Divisive politics

Bappaditya Paul takes on the indigenous-outsider conflict in Maharashtra and elsewhere in India.

The indigenous-outsider conflict is on the centre-stage again. Now, it’s the country’s financial capital Mumbai, which is being riddled by the murky debate triggering some tragic incidents already.

At the perilous instigation of the Thackery brat and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the streets of Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra have witnessed a number of ugly attacks on ordinary north Indians, especially the Biharis. While a few months back the target was north Indian taxi drivers, the latest victims have been the unemployed Bihari youths who went to the ‘city of dreams’ to write a railway recruitment exam.

The Mumbai mayhem however, is not an isolated instance of an indigenous backlash against the migrant communities. In the not so distance past, the northeastern state of Assam demonstrated a more abhorrent violence against the Biharis, while the insurgents in Manipur are ill famous for targeting the Hindi-speaking migrant workforce every now and then.

Though political cross interests are primarily responsible for instigating such violence, unfortunately in most of the cases, the backlash also bear some amount of approval from the indigenous civil society in the respective states.

Why this indigenous outrage?

It’s but astonishing as why the indigenous-population actively or inactively supports the political vendetta against the migrant workforce.

To be precise, the indigenous population actually perceives it as a fight for their ‘innate’ privileges on local resources and livelihood opportunities.

With the population explosion going unabated and correspondingly shrinking livelihood avenues, every new migrant means one more competitor. Thus, on the back of their mind, the native population always nurture the grudge that ‘outsiders’ were gobbling up the resources and job opportunities that ‘ethically’ belong to the natives.

Again, when individuals of a particular community migrate to a new place in bulk, they gradually consolidate into a socio-political force as distinct from the natives and their institutions. Such migrant population practice their own socio-cultural rituals and traditions, further segmenting themselves from the indigenous masses.

In a parliamentary democracy, the migrants then gradually find a role in the power game and by virtue of their franchise strength, compel the political parties to take care of their interests. This adds to the bitter feeling of the natives, as the indigenous mass feels that the ruling party – whichever it may be, are offering ‘illegitimate’ privileges to the ‘outsiders’ at their expense.

Insignificant political forces, like that of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackery, often try to encash such harsh feelings as their political manna and instigate the natives to unleash attack on the migrant community.

Since, the Bihari migrant workforce rules the roost in terms of casual workers and wage earners across India, the impoverished community often has to bear the burnt.

The fact that employers prefer the migrant Biharis to the indigenous workers, make them more porn to native backlash at impulsive intervals.

Advantage Bihari

But why the employers –natives many a times, prefer the migrant Biharis to those of their fellow indigenous men and women? The answers lie in the basic characteristics of the Bihari workforce, which actually suits the employers/industries more.

Looking from an employer’s viewpoint, a migrant Bihari labour or for that matter any migrant worker, is always employable at a lower cost than their native counterpart. They are less demanding in terms of workplace amenities and also flexible about work schedules.

As an employee, Biharis are overwhelmingly humble and submissive to their boss ~ a trait normally missing in the indigenous workers.

As a trick of the trade, migrant Bihari workers hardly plea justice/ethics on workplace related issues and always try to stay in the good book of his/her employer.

Again, be it due to circumstantial pressure or their innate quality, Biharis are not homesick and this only adds to their advantages as a potential employee.

Outside Bihar, a Bihari is always ready to take up any job for survival– from sweeping to barber, rickshaw pulling to shoe mending and so on. Truly speaking, a Bihari can do anything for a living and generally would not give up even at repeated failures.

Take a look at the Indian street-foods ~ how amazingly the Biharis have turned their home-snacks like Pani Puri (Puchka), Chat, Ghatigaram and so on, into universal munchies for the average Indian across the country.

If we take a whole view of the community, the Biharis are hardworking, tenacious and painstaking. They can survive and sustain in inhuman conditions that others cannot even imagine. Look around in any of the Indian cities or towns; an average Bihari migrant practically lives in without the basic living amenities.

On the contrary, the native population, usually owning substantial volume of land in their home city or state, is comparatively lethargic in nature. This is because, unlike the migrants, they inherit a socio-economic stability from their predecessors and do not have to struggle to establish an identity.

Also the inheritance to immovable property, especially land, often offers them a handsome yield often without much effort and thus making them all the more sluggish.

Thus, the native population is normally averse to taking up vocations, which are perceived low in social esteem. Again in case of jobs that they would be interested in, the natives demand a better pay-package than the migrant counterparts.

Lesson to be learnt

Its not that the Biharis as a community has advantages only. To cite a few negativities ~ the community is entangled by a pitiably poor civic sense, a comparatively higher level of male chauvinism, illiteracy, superstitions, underage marriage etcetera.

But while the Biharis are and shall improve on these accounts, rests of the Indian communities have a significant lesson to learn from them.

That is ~ instead of nurturing the murky feeling that the migrant Biharis are gobbling up the local resources and hence, unleash some uncivilised attacks on them, let the natives compete the Biharis’ hard work with diligence.

Let the other communities respect and inculcate the Bihari traits of being laborious, tenacious and painstaking. Also, may the natives put a little more effort to conserve and compound what have come their way by inheritance.

This applies to the Marathis of Maharashtra, Bengalis of West Bengal, Assamese of Guwahati and so on.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. The article first appeared in The Statesman on 21 November 2008)


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