The City’s Ownhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-citys-own-prithvi-shaw-bihari-migrants-gujarat-5478721/

The City’s Own

The centre and states must ensure that migrants are not denied dignity, rights

India's Prithvi Shaw rolls his ankle as he attempts to catch out CA XI's Max Bryant during their tour cricket match in Sydney
Prithvi Shaw: The 18-year-old cricketer has already broken most domestic records, before he was included in the Test team. (Source: AP)

Prithvi Pankaj Shaw, whose original surname is “Gupta” and is based in Mumbai, hails from Gaya in Bihar. The 18-year-old cricketer has already broken most domestic records, before he was included in the Test team. However, there were reports doing the rounds recently about this talented boy being traumatised by certain nativist groups after he revealed his Bihari origins post his maiden ton, in the recently-held Hyderabad Test against the West Indies. Parallelly, an engineer and six plumbers of Bihari origin, working at a construction site in Vadodara, were beaten up for wearing lungis. All these incidents indicate a quintessential negative profiling of Biharis and Bihar. In the “metropolitan” city of Delhi, Doman Ray, a 32-year-old Dalit from the Katihar district of Bihar, got drowned while working in a Jahangirpuri sewer tank.

The recent exodus of mainly Bihari migrants from Gujarat started when a Bihari labourer allegedly raped a 14-month-old girl in the Sabarkantha district of Gujarat on September 28. He was arrested soon after. But his dastardly act led to regional uproar and triggered a movement against Biharis and other north-Indian migrant workers. No doubt the incident was diabolic and shamed all right-thinking people in the country. The outrage may be genuine and not totally contrived. However, the Sabarkantha incident was indeed an aberration. The following outrage, therefore, can only be explained in terms of serious loopholes in the development model of Gujarat, the state which is now facing the crisis of overproduction.

Incidentally, the entire edifice of accumulation and super profits in the state is built around the migrant labourer, who faces dismal wages and poor working conditions. It is mandatory for the industries and employers in Gujarat to provide 85 per cent jobs to locals, but this was never followed because cheap migrant labour is available in abundance. The present problem of overproduction arose out of demonetisation, the absence of a new markets and a situation of almost stagflation. The consequent “banish migrant” movement in Gujarat is similar to the Datta Samant-sponsored strikes in Bombay during the early 1980s to bail out textile industrialists from the tangles of overproduction. One should also note that the efflorescence of Gujarat’s economy will not be complete without scripting the generosity of its industrialists towards its local employees, mostly at higher levels.

To dispel the stagnation in Gujarat’s economy, the news of a Surat-based diamond baron gifting 600 cars and 900 fixed deposit certificates as a Diwali bonanza to his employees, was highlighted. To give an extra punch to the event, it was so arranged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself handed over the car keys to those select few employees. There is, obviously, a clear contrast between the employers’ attitude towards local employees on the one hand, and the migrant labourers on the other.

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Historically, in contrast to the present scenario, Gujarat and Bihar have had a close relationship. Not only were the nuts and bolts of the national movement worked out by M K Gandhi in Champaran, the conservative political figures of both the states shared a close relationship. Sardar Patel had supported Rajendra Prasad as the first President of India, even when Jawaharlal Nehru had reservations about him. Later, in the Seventies, there was talk of Kanti Desai, son of Morarji Desai, fighting a parliamentary election from Begusarai in Bihar. Apart from close political equations with its associates, Gujarat was mindful of market cohesion, both national and international. The introduction of GST is also a powerful step towards the economic union of India. Thus, the recent “banish migrant” movement in Gujarat appears to be purely an anarchist exercise.

If the Indian Union is to function in a robust manner, it cannot allow centripetal forces to gain momentum. India has been home to two levels of nationalism, one pan-Indian and the other regional. Both have functioned parallelly without being in conflict. Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi or Bengali subnationalism peacefully co-existed with Indian nationalism. In contrast, a subnational anchor was missing in the Hindi heartland. In the process, the sense of ownership of the state was also missing. In Bihar, there are only two identities, caste or national. And most of the migrants from Bihar realise their subnational identity only when they move outside the state and are tormented by local goons. It is the responsibility of the central and respective state governments to ensure that migrants are not tormented thus. Otherwise, the Indian Union will not survive.

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