Do local Mumbaikars resent ‘outsiders’?
I wasn’t going to write about this issue of Raj Thackeray’s MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) taking to violence on Mumbai streets. It was when I read this silly poll that I decided I had to write something, even if it was just a bit. The poll concluded:
NDTV’s exclusive opinion poll has discovered that the overwhelming feeling amongst Mumbaikars is – Mumbai is for everyone.
They say that the poll has taken into account people from all backgrounds…but for god’s sake, this is not an issue about people of all backgrounds. It’s mainly about poor people! Just walk into any slum and you will see it. It’s an overwhelming majority of poor uneducated Maharashtrians who resent the outsiders. But not all outsiders. The resentment is primarily directed at people from U.P and Bihar and those from Bangladesh. Why? Because uneducated labour from these areas have put the poor Maharashtrian at a disadvantage.
Let me clarify in case people think I like the Sena. I am anti the Sena. I am anti all divisive politics and frankly any kind of violent protests are anathema to me.
But who am I to rant and rave in righteous indignation at a poor uneducated driver who lives in a small dark hole along with 5 other people when he tells me that drivers from UP are not welcome because his younger brother is out of a job? Who am I to throw my ideals of national integrity at? A poor maid who lives next to a stinking drain in a shanty with a leaking roof? Am I supposed to give her a moral lecture when she tells me that there are a group of people from Bihar who have cornered the best jobs as maids in the colony and it is because of that she can’t get a job? Do you think they will even understand anything about my ideas of national integration and justice and opportunities for all?
If the Shiv Sena’s politics has a broad based support today it is because people do resent the influx of ‘outsiders’. And how does any party gain political support? By cashing in on the vulnerabilities of poor uneducated people, by playing on their emotions. Why, in the slum behind my house, there are two camps. The North Indians who call their area ‘Raj Wada’ and send all their children to Urdu or Hindi medium schools and speak only in Hindi and don’t mix with the locals and the Maharashtrians who send their children to the municipal Marathi medium schools and speak only in Marathi. There is no communication between these two groups, they resent each other.
The Maharashtrians feel threatened, they feel their jobs are being taken away and are constantly grumbling and complaining What kind of jobs? Those of cooks, maids, drivers and labourers! That’s what they resent. Their bread and butter is threatened and a man can go to any extent to protect his daily bread. We cannot sit around and give them moral lectures. We need to try and help them. But a political party will use them. Use their hostility, their resentment, their anger. Mumbai can become very volatile if people like Raj Thackeray are not controlled. And also if the reality is ignored.
This resentment is not against Gujaratis although the Gujaratis are the most prosperous ‘outside’ community in Mumbai and Maharashtra. One of the reasons is that Gujaratis know the local language, mix with the locals. The other, more important reason, is that we don’t see Gujaratis coming here in droves trying to become maids and drivers.
What shocked me was this inaccurate statement in a leading newspaper:
These migrants from UP do not threaten Marathi culture, nor are they taking away jobs that Maharashtrians in general aspire to.
I don’t know which Maharashtrians they are talking about. I have lived in different areas in Mumbai and have friends all over Mumbai. The story is the same in all the slums. Unauthorized migrants are taking up the jobs. Whether these migrants are threatening Marathi culture or not I don’t know. And I am ashamed to say that I do not care enough. But I do know hordes of poor uneducated people from all over Mumbai resent the influx of their brothers and sisters from wherever they come from, because their very livelihood is threatened.
I abhor the divisive politics that Raj Thackeray is playing at. But let us not deny the fact that resentment does exist. And it’s about time we stopped mouthing moralistic platitudes about nationalism when it comes to this issue. That is an elitist way of thinking. Elitist people who are writing and manipulating the news. Let’s get down to the basics and try and see a solution to this problem.
Let us never ever forget that the poor exist in large numbers. That poverty and desperation are very strong drivers. That political parties can easily manipulate these people. We all will suffer eventually if we bury our head in the sand and think of this in an elitist way.
As for Raj Thackeray the latest news is that 200 members of the MNS have quit to join the main Shiv Sena under Bal Thackeray.
Update: 7th February 08 An article in today’s DNA (back page) talks about how the Kolis are upset that north indian fisherman have eaten into their livelihood. They say:
The association of fisherwomen passed a resolution to revive their earlier agitation against north Indian fishermen in the district. The association has alleged that the fishermen are flouting the rules for selling fish. The fight between local fisherwomen and north Indian fishermen had taken an ugly turn two years back, when fisherwomen from Thane beat up north Indian fishermen whenever they were spotted in the fish market. According to the norms set by the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) fish should be sold at designated areas only…but north Indian fishermen flout this rule by selling them door to door and at open places…
I could not find an internet link for the article and therefore have quoted the important part above. The previous agitation was reported widely and the link is here.
Update, 13th Feb 08: Raj Thackeray has been arrested and to read more about Raj Thackeray’s arrest you can check out these links. Anyway, the latest news is that he has been granted bail. Much drama over nothing.
Raj, a commentator, has provided a link to a balanced analysis by P Sainath on this issue. Sainath analyses the political ramifications. Now that Raj T has been arrested Sainath’s piece is very relevant.
(Pictures have been linked to the originals)
Update, 12th July 2008: Raj Thackeray has criticized Maharashtrian officials who help people to get fake fake domicile certificates and driving licences and rations cards. He has admitted that the corruption in state’s government has led to an escalation of this issue of inter-state migration. He has asked officials not to “bend rules for petty benefits”. Well, at least he has taken the responsibility of unchecked migration on to his own government!