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No doubt, Mumbai is a migrants' city

February 03, 2010 15:14 IST

Mumbai, without doubt, though belonging to Maharashtra, is a migrants' city. A fact we have to learn to live with, writes Mahesh Vijapurkar

For one, there are good reasons why migrants cannot be barred or treated differently in Mumbai.

For another, equally, there are very good reasons why the city cannot take them any more.

But that does not mean that they have to be threatened, harassed, beaten, or even consider that livelihoods be deprived to them by preferring only locals, only Marathis. Let us look at the first -- equity for them as citizens of this city and the country.

Law prevails

It has been said often enough that the Indian Constitution enables them as a right the option to choose Mumbai as any other place within the Indian Union as a place of residence. Nor can they be divested of any opportunities for livelihoods. It is their inalienable right and even violent political parties cannot snatch them away from them. Anyone who comes and lives in the city becomes a part of the city, and no different from the other regardless of the other's place of origin, duration of stay, caste, creed, language or any other consideration.

In other words, he too is a 'Mumbaikar'. That is a fact, clear and simple.

If you add up the number of people who came to Mumbai and settled down over the decades, you would realise that there are more migrants than original settlers. In fact, the original settlers were about 10,000 in the 17th century and among them were a sprinkling of the Sindhis, Gujaratis, Pathare Prabhus and even a few Europeans; so much so that when the English took over from the Portuguese, the officials had to be cautioned against discrimination.

Protection mandated

On August 8, 1672, Governor Gerald Aungier had proclaimed that all inhabitants would be treated equally, that all, including the poor, the orphan and the widow have an equal right to justice. Read migrant for the poor, the orphan and the widow and you would understand what he meant in the present context. It is like much like what the Article 19(1) of the Constitution says.

To populate Mumbai, then Bombay, the British government lured outsiders and people were allowed to build houses wherever they chose. Later, the growth of the city, its industrialisation led to wilful marshalling of the migrants to run the looms of the emerging mills.

Trend continues

That trend continued, though it has to be admitted that Maharashtrians from within Maharashtra are the largest segment of even the migrant population. A third of all migrants are from within Maharashtra. It does not need to be said that the rest are not Marathis. All this points out to one fact: Mumbai was built by migrants, belongs to migrants and that like everyone else, the Marathis too benefited from the labours of the migrants.

Because of the law of the land, drafted by statesmen-like personalities who put the country above their selves, not petty politicians who cannot look beyond the next municipal elections, the next hefty bribe to be collected or next office to chase, they cannot even be scared away. In fact, that should not even be tried.

But saturated

Now, the second point. Mumbai, having reached the saturation point long ago, has no room for any more. No Mumbaikar can cope with the stress of living in the city because of both the growing numbers and the collapsing infrastructure. If humungous amounts of money are being spent on infrastructure, it is like running on a treadmill because the provisions are unlikely ever to meet the demand, which keeps running ahead all the time.

If one were to look at Mumbai as a decrepit chawl, overcrowded, with no water flowing out of its tap, the toilet at the end of the corridor or balcony overflowing and stinking, with people waiting in queue to use it, then it ought to have a 'not available to let' board prominently.

As it is, the small rooms are teeming with the family members and there is no space even to hang the clothes out to dry. The staircases are occupied by those, who cannot afford a room, such as it is. The movement there has become a torture. But yes, they are able to live.

That about sums up Mumbai, but who cares?

Not the migrants because they are coming, more every year. The landlord does not want to add more rooms and even the compound has been squatted upon.

Space crunch

Strangely, that crunch for space does not seem to deter people only underscoring my contention that Mumbai is a preferred destination for livelihoods and not residence. The latter is only incidental to an Indian's search for existence, not living. I have seen an old couple off the sidewalk and onto the road in Dharavi because that iconic slum has no more room for new entrants.

Then how do we deal with migrants?

First and foremost, learn to manage them so that they get dispersed across the region around Mumbai, find employment there. This ability to manage migrants has been missing and adding to the strain. A former migrant, who is now settled here, is quite likely to feel as uncomfortable as an original Marathi person who feels he is being hemmed in.

Can't scare away

Not by scaring them away, not by flexing Marathi muscle because compared to the rest, the Marathi muscles are fewer in numbers. Mumbai could belong to Maharashtra but over the years, it has ceased to be Marathi. Why, even FM radio stations find that playing Marathi music does not make economic sense because there are fewer of them to listen and attract the attention of the advertiser. Marathi, in one sense, does not even make commercial sense.

Such muscular pressures cannot change Mumbai's character. But yes, there is a crying need for the migrants to change their outlook. They have come here and are not mere sojourners. Having come and made a home of Mumbai, they ought to recognise that it is a part of Maharashtra and tune themselves to it. Learn the language, learn the nuances of the state's cultural aspects and respect it. Be one with the others. They ought not to seek to be exclusivists like Maharashtrians -- or at least the warhorses of Marathi political parties want that to happen -- do.

For, Mumbai, without doubt, though belonging to Maharashtra, is a migrants' city. A fact we have to learn to live with.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a senior journalist and commentator
Mahesh Vijapurkar