The Case of The Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre
By Farseen Ali Puthanveettil | Issue #22
The COVID-19 pandemic served as a time of revelation, exposing the vulnerabilities inherent within seemingly formidable establishments, particularly in the global South. It uncovered the unevenness in society, and people from the lowest stratums of society were often left behind. Inter-state migrants and international migrants of Indian origin were the ones who were hit hardest by the pandemic. Where state actors miserably failed to cater to the needs of these migrants, it was the non-state actors who helped these people in their time of distress. One notable example is the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC), an Indian diaspora organisation, which played a remarkable role in taking charge of the situation and supporting Indian migrants abroad. This organisation has undertaken a significant array of initiatives, encompassing: the chartering of flights to facilitate the repatriation of individuals facing stranded conditions; the establishment and operation of isolation centres; provision of quarantine assistance; delivery of medical aid, facilitation of post-mortem care for COVID-19 infected individuals; establishment of help desk services; distribution of food kits and grocery packages; as well as the dispensation of financial aid to individuals adversely impacted by the pandemic. This diasporic organisation has proven itself as a reliable partner for several governmental departments in host nations within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, frequently being sought after to provide assistance in dealing with challenging situations among the migrant population in these countries.
GCC countries have been a major destination for migrants from Kerala seeking better economic opportunities. The diaspora from Kerala has established a strong sense of social cohesion, which has led to the formation of several diasporic organisations. Indian diasporic organisations in the Middle East are diverse and multifaceted, formed of a variety of foundations that represent the various facets of their members' identities and interests. These organisations often revolve around faith, hometown, politics, profession, and more. KMCC is one such voluntary organisation of the Indian diaspora from Kerala. They maintain a network of country units spanning approximately 70 nations across Europe, North America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australia. However, the organisation boasts a particularly influential foothold in the GCC countries. Although the country units operate independently, they maintain affiliation with the Kerala State Committee of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), an Indian political party. According to their latest membership records, KMCC claims to have around 194,000 active members in the Middle East region alone.
KMCC emerged as an informal forum in the early 1970s, initiated by the initial wave of labour migrants in the Middle East, with a focus on literary and cultural pursuits. Over time, it underwent a transformation into a formal and structured entity. The organisation takes a dual approach by intervening in both the migrant-related issues within the host countries and simultaneously supporting welfare activities back in Kerala. As it evolved further, they adopted a more organised approach, establishing subcommittees at the provincial and city levels under the umbrella of country committees. Additionally, hometown committees were also established within these countries. In recent decades, KMCC has undergone a significant shift from an organisation primarily focused on charity, education, and cultural activities into a prominent diasporic organisation that provides comprehensive social protection measures in both their host countries and their home state. The KMCC national committees in different countries oversee a diverse array of initiatives, including employment support, social care programmes, healthcare provisions, family assistance, insurance coverage, pension schemes, and socio-cultural engagements. While services like relief activities, emergency response, and legal aid are accessible to all individuals, social security benefits are only available to KMCC members and their dependents.
The security scheme initiatives within each GCC country are designed and implemented by their respective national committees. Individuals who hold legal residency in these countries have the option to become members of the social security scheme by paying a nominal membership fee and regular monthly/annual contributions. Enrolled members and their dependents gain access to various social protection provisions. These provisions include death insurance, medical assistance for illnesses, support in cases of sudden job loss, relief for accidents, and assistance for specific medical conditions such as cancer, kidney failure, heart open surgery, and angioplasty. Additionally, the schemes subsidise regular medical treatments and medical check-ups, providing vital support for the well-being of the beneficiaries.
By extending beyond the borders of a single nation, KMCC's social security initiatives are available to diasporans and their dependents in both the host and home countries. This distinctive approach is rooted in a self-help model that emphasises social cohesion and trust within their community. By fostering a sense of solidarity and unity, it creates a framework where diasporans actively contribute to the well-being of their fellow community members. In addition to facilitating the provision of social security measures, this self-help approach additionally strengthens the ties and mutual support among the diaspora. The activities of KMCC highlight the importance of a community-centred approach in effectively meeting the welfare requirements of the diaspora community.
The social security measures by KMCC serve as an exemplary case of transnational social protection measures carried out by a diasporic organisation. It exemplifies the dedication and commitment of diaspora communities to ensuring the welfare and protection of their fellow diaspora members through a sense of solidarity and social cohesion. These measures become particularly crucial due to the limitations faced by governments in delivering comprehensive social protection to diasporic populations. In this context, such transnational schemes play a vital role in supporting migrants and their dependents during challenging times. They fill the gaps left by traditional government-provided social protection and address the unique needs and circumstances faced by diasporic communities. By offering essential support and assistance, these initiatives contribute significantly to enhancing the overall well-being and security of diasporans.
Farseen Ali Puthanveettil is a trained social worker currently pursuing the European Master’s in Migration and Intercultural Relations (EMMIR). He was awarded the prestigious Erasmus Mundus scholarship by the European Commission to pursue this program. Prior to his current studies, he completed his training in Social Work from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Additionally, he holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Human Rights, International Humanitarian, and Refugee Laws from the Indian Society of International Law in New Delhi. Throughout his fieldwork training in social work, he has actively engaged with diverse urban communities, particularly focusing on migrants and refugees. He gained practical experience by working with the government of Kerala, non-governmental organisations, and a media company in Kerala. His research interests revolve around migration, diaspora, transnationalism, and integration. He is part of the Peder Sather research group, conducting an archival study on Mexican immigrants in the United States, which is a collaborative research project between the University of Stavanger, Norway, and the University of California Berkeley, USA.