Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Migrants: Outsiders Forever

Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh recently got elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam. He ostensibly lives “ordinarily” in Gauhati where his landlady is the widow of Mr. Hiteshwar Saikia , the former Assam Chief Minister , who first invited him to to contest the Rajya Sabha elections from Assam. He has been elected from there for a fourth straight term, although , he alone knows how many days he has actually spent in Assam In his declaration to the secretary of the Assam Legislative Assembly , the Prime Minister has declared ownership of two houses – one in Chandigarh and another in Delhi. Even so , the people of Assam supposedly consider him on of their own.
This kind of kinship has been denied though to poor migrant workers from North India , who actually live an work there with the ULFA militants again targeting them. After a series of bloody massacres in January , the ULFA has has targeted the Hindi speaking people across the state and the victims are feeling terrorized in the only place they call home. NDTV quotes the Assam labor minister, Prithibi Majhi as saying ''These people have not seen Bihar or any other place. They were born here, brought up here, married here and they are running their family. Everything is here,'' But for the ULFA, they will remain outsiders. The banned militant outfit has killed nine migrant workers in two days, triggering panic in the Hindi-speaking community.

Else where in the country , seeking prominence for the 'son of the soils' in recruitments in Maharashtra, activists of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena stormed into an examination center of Railway Recruitment Board, Western Railway in Pune and beat up the candidates from north Indian states and tore their answer sheets, disrupting the ongoing test. Once again, the ire was against candidates from North Indian States, the hapless poor migrant , seeking to better their lives through legitimate means.

In a couple of months, we shall have our annual ritual of the independence day celebration an this year shall mark its 60th anniversary. The song of the season shall be Sare Jahan se Accha, Hindustan Hamara”. But in 60 years of political independence, how much of the narrow domestic walls that separate and divide us have we torn down? Hardly any.. When we treat people different from us in terms of language, ethnicity, religion in a manner that causes them to feel alienated , unwanted and threatened in their own country when some one can come and kick you out of your home and hearth just because you look different from the rest , where the migrant is always the outsider even after settling and living some where for generations, where vandals come and assault examination candidates who come from a particular part of the country , what kind of a nationhood have we achieved?
Typically as we move around the country, we see two kinds of migrants in the country. The first kind is sort of invisible but whose tentacles are every where. They often control the trade, commerce and through that the economy of the states and possibly own significant amounts of property. And though most people know who they are and what they do and love to hate them, they are not easy to dislodge. As I said, their tentacles are every where and they are wealthy and well connected.. So we curse them in private using the most pejorative of words and then go out into the streets and hit the other kind of migrant.

The other kind of migrant is usually one who is living in abject poverty or trying hard to ensure that he doesn't slip through the net and fall there. Often he is living on a subsistence economy himself but contributing disproportionately more. Often he is doing jobs that many of the so called locals would disdain to do. He doesn't have palatial homes and personal security to protect his person. When passions are ignited and anger has to be ventilated, his house is handy for arson , his family available for assault, battery and rape. He is the quintessential migrant and though from cradle to grave he may have lived in only one place , he is forever the outsider at the gate.

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