Thursday, 3 July 2014

Some thoughts on Indian Migrations                                Mrinal Pande


Trans state migrations have been an anthropological  constant throughout our history since 2000 B C , when tribes from south eastern Europe , Central Asia and even the arctic circle entered this gigantic rhomboid from the North West and fanned out all over the north . The Vedas urged the Aryan hordes to keep on forging ahead saying,  charaivati ! and they did . Constantly . Then in the 4th century BC came Buddha and he advised his Bhikkus not to sit within homes like all those Vedic ritual bound householders , performing Yagnas and animal sacrifices . They must , he urged  carry the message of peace and non violence all across the land and move fearlessly through land , water and forest like  rhinos . His predecessor Mahavira , another iconoclast reformer , had similarly exhorted his Jain Sadhus and Sadhwis that (barring the four monsoon months) they must constantly be on the move to preach .

Ashoka the Great added another dimension to the inter state migration of men and women , when he imported labour from neighbouring Orissa to clear the land and build a new  Magadh . The Muslim invasions in the 11th century triggered off even more gigantic waves of mass migrations as the defeated kings  and their subjects and their priests fled hugging whatever they could carry . By now the castes had become simply unrecognizable as Gotra or Pravara identities were no longer a shield against violence . So the Dharmshastras decreed that the upriited warriors and traders could happily use their family priests’ or Guru’s Gotra as theirs at the time of performing birth , death or coronation related rituals in far off lands . The Vratya ( tribes and individuals who chose to stay outside the pale of the Vedic religion ) had always defied a caste identity anyway , and by now their numbers were not insignificant .  According to the first ever census of 1891 , India had  over two lakh wandering Jogis of which 35% were females . And this did not include millions of weavers in Bengal and Malwa and Rajasthan who were householder Jogis (of the Nath sect) who were neither Muslim nor Hindu) . 

If all of us share wholly fuzzy and makeshift regional identities , why are Biharis in Mumbai and Bengali Muslims in Assam and Delhi suddenly being dubbed superfluous and dangerous ? Why are the peoples from the North East being made to feel insecure outside their states? Please note that richer migrants and outsiders encounter practically no prejudices anywhere . And Bhaiyya baiting Chief Ministers will happily roll out a red carpet for Shri Tata and Suzuki Bhaiya . There is no doubt all that is good , goes the Sanskrit saying ,  resides permanently in gold . In the mean while , the exact size , clientele and locations of  the forces that first help smuggle in people from across the borders with Bangladesh or children from poverty zones of Orissa and Jharkhand and then supply them as cheap illegal labour to avid buyers all over India , remain out of sight . It is often implied that superfluous outsiders from UP and Bihar are driving the sons of soil (Bhumi Putras) out of jobs . What they are actually doing, is driving down the price of labour in the areas . Nearly each unskilled and under age immigrant is being paid less than the legally stipulated minimum wages . But unless a young maid is found hanging in a middle class colony or a frightened , scarred and starved bonded labourer is rescued from a dark basement by some good Samaritans , no one takes an interest in looking closely at the regular providers of cheap hands in the region , nor do the police seem enthused about penalizing factory owners or placement agencies that traffic in child labour .

Nobody migrates from one’s own land without the hope of getting to somewhere better . The Kshatriya ancestors of the Thakres could have been no exceptions as they left Magadh and migrated towards Maharashtra via Bhopal . Sorry xenophobes, but Indian history will have its little jokes . A few centuries after the Thakres moved to Maharashtra from then prosperous Bihar, the once mighty Peshwas of Pune were forced to migrate north with hundreds of their nobles and servants and priests when   Peshwa Baji Rao the second , last Srimant of the once mighty Marathas was driven by the British to Bithur near Kanpur . When the Peshwa requested that Srimant be sent at least to the holy northern city of Varanasi near the river Ganges , the British refused . By then Varansi had such a sizeable population of Marathi immigrants that the British were becoming apprehensive of the wily Peshwa or even the Rani of Jhansi of landing there supposedly for a pilgrimage , and then igniting a popular revolt against them with help from ‘their people’

All our talk of building and living in multicultural societies will remain an empty slogan unless this subaltern history available mostly in Indian languages, is dusted and the experiences and stories about all large scale migrations in the past, are fed into  public debates . Today the argument against immigrants everywhere in the world , springs mostly from long habits of defying colonialism : Germany for Germans , Israel for the Jews , Kurdistan for the Kurds, the Caliphate for the Islamic brothers…and so on . But in actual lived experience this minimalist dream has been achieved only exceptionally and nearly always with tragic results . The more fiercely xenophobic leaders defend themselves against ‘outsiders’ , the less the state will have left eventually , to defend . Remember the disintegration of a country called Yugoslavia ?   


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