Saturday, February 9, 2008

Raj Thackeray, MNS, Clashes with North Indians- Migratory stories

There are so many ways in which current fiasco of MNS lashing out at migrant North indians in Mumbai and state of Maharahtra can be seen and I believe that fundamentally it reflects conflict between two social groups happening because of pressures of migration and changing demographic profiles . It is a conflict to gain space, political and economical power, even though some of us would so easily blame it on politics and assume that everything is fine afterall if it wasn't for dirty politic played by few. But Politics is only played on faultlines that exist and more so in societies which have more of them, like ours.
Migratory Ways of Indians : In past century, we as human species have made amazing progress and forces of globalisation and ease of travel have led to massive cross-migration of people. Migration from one state to another, from one country to another etc. Not that migration of people is new. Evolution of species tell us how we evloved and how different races were formed and spread across the planet through migration. It is in animal's nature to migrate to places where it can find food and water and where its survival is most likely. Humans have not been any different. But as we know, with advancement in technology and healthcare and capitalist economy becoming more or less default way, migration of humans have been unprecedented in past 200 years. Think about it in our context, just around turn of last century, there were not many "indians" who lived outside of sub-continent and there wasn't a term called NRI (Non resident Indian). Now, indians are found everywhere and are conspicuous largely for their economic success (exept perhaps in Malaysia). They are in large numbers in UK where they are already in third generation. Malaysia has 9% of its population who are ethnic Indians (um..or shall I say ethnic Tamilians!) Indians are third largest ethnic group in Singapore. There is a huge population of indians in middle east (mostly from state of Kerala). In Mauritius , 70% of people are from Indian roots. Huge Indian population was found in east african countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania before some of them were forced out by local governments (remember Adi Amin). Large scale migration of Punjabis to Canada is something we all know of. Such migration is not limited to Indians alone but is also found across other nationalities, like chinese for example. As indians have gone to other countries to settle down, they have naturally also migrated within the country itself. Most of big indian cities have people from all parts of country. Some ethnics groups have been migrating for centuries ;like Gujratis are found everywhere where they could setup businesses.
Conflicts of Migration: Migration of people from one geography to another or rather from one social group to another start creating problem when there is contention for resources or a threat is percieved by host group that thier numbers would be undermined because of large numbers of migrant influx. At that point of time host group is bound to react naturally to protect its identity which could be based on religious, lingustic or racial or sometime combination fo them all. Some time the migration could be such that the migrant is much more powerful, hostile and violent than the host and host would be cleaned up wholesale to make way for migrants. Like it happened in America or Australia to name a few instances. But such events happended in medieval, ancient times. In modern time where nation states are more or less well defined and stable, the migration related conflicts manifest in various ways, mainly in terms of identity clashes. For example, UK after many decades of soft immigration policies now want to stiffen the rules. Xenophobia is rising throughput the world as a natural opposite force of migration and globalisation. Australia has a test for desiring immigrants to test thier "asussiness", . Few people in UK had mooted idea of "cricket based loyality test" to test Asian immigrants loyality. Nothing wrong with that perhaps, while in rome do as the romans do. But can a greek "become" roman if he is merely "doing" what a roman does! How does one become Indian or English! Do only whites of anglo-saxon stock qualify to be an English? Is Sonia Gandhi (a Catholic , Italian married to a Hindu-parsi Indian) an Indian?
Hyphenated-Identities In modern times, individual carries complex set of criss-crossing identities resulting from his/her affliations with diverse social groups. For example, One can be hindu (religion), born off Indian parents (ethnicity), citizen of USA (nationality) making him an American- Hindu- of- Indian origin. In some cases it can be as complex as American-Hindu-Indian-Gujrati-kutchi. Within India itslef , where we have staggering cultural diversity both ethnic and linguistic, the hyphens in one's identity can be mind blowing. Migration of people and cross-pollination (;)) have made question of identities more complex.
Problems with Inter-state Migration in India: So with Indians have been migrating to other parts of world for greener pastures, one would think that migration within the country , from one state to another would be an assumed thing. As an Indian, citizen can live and work anywhere in 26 states, as per constitution. But In India states are mainly formed based on linguistic identities and not purely from Administrative reasons. This means that state has an underlying sub-nationlism, making it a more cohesive unit than a state formed on purely administrative reason would have been. So when a person migrates from one state to another, even if it is neighbouring state, the dynamics of migration and resulting conflicts are more accute. That is the reason we see certain conflicts more in India than anywhere else in world. We are highly tribal and ethnically cohesive people, may be only less than Afgans. Remember riots which happened in Bangalore, city in Karnataka state , between Kandigas (locals) and Tamilians (migrants from neighbouring Tamilnadu)! Kanigads felt than Tamilians were ruling the roost in thier capital city and that they were undermining thier local culture. Tamilains controlled some flourishing business in Bangalore. Bihari migrant labourers are regularly killed by ULFA in Assam and most of Assames feel that bihari "outsiders" comes in large numbers and are threat to thier "culture". There lies the problem, our diversity becomes our bane. We can huddle around language, state, ethnicity, raise the fences and point out that "outsider" who must be kept out if our identity as a group has to be protected. This is potentially true for every state in indian union. The faultlines are there to be exploited by just raising bogey of culture, language being underthreat by influx of outsiders.
Story of migration in Maharashtra: The script being played in Maharashtra is familiar. Initially it was played by Shiv Sena in 1960 when mere 5% of South Indian migrants to Mumbai were occupying most of government jobs , possibly because they were more educated than the locals at that point of time. But large section of Marathi middle class at that time resented this fact (contention of resources) and that led to rise of Shiv Sena. Shiv Sena galvanised people by siting pride in local culture and making "others" from outside standout like sore thumb. Now script is same, but actors are slightly different. Now south Indians are gone (because they are running software companies down south or in US) and government jobs are with locals (and deservingly so) . Now target is low wage earnerers and north indian migrant who does jobs in unorganised sector, like driving 50,000 odd taxies in Mumbai and selling vegetables. The noise is still same, about marathi culture, language and pride beig undermined by Migrants. The same could be true in Tamilnadu or Karnataka or anywhere else in country.
It is free market economic and Identities are many: According to some Marathi historians, Marathis as community or group have always been low on business quotient. Even when Shivaji, the great maratha warrior was winning new territories , he would invite marwari seths to take care of business in new districts (Marwari anyway, is most business savvy community in India). In modern times, it was Parsi and Gujrati migrants who setup big enterprises in Maharastra (specially in Mumbai). Why did they come here? Answer is same ...for why peple migrate. Why indians go to US. Economic benefit, better life. Answer is stil the same why a poor north indian migrates to Mumbai and runs a taxi. Because he earns 4 times more than he could in his native and because there is still demand enough for him to ply his taxi here, meaning that demand is not met by locals. If a mason from North comes and charges less , it is becuase he is being competitive in market and that is resented by locals, just like Indian software programmers would be resented in USA. Migrants are usually hard working as they come to compete and earn and that can be a reason for locals to feel economically threatened. That is the primary reason. But since we are such an emotionaly wired people, we usually raise such issues with lots of emotional spice like culture and language etc. Most of times they are red herrings, specially in context of migration within a country. Why would a north indian migrant not learn marathi , the local language in Maharashtra! That is quite aburd because language is first based on need before it becomes an emotional issue. If migrant from north india can come here and speak with locals and his customers in Hindi, he wouldn't learn Marathi. It is not because he comes here with intent of insulting local language or culture. In fact, most of migrants anywhere are more law abiding since they migrate for economic reasons and dont want to get on wrong side of law or locals. And if one expects a north Indian or south indian or east indian or whatever indian, to become a Marathi or Tamil or Malyali after he/she migrate to respective states,then the question is who is a marathi or tamil or malyali? The one who speaks the language? Would that suffice if a migrant learns the language, eats similar food and dress same? Or would he only become a Marathi-Tamil or marathi-punjabi .........but he would never be a marthi-marathi or tamil-tamil ?
And in all this where does Indian get lost? That is for next post.........