By: K S S Pillai
As the constitution of our country allows its citizens to move freely to any part of the country and own properties there, people are constantly on the move in search of better opportunities.
Recently, there was a political upheaval about the alleged harassment or worse of the migrants from Bihar in Tamil Nadu. Politicians of both states were quick to assert that all was well and the fake news was the act of mischief mongers to create a rift between the two states.
In a vast country like ours, it is natural that the economic condition of different states may vary from one to another. That is the case with the minimum legal wages, forcing people to move to other parts of the country.
Migration has been going on all over the world since time immemorial. When I was a child, people from my home state used to go to countries like Malaya (Now Malaysia) to work in plantations or Burma (now Myanmar) to work on road construction.
The first ‘two-legged man’—a reference to men who wear trousers—I came across was my uncle, who had come on leave from Malaya. We had several barbers, washermen, grocery shop owners, and others engaged in similar activities from our neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.
During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a continuous flow of migrant labour from many places to their home states. As the regular transport services were suspended, many, including women and children, were seen even trudging to their home states carrying their meagre possessions in bundles on their heads.
As people from Kerala prefer to go to the Gulf countries to work, their place is taken up by migrants from Bihar, West Bengal, the Seven Sisters of North East and other states. The main reason is that the militant trade unionism in Kerala ensures that the daily wages there are higher than those in other states.
I have seen people from these states working as cooks in hotels that offer ‘pure Kerala food’! As the traditional coconut tree climbers have gone elsewhere, their job is performed by these migrants.
In cities, there are many security guards from the North East, partly because they look like Nepalese with their ‘Chinky’ look. Migratory labour has become so important that the economy of a state will collapse if all the migrants decide to leave one fine morning.
Thanks to modern technology and social media, the prejudice one noticed in the past against immigrants from other parts of the country has come down drastically. Several people have emotionally merged with the people of their adopted states. Thanks to the proliferation of English medium schools, the children of migrants have scant knowledge of their mother tongue. Most cannot write or speak it. They are more fluent in the local language and converse with their friends and others in that tongue. Marriages with local girls or boys have become common.
I have many friends from Kerala whose wives can play Garba like their Gujarati counterparts but are ignorant of ‘Thiruvathira’. Children celebrate Holi and other local festivals enthusiastically with their friends but are not interested in Onam or other South Indian festivals. They like Gujarati food items more than those of Kerala. Most of their friends are from the local community.
Indore in Madhya Pradesh, my first halt as a migrant, was a princely state ruled by Maratha kings in the past. It had a sizable Marathi population. Many hotels in the city made only Marathi food but were also patronized by others like me who relished the food. I had become so close to the owner of a hotel I frequented that I was a permanent invitee to all social functions at his home.
Films, particularly the Bollywood ones, have played a significant role in the country’s integration. There were many heroines from the South who spoke Hindi fluently, thanks to dubbing. That was the case with heroes also.
Music directors from different corners of the country produced enchanting songs lapped up by people belonging to all corners of the country. Now, films made originally in a South Indian language are dubbed in different languages, and people throughout the country receive them with open hands.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to ‘The Kashmir Vision’, his articles and short stories have been published by several national and international publications)