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A clash of cultures

A clash of cultures

Author: Randeep Singh Nandal
Publication: NDTV.com
Date: February, 25 2008
URL: http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/showcolumns.aspx?id=COLEN20080042337

Bhaiya - it's a term commonly used to describe an inhabitant of eastern UP and Bihar. A term used in exact opposite sense of what it means.

In Bombay it is a term of abuse, call a Maharashtrian a Bhaiya, a colleague warned me, and you could get into trouble. I got this piece of advice a few weeks before Raj Thackeray advertised the Marathi Manoos's aversion to these people ...some millions who now live in Bombay.

In the rest of India people tut-tuted this latest exhibition of the Sena's xenophobia ...the media led the charge holding opinion polls and debates ...where statistics were deployed to prove how this fear of the migrants was just plain nonsense ...expert after expert ...eminent citizens of this great metropolis ...spoke about the past ...how this was just a continuation of the Sena's history...look at their record they said ...first it was the Gujarati then the South Indian then in the 90's it was the Muslim ...Raj Thackeray, they said was just following in his uncle's footsteps ..its the north Indians now ...ignore him and it will blow away.

Bombay's North Indians were being targeted for petty gains by a politician on the make. Grim faced news anchors nodded their heads .. This was all a drama and we know who the villain is they seemed to suggest. An open and shut case, don't you think? Well, yes and no.

Let's for a moment look at the entire incident ...the first inaccuracy is that this is a campaign against North Indians, it isn't, this Marathi angst is specifically against the migrants from UP and Bihar. So to term this as an anti North Indian drive is misleading, more so because no one in North India, and here I am talking of the states of Punjab, Himachal, Uttrakhand, Haryana and Rajasthan, considers people from eastern UP and Bihar as North Indians!!! The term used to describe them in these states? You guessed it -Bhaiya!

But then, many would argue that even if it is against a specific group, it is just scaremongering, they are just poor folk who have as much a right to stay in Bombay as anyone else. This after all is a part of India and as citizens of India they have a right over Bombay that no one can take away. This, incidentally, was the view of one of a very eminent Bombay wala, a parsee gentleman who referred to how the Parsees had found refuge in India ...how at the turn of the last century they controlled the island city ..how no one calls them outsiders. This again is an argument that is hard to refute-- it has fact history and reason behind it. Except for one small detail, even at the height of their power the Parsees never outnumbered or threatened to swamp the local Maharashtrian.

And this is the core fear that is propelling this resentment against the Bhaiya. Think of your middle class Maharashtrian, he gets up in the morning and the man who gets him milk from the shop is a Bhaiya, he goes to work and stops to buy a smoke and is sold a pack by a Bhaiya, he gets into a taxi and there again a native of Bihar drives him to work, in his office the guard who opens the door for him again is a Bhaiya ..as is the boy who serves him tea, on his way back he stops to buy vegetables and is sold some by a man from Azamgarh , next to his house is a clutch of boys listening to a Bhojpuri song at full blast. The maid in his house is from Balia and the boy who comes back to repair his cable connection is from Mirzapur . Can you fault Mr Pawar from feeling that his city is being overrun by Bhaiyas?

You may say as many do does this mean that all Gujaratis and South Indians, all the Punjabis and the Kashmiris should be chased out of Bombay, does Mr Pawar support ethnic cleansing? No. he doesn't because of two very different reasons First, he realises that every other group has a sort of mean cap on the numbers who will stay here, a cap that does not apply to migrants from Bihar and UP, he has seen their numbers in the city explode in the past decade and knows that these numbers will keep swelling. The second point that makes the Maharashtrian uncomfortable and this is something that has been ignored by many of us is the one single aspect that scares the Marathi manoos the most, with these increased numbers lies the very real spectre of increased political power. This above all, is what fuels the disquiet.

Here you have to realise that for all the money the Gujarati might make in Bombay, all the resentment the well to do Marwari arouses in Calcutta, both these communities are content with acquiring financial muscle, they never meddle in local politics.

The migrant from UP and Bihar is different, part of it is his socio-economic makeup, the way he behaves in a small group and his behaviour when he has the numbers are completely different. I will give you an example, go to Punjab there for decades now most of the farm work has been done by Biharis, in fact in villages there always a score Biharis who have embraced Sikhism , their Bihari accented Punjabi the butt of thousands of jokes, but the fact is that these men are just trying hard to assimilate in the society they live in, contrast this with the migrants in the twin cities of Jalandhar and Ludhiana, here they have the numbers and there is no attempt to embrace, there are entire suburbs that are virtually no go areas for the local administration ...in the recent elections many Biharis even stood for elections on Samajwadi Party tickets, talk to the local people and you sense the same resentment that you hear here in Bombay - "our city is being taken over"

Not many in Ludhiana were surprised when Khalistani militants targeted a local theatre showing a Bhojpuri film earlier this year. They were trying to tap into this resentment. Five people, all migrants from Bihar and UP died. Speaking to local journalists I was struck by the total lack of sympathy, an SMS started doing the rounds "this is what happens when they think they can form a mini Bihar here". A sentiment easily dismissed as a parochial, racist. Perhaps, but a sentiment that is deeply felt.

The eminent citizens who speak so eloquently of the cosmopolitan Bombay that cannot be held hostage by the lumpens of the MNS are right of course but we ignore the fact that this group of eminent citizens inhabit a different India a city within a city, the Bombay of theirs is very different from the Mumbai that a Marathi sees.

Unlike your film stars and industrialists the Maharashtrian cares how many local corporaters or MLA's are from Bihar and UP. So when the Maharashtrian looks at this unceasing migration into his city and he does see it as his city, this sense of political power slipping away real or imagined is awakened. Each community has its own attachments to their language or culture, the Punjabi to his language his food, the Bengali can be in any part of the world but come Durga Puja and he will celebrate it and of course the Bihari will take with him his language and culture, the Chat Puja that so irritates Thackeray Junior is just one of those cultural imports that are inevitable.

The entire Idea of India is that there is space for everyone, this is the only country in the world where 10 men can sit down to dinner, and each could have completely different food habits, habits dictated by his religion or the region he belongs to, nobody minds and these adjustments are made by millions on a day to day basis, we Indians know this, our land belongs to all of us and to accomodate each others' quirks is the only way we can survive. There is a simple rule that governs this accomodation, do not offend your hosts, so if you go to a masjid, even if you are not a Muslim you cover your head, visiting a south Indian home you take off your shoes, in a Sikh home resist the urge to light up a smoke.

This latest round of violence started after a huge SP rally in Mumbai's Shivaji Park.

Shivaji Park in Dadar is in many ways the heart of Marathi Mumbai, and make no mistake the SP rally was a Bihari UP rally, with loud Bhojpuri music blaring, thousands gathered, it is their unalienable right to do so. But don't ignore the symbolism of a rally like this, here on a turf the Maharashtrian considers his own was a trailer of the political muscle and aspirations of the migrants, a challenge had been thrown out, a sign of things to come, Is it logical, this fear? Was it logical for the anti Hindi protests in Tamil Nadu in the 60's? The struggle that little communities make to get their languages officially recognised, is that logical? why Muslim children in Hyderabad learn Urdu in a state that speaks Telegu, does that make sense? Do you ever question why people in different parts of Rajasthan wear different kinds of turbans? The answer to all these questions is, well, to borrow a phrase, 'We are like this only'

Cultural pride or sensitivities or habits are built over centuries, they mask arrogance, anxieties, tradition, inferiority complexes all rolled into one. And they are emotional bonds these. Many Maharashtrians are proud of Shivaji, his hold on the people here can never be matched by lets say a Bengali, just the same way a boy from Satara can never quite feel as emotionally attached to Rabindra Sangeet as many Bengalis do. A Maharashtrian feels his hold on his state is under threat, his culture is being overwhelmed or disrespected, Raj Thackery tapped onto that discontent .

A lot has been said about this gentleman and it would be futile to do yet another psycho analysis of him and his motives for the stand he has taken, but one thing needs to be taken note off, for those of us who like to contrast his stance with his cousin Uddhav's new found love for North Indians, perhaps we should examine how a party like the Sena ...which has nothing but Maratha pride as its core identity and ideology, how attractive would a party like this be to your average migrant from UP or Bihar? If this were to be true then perhaps the SGPC could also try its luck here. The second thing to remember is that Raj's message is directed at not only the Maharashtrian in Bombay, the grapewine carries it to every village in Maharashtra, every Sena supporter who joined this party attracted by the image of a latter day Shivaji out to restore the pride and status of the people.

Raj realizes that a bird in hand is better than the mirage of a North Indian support base, a realisation that now seems to have dawned on the Sena as well with Bal Thackeray, now belatedly speaking out against migrants as well. Many see Raj's outburst as a ploy for the elections next year, if true it would be remarkably shortsighted for any politician no matter how obtuse, I suspect Raj's audience is different ...he is talking to the Sena's supporters across the state, preparing for a battle that he hopes will come after the Balasaheb era has ended.

This afterall is a man who had the foresight and the political courage to break out of the Sena the moment Uddhav was anointed heir. If he had wanted to do gali mohalla level politics as many now accuse him, he could have done that safely within the Sena. It was only 30 years ago that another cartoonist was accused of street corner politics, he too was mocked as being presumptious in supposing that there was an audience for his words. We all know who had the last laugh.

That brings us to the moot question ...whose India is it? The Supreme Court has called the events in Maharashtra an attempt to Balkanise the nation. Raj Thackeray has called for the Constitution to be amended to curb uncontrolled migration. Both statements are correct. India belongs to all Indians free to move and live where ever they want, it's also true that our Constitution has been amended several times to reflect the realities and problems of the India as it exists now. But this comment of Raj Thackeray's was treated as the ravings of a lunatic, he is crazy many said to suppose that the Constitution of India could be amended to stop people from living where they want to.

Forgetting that the same Constitution prohibits me as an Indian from owning property in Kashmir and Himachal and many northeastern states, what is the danger I pose, what catastrophe would be ensue if 25 lakh Biharis made Shimla their home? If the principle is extended then maybe each state should have the right to curb or decide the percentage or population of migrants from other states. Tamil Nadu has a population of 42 million, its birth rate is 1.2 per cent, it is acknowledged as a well governed part of the country, UP has a population in excess of 200 million! its birth rate is double that of Tamil Nadu , and doesn't look as if its slowing down anytime soon.

Every study tells you just how bad things are in the state, a state of lawlessness, it is Omkara Land . So if over the next 50 years 15 million people from the state make Tamil Nadu their home in search for a better tomorrow , do you think Tamilians will sit by and watch silently . And don't say 15 million won't migrate, it could happen, 40 years ago nobody would have thought that 30 per cent of Bombay's population would be from UP but it is and in the next 40 years it could rise to 50 per cent.
For a lesson let's take a look at the fate of Bombay's twin and the senior twin at that as a cosmoplitian city before partition, Karachi. In poured millions of migrants from India, they were welcomed as the men who had led the struggle for a separate Muslim homeland, but the resentment from the local Sindhi's soon boiled over, the Muhajirs soon cornered all the government jobs because they had an advantage, the new Pakistan's official language was Urdu, not many Sindhis knew it, and it just happened to be the native language of most of the new arrivals.

Even though we are talking about maybe a few lakh clerical jobs, the local Sindhi never accepted them as anything more than ' Mohajirs" or refugees. The felt their own culture and language was being overwhelmed. The resulting tension boiled over in the 80's and the 90's, thousands have lost their lives, it has also killed the city.

The UP Bihari migrants, many say, are hard working, a subtle way of saying that Maharashtrians are not. It isn't so simple, the migrants are hardworking sure they are, but the reason why they are making the most of lower end jobs, lets say in Haryana, is because the average Haryanvi enjoys a better standard of living, education and thus expectations than your migrant.

In a factory he doesn't get a job because the migrant is ready to work for half the money the Haryanvi expects. So the simple biggest advantage that he has because he is a native of Haryana becomes a liability in the job market. So what do we do, make haryana a replica of Bihar UP?
We are a nation of a hundred races, a score religions and thousands of languages.

Most of the time we co-exist happily and the core reason for this co-existence is the single covenant that each social group based whether on language or region or religion be allowed their own realm. As UP and Bihar spiral deeper into poverty and lawlessness, every Indian would want to welcome the people of the state. But not at the cost of losing their own identity. Bihar is India, all of India though, can never be Bihar.


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