The moving picture

Indians are moving across state borders,and from village to city,and that’s not a problem.

Published:October 21, 2013 3:29 am

A UNESCO report on internal migration in India draws attention to a phenomenon whose contribution to national prosperity is poorly appreciated,and which,absurdly enough,is seen as a political and administrative problem in India’s foremost cities. The report,titled “Social Inclusion of Internal Migrants in India”,estimates that migrant workers generate 10 per cent of the GDP. That’s a considerable contribution,more than half of the figure attributed to agriculture. Another figure is even more interesting,with elections just months away — one in every three Indian voters is a migrant living far away from his or her usual place of residence. However,none of the major political parties have even identified migrants as a significant voter block,let alone focused on their interests. Politics remains unimaginatively local,focused on issues of community and place,not those of displacement.

Internationally,the contribution of migrants to hybrid vigour is visible. How Middle Eastern is Dubai,for instance? How American is Silicon Valley? But within our borders,migrants are often unwelcome. With their violent attacks on north Indians,the warriors of Mumbai’s senas have contributed to the slow decline of a great city that was powered by the dreams of migrants. In Delhi,the otherwise liberal Sheila Dikshit has spoken more than once about the strain migrants from the east put on the capital’s civic infrastructure,while neglecting to mention their considerable role in building it in the first place. This study reveals that urban migration is flagging in some metros,while smaller cities and countermagnet towns may be hospitable to migrants. Less than half of Delhi and Mumbai’s population is made up of migrants,while Faridabad has 12 per cent more migrants than them. After well-known destinations like Surat and Ludhiana,the UNESCO report ranks Faridabad as the third-biggest magnet.

India is moving en masse across state borders and from villages to the cities. Administratively and politically,popular migrant destinations have to learn to regard this as a source of strength,powering their growth,and not a problem. As the Indian economy turns away from agriculture to city-based services and industries,it will need the skills,creativity and energy of the growing migrant population.

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