Errant companies, manpower companies and employers are black-listed and barred from recruiting manpower from India. This measure has been effective and some of the leading companies have started cooperating with the Mission in according due rights to the workers. The names of companies/employers are removed from black list once corrective action is taken.
Mission has made it mandatory that the recruitment of all housemaids in Bahrain would be through registered manpower agencies. In case of direct recruitment of workers including housemaids, a bank guarantee of US$2,500/- is required to be deposited with State Bank of India, Bahrain. The necessity to avoid being black-listed by the Mission has ensured that the manpower agencies quickly step in to resolve complaints by housemaids.
The Embassy has constituted two Committees – Indian Community Relief Fund (ICRF) and Indian Community Services (ICS) - consisting of Indian community members to assist the Embassy in the respective areas. Both these bodies are very active and respond quickly to calls for help from the community. Visits to workers camps, detention centres and jails are periodically arranged for welfare purposes by the Embassy. The Mission receives considerable help from the local Indian community and voluntary organizations
In close coordination with the Indian Community Relief Fund (ICRF) :
** A 24-hour help line has been set up in the Mission. The telephone number (17713509) has been widely circulated among the members of the Indian community to enable them to seek assistance round the clock.
** With the concurrence of the Ministry of Interior, Government of Bahrain, Local Help Committees have been set up in 16 regions which would cover the entire Kingdom of Bahrain. Members of this Committee have been issued identity cards and their names have been circulated to local Police Stations. These identity cards gives them the requisite authorization to approach the concerned authorities in case of need.
Indian Cultural and Religious Bodies
The Indian community has 32 registered and 68 unregistered socio-cultural organisations and clubs. There are seven schools with facility to study under CBSE system. There are a number of Hindu religious centres including a 60-year-old Hindu temple, 5 churches and 6 Gurudwaras. The Indian Club was set up in 1915 and the Bahrain Keraleeya Samajam was set up in 1947. Most of the associations have been brought under the umbrella of the Co-ordination Committee of Indian Associations (CCIA) with a view to centralising efforts on key occasions such as Independence and Republic Day etc. The CCIA has played an active and helpful role recently in emergency situations like Light Style Garment Factory issue, Al Dana boat tragedy, Gudaibiya fire incident etc. It also hosts receptions for visiting VIPs and Indian Naval Ships.