Bihar, Bombay, Boston: Dilip D’Souza
Guest post by DILIP D’SOUZA
What’s the real issue in the whole Raj Thackeray-fueled mess?
Well, according to someone who left a comment on my blog, it is “migration”. With some elaboration, here’s how our back and forth went, after that.
While this person was opposed to the violence, he also thought migration is indeed the issue, and with the agitation, Raj T “has brought out the failure of the UP & Bihar governments to create jobs for the last 50 years.”
Got me thinking. Maybe migration does say something about the failures of governments. As I replied to him, I have no illusions about the UP and Bihar governments. But what if we applied the same logic to Maharashtrians?
What I mean is, there are Maharashtrians who have migrated to the US, to Delhi, to West Bengal, to Australia. In fact, one Maharashtrian emigre to Jharkhand even got caught in this whole brouhaha: vandals “protesting” Thackeray’s handiwork attacked the home of SB Borwankar, Maharashtrian head of the Tata Motors plant in Jamshedpur.
Should we look at these emigres, at Borwankar working in Jharkhand, and conclude that their presence in non-Maharashtrian locales “has brought out the failure of the Maharashtra governments to create jobs for the last 50 years”? Or put it this way: how are Maharashtrians who leave their state for better prospects elsewhere any different from Biharis who leave their state for better prospects in Bombay?
And yet some of these very Maharashtrians seem blind to this logic. The president of the USA’s Brihan Maharashtra Mandal, Girish Thakar, told NDTV that there is a “resentment” among Maharashtrians, that he has “empathy towards the anger” of Thackeray, and that anger has a “cause”.
How can Thakar, a migrant himself, justify anger towards migrants in Bombay?
The commenter, he came back with this: it’s actually “unrestricted and unplanned migration that is a issue.” (We’ve moved from “migration” being the issue to “unrestricted and unplanned migration” being the issue). After all, the US “regulates foreign migration through quotas” on visas?
Which still does not address the point. Whether immigration is restricted or not, there are Maharashtrians in the US. If Bihari emigres make a statement about jobs in that state, do these Maharashtrian emigres not make a statement about jobs in Maharashtra?
Well, said my commenter, there’s no place in the world where Maharashtrians have “mass migrated (significant numbers), unlike some other communities.”
So you see, we have already come far: from “migration” as a whole, to “unrestricted and unplanned migration”, to nebulous “significant numbers”.
But in the continuing effort to pin down this argument, I happened upon news items in early November that said there were 220,000 Indian “unauthorised immigrants” in the US. This is a figure from a new report from the US Department of Homeland Security, Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2007 (PDF). That 220,000 number is up from 120,000 in January 2000; and that increase of 81% in those seven years is second only to Brazil.
Given that about 10 percent of India is Maharashtrian, it seems safe to assume that about 10 percent of those 220,000 “unauthorised immigrants” are Maharashtrians: let’s say 20,000.
In addition, this US Census table (PDF) tells us that in 2000, there were about a million people resident in the US (i.e. “authorised”) who were born in India. Apply the same 10 percent ratio, and remember that this is 8-year-old data, and a certainly conservative estimate of the number of “authorised” Maharashtrians in the States is 100,000.
That, plus 20,000 “unauthorised” ones gives a total of 120,000 Maharashtrians in the US. This is, in fact, enough people that there are now over 30 Maharashtra Mandal chapters across that country, besides the umbrella Mandal that Girish Thakar heads.
Does 120,000 qualify as “significant numbers”? Does the presence of this many Maharashtrians in the US say things about Maharashtra?
To which my commenter clung to the mention of “unauthorised immigrants” and said, the US is calling this migration “illegal, it’s not like they are advocating it.”
Whatever the merits of this, or indeed the meaning of this, it misses the point. Illegally or not, Maharashtrians have for decades emigrated to the US, just as Biharis have come to Bombay. In pretty significant numbers too.
Besides, while some Maharashtrians (those among the 220,000) are termed “unauthorised immigrants” in the US, there is nothing illegal about any Biharis coming to Bombay. This country allows its citizens to move freely from anywhere to anywhere within its borders.
In other words, if Maharashtrians move outside their home in search of greener pastures, why should Biharis not do the same? Why should anyone in the world not do the same? Don’t we all seek to better our lives?
Ranting against migration certainly pays political dividends — Thackerays uncle and nephew will vouch for that. But such ranting cannot stand up to the slightest scrutiny.