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Mumbai has a huge and growing migrant population. And Mumbai has conspicuous ‘sons of the soil’ insisting that priority in employment MUST go to locals. They have ransacked offices, issued ultimatums (and threats), targetted migrants from specific places. I disagree with their methods and I also see them applied unevenly (show me the objections to Gujarati migrants, for example). At the same time, I think there is an important value in what they are saying. And not just for Mumbai.

As inequality grows in India, more and more people are migrating to the cities. Part of the story is what is widely believed – that cities have opportunity. The other part is also that vast tracts of India are simply being cleared for corporations and their people abandoned to landless destitution, or are simply neglected in development to the point of unsustainability. These people land up in cities not only because cities hold hope of jobs, but also because they have been destroyed in their original homes.

Consider tribals who continue to live in forests being targetted as criminals and Maoist supporters. The story of Soni Sori is the tip of the iceberg. There is systematic “pest control” happening to clear out lands in demand. It is little more than a massive drive to empty out the mineral rich homes of the adivasis. Arundhati Roy has written extensively about this. This quote from “Capitalism: A Ghost Story” is telling:

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU for the construction of an integrated steel plant in Bastar with Tata Steel, the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia, was inaugurated. The government said it was a spontaneous uprising of local people who were fed up of the “repression” by Maoist guerrillas in the forest. It turned out to be a ground-clearing operation, funded and armed by the government and subsidised by mining corporations. In the other states, similar militias were created, with other names. The prime minister announced the Maoists were the “single-largest security challenge in India”. It was a declaration of war.

P Sainath’s reports on water privatization from around 2005 onwards contain horror stories of people being charged impossible rates for irrigation water and put into situations where they have little option but to sell land or starve. A quote from “How the deal was done“:

Back in Maregaon, Chavan points out: “This village lost canal water because people were too poor to pay the old charges. The rates plus fines crossed Rs.1 lakh for us and it got impossible.” Rambhau Mahajan had to pay the equivalent of one acre of land — Rs.25,000 — in order to be able to sell four acres to survive.

To make a long story short, the water was made so expensive that no crop grown in the region could sustain such charges. The bills of water were made more expensive for people with more than two children. Multiple taxes were levied, and non-payment by a few in the village could get water blocked for all. People couldn’t even sell their land without clearing dues first. Is there any wonder that there are suicides? Is there any wonder that people sell their lands and migrate to find work?

This is not progress. This is the desperate grab for opportunity for survival being peddled as progress. AUN report on urbanization says:

As a result of these shifts, developing countries will have 80 per cent of the world’s urban population in 2030.

This may seem like a good thing, but it is worth thinking that if urbanization is such a good thing, then why would developed countries have only 20% of the urban population?

Ok, leave aside this for a minute. India has a large population, and low energy reserves. Our pursuit of goals is all about industrialization, which minimizes human effort and needs more energy and takes a heavy toll from the environment. How is this ever going to result in better employment, energy independence or even ensure people have pollution free environments to live in at all? To feed this monster, we are promoting the corporatization of everything. Large farm holdings run efficiently, etc. Nuclear plants to keep this monster going. But even then, where will the jobs come from? We are already running into this problem. Rural people can migrate to urban areas when life becomes impossible, but what happens to the locals of urban areas when life becomes impossible for them as their meagre opportunities are up for grabs by more and more people?

Leave this aside too. There are allegations that migrant populations add to crime. I have no statistics for this. I haven’t searched. I will, and insert later if I find. So, I am not claiming this for fact. At the same time, migrant populations adding to crime does make sense, because they have no social anchors or any need to maintain their standing in society. Think of it as you going on your first hidden date. You may barely speak with each other in your own locality, but will act like husband and wife in a different place where no one knows you. Obviously you are not committing a crime, but if you were inclined to crime, would you find it easy among people who know you, or people who don’t? It makes a lot of sense that behavior is more reckless among strangers where stakes for disapproval or alienation are low.

This is not to say that all migrants are evil, or that migration should be banned completely or even that migrants should be discriminated against. At the same time, the cost of the rampant migration from the promise of “equal opportunity” overburdens cities and also increases stress for opportunities among populations as well as abandons vast tracts of the country to people who would like them abandoned. Development being defined as movement toward cities makes it increasingly easier to neglect villages.  In the long run, it is going to create pigeon colonies out of people, with vast, lush regions handed over to corporations, because no one else can survive the manufactured hardships.

Leave that aside too. Every place has a potential to work and earn. When people proudly proclaim India is one country and anyone can settle and earn anywhere, why is it that an urban person cannot buy agricultural land and stay in a village, if a person from a village can come and stay in the city? Because the design is to cluster people in less and less space and less and less resources. Factories have no problems buying rural land. It is normal citizens who do. The people making expectations that cities should accommodate everyone who takes a whim to be there choose to see only the rights of migrants in this situation. The desperation of the country to survive and cities being the only visible alternative has led to the blatant confiscation of the right of the people to their land in cities. The fantasy is that cities belong to no one, and everyone is equal. You wouldn’t approve of urban people going and outnumbering tribals in their land, and competing for the food naturally available in the wild, would you? Of course, cities have greater resources to accommodate more people, but it is a mistake to think that those resources are infinite and should not be guarded. Or that people who originally belong to the cities have no special right to their land over migrants. Or that they shouldn’t try and enforce boundaries when things become unsustainable.

There needs to be greater focus on development. On uniform development of India – even though cities remain hubs of civilization. There needs to be effort to sustain populations where they live instead of forcing them to cities. It is  not about opportunity. It is about survival for most migrants. If they could live on land they own and make a living, would they choose to wash your dirty dishes and live in hovels and servitude? The other problem is that when “posh” people claim equal rights for all Indians in cities, they are thinking of working professionals living in flats. Because of course, it is the norm to be blind to the poor. Our sense of majority is limited to those with voice, but the number of migrants with respectable jobs and sustainable work are very, very few. The vast majority inhabit slums and have no clue what they are doing with their lives beyond surviving and at most, saving for a rainy day. My maid is a second generation migrant who still lives in rented rooms and stores clothes in bundles. They have property in their village, but they would have to sell it and become homeless anyway, or starve, because there are no opportunities. Does she like working as a domestic servant? No. She has no choice. This isn’t a migration of opportunity.

We cannot kick out these migrants. They need to survive. Whatever fuck up we have become as a country, we have become together. At the same time, the right of locals to secure resources for themselves in their land should be respected. While burning buses is wrong, there shouldn’t be a need to burn buses over this. There needs to be serious attention paid to rural development and urgently, so that people are able to sustain themselves in their beloved lands with dignity. There still will be migrants chasing rainbows and India is a country for all, but we need to do something to manage the desperate bulk of them before things go into anarchy and we end up in a fight for survival in the supposed lands of opportunity as well.

Such thoughts are finding fertile ground in many places as people find the current systems unsustainable. One such site with alternative economic and development solutions is “Slow Money” – an attempt to begin fixing the economy from the ground up. Many thoughts worth thinking, but when it comes to the holistic development of India, one that is stuck in my imagination is:

What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?


Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7

Being a foreign power, the British did not trust the colonized people. Therefore many checks were introduced, mostly unnecessarily. This practice also continues today. This leads to a huge amount of paper work, in addition to every government form (and those of semi-government organizations as well) asking (as mentioned earlier) the names of father/husband/guardians of individuals, as though all adult Indians are in fact less than adults and need someone else to be responsible for his/her behaviour. I have been told by a number of senior managers/officers in the public sector industry and government that the amount of money, for example, that is spent to check possible cheating on medical bills is far greater than the amount of money that could be cheated, given the ceiling on such expense.

Adult Indians as individuals also demonstrate this ‘non-adult’ assumption. If trains run late, daily passengers squat on the track and disrupt the entire railway operation in that sector. It stems from some kind of a covert assumption that the powers that be actually do not care for the people and therefore the only way they can be made to take steps to remove people’s difficulties is by disrupting administration. This kind of behaviour also seems to be based on the unconscious assumption, illustrated earlier, that there is an unexamined belief in an alien power governing the country even though they are people’s representatives

It is an open question as to what extent these people’s representatives – those who get elected to the parliament and the various state legislatures – also unconsciously act as though they are aliens with power to rule over the country’s population.

The impact of the colonial hangover manifested in terms of adolescent behaviour, and its opposite, treating adult Indians as adolescents by the powers that be can be seen in everyday life if one cares to reflect upon one’s experience.

There are regular media reports of people, for example, attacking employees and breaking up furniture and machinery in electricity supplying sub-stations if there is a failure in electrical supply during an important cricket match that was being shown live in a television channel; attacking hospital employees and breaking up equipment if one believes that a patient has died due to negligence and so on. The assumption that there is no legal recourse to set them right could also be true to a great extent, perhaps because the powers that be also feel that they are, in fact, ruling aliens. And the prize here goes to Kolkata, earlier known as Calcutta. All over West Bengal college students (who are all adults) and sometimes their parents (who pay the fees) run amok destroying college properties to force the authorities to dilute the standard of intellectual content in Kolkata. In addition, educated and moneyed people who drive four-wheelers and two-wheelers not only break traffic laws whenever they are in a hurry, but also start a serenade of motor horns every time there is a traffic jam and also, as soon as the traffic signal turns green. It is a phenomenon of not even adolescent behaviour, but infantile behaviour. It is the greedy child’s show of temper tantrum at its inability to postpone gratification.

Like the greedy child interprets adult behaviour as ‘getting away with their gratification’, in Kolkata the adults who actually get away with their gratification are the police, the army, many government officers and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Their vehicles routinely break traffic laws with impunity by driving up one way streets in the wrong direction, parking vehicles in no parking areas and sometimes even driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid a traffic jam when they have a red light attached to the car – a phenomenon that one Kolkata based newspaper had termed ‘the red menace’.

Then Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, perhaps leads the rest of the state in taking law unto itself. Whoever has the contextual power, as the legacy of its colonial history where those who had contextual power i.e., the colonial masters, whether they were Greeks, Turks, Pathans, Mughals or British rulers, has scant regard for laws of their own making when it comes to their self-interest.

During the British colonial era, a great Maharashtrian leader of freedom fight had said ‘What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’ to highlight Bengal’s contribution to the struggle for independence. If that saying becomes true once again, the Republic of India may come in for a lot of rough weather. One has to read one’s daily newspaper thoroughly in order to look at some of the evidence of that scattered all over India.


For a comprehensive bibliography of K. P. Chattopadhyay’s publications see Essays in Social Anthropolog y, Kshitish Prasad Chattopadhyay, with an Introduction by Andre Beteille, K. P. Bagchi & Company, Calcutta and New Delhi, 1994, P.549-556.

Bion, W. R. Experiences in Groups and other papers, Tavistock Publications, London, 1962.

Chattopadhyay, Gouranga P. Managing Unconscious Process: The Family, the Organisation and Beyond, Chapter 2, Eureka Publishers, Calcutta, 1998.

Chattopadhyay Gouranga P. ‘Invader in the Mind.’ The Economic Times, VII, 137 & 138, Bombay,
Delhi and Calcutta, 1981.

Chaudhuri, Sukanta ‘From enclave to empire’, The Telegraph, November 5, 2009, Calcutta, 8.

Mitra, Ashok ‘Cutting the Corner’, The Telegraph, March 30, 2009, Kolkata.

Paramahamsa Niranjanananda, Yoga Darshan: Vision of the Yoga Upanishads, Sri Panchadashnam Alakh
Bara, Deoghar, Bihar, India, 1993.Colonialism-in-the-Mind

Biographical Note

Gouranga Chattopadhyay is Emeritus Professor of HR of the Academy of Human Resources, Ahmedabad and an independent OD consultant, executive coach and personal counsellor. He can be contacted at gipisi2@gmail.com.