The whys and wherefores of regionalism

Seal of Maharashtra
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Regionalism as depicted by the rise of parties like MNS, is becoming a strong factor in Indian or at least Maharashtrian politics. As witnessed by the recent ruckus in Maharashtra state assembly, this has reached a sorry state and it is high time one understands and appreciates the complex political, economical and psychological factors on which parties like MNS play and leverage them to harbor and nurture xenophobic tendencies.

Left Brain thinking: the politics of migration
It is a given fact in any state that there would be some immigrants from neighboring states and nations – the so-called non-natives or ‘foreigners’, who are there by ancestry or recent immigration. Whenever the residents are classified in two or more groups like natives and non-natives, and whenever there is a tendency to bolster regional identities by emphasizing the nativeness and distinctiveness of a group (by emphasizing the language, culture, festivals etc associated with a particular regional group at the cost of the universal shared human identity or even national identity- take the example of marathi manoos over an Indian or a human identify by emphasizing to a pathological extent the marathi culture- be it festivals like Ganesh Visarjan or literature like marathi theater, or as another example the identification with chhath of the bihari population) , then the juxtaposition of two or more groups living together with strong regional identities is a fermenting ground for political parties to play the ‘Us’ vs ‘them ‘ card based on well-known psychological phenomenon of in-group loyalty versus out-group hostility. I am not saying that regional identities are bad- they become a liability when politicians use them to fracture the people based on those regional identities and nurture xenophobia by playing the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ card. This of course they do because of the well known vote-bank factor. by associating with one group on the cost of another they can claim a vote bank and s long as group sin Indian politics keep mass-voting as a herd as per regional, religious or castiest identities, things are not going to change for the better. In the particular context of immigrant population vis a vis native people, associating with the native people gives rise to the ‘son of the soil’ image and owing to its obvious political advantages not many politicians are able to shy away from playing this ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ card.

Right Brian doodling: the economics of migration
Of course, one also has to see migration and xenophobic tendencies in the larger economic context. It is a given that there are push factors like extreme poverty that push people to seek employment and residence elsewhere. There are also pull factors like better job/educational facilities that pull immigrants to a particular state. Also the lack of jobs and meaningful employment in the native state of immigrant plays a crucial role in the sense that it lowers the opportunity cost that one is foregoing my migrating to a new land. All these factors which basically reflect the unequal economic macro conditions in the two states lead to net flux of reasons from one state to the other. To take an example of bihar and maharashtra, if there was not extreme poverty in some pockets of bihar, if there were job opportunities in bihar itself and if there were not better job opportunities in maharashtra, then the immigrant ‘problem’ of biharis in mahartshtra would not be there. It also makes sense to pause here and grasp the fact , that the economics involved clearly indicates which group will be economically disadvantaged (the biharis in mahrasthra) and thus more prone to abuse by the system and the politicians. Being economically disadvantaged, the immigrant group stands good chance of being bullied and manhandled with the better-off politicians aligning with the native group getting away because of their relative well-off-ness and ability to manipulate the truth. While the fact is that the immigrant group is poor and disadvantaged, it is all too easy to portray them as aggressors who are taking away employments from the son of the soils. And the supporters who validate this thesis, are the ones who would unlikely be doing the low-wage chores that these migrant laborers are doing, but who are actually exploiting thee workers by paying them lower wages as compared to the native laborers based on their regional identities and thus actually gaining in economic terms from this immigration. Yet, the crafty politicians are able to psin a version of the truth that is largely couched in economic terms , but is actually playing on the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ xenophobic tendencies built in all of us.

Whole brain fusings: the psychology of migration
Let us also look at whether the migrants enjoy being a migrant and have the conqueror mentality plundering the wealth of the state that is hosting them or whether they have a parasitic tendency of living as a leech on the labors of the natives and not giving back or contributing to the state’s development, but only benefiting from it. Some statistics does indicate that the migrants remit a large portion of their earnings to their families living back in their native land, but it should not be doubted that they do add to the development and enrichment of the state in which they live. Also, one has to be sensitive to the costs that they have to pay when they migrate- culture shock when trying to gel in a culture that may be a tad different from theirs. And one has hard figures to back these claims; for eg. the incidence of schizophrenia in migrant population is much higher- this may be because of the fact that most migration happens from villages to cities, but there are other immigration factors like culture shock , xenophobia etc that account for the large increase in incidence in immigrant population that cannot be explained by increasing urbanization only. Thus, if anything, the migrant population deserves our sympathies, social support and nurturance so that they do not become deranged or unproductive, yet all that the politicians offer to the migrant population is a faster road to hell/psychosis. Consider also the fact that many of the migrants learn a new language when they are adults – and when it is very difficult to pick a language-it should surprise no one if the new migrants are not able to pick the new language fast enough- it would be an atrocity to assume that within 1-2 months they be able to use the new language and shun their earlier languages. Also given the fact of the sapir-whorf linguistic determinism, and how the language we use is not simply a linguistic tool, but also shapes our perceptions of space , time etc, it is not surprising if learning a new language and culture and worldview should take some time and effort. La this would take a toll on the immigrant population and it is best not to submit them to unnecessary xenophobia, hatred or manhandling. They already pay a heavy psychological price when they decide to immigrate and we should not make it any worse for them.

Out-of-the-brain musings: the philosophy of migration
Is migration justified? or not just justified, but even desirable? Consider the fact that many US universities actively seek diversity in the profile of students admitted to their courses. Why would they do so if diversity in the students did not lead to a better academic environment and more overall productivity? Given the sapir -whorf hypothesis, it is a given that most of us are steeped in one way of viewing things as determined by our language and culture; and time and again it has been shown that viewing a problem from different angles and perspectives is better for coming up with creative solutions. Of course if we are content with run-of-the-mill traditional status quo solutions, we can live with one language, one culture, one perspective- but if we value creativity and dynamism, if we value insight and flow, we have no option but to take recourse of diversity that enables multiple perspectives to be present and complimenting each other. After all, the rainbow is beautiful precisely because it is made up of so many hues. Also some latest research has indicated that being an immigrant/ short term visitor in a new land, also leads to some advantages -namely the ability to be more creative, , more observant and more insightful. Expatriates have been shown to have these traits precisely because they are being exposed to new forms of culture and this culture shock, sort of ‘opens’ them up to many other possibilities.

Parting thoughts: the art of migration
The art of migration is in living like sugar dissolving in the milk- without the sugar the milk is not sweet and once mixed, though milk is milk and sugar is sugar, together they give rise to something better-sweet milk. It is surprising that this art of migration needs to be retaught in a country like India which has historically assimilated all attackers, conquerors, guests, foreigners,migrants under its fold and internalized their religion, language etc to give rise to new and hybrid Indian identities. The uniqueness of the individual identities are still there, but they get merged and subsumed under something greater – the pan-Indian identity. It is indeed saddening that in India itself, regionalism should raise its ugly head- in the end analysis, perhaps both the migrant and the native states and people are at fault- perhaps it is as important to live in a foreign state as if it is their own native homeland, as it is important for the natives to welcome with open hearts the immigrants. If immigrants lived by the dictum ‘vasudhaiv kutumbakam’ – this land is also my family- and the natives lived with the dictum ‘athithi devo bhav’- the guests are like gods -and perhaps if one started to play down the distinguishing factors between the natives and the guests and considers all as as one,only then can we proudly claim that if there is heaven on earth it is here, it is here, it is here. Till then one can only hope that we will keep fighting regionalism and the political parties that support it! Amen!

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Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 6:41 pm  Comments (4)  
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