Author: Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay.
Genuine humanitarian crisis
Migrant worker crisis is the latest divisive narrative being peddled by Indian mainstream media. A genuine issue about the plight of out of work laborers, on account of the coronavirus lockdown in India has been turned into a migrant versus native debate. For the last month or so, TV screens and social media platforms have been replete with images of exhausted laborers trudging on foot with their families, and travelling thousands of kilometers to reach their natives towns and villages. Of course this is a genuine humanitarian crisis. Many of these people are daily wage earners who work as construction workers, guards, factory workers, delivery boys and so on. Due to the abrupt closure of business activities, they have lost their sources of livelihood and are finding it difficult to afford expensive city life. Since many have not been able to pay their rent, they have been asked to vacate their homes. It is natural that they want to return to their native towns and villages where the cost of living is much lower rather than languish in uncertainity.
But the media decided to label these people as migrants. And this has become the source of polarizing politics in India. The center and states blame each other for the unfolding crisis, while IAS babus continue to issue notifications in Shakespearean English and confusing “clarifications” like the one below[i].
Opposition parties and groups with vested interests have added to this confusion by instigating the affected people (and also often exhorting them to congregate on streets by defying lockdown norms[ii]).
The media in the meanwhile has had a gala time painting a picture of gloom, doom and devastation, and in misleading the public with selective reporting and factual misrepresentation. Images like the one below have been used both in India and abroad to portray the governments apparent apathy to the plight of workers, and to incite disgust at the administrations’ response and to induce panic among the general public.
The international media promptly picked this up and have been relentlessly using this for discrediting India’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus crisis and also for the usual Modi/ BJP bashing. Some of the headlines both in India and outside have been as follows.
- Print: India’s battling its biggest migrant labour crisis. And labour minister Gangwar is ‘missing’ [iii]
- Wire: Watch | The Story of the Weeping Man Who Has Become Symbol of Migrant Worker Crisis[iv]
- NDTV: “We Could Have Done Much, Much Better”: NITI Aayog CEO On Migrants[v]
- BBC: Coronavirus lockdown: The Indian migrants dying to get home[vi]
- Al Jazeera: Hungry, desperate: India virus controls trap its migrant workers[vii]
The tragic and unfortunate deaths of laborers returning home is now being labelled as death of “migrant” laborers:
- India coronavirus lockdown: Road accident kills 24 migrant workers[viii]
- Indian migrant deaths: 16 sleeping workers run over by train[ix]
- India train crushes home-bound migrant workers sleeping on tracks[x]
How can Indians be migrants in India?
The question is how can an Indian be a migrant in India? India has a long history of people moving to different cities and villages for work. In recent times, people from various socio-economic groups and sectors (construction, manufacturing, plumbing, taxi/autos, media, and software industry), keep on moving to different parts of India in search of jobs and better prospects. Some decide to settle in the new place while some come back to their hometown after retirement. Those who settle often adopt local customs and practices and in a generation or two are assimilated in the local community, while those who return bring back new customs and traditions with them[xi]. There is absolutely nothing strange about this movement of people and it is acknowledged to be one of the key drivers of India’s growth.
Many central government jobs have mandatory transfers to different locations across India. Are such people to be called migrants also? Indian defense forces deploy their personnel in all corners of India. Are our protectors also to be labeled as migrants? Scientists in ISRO come from all across India. Are they to be treated as migrants?
If being a migrant is based on the state of origin, then almost every Delhi based national politician is a migrant worker. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, our chief worker (Pradhan sevak) is a “migrant” since he hails from Gujarat. I would go so far to say that every Indian Prime Minister starting right from Jawaharlal Nehru has been a migrant. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is himself a migrant since as a Marwari his family traces its origin to Rajasthan. Sonia Gandhi and her clan who are weeping crocodile tears at the plight of “migrant workers” are in fact international migrants.
Tamil film industry veteran Rajinikanth then is also a migrant since he was born in a Marathi family as Sivajirao Gaekwad. Bollywood veteran Amitabh Bachchan is also a migrant then, hailing as he does from Uttar Pradesh. Most film actors in Mumbai, whether they be the Kapoors or Khans are migrants, since they are mostly from outside Maharashtra. Going by media’s definition, should we refer to Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan as international migrants? Because Khans usually trace their origin to Afghanistan. [Of course it’s a separate matter some of them like to think of themselves as foreigners and name their children after brutal invaders[xii].]
The list of such “migrants” in India is endless.
A Breaking India Enterprise
Thus the current politicking of the plight of laborers and labeling them as “migrant workers” is another example of a Breaking India project in action. The English mainstream media, often agenda-driven and at the behest of forces inimical to India, has decided to play jury, judge and executioner in this labor crisis, and is pitting Indians against Indians. They are dividing Indians by labeling some as “migrants” as opposed to resident natives. The British had done something similar as a part of their divide and rule policy when they had labeled certain people as invading Aryans as opposed to native Dravidians. Do read Rajiv Malhotra’s “Breaking India” (2011) to get a detailed account of how these separate identities were created over time, and how over the years they have seeped into our psyche and become a part of current day divisive politics. Another example is the labeling of certain people as “adivasis” or indigenous inhabitants as opposed to savarna Hindus who are supposedly not indigenous. What is happening today is no different from such identity/ social engineering projects.
We are all Migrants
If the media and social scientists are really desperate to use the word migrants, then they must accept the fact that we are all migrants. The Out of Africa Theory, which is currently the most widely accepted theory of the origin of humans, posits that all Indians today are descendants of migrants from Africa who arrived in Indian subcontinent some 70,000 years ago. Whether we are so-called Aryans or Dravidians, Dalits or Adivasis, Biharis or Marathis or Manipuris – we are all African migrants.
Africa was the birth-place of Homo sapiens and has the earliest evidence for symbolic behaviour and complex technologies. …it was eastern Africa, not the south, that witnessed the first major demographic expansion, ~70–60 ka, which led to the peopling of the rest of the world[xiii].
The question is how far will the media go to divide India and support Breaking India forces? Quite far, as the evidence seems to indicate.
They will go all the way and then some more to ensure a balkanized India in a state of constant turmoil and perpetual civil unrest.
We must nip such divisiveness in the bud by insisting that either we are all migrants or that everybody is a bona fide Indian[xiv] and that nobody is a migrant.
Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay is a civilization studies researcher with a background in data science. His writings on culture, philosophy and economics have appeared in various newspapers, online platforms and academic journals. He has authored two monographs titled “The Complete Hindu’s Guide to Islam” and “Ashoka the Ungreat“, and is a recipient of the Foundation for Indian Civilization Studies award for 2017.
[ii] Man, accused of inciting migrant labourers to gather at Mumbai’s Bandra station, arrested https://www.thestatesman.com/india/man-accused-inciting-migrant-labourers-gather-mumbai-bandra-station-arrested-1502877541.html
[xi] Except for certain communities with headquarters in middle-east
[xiii] A dispersal of Homo sapiens from southern to eastern Africa immediately preceded the out-of-Africa migration https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6426877/
[xiv] Except for foreign passport holders and illegal Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslims.