Sunday, November 14, 2010

Curbing migration is not a solution.

Migration makes emancipation literally possible for the migrants as well as for the natives by helping both get rid of the cluster of customs, set norms and rigid identities. In a way it fulfils an implicit human desire to become indistinguishable. However, the process is not free from conflicts. Migration that is not peaceful in its basic nature leads to an inevitable collision of cultures, which can morph into a placid fusion only if both migrants and natives have a strong urge to be indistinguishable. For a nation like India where the level of diversity and disparity is enormous, the desire to become indistinguishable is essential for peace and harmony. Prohibiting migration or even controlling it restrains people from becoming indistinguishable and it not only incites a temporary unrest but also creates an intolerant society in the long run.

Such thoughts come to my mind when I think of the MNS leader Raj Thackeray’s so called ‘movement’ against the migrants from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra. I feel that such ‘movements’ are not against the migration; but against the supremacy or dominance that migrants obtain during the process of cultural amalgamation. The migrants obtain an edge over the native people, which is an obvious and interesting phenomenon. To migrate from one’s native place to a completely different region one requires great courage. Though migrants generally possess such qualities, they can hardly get rid of the feeling of insecurity.

It is because of this constant feeling of insecurity that, in the initial period of settlement, migrants do not discuss the matters of humiliation among their small community members to avoid getting involved in any kind of controversy. From the experiences of my friends in Australia, I have understood how a new migrant ignores the humiliation in the initial period of settlement. Last year when I was in Australia, I met one who emigrated from India to Australia a few years ago. He told me his humiliating experience when he worked with an Australian fast food centre, which he had joined just after he had arrived in Australia. A customer at the fast food centre placed an order using the drive-through phone once. He couldn’t catch what the customer said and requested the customer to come to the customer window. ‘My handset has a problem, so I can’t take your order on phone. Please come to the window directly’, he told the customer the reason. ‘The problem is not with your handset. You can’t understand our English, coz you’re Indian. Better improve next time, otherwise…………’, the customer said belligerently at the window. What he said after ‘otherwise’ are the humiliating ‘fu**’ words that are not worth writing here. My friend was very mortified. However, he kept himself calm and gave the customer what he had ordered. He ignored the whole incident and avoided making an issue which he could have easily raised in his community. But he didn’t speak about it even to his close acquaintances. He didn’t want an attention and wanted to live without getting involved in any kind of controversy. I feel that it is a strategy that a migrant develops during the initial stages of his or her settlement.

Leaving their native place itself is a big risk for migrants; which rather prepares them to face any migratory challenge. The thoughts of failures do not deter their already worried mindset. They work day and night to settle themselves economically. However, even after their economic settlement they feel lonely and isolated, and the sense of security does not develop as strongly as it develops among the native people.

They get away from this feeling of insecurity only after retaining their identity through religious or cultural activities that also help them to build a strong community. And as their communities become stronger, they take humiliations seriously. Once a Sikh in Sydney had his turban ripped from his head. Two young men stole his turban while he was travelling on a public bus. Turban has a great religious significance for Sikhs. He found himself distressed and highly embarrassed when it was stolen. He had to cover his head with a piece of cloth while another passenger laughed. When he reported the assault immediately, the police could not recognize the religious significance of turban. They considered it a minor theft instead of an assault and asked him the worth of turban in monetary terms. For the Sikh it was depressing and annoying. After the matter was upheld by the community who persuaded Ministry to take it seriously, the police upgraded the case to a race hate crime from a minor theft.

This is how migrants, after being able to retain their identities, start influencing the politics in the region where they migrate. With unrelenting hard work they become economically strong; their communities influence the local culture, and for the politicians it gives an opportunity to make it a vote bank. For the native people who have been lethargic because of their feeling that nothing would deter their status quo, the sudden progress of the migrants becomes a matter of great concern. On the one hand migration releases the strong hold of local customs and traditions; on the other hand it slowly generates plenty of opportunities for them to dominate. Migrants are likely to become ‘conquerors’ over the native people.

In Mumbai ‘conquerors’ are those who migrate from other states in a large number. Their culture and language is imposed on the ‘conquered’. In Mumbai Hindi or English (not Marathi) is the language that is used in day to day affairs. Marathi culture is not the common culture among ‘Mumbaikars’. It is this feeling of getting conquered by the migrants is the main cause of the support that the Raj Thackeray’s movement receives. However, the point is that the banning of an Indian’s freedom to choose a place to settle can not be justified on the ground that migrants obtain supremacy or dominance over the native people. It will be in the interest of Marathi people that they accept the dominance of migrants. Such political movements aim to create a sense of insecurity among Marathi people and to attract a vote bank for the political growth. It will hardly benefit the Marathi people. That is why only in the metropolitan cities like Mumbai the Raj Thackeray’s movement is getting strong support compared to the feeble support that it has received in other smaller cities in Maharashtra.