Madrasi-Bihari Phobia: Regionalism Raises Ugly Head

There is no smoke without fire, so goes a lexicon. But what happens if the smoke has been smouldering, in a very low fire over the past weeks in Tamil Nadu’s hosiery capital Tiruppur spreading to Coimbatore and Chennai where migrant labour from North India were ‘rumoured’ amidst unsubstantiated claims to being attacked by social media posts in Bihar and UP. Socking Mera Bharat Ek a deathly body-blow!

That Stalin’s DMK State Government was caught napping is putting it mildly, but it adroitly handled the ‘attacks’ on migrant labour from Bihar, UP, West Bengal, Odisha and several north eastern States by speaking to his counterpart in Bihar Nitish, asserting “Bihar workers are our workers and we will protect them,” while the State police booked

BJP State Chief Annamalai for inciting violence by linking DMK for spreading disinformation and promoting enmity between two groups on grounds of religion and race.

It did not end there. Two senior DMK leaders were caught on camera making withering comments about migrant workers by saying they were worthy only of selling ‘paani puri here’. Ex Union minister and MP Dayanidhi Maran went a step further by comparing “our Southern boys Sundar Pichai (Google) and Satya Nadella (Microsoft) to Hindi-speaking youth working in construction and as cooks here.”

Alongside some pan-Tamil Parties and self-styled social organisations and their social media posts targeted ‘honourable guest workers’ who were taking away jobs of locals by accepting lower wages, long work-hours and inhospitable living and working conditions.

Specially against the backdrop that migrants are gainfully employed and backbone of multiple industries as an irreplaceable workforce. From street-corner tea-stalls, domestic helps, drivers, to beauty parlours, garment factories etc having learnt the local language. An example, over 70% of workers in hospitality and construction and 20% in garment units are migrants.

Predictably, a war of words erupted with both BJP and non-BJP critics of DMK posting a video clipping of Stalin’s old speech declaring BJP had plans to people the State with Hindi-speaking people (for political and electoral reasons) providing meat for Stalin and DMK’s traditional detractors of his ‘Dravidian model’ of Government.

While BJP’s Bihar unit claimed RJD’s Dy Chief Minister celebrated Stalin’s birthday despite “12 Bihari migrant workers being killed.” Followed by videos of mistreatment accusing the State Government of not taking up cudgels with Tamil Nadu. Which of course, were vehemently denied.

Pro-DMK and ally Congress argued the rumours were a deliberate attempt by groups that were upset that Stalin’s birthday was a meeting place for disparate Opposition leaders to band together and take-on the ruling BJP in next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Alleging, similar acts were perpetrated when erstwhile DMK’s Karunanidhi, lead to the formation of a non-Congress, non-BJP pre-poll alliance that captured power at the Centre in 1989 and 1996.
Alas, none wanted to address the most critical questions. Who are the perpetrators behind the ‘fake’ news? What action is the Government contemplating against the perpetrators?

Complicating matters we have pre-conceived notions based on place, language, cuisine and customs a person comes from due to our large regional diversity, wherein we find communities pitted against each other ideologically or for resources.

So, while Northerners look down on ‘Madrasis’ and their way of eating rice with hands, Southerners probably think that those from North read ‘Biharis and Panjus’ are loud, braggers and only good enough for Bhangra! The Bengalis are supposed to be intellectuals, and every half-decent Bihari is supposed to crack IAS. There are the stingy ‘Gujjus’ from the West and ‘Bhaiyyas’ from UP.

All these differences make people suspicious of those who are not like them. And ‘people like us’ close ranks and bond. These closed communities are naturally full of prejudices towards the other, read outsider.
Either way, a sense of insecurity has seeped in among migrant labour after various netas called for their replacement with locals. Unless controlled and contained this untested and unchallenged belief that north Indian, Hindi-belt labour support and follow Hindutva kind of political ideology. Hence this could lead to ideological clashes with their Dravidian brethren in especially during election time.

Recall in 2012 knocked out by hate SMS, “Leave immediately or face unspecified action.” people from North East fled Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune etc to the safety of their homes and again in 2008 in Maharashtra Raj Thackeray’s Navnirman Sena went on a rant wanting to rid Maharashtra of all North-Indians. Both cases of competitive populism at its crassest best.

Time has come full circle. Regionalism first raised its ugly head in Tamil Nadu in the early 60s, where alienation of people from the Centre led to DMK’s birth which later split into AIADMK.
It then moved to Maharashtra where cartoonist Bal Thackeray became the self-styled champion of everything Marathi. He nurtured Shiv Sena on the infamous `Marathi manus’ whereby everyone in Mumbai was an ‘outsider’ except 28% Maharashtrians.

Assam burnt over the foreigners issue in the 70’s, when AASU started a movement to oust all “illegal migrants from Bangladesh” from the State. In 2003, Assamese stopped 20,000 Biharis from taking a recruitment test in Guwahati. Biharis retaliated by stopping trains from North East, dragged out people, killed some and beat the rest. Assamese hit back killing over 52 Biharis.

Undeniably, this sad state of affairs is because asli Bharat is in the vicious grip of our polity. Borne out by our netagan’s diabolical machinations of vote-bank politics resulting in a North-South-secular-communal divide. Migrants have been allowed to don a communal face to satiate the greedy Indian political animal given 80% workforce, the ‘informal sector’ of migrant labourers, are at the lowest rung of the employment ladder. In their perception, who better than their own biradari.

Moreover, this gave a further fillip to the “sons of soil” issue. The local youth demanded “reservation” of jobs in their area, especially in regions where new industrial ventures like public sector plants or other projects coming up. In fact agitations have taken place for “their” share of jobs.

Where do we go from here? Pander to rabid rabble rousers? Pander to the politics of vote banks? Both Centre and States need to plug holes in our social system and put in place strong deterrence in instances of violence towards a particular community and give migrants a better new tomorrow. There is no gainsaying that all citizens should have equal job opportunities across the country.

The tragedy of it all is that our polity willy-nilly chipped away, with deadly precision, at the reality of a united and integrated India where regional aspirations play second fiddle to national unity. Consequently, the need of the hour is to understand the seriousness, deal assertively with the issues and set up time-bound measures once and for all.

Why should being a local or an outsider be made into a big all-encompassing issue? After all, India is a Union of States. Time to look beyond the Madrasi-Bihari phobia.. When vote-bank politics dictate our leaders’ political ideology and their attitude and stance on everything is weighed on the voters’ scale there is no hope in hell for the aam aadmi. Will our leaders heed? — INFA


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Poonam I Kaushish

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