Sunday, September 9, 2012

Influx and threats in the land of second class citizens

Migration broadly refers to change of residence across an administrative boundary, and this change can be inter-continental, inter-national, inter-regional, inter-state, rural to urban et al. Migration can be classified as voluntary movement–when people willingly leave their homes in order to improve their livelihood; and forced or involuntary movement–when people are forced to flee their homes because of war or political persecution or other compelling reasons. Again, migration can be of two types–permanent movement, when migrants do not intend to return to their places of origin, and temporary movement when migrants return to their places of origin after working or staying for a certain period in a foreign land. 
The whole dynamics of migration is often analysed based on the interplay between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. The ‘push’ factors may include environmental, demographic, economic and political pressures. Common environmental ‘push’ forces are drought, flood and earthquakes. Poverty, lack of employment, crop failure and famine have been accepted as major economic ‘push’ factors. Political pressures to leave home may arise from wars, revolutions, coups d’tat, persecution by totalitarian governments, expulsion by the state etc. The ‘pull’ forces which attract migrants to certain destinations are very often the result of forces opposite to the ‘push’ factors. Some of the common ‘pull’ factors are economic opportunity to improve living conditions, chance of personal safety, liberty and freedom, and social opportunities such as educational or cultural considerations.
Researchers and scholars have generally accepted that migration flows produce multi-dimensional implications on both places of origin as well as destination countries/states. Migration may relieve population pressure in the state of origin, while eviction of certain ethnic groups may either benefit or harm both the emigrant and immigrant states. 
Inter-migration between North East India and mainland India
Certain push and pull factors, if not all, are at play behind the process of migration from mainland India to the North East region and vice versa. Utter poverty, heavy population pressure on natural resources, lack of employment avenues, life-long exploitation under caste system and zamindari system are some of the push factors driving thousands of mainland Indians into the North East region every year. The chunk of these migrants are labourers, both menial and skilled. At the other end, abundance of labour market, hospitality of the seven sister states, freedom from caste oppression constitute the principal pull factors. Yes, there is migration in the reverse direction too. In this case, the vast majority of the migrants are students and their destinations are Indian cities where there is good educational infrastructure. Apart from students, some professionals too migrate and work in Indian cities. Whereas migration from mainland India to the North East is of permanent nature, migration in the reverse direction is a temporary one. Again, migration from North East region to mainland India is miniscule in terms of volume as compared to immigration to the region which has taken the form of exodus over the years.
In addition to the Indian immigrants, there are huge numbers of Nepalese and Bangladeshis, and to some extent Myanmarese nationals all over the North East region. Like their Indian counterparts, these foreign immigrants came to the region for permanent settlement. When the process of migration has attained such a momentum of continuity, and the volume swollen to such magnitude, that too for permanent settlement, one need not be a rocket scientist or political pundit to predict discord, conflict and ultimately confrontation between the natives and the immigrants. It’s anybody guess how and why our political leaders overlook these obvious facts.
Threats posed by permanent migration
When migration transforms into exodus and influx between the place of origin and the destination, the process breeds an inherent threat perception. These threats perceived by the hosts are often genuine and based on sound assessment of the evolving scenario politically, socially and culturally. The degree of threats perceived by the host depends on variance in many factors such as race, culture, relative population size, customs, economic insecurity etc. Permanent settlement means loss of land and resources for good which otherwise should be available to the natives. Not only land and natural resources, job opportunities (for natives) become fewer and fewer with the growth of immigrant population.
Threats posed by large scale influx, which is exactly what is happening in the region, are not restricted to economic concerns alone. Identity, culture, customs and traditions are the other realms where the threats of alien population are felt in no lesser degree. Now, it is pertinent to delve into the fundamental reasons for the threats perceived by the people of North East region vis-a-vis influx from other regions. Foremost, one must acknowledge that the people of Northeastern region have unique identities, quite different from other parts of India. Speaking in terms of race, culture and tradition, they are quite removed from other peoples of India. Numerically, they represent a small fraction of the 1.15 billion people of India. Racially they belong to the Mongoloid stock whereas the bulk of the Indian population are of Aryan and Dravidian origin.
Though, they are citizens of the Indian State politically, sense of Indian-ness seems to be still very remote in the psyche of the Northeastern people. In other words, sense of being a Naga, or an Assamese or a Manipuri is held much dearer to the people of the region. Truth be told. They are not mentally prepared to sacrifice their unique identities for the sake of a greater, common Indian nationality. This is understandable from the diverse and divergent historicity of the two geographical regions––the Indian sub-continent and the Indo-Burma region. After all sense of regionalism is still a universal phenomenon. Its operation, though comparatively subtle, is visible in India too. Even today, there is the North-South divide and also the East-West chasm. No Tamils or the Punjabis or for that matter Bengalis are ready to forsake their own identity in exchange for a comprehensive Indian nationality. Sporadic clashes between Assamese and Bengalis, Bengalis and Biharis in the past and the most recent clash between Bodos and Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam, and the not so recent attacks on North Indians by Marathis (led by MNS) have their roots in racial differences, and were fuelled by threat perceptions such as intrusion into the economic security of the host society.
Here, Yenning cannot afford to overlook one peculiar characteristics of Indian immigrants. They never merge or assimilate with/to the host society. They not only retain their roots but also groom their own culture and tradition on the foreign soil. This often leads to conflicts and sometimes confrontations with the original settlers as soon as the number of immigrants is large enough to form a small community. Already, temples are abound in many parts of London with the population of Indian immigrants (now known as Indian diaspora on account of their permanent nature of migration) constituting a sizeable section of the city’s population.
Territory-wise, Manipur is very small and its (indigenous) population constitutes a tiny fraction of the total population of India whereas culture, tradition, customs, social ethics of the indigenous people are quite distinct from the so-called great Indian culture and tradition and the Manipuris are proud of their own distinctive culture and the same is more or less true for Mizos, Assamese, Nagas, Bodos et al. With the population of immigrants growing year after year, threat perception has reached a simmering point in the entire region.
Apart from completely dominating the labour market as well as the commerce of the State, immigrants are steadily infiltrating into the socio-political domain of the indigenous people. Coupled with physical presence of large number of immigrants with character traits and cultural roots quite exogenous to the indigenous people, mass media like television dramas, serials and Hindi movies which are beamed across the country throughout the day have been fast diluting the unique culture and tradition of the original settlers. Slowly and steadily, these agents of assimilation and appropriation have been culturing a notion about the (mainland) Indian culture, tradition, social customs and practices being superior to the indigenous ones and vice-versa. At the same time, this newly imbibed notion sharpens the level of threats perceived. Here, Yenning would like to take the liberty of guessing that many are fearful that the distinctive identity of the Manipuri people would ultimately submerge in the vast ocean of the so called great Indian civilization. This is in addition to the possible scenario of the immigrants dominating the political landscape of Manipur. Though, originally they may not have any intention but immigrants are eventually evolving into a threatening force strong enough to annihilate the indigenous people demographically, politically, economically and culturally in not so distant future, if not now.
Influx and backlash
Whereas the Constitution of India guarantees every citizen to move and settle in any part of the country, threats posed by these legal migrants and those illegal migrants from foreign countries as perceived by the indigenous peoples are more or less the same. And one should not miss this fundamental point. People of North East region were targeted in mainland India in the form of vengeance for the clash between native Bodos and Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam. The question of common nationality was pushed to the back-burner, and in its place, racial similarity and common religious faith took precedence. In other words, fellow Indian citizens hailing from the region were attacked indiscriminately even though the clash with foreign immigrants were confined to a few districts of Assam. The recent attack on North East people in many cities of mainland India rang out a clear message, “Let the influx go on in its own pace or face backlash”. By analogy, it means the foreign immigrants have more rights than the Indian citizens living in its North East region, often treated a second class citizens. Frankly, I sincerely wish I was wrong.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, September 9, 2012

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