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We are all migrants, and Mumbaikars

The question that is being raised — Who does Mumbai belong to? — has a simple answer. All of India belongs to all of us, writes Waman Kendre.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2008 01:34 IST

The question that is being raised — Who does Mumbai belong to? — has a simple answer. All of India belongs to all of us.

Not just because the Constitution mandates so. Not just because the law says we all have an equal right to pursue an occupation of our choice in a state of our choice. But because this belief in co-existence has been the foundation of life here. The foundation of Independent India. The foundation of our democracy.

Technically, of course, the real natives of Mumbai are the Kolis and the Pathare Prabhus. The rest of us are migrants.

But it is the residents of Mumbai that have made the city what it is. These residents include mainly Marathis, Gujaratis, Parsis, Sindhis, Anglo-Indians, north Indians, people from across the country and even from around the world.

In our times of crisis, when people were bleeding on the tracks from the train blasts or wading through chest-high water in the 26/7 deluge, the city surged forward in response. People handed out food packets, rescued strangers from the wreckage. These people are the true Mumbaiites.

If this issue of belonging, and of insiders and outsiders, is politicised, though, violence will result. And such events are against the spirit of Mumbai.

We are a state of progressive thinkers. Mahatma Jyotiba Phule was among the first to fight for women’s education in this country. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar led the battle against the caste system. And Shivaji Maharaj nurtured an empire based on a tradition of co-existence.

Of course, everyone must have respect for local culture and people. The government should form a policy where local people are given opportunities on priority, and migrants are still welcomed. Only such a formula will resolve the existing tensions — and prevent anyone else from getting political mileage out of the issue.