Migration and local populations

Thackerays are the bad boys of Mumbai. Thugs. It encompasses their identity to the point that no matter what they say or do it is perceived as yet another proof of their lawlessness and jingoism or regionalism or whatever.

I couldn’t care less about who thinks what of which politician, and I will add my voice to condemning use of violence. However, I agree with them on the subject of migration and I disagree with most logic used to criticize them on migration. Worse, I find that there is considerable “opinion manufacturing” – which doesn’t stand to scrutiny – which plain irritates me, because I find that manipulative and dishonest.

I quote our constitution here to begin with pointing out that things aren’t half as cut and dry as peddlers of opinions would like you to imagine.

Freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India which is also subject to reasonable restrictions by the State in the interest of….

Supposedly literate people of India lose the ability to read the part in bold. While what is “reasonable restrictions” needs to be more explicit, unilaterally denying and dismissing any conditions means overruling our constitution in the name of quoting it. There are people with the power and profit in rewriting realities. Politicians with nomadic vote banks depending on where elections are happening come to mind.

It would be most inconvenient if these people could be tracked. While a local worker with family expenses cannot afford to work at the prices migrants under cut them for, migrants get paid lesser too. The sting is two way and the ones profiting are neither the local nor migrant workers, but those who would like to pay less for more work – who are often connected with political as well as media – which makes extensive use of migrants too.

This is kind of exploitation The Interstate Migrant Workman (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1979 aims to prevent. The Act is targeted at employers and contractors of migrants, requiring them to register and provide records of migrants in their employ, their wages (which also have explicit norms), working hours and so on. This will automatically result in employment records for migrants being maintained better, which in turn will mean tools to combat exploitation, human trafficking and crime. It is a question worth asking who gains from these records not being kept. There is no reason for lawfully employed migrants to face any problems whatsoever through such processes.

Why would someone make laws for inter-state migration at all, if there was no legal basis or need for monitoring migration? Recently Manohar Parrikar, CM of Goa expressed an intent to ban migration to Goa.

“I am very clear about it. We need to freeze the incoming population while looking at industrial expansion. I am happy when one person from another state comes for a job to Goa, but he comes with two other unemployed relatives and that adds to the unemployment number in Goa,” Parrikar told a trade body function.

Cultural overwhelm threatening to alter the unique identity of the state. Article 29 of our constitution states:

Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.

The fact of states along linguistic lines itself is a clear indication that appropriating the identity of any place was not the agenda. It is a kind of cultural invasion to claim “Mumbai belongs to no one.” Well, much as opportunists would like a free for all, there is an existing culture and language, “air” of sorts – for want of a better description – and I am not talking here only of Marathi Manoos, but even the quaint charm of the Irani cafes, for example. Who can forget P L Deshpande’s irreverent and loving mimicry of Marathi in a Parsi accent?

Today, in Mumbai, in “upmarket” areas of most cities in Maharashtra, in Bangalore, in Hyderabad…. the local style is seen in a demeaning manner. From being the unique flavor of a place, it has been rendered as something similar to America’s “natives” – something to be replaced with a superior race of generic Indians. There can be a marked arrogance associated with some communities of migrants that hurts even among very poor classes. This is likely cultural differences rather than deliberate superiority or malintent, but the conflicts generated are real.

It is worth asking why migrants of certain states are hated almost everywhere they go. It is worth asking why those states are also associated with higher than average lawlessness too, and if other states must offer unregulated travel in spite of that. All this can be dismissed and called discrimination or hate speech, but these are questions. Except when instead of a debate, there is an attempt to silence the questions raised – by denying natives any right over their own land.

This isn’t discrimination or insult. It is a struggle to retain identity that is getting louder and more violent the more it is ignored. Discrimination and insult is when government documents use terms like BIMARU. No, Raj Thackeray didn’t write any of it.

“Political ploys” as if politicians having political motives is somehow an anomaly peculiar to Thackerays. As if a party taking stands in alignment with openly stated goals is a pretense. Yet, it is extremely naive to assume they have manufactured a problem where it doesn’t exist. Social conflicts arising out of migration are a prolifically documented phenomenon worldwide.

Migration happens from a place with low opportunity to one with high opportunity. Maharashtra’s employment guarantee scheme (1972), for example was such a magnet till 2005 brought NREGA. When development is consistently failing, it is impossible that a few developed areas can sustain migration infinitely or deal with it through an infinite addition of job generating industries. These glass ceilings come still lower when the economy is slow. There have been corelations drawn with neo-liberal policies and the consequent increasing divide in empowerment of urban and rural India.

Starving farmers have sold rural property and moved to cities for survival often as a result of policies that seem to be designed to make rural life impossible. This is not about the spirit of exploration, but sheer survival. There is no alternative to development and governance to check distress migration – the largest kind in India. While the short tempered Thackerays are louder than others, they aren’t the only ones by far.

People like Chidambaram and Sheila Dixit have blamed migrants for rising crimes. Last April, Central Association of Private Security Industry (CAPSI), an umbrella body of over 100 companies providing private security guards, underlined the need for offering employment to rural youth to check migration and rein in crimes in urban areas. These are people in the business of security. Hopefully unrelated to the Thackerays. Kozhikode police are actually going to the extreme (and privacy violating) step of getting fingerprints of migrants on record. A draft legislation in Kerala plans to make it mandatory for migrants to register with the Labour Department and get cards in order to be work in Kerala.

And then there is blatant political one upsmanship or exploitation. Management messiah Laloo’s tenure as Railways Minister had entrance exams for railway jobs in at least 2 states having more Bihari applications than local. Local newspapers did not carry notices, but Bihari newspapers did, and Biharis applied in droves and migrated specifically for exams and government jobs. Yeah right. Anyone can give exams anywhere. Exams can be advertized or not advertized anywhere too? Likely. Lot of freedom of expression here. People screaming hoarse on reservation find nothing odd in 90% applicants being Biharis in states other than Bihar? Why not conduct exams there and simply post people to other states? But hey, agitating about reservations is hep, agitating about Biharis systematically organizing a monopoly on railway jobs in other states is not, yes?

The Thackerays didn’t like it, but few in Maharashtra in any mood to appreciate jobs being conned from them – regardless of political orientation. 9 students were murdered on 9th November 2003 and Biharis were not allowed to appear for the exams probably sounds like the doings of Raj Thackeray, but really happened in Assam for the same reason five years before the attack on exam halls that Raj Thackeray is so famous for.

In Assam, they prevent Biharis from taking a railway recruitment exam. In Bihar, they “retaliate” by beating up Assamese students in trains. Back in Assam again, they “retaliate” for this “retaliation” by killing Biharis: 50 and counting as I write.

Rabdi devi’s brother Pappu Yadav and supporters were part of the attacks on northeast students. Let’s not publicize that. Ever wonder why how one side of a story is eternal truth while the other vanishes into thin air?

In 2008, activists of MNS and SS vandalized examination halls and attacked students soon after Laloo declared as a taunt that he would perform Chat puja in Mumbai regardless of who tried to stop. In a spectacular show of sub-nationalism, political leaders across party lines in Bihar were unanimous in condemnation. Laloo included. Raj Thackeray had achieved a milestone in Bihari unity that devastating Kosi floods and division of Bihar itself failed to achieve. Maybe he should be lauded for that. No one bothered with the impact of their people on jobs in Maharashtra. Media didn’t bother to look at this blatant hypocrisy.

While sub-nationalism is supposed to be the Thackeray trademark, it was a Bihari youth, also called Raj in Mumbai who hijacked a double-decker bus at gunpoint, injured one and declared intent to kill Raj Thackeray – as a response to persecution of Biharis – so much for persecuted people fleeing for their lives. He got shot dead by police. Bihari politicians condemned the killing without comment on a person from Bihar hijacking a bus on gunpoint with an illegal gun. Biharis were being sacrificed to Raj Thackeray by cops themselves was the consensus. There were demands for Election Commission to derecognize Raj Thackeray by Laloo who incidentally is well known for his rule of Bihar from behind bars. The man was threatening to kill Raj Thackeray, so Raj Thackeray should resign. Nice logic.

Recently, when Raj Thackeray accused migrants of having a role in Mumbai riots, he was ignored and misreported. Later, when a teenager was really arrested in Bihar, Nitish Kumar threatened kidnapping cases against police. The threat being answered with a threat got dubbed persecution of Biharis, but no one bothered to ask why a vandal of the Amar Jawan memorial being arrested caused such outrage for Nitish and the first threat was issued against police at all? Is it not illegal to threaten people with legal cases? Earlier Nitish had threatened to ask all Biharis to leave Mumbai and implied that Mumbai would collapse without them.

Why wouldn’t a psychological response to a threat to shut down Mumbai by withdrawing Biharis lead to a desire to run Mumbai without them to begin with, so that external states don’t have the power to threaten such economic attacks? Why would anyone want to employ Biharis after that threat? Strangely a regional threat by Nitish Kumar to Mumbai is acceptable to the same people.

This is not migration. It is the political capture of a region by using migration to establish lobbies strong enough for leaders of other states to threaten local leaders – good or bad – with shows of strength. The threats in themselves prove the point of an invasive presence that owes loyalty outside. To quote that India Today article from 2008

Analysts say that since 1997, the percentage of migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has increased from 12 to 19 per cent. About 19 of the city’s 36 Assembly constituencies are now dominated by north Indian voters.

There are more Bhojpuri films screened in Mumbai than Marathi. But making a noise over this is regionalism. Apparently Bihari regionalism in Mumbai is legitimate, but not Marathi. What logic supports this? Why should decades of demands unheard still have vandalism as protest today? Ok, think for a minute, Mumbai doesn’t belong to Marathis, but it doesn’t belong to UP or Bihar either, right? So why can’t as many Marathi films be screened as Bhojpuri? Without access to nurturing audiences, revenue collection or representation in public space, what exactly is the intention toward Marathi cinema?

Someone said something interesting, when I said that I agree with the view, but not actions. That person said that all extremists begin with a core cause that is right, but their actions make it wrong. There is absolutely no reflection in the role of the state in long term neglect of burning causes people have till they reach a point where they walk out of the scope of the law. We did that with Maoists too.

I think Raj Thackeray’s way of protesting is wrong, for another reason, though

  1. It walks straight into the trap laid out to get him. He acts in increasingly illegal ways, undermining credibility and support. It is common in India to neglect, incite and tip over dissent into the illegal in order to silence. He is at risk.
  2. It keeps returning to the same point. He should file court cases, set precedents and make concrete progress instead.

But that would probably have those threatening police with legal cases calling it legal persecution of Biharis or something.

Who are we fooling here?

Such questions are not fashionable. Wrong surname.

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About the Author

Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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