Malayalees in Deutschland

An analysis of the magazine Wartha

1. Introduction

1.1. The 'Malayali Community' in Germany

"Überhaupt, die indischen Christen in Deutschland gehören zu den wenigen Ausländergruppen in Deutschland, die niemals für den Rechts- und Sozialstaat eine Belastung waren." (Wartha 1997, No.2, 14)

Largely unknown both in and outside Germany there exists in Germany a small but rather well organised community of Indian Christians from Kerala. While it has its roots, like most of the other ethnic minorities in Germany, in work migration, its history exhibits many specific features. First of all it was not young single males who came to Germany in the 60s, but rather groups of young women.

In the time of the German economic miracle in the 60s there was a general lack of employees in the economy which was felt also in the health sector. The shortage of physicians and nurses was such that the situation was considered a Pflegenotstand and sources for qualified personnel were sought. Germany, in order to alleviate the problem, entered into recruitment contracts for nurses with South Korea and the Philippines. But this did not satisfy the demand for labour and thus, as many hospitals were run by the Catholic Church, the latter looked for further places of recruitment. They found one in the Indian state of Kerala which has a large Christian population. From among this a few thousand trained nurses, nuns and unqualified young women (aged between 16 years and the mid twenties) were taken under contract and brought to Germany. Those who were already trained started to work immediately, the others got a training as nurses . Generally the young women were well taken care of, the hospitals provided logging, some language training and leisure programmes. In some cases, however, the young women were badly exploited and promises as well as parts of the contracts were not kept. This as well as the nurses’ home sickness and unfamiliarity with the German environment triggered the establishment of welfare programmes by Christian organisations. Thus taken care of the young Indian women helped in closing the gap in the German health system, became well liked nurses and were able to financially support their families in Kerala who consequently experienced some upward social mobility.

With increasing adaptation to the German environment some of the nurses started having German boyfriends, mostly from among their colleagues in the hospitals, and a few hundred eventually married German men. The majority of the young women, nonetheless, had an arranged marriage with, due to their ability to pay a good dowry, well qualified and ‘suitable’ Indians in Kerala. Subsequent family formation in Germany was, however, rather difficult. While the Indian spouses of the nurses had a right of residence there, they were faced with a waiting period of several years for a work permit. This led to different reactions - some couples either returned to India or migrated to another country, others split geographically with the wife staying in Germany and the husband searching for a job elsewhere, and finally some husbands stayed with their wives without working. The latter, however, was not very satisfying to them, in particular as they were rather well educated and had not expected this change of gender roles. It seems that hardly any of the men opted for using the enforced waiting period to become further qualified professionally, they rather formed cultural and sport clubs, and thus spend their time playing theatre or volleyball. Once they then had the possibility of getting an employment, most had to be content with a position which was below their original qualification. Many started to work in the hospitals where their wives were employed already.

Those who stayed in Germany, despite the efforts of the German authorities to make them leave the country at the end of the 70s , thus raised families there. Some few families sent their children to Kerala for education, others attempted a return to India in order for their children to be brought up in an Indian environment , but most of the children were brought up in a German environment, attending the German education system and thus developed norms and forms of action alien to their parents. By now many of this children have left school, most of them have entered higher education and the first are founding families of their own.

The Malayali community by now has established itself securely in the middle class of German society. The adults are integrated in the work force and earn sufficiently to provide their children with a good education, to afford a comfortable home as well as to provide for their family in India. The children are at least averagely successful in education, much more so than children from other ethnic minorities. They feel at home in Germany, hardly experience crude racism and have friends and also partners from the white German majority. While for their parents this is true also to some extent, the latter also very much cultivate the social relationships within the Malayali community. Both the churches and all kinds of societies and clubs provide them with a meeting place and refuge from the German environment. It is interesting to see that in this social sphere in contrast with the professional sphere the men are in charge. This might be a compensation for their lower status in economic terms to their wives or it might reflect the fact that many of the organisations were founded to provide the unemployed husband with some engagement. But the Malayalis do not totally stay within their own circles, to some degree they also mix with other established Indians , who have founded much less ethnic minority organisations, but are largely in charge of the biggest Indian society in Germany, the Indo-German Society in which also many Malayalis are members. Meetings of the latter thus occasionally take the form of multi-faith and multi-cultural gatherings. This seeming transgression of internal divisions appears, however, to succeed only partially. Within the Malayali community itself there seem to be fierce conflicts among the different church affiliations.

The members of the Malayali community appear to derive much pride out of the fact that they pursue an employment in which they care for other people as well as from their own economic and their children’s educational success. They are eager to emphasise their difference to other less integrated ethnic minorities as the Turkish community and in particular to the growing number of, among others South Asian, asylum seekers.

1.2. The state of research 1998

To my knowledge no research on the Malayali community in Germany has been published. In publications of the journalist Jose Punnamparambil one finds references to some aspects of this ethnic minority but he has not written about it in a systematic manner. Similarly references to the Malayalis are made in Goel (1998), but without a special focus on this community. The best written source for research are thus the several magazines published in Germany for the Keralite nurses and their families, such as Wartha, Ente Lokam and Meine Welt. Most of these were founded in the 70s and 80s by church bodies in order to cater for the needs of the Malayali community. The church organisations provide the finances and the editorial teams are comprised of Indians from within the community. These magazines thus reflect to some extent what is happening within that group. They do this, however, in very different manners. Meine Welt seems to have left the focus on purely Malayali concerns, deals extensively with cultural issues and is appreciated by a wide circle of intellectuals. Wartha, on the other hand, seems to be more popular among the Keralites, providing much coverage of community matters.

The aim of this essay is thus to approach an analysis of the Malayali community and their attitudes through an analysis of the magazine Wartha, which seems to have most popular appeal within the former. The basis of the discussion are a rather arbitrary collection of past issues beginning in 1991 and going up to the last issue of 1997. These are put into context by the scanty literature on the topic, former interviews which I held with members of the Malayali community on other topics and my personal knowledge of several Keralese of different ages and in different environments.

Adding to the fact that I have no access to all the past issues of Wartha and that it thus is almost impossible to make statements about clear trends, there is a further fact which poses problems to the analysis. This is that the magazine is multi-lingual, including always a large share of Malayalam texts which I cannot read. I, however, benefited of a translation of a sample of titles and got some clues about the contents from an analysis of the accompanying illustrations. This seems to indicate that the kind of topics covered are similar to those covered in German and English, with maybe some bias towards more Indian topics, especially towards articles about movies and actresses. I thus assume that an inclusion of an analysis of the Malayalam texts would not considerably alter the conclusions. This, however, remains for somebody else to investigate. In any case, even if there were considerable differences, the following analysis will make some sense as it analyses the image given towards all readers of the magazine who are unable to read Malayalam such as most members of the second generation, the German husbands of the nurses, interested Germans and non-Malayali Indians. In fact, it might be quite interesting to investigate whether there is a considerable difference between the views expressed in the different languages.
Before any further analysis of the magazine, however, can be made it is first of all necessary to describe the concept and content of Wartha which will be done in the following section. Once this is completed major features of the magazine which give some indication of the nature of the Malayali community in Germany can be investigated and then a brief preliminary discussion of these will be offered. During all this it must be kept in mind that this essay is a first attempt of analysis and is not considered as a final word but rather as an invitation for discussion.

List of Contents

2. The magazine Wartha
2.1. The concept of Wartha
2.2. Whose views are represented in Wartha
2.3. The major event in the 'Malayali community' - The Kerala Meela
2.4. Pattern of contents

3. An analysis of the contents
3.1. Pan-Indian claim
3.2. Image of India
3.3. The 'Malayali Community'
3.4. The Second Generation
3.5. Missing issues

4. Discussion

© Urmila Goel, / english or Desis in Deutschland/ Malayalees / Wartha 1998/2007