Dunki: A Critical Take on Migration from the Global South to the Global North

Shah Rukh Khan's Dunki is a comedy-drama film that depicts the struggles and aspirations of four friends from Punjab who want to immigrate to London through illegal means.

Shah Rukh Khan’s Dunki is a comedy-drama film that depicts the struggles and aspirations of four friends from Punjab who want to immigrate to London through illegal means. The film is based on the concept of “donkey flight,” which is a term used to describe the risky and often fatal journeys of undocumented migrants across borders.

The concept of donkey flight (or Dunki in Punjabi) is an illegal immigration technique that involves crossing a country’s borders through a backdoor route via multiple stops in other countries. It is based on a Punjabi idiom that means hopping from one place to another. People who use this method often pay hefty fees to agents who promise them visas or smuggle them through containers, ships, or vehicles. They usually target countries like the US, Canada, or the UK, where they hope to find better opportunities and living standards.

The film portrays these societal contexts realistically and humorously as it presents a critical angle of migration from the global south to the global north by highlighting the socio-economic and political factors that drive people to seek better opportunities abroad, as well as the challenges and dangers they face along the way. The film also explores the themes of identity, belonging, nostalgia, and love in the context of migration.

The movie portrays the human side of migration by showing the hopes, dreams, fears, and emotions of the migrants who embark on the donkey route. It also depicts the cultural diversity and solidarity among the migrants, who come from different backgrounds, religions, and regions but share a common goal and fate. The movie reflects on the dilemmas and challenges that the migrants face in their quest for a better life, such as the loss of identity, the separation from family, the adaptation to a new culture, and the risk of death. It also explores the moral and ethical questions that the migrants have to confront, such as the legality, legitimacy, and necessity of their actions.

This movie is important in depicting the double standard migratory laws imposed by global north countries against the people of poor countries in the global south because it shows the contrast between the privileged and the marginalized, the powerful and the vulnerable, and the legal and the illegal in the context of global migration. It also exposes the injustice of the global governance of migration, which often favors the interests of the global north over the global south and violates the human rights and dignity of migrants. The movie further attempts to portray the asylum-seeking laws of the global northern countries as unfair, biased, and inhumane. It shows how the migrants who use the ‘Donkey Flight’ technique are often denied the right to seek asylum and are subjected to detention, deportation, or even death. It also exposes how the global north countries have imposed strict and selective immigration policies that favor the skilled, wealthy, and legal migrants over the unskilled, poor, and illegal migrants.

“Dunki” challenges the dominant narratives about migration, such as the myth that most migrants move from the global south to the global north or that migration is a problem to be solved rather than a reality to be managed. The movie also questions the assumptions and values that underlie the international standards and policies governing migration, such as the notions of sovereignty, security, and development. The movie invites the viewers to reflect on the root causes and consequences of migration and to empathize with the migrants who risk their lives in search of a better future. The movie highlights the discrimination that migrants face in the global north, where they are often treated as second-class citizens, exploited, harassed, or criminalized. It also exposes the corruption and violence that the migrants encounter from the agents, smugglers, and authorities who facilitate or obstruct their journey.

The legitimacy and morality of the global governance of migration are the principles and values that justify and guide the norms and institutions that regulate and shape how states and other actors respond to international migration. These norms often fail to uphold these principles and values and instead serve the interests of the global north over the global south. The global north refers to the developed and wealthy countries, mostly in Europe and North America, while the global south refers to the developing and poor countries, mostly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The strict and selective immigration policies of the global north do not reflect the realities, needs, or capacities of migrants in the global south.  It ignores or neglects the root causes and drivers of migration from the global south, such as poverty, inequality, conflict, violence, and environmental degradation, which may require more comprehensive and long-term solutions, such as addressing the global imbalances of power, wealth, and resources. The global governance of migration should be humane and respect the rights and dignity of the migrants and the interests and sovereignty of the states, regardless of their location, status, or wealth.

The movie also criticizes global north countries, which claim to uphold the values of human rights, democracy, and diversity but often violate them when it comes to migrants from the global south. The movie also challenges the dominant narratives and stereotypes about the migrants from the global south, who are often portrayed as a threat, a burden, or a problem by the media and public opinion in the global north. It also highlights the agency, resilience, and contribution of the migrants, who risk their lives in search of a better future and enrich the cultural and social fabric of the host societies. They focus on the negative aspects of migration, such as the irregular and unsafe flows, the security and economic risks, and the cultural and social clashes. The media, politicians, and researchers in the global north frequently influence these narratives because they tend to concentrate on how migration affects their societies and economies while omitting the significant role that south-south migration plays in development, inequality, and humanitarian crises.

This movie is a voice for the migrants who are often silenced, ignored, or misrepresented in the mainstream media and discourse. The movie is also a testimony and a reminder of the harsh realities and injustices that migrants face in their home countries and their destination countries, as well as a call to action for the global community to respect the human rights and dignity of the migrants.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma
Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma
Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. She can be reached at ash77662[at]gmail.com