What was the first thing Neil Armstrong did when he landed on the moon?

He had tea from a Malayalee who had set up a chaaya kada (tea stall) there.


Ok, this can’t be the best joke you’ve heard today but, if you’re a Malayalee, you’ve probably heard variations of this evergreen ‘joke’ which was most recently used by former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Markandey Katju in a Facebook post where he hailed Keralites as “the real Indians”.

Even though it’s just a harmless dig at Malayalis who seem to be EVERYWHERE (not kidding), it makes you wonder about the reason behind this migratory tendency in the people of Kerala.

The migratory tendency in Malayalees

So, here’s the question –

If Kerala is “God’s Own Country”, why did so many Malayalis migrate in the first place?

1. High Literacy

According to the latest census report (2011), Kerala is the most literate state in the country with a literacy rate of 93.91%. But this is no modern development. Right from the 1970s, Kerala has been leading the country in terms of literacy. The Christian missionaries played a momentous role in this by setting up several schools and colleges, thus laying the foundation for western education in Kerala. Literacy also led to the debunking of Indian taboos related to crossing the sea. At the end of the day, more literacy demanded more job opportunities, leading us to our next point.

2. Low Employment Opportunities

In terms of area, Kerala is a small state in relation to its population. It could not cope with the increasing number of young graduates every year. Being a politically radical state, strikes for employee rights followed by company shut-downs were frequent happenings then (but not so prevalent now). This instability in the already limited job opportunities encouraged Malayalis to seek security in other parts of the country and abroad.

3. Migration Begets Migration

We Indians thrive in a sense of community and this characteristic is only more prevalent in Malayalis. As soon as the migrants get settled, they try to convince their friends and families that the grass is greener on foreign lands (and it usually works). If you can’t stay with your family, you just take your family with you.

Height of "Literacy" in Kerala

The History of The Migratory Malayalee

Contrary to popular belief, the initial waves of Malayalee Migration in the early 20th century were not to the Gulf but to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore. Some of the migrants were educated, semi-skilled workers in search of work, but many Malayalee soldiers who were posted in these countries during World War II, settled down there with no means of return or communication with their homeland until the war ended. Internal migration also took wings to the British India cities of Madras, Calcutta, Karachi and Bombay. It was a journey for survival because of the grim economic conditions back home.

It was only by the fourth wave of migration in the 1970s that the Persian Gulf, the United States, and Germany, among other countries, were explored by the migrants. The first generation of Gulf Malayalee workers knew not what they were headed for. The desert climate was starkly different from the lush monsoons they were used to and Arabic was foreign to their ears. Nevertheless, they persevered and turned their desert dreams into a means of survival for dependents back home, while steadily building a new Kerala at the same time.

Also Read – From Kerala To Delhi: A Fauji Brat’s Journey Of Falling In Love With Her Country

Increase in migrants created a travel boom in Kerala, resulting in the construction of 3 international airports with a 4th airport opening soon in the Northern region.

Where do they go?

Is Migration Still Prevalent?

Very much. Many Malayalis had permanently settled down in the places they migrated to and now have 3rd or 4th generation descendants there. This is found in both people who settled within the country and those that traveled abroad as well. Despite the improvement in the current economic conditions in Kerala, the trend of migration does not seem to be slowing down.

With an undying urge to prosper and a willingness to cope with any situation, Malayalis continue to explore new lands and make homes across the globe.

Image Credits – Google Images


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