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Bihar, Bombay, Boston: Dilip D’Souza

November 12, 2008

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.

[Dilip D'Souza lives in Mumbai. He is as well-known for his columns and books as for his blog.]

6 Comments leave one →
  1. deepak kumar permalink
    November 13, 2008 6:37 PM

    a well thought and well-researched article which reveals the absurdness and double standeredness of some so-called saviours of Maharashtra.

  2. kishorebudha permalink
    November 13, 2008 10:17 PM

    I guess our US friends watch too much of Fox News.

  3. Aarti permalink*
    November 14, 2008 2:16 PM

    Hi Dilip,

    Thanks for this piece:) In Delhi, which thankfully doesn’t have a strong ethnic/linguistic identity, nonetheless, if the BJP comes to power we can all gear up for our own brand of anti-migrant xenophobia.

    The charming VK Malhotra has already made statements saying he would like to universalize citizen identification and only people with ID cards will be allowed to enter Delhi. Not only that, before you come to Delhi you will have to state where you are going, who you are meeting, where you will be staying and what job you intend to pursue. Maybe VK Malhotra should set up a Delhi visa council office in the other 25 states and the Republic of India can issue passports to citizens for intra-country travel…

    Of course he’s a lunatic, but this discourse is aimed at the bihari migrant and the ‘illegal’ bangladeshi and Shiela Dikshit is an early votary. But interestingly, Shiela Dikshit (the same lady who once complained that people were flooding into Delhi and there is nothing anyone could do) made an unwittingly prescient comment recently on the nature of life in the city – in some interview she said that it was the role of the police to track down “illegal” immigrants, as far as the government was concerned it treated everyone as “default” citizens, in terms of services.

    This chimera of the migrant taking jobs away from “locals” presumes a finite boundary of resources, within a finite territory which can only be parceled out to so many claimants. Now this even makes sense if one is speaking of jobs in say the government or the private sector. But the vast majority of people who work and live in cities do so in the unorganized sector – as construction labour, as small traders, as rikshaw pullers, as factory workers in karkhanas or small industries, as domestic labour. Nor is this vast population, both ‘legit’ and ‘illegit’ making claims on the resources/services of the state. So while this is is certainly an issue of social inequality, refracted through a prism of ‘identity’, exactly how to unpack whats going on is I think more difficult…

    In the coming years we will see a sharpening of social inequality and as the conditions of life become more and more precarious for greater numbers of people, there will be a tremendous violence that accompanies a defining of ‘limits’ within which a stability to life is sought…how to think this is a critical question.

  4. Subash permalink
    November 15, 2008 6:38 PM

    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. – Perhaps its time to change says Raj.He is a modern day mass leader and mass leaders make rules in this country.

    The charming VK Malhotra has already made statements saying he would like to universalize citizen identification and only people with ID cards will be allowed to enter Delhi. Not only that, before you come to Delhi you will have to state where you are going, who you are meeting, where you will be staying and what job you intend to pursue

    Says a lot about what is going to happen when a leader says it. He also disguises his intentions by coating his intentions with security related issues….what with the terrorists creating havoc because of the lack of such rules.

  5. Suhas permalink
    October 12, 2009 11:27 AM

    Dilip D’souza. Maharashtrians migrated to US because there are opportunities of very high level, which are only in the US. Biharis come to Maharashtra for ‘entry level’ jobs’ somehow trying to make a leaving. More specifically, Maharashtrians do not go to US because they find living difficult, almost impossible in Maharashtra, but because of superior opportunities in US. Maharashtrians acknowledge that these opportunities are created by the US white people and contribute to the society. They mix with the society and abide by the norm. UPans and Biharis come to Maharashtra to make a living that is almost impossible in UP and Bihar. They feel that they are ‘adding skills'; which actually means they compete without contributing. They spit, indulge in crime and nepotism, unlike Maharashtrians. They do not mix and continue increasing their crimes. They, like their UP culture, subjugate woman, and tilt sex ratio towards men. Do you see Americans coming to India? How many come to make a living? Similarly, Maharashtrians in other places are few, because they can develop themselves. Is their any comparison between Maharashtrians migrated elsewhere and UPians migrated to Maharashtra? Hordes and Hordes of people congests infrastructure. Competition then comes from competing for ordinary jobs, and UPians get this because they are higher in numbers, not because they have superior intellect.

    • March 5, 2011 10:26 AM

      Dear Suhas, (Sorry Dilip & Shivam that I am quipping directly to a comment here)

      1) I have lived in Mumbai for 20 years and Pune (on and off) for over 9 years. Firstly, I have never ever noticed UPians and Biharis spit as much as Maharashtrians. Walk on any pedestrian footpath in Pune (that still exists) and you’ll dodge enough spit to cater to numerous families’ water needs for a day. While there is spit in Mumbai too, how can you assume this belongs to immigrants? Have you never seen Maharashtrians chew tobacco?

      2) In Pune, I have rarely managed to find auto-rickshaws with ease ( or a plumber, electrician or carpenter too for that matter). Auto-rickshaw drivers would rather stay engaged in their nap or game of cards than ferry a person to a destination. But in Bombay, I have rarely had the problem of finding people to help me out. Biharis, Maharashtrians and UPians work hard to eke out a living here.

      3) Maharashtrians have migrated abroad in high positions. Good for them. They are a highly intelligent and skilled community. My in-laws migrated to Pune from Andhra nearly 40 years ago and have lived amongst Maharashtrians all their lives. Maharashtrians are a pleasure to have conversations with. But intelligence is not limited to Maharashtrians, I have also met many people from Bihar and UP who are extremely well qualified. One of my close friend is a doctor and his family hails from UP.

      4) I know numerous Maharashtrian women from all income groups who have got bashed up by their men and have been treated like filth.

      The point I am making ( if you still didn’t get it), do justify your assumptions because you love a certain community or hail from one. People like Dilip won’t even bother responding to the lameness of your comment.

      Ps: Dilip, another lovely post by you :)

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