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News for Thackerays: the 'outsider' is actually the insider

UNESCO report authoritatively affirms that migrants who are generally considered "outsiders" and "a burden" on the host city are actually anything but

columns Updated: Oct 24, 2013 15:37 IST
Smruti Koppikar

The Thackeray cousins--Uddhav of the Shiv Sena and Raj of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena--are not known to be voracious readers, especially of contemporary books and reports, but there's a volume that they should make the effort to read. In fact, they should ask for a super-fast translation in Marathi and distribute it among the boys and men in their respective party cadres. It's the UNESCO report, released recently, on the "Social Inclusion of Internal Migrants in India".

Leave aside the social sciences jargon. In essence, the report authoritatively affirms that migrants who are generally considered "outsiders" and "a burden" on the host city are actually anything but. "Internal migrants contribute cheap labour for manufacturing and services and, in doing so, contribute to the national GDP, but this is not recognised. Far from being a drain and burden, they are in fact providing a subsidy," states the report.

Migration has an inescapable economic edge, an axiom that the Thackerays have refused to acknowledge. The report says it straight: migrants contribute to the development of their cities and their share in the contribution of rising urbanisation to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has to be recognised. Then, as if countering the Senas' anti-migrant propaganda, it points out that "migrants are looked upon as outsiders by the host administration and as a burden on systems and resources. Their right to the city is denied on the political defence of the 'sons of the soil' theory which aims to create vote banks along ethnic, linguistic and religious lines".

This is not a rival politician or an anti-Sena ideologist talking. The assertions in the UNESCO report are based on empirical data and time-tested analyses. Across the country, there are about 400 million migrants - and counting. That would be larger than the population of the United States which was 311 million two years ago. Also, the share of migrants as a share of urban population has increased (from 33 per cent in 2000 to 45 per cent eight years later) and the number of cities to which migrants headed were more than ever before.

The paradox should have been clear to all parochialists. As a regional leader, you cannot take pride in the economic success and growth of the region that you claim to speak for, but disregard and devalue the contribution that migrants make to that growth. The report points out that most million-plus cities have become "less welcoming" to migrants. Mumbai certainly has, for the percentage of migrants in Nashik and Pune - 50 and 45 per cent respectively - is higher than in the city which is 43 per cent. Earlier studies, based on Census 2011 figures and National Sample Survey Organisation, have shown that three out of every four migrants to Mumbai come from within Maharashtra.

Indeed, there exist a number of complex layers to the issue of migrants in a city; gender and class are two significant ones. The majority of migrants tend to be women, according to the UNESCO report. Class as a sub-text of migration has not been explored in detail, except in relation to the work done by migrants. Uddhav and Raj, and their pumped up loyal cadres, never so much as utter a squeak against the upper-middle and upper classes who too migrate for jobs, but jobs in high-ranking position and corporate offices. Their bile is reserved for the poor migrants who sees his/her journey to the city as a ticket to a better life for the entire family back home.

But, if the Thackerays lose themselves in all the piles of data, here's a sobering thought in the report that they may want to mull over: migrants perform "dirty, dangerous, degrading" jobs that locals do not want to do, which isn't the same as "stealing" jobs. It may help to consider that migrants all across India contribute 7 per cent to the country's GDP; it could be a lot higher to the city's GDP. The decline of Mumbai has a lot more to do with the lack of planning and building infrastructure for an economically-driven city than with just "hordes of migrants" pouring in.

It's time the Thackerays saw the writing on the wall and began evolving an ideology that did not so pathetically depend on the "othering" of the migrant.