ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Figure of the Arbab in Malayalam Gulf Literature and Film


Karinkurayil Mohamed Shafeeq - Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal Centre for Humanities, Manipal, India


30- Creative and social engagement with conflict: a perspective from the South Asian Diaspora


 The unique nature of work contract in many countries of the Arab Gulf, namely the kafala system, give undue right to the native sponsor over the labourer. The Arab employer is usually called the Arbab. Because of the possibility of cruel exploitation that is inherent in the system, the Arbab-migrant labourer situation is always one with the potential of conflict. The fact of racial and linguistic difference provide many dimensions to this conflict.  This paper will discuss creative engagement in Malayalam literature and film over the relations of the migrant labourers with their Arbab in the Gulf. While Benyamin’s “Goat Days” is a famous example of the Master-Slave relation that can result from the system, there are numerous other examples in which this relation is commented upon, and not necessarily one of conflict and exploitation. In the paper I will argue that the figure of the Arbab is important even to constructing notions of migration and migrant labour among the migrant labourers as it is in the common sense of Kerala.