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City of Strangers

City of Strangers: Gulf Migration and the Indian Community in Bahrain

Andrew M. Gardner
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    City of Strangers
    Book Description:

    In City of Strangers, Andrew M. Gardner explores the everyday experiences of workers from India who have migrated to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Like all the petroleum-rich states of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain hosts an extraordinarily large population of transmigrant laborers. Guest workers, who make up nearly half of the country's population, have long labored under a sponsorship system, the kafala, that organizes the flow of migrants from South Asia to the Gulf states and contractually links each laborer to a specific citizen or institution.

    In order to remain in Bahrain, the worker is almost entirely dependent on his sponsor's goodwill. The nature of this relationship, Gardner contends, often leads to exploitation and sometimes violence. Through extensive observation and interviews Gardner focuses on three groups in Bahrain: the unskilled Indian laborers who make up the most substantial portion of the foreign workforce on the island; the country's entrepreneurial and professional Indian middle class; and Bahraini state and citizenry. He contends that the social segregation and structural violence produced by Bahrain's kafala system result from a strategic arrangement by which the state insulates citizens from the global and neoliberal flows that, paradoxically, are central to the nation's intended path to the future.

    City of Strangers contributes significantly to our understanding of politics and society among the states of the Arabian Peninsula and of the migrant labor phenomenon that is an increasingly important aspect of globalization.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6220-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 INTRODUCTION: Structural Violence and Transnational Migration in the Gulf States
    (pp. 1-23)

    In the early months of 2006, newspaper headlines in the Kingdom of Bahrain reported that police, officials from the Indian embassy, and a collection of human rights activists, after receiving a tip from an undisclosed source, had converged on a scrap yard in the suburb of Hamad Town, a government-constructed quarter in the Manama suburbs where significant numbers of the citizenry’s lower middle class make their home. The owner of the garage and scrap yard, it seems, had sold a work visa to an Indian laborer by the name of Karunanidhi for BD1,200 (1,200 dinars), the equivalent of US$3,189. Although...

  5. 2 PEARLS, OIL, AND THE BRITISH EMPIRE: A Short History of Bahrain
    (pp. 24-48)

    In setting out to explore the context of interactions between Indian transmigrants and citizen-hosts on the island of Bahrain, I begin with a quick overview of the history of the transnational conduits that, over hundreds of years, have carried South Asians from their homes to the Gulf. In the remainder of the chapter I present a more in-depth analysis of Bahrain’s complex history. Still, the points I make in this chapter are fairly straightforward. First, the processes one might identify as transnational have a long history on the island—long enough that they precede the solidification of the nation-state by...

  6. 3 FOREIGN LABOR IN PERIL: The Indian Transnational Proletariat
    (pp. 49-70)

    During the final weeks of my time in Bahrain, I visited a labor camp in the distant reaches of outer Muharraq, beyond the airport and just a short walk from the waters of the Gulf. Here amid the dirt streets and walled compounds of the lower- and middle-class Bahrainis was a masonry tile factory. A group of thirty or forty transnational laborers, mostly Indian, lived and worked on the job site, where they prepared large flat bricks for some of the myriad construction projects on the island. On our arrival, we knocked at the large metal gate and were quickly...

  7. 4 STRATEGIC TRANSNATIONALISM: The Indian Diasporic Elite
    (pp. 71-95)

    While the previous chapter described the lifeworlds of the poorest segments of the Indian community, this chapter explores the experiences of the Indian elite in Bahrain. The size of this segment of the diasporic community is difficult to gauge, but my estimates suggest approximately 30,000 individuals.¹ As merchants, accountants, bankers, doctors, advertising executives, and other well-paid professionals—accompanied to Bahrain by their spouses and children—these men and women work in the skyscrapers their impoverished countrymen have built. As one might expect, members of this diasporic elite lead lives significantly different in character from those of the Indian transnational proletariat....

  8. 5 THE PUBLIC SPHERE: Social Clubs and Voluntary Associations in the Indian Community
    (pp. 96-117)

    Typical portrayals of social relations in the Gulf states describe a nearly insurmountable divide between citizens and foreigners. The preceding chapters of this book certainly contribute to that portrait: the social divide between citizens and foreign workers in Bahrain is formidable, and although others have directed their attention to the many and interesting “exceptional” spaces—in marriage between citizen and foreigner, through the intimate and everyday contact between employer and domestic servant, or through the ongoing interactions between the elite classes of the different communities on the island—these arenas of interaction remain exceptions to the norm (see Nagy 2008)....

  9. 6 CONTESTED IDENTITIES, CONTESTED POSITIONS: English-Language Newspapers and the Public Sphere
    (pp. 118-135)

    Several years ago in Bahrain a young married couple joined friends for a seaside walk. The young man, twenty-four years of age and a foreign worker from Nepal, worked as an air conditioner repairman on the island—a valuable technical trade in the sweltering kingdom. His young wife, aged twenty-one and also from Nepal, worked as a waitress somewhere on the island. Together, the group of friends spent the afternoon on the Causeway, the 26-kilometer collection of jetties and bridges that since 1986 has connected the small island kingdom with Saudi Arabia. At some point the young Nepalese couple diverged...

  10. 7 THE INVIGORATED STATE: Transnationalism, Citizen, and State
    (pp. 136-158)

    The multifaceted system that governs foreign laborers in Bahrain—a system of arrangements, norms, laws, ideas, and beliefs—has been the center of attention in my analysis. The danger in focusing so closely on the structural violence this system produces, however, rests in the portrayal of Bahraini citizens as what Anthony Giddens called “structural dopes” (1979, 52)—as nothing more than the empty vessels through which foreigners are governed or, in the vocabulary of my analysis, as the faceless agents of the structural violence endured by the foreign laboring class. In this chapter my primary task is to remedy that...

  11. 8 CONCLUSION: Bahrain at the Vanguard of Change in the Gulf
    (pp. 159-164)

    A year before my first trip to the Arabian Peninsula I was part of a team of researchers and ethnographers exploring the impact of the offshore oil industry on the families and communities of southern Louisiana. In this large and multifaceted project, one of my principal assignments was to immerse myself in the world of the men at the bottom of the oil sector’s occupational hierarchy—the roughnecks and roustabouts who work on the rigs, platforms, and yards scattered across southern Louisiana and its coastal waters. I made my home at a down-at-the-heels motel next to the highway in New...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 165-174)
    (pp. 175-184)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 185-188)