WHAT the Shiv Sena and its upstart competitor, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena obviously do not realise is what damage they are doing to the good name of India in general and Maharashtra in particular by their obnoxious linguistic parochialism. There is no such thing as a city belonging to one particular community or group. It is not a cliché to say that Mumbai belongs to every Indian whatever his caste, creed, linguistic or ethnic affiliation. It is a fact of life that is unchallengeable. The same can be said of Kolkata with its population as mixed as that of Mumbai but no one ever has claimed that it belongs exclusively to Bengalis. That is Bengal’s pride and India’s glory. But given the situation as it is today, we are witnessing a steady migration of landless labour from rural to urban areas creating needless rural-urban tension.
According to one estimate, the metropolitan cities are swelling by a daily intake of about one thousand rural migrants. The guess-estimate is that about one lakh rural people move to urban areas all over India-and not just to Mumbai-making an annual migration to the tune of 3.6 per cent of the population. And that is a large enough percentage, this despite the fact that the government had initiated a number of mind-boggling programmes such as Indira Awas Yojana (September 2001), National Social Assistance Programme (1995-1996), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (December 2000) Samporna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (September 2001) and half a dozen more, including the much advertised National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) operationalised since February 2, 2006. Despite these genuine efforts, why are peasants-many even having small holdings-still leaving their hearths and homes for an uncertain life in far-away cities?
According to P Sainath, the rural landscape is in shambles and agricultural credit and finance systems have collapsed. Prices have pushed most inputs beyond the reach of the small farmer. What can India do in the circumstances? Such a situation, however, is not unique to India. China is in an even worse situation. According to Prem Shankar Jha in his penetrating study Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger, by the early 1990s the flood of rural migrants had awakened in China another ‘blind wave’ of farmers entering the cities and creating “a backlash among the urban residents”. Writes Jha: “Before they (rural migrants) could secure work, they had to either be given a temporary residence permit or furnish a variety of permits” such as an identity card from the migrant’s home country, a temporary residence certificate from the police to be renewed every year etc etc” which only led to massive corruption. Migrants were discriminated against in many open or subtle ways. Ill-treatment of migrants became chronic.
As Jha reports: “The predatory behaviour of the city authorities towards migrants, stories of their mistreatment began to appear in the newspapers with increasing frequency”. One migrant, to cite among many such, who had forgotten to bring his identity card with him, was arrested, transferred to a migrant detention centre, heavily beaten all over the body and even had his knees burnt (pages 152-153). “Conditions became so distressing that in June 2008, between 10,000 to 30,000 migrant workers rioted for three days in Guizhou, attacked and burnt a police station and destroyed 29 cars, including police vehicles…. weeks later, in July, hundreds of migrant workers attacked another police station and smashed and burned government property in Kanmen after one of their number was severely beaten by the police”.
According to Nigel Marris, Professor Emeritus at University College, London, writing in Economic and Political Weekly (January 30) “freedom of movement was ended in China… elaborate controls were introduced to prevent transfer from rural to urban residence, including non-transferable food ration cards, requirements for permission to leave the rural commune, to travel, to enter urban areas and to reside and work there. Police raids at railway and bus terminals and in poor city areas were designed to enforce this regime and expel the illegal migrants to their place of origin or registration”.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture Rural Household Survey 2003, some 192 million Chinese working outside their province of domicile contributed close to 60 per cent to rural household income in remittances. But the Chinese government couldn’t care less. And all this in a communist country where democracy is non-existent. In the circumstances what can India do? Compelling footloose landless labour to take identity cards to leave their homes for places as far away as Mumbai is out of question. The system just will not work. Poverty, especially in Bihar, despite Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s efforts to improve the State’s economy is such that it is home to one crore forty lakh (1,40,00,000) families living under the Poverty Line. How are they to live?
Technically speaking there are a few options, open. One, go in a big way to the Gandhian concept of village self-sufficiency. That will take a lot of effort and organisation. Two, get a cluster of villages to start village industries to produce such things as pens and pencils, ink, hand-made paper, toys, furniture, ayurvedic medicines, bricks and mortar, clothes etc. Three, persuade farmers to grow on leased land such things as fruits and vegetables, flowers etc on a cooperative basis with a strong marketing back-up. How else can one put a halt to migration? If over a dozen national relief initiatives have failed miserably, what other options are open to us?
The situation today is so bad that right now, just in Vidharbha out of 15,432 villages, as many as 14,059 are scarcity-hit and the Maharashtra government is working out plans to relax recovery of land revenues etc. Will there be migration from Vidharbha villages to urban centres? Will the Shiv Sena and MNS throw out these villagers? These are sick bodies led by sick men thriving on foul language, and worse politics, incapable of finding solutions to grave issues of poverty and social change. We need some one to provide out-of-the-box solutions to problems on a nation-wide scale. Our political parties sadly seem bereft of any talent. And that is India’s tragedy. We may not get a Mahatma, but can’t we at least get a Vinobha Bhave?