The ‘Migrant Problem’: What Delhi Election Manifestos Are Missing And What Can Be Done

Posted on November 25, 2014 in Politics

By Chinmaya Shah:

With Delhi charging up for election 2.0, political parties appear to be ready with their propaganda theories and declarations. Whatever the results be, this time the one holding power will not only formulate the future of country’s capital but will also be ‘bestowed’ with a lot of burden which the city is currently facing. A plot twist came up for the voters when the Aam Aadmi Party’s 49 day government came to an abrupt end and Arvind Kejriwal still seems to be struggling with its aftermath. Though the AAP has put forward its 15 points agenda for Delhi elections in an event at Jantar Mantar, their initiative of a ‘Delhi dialogue’ to get views from people on how the capital should be seen certainly reflects in the manifesto. Where on one side, he promises to remove the ban from e-rickshaw in an attempt to facilitate the poor working class, 55,000 government jobs are also being promised. For the BJP, already making a clean sweep in Maharashtra and Haryana, the NAMO wave (if still that powerful) gives the party an upper hand in the forthcoming event. As for the Congress, one cannot comment but only wish to see how the already damaged castle is turned to ruins by the might of the other two. There is certainly one area where none of the political parties has focused in recent times in terms of development where, perhaps, this sector can cause tremendous shift in the vote bank politics. The case of the migrants.

Delhi migrants

The ‘outsiders’

One expects a lot from the elections considering the demographics which the capital holds. Delhi has an ever increasing influx of migrants from different parts of India. This trend has increased frantically in recent years. The National Capital Region’s (NCR) lack of space within the city limits has led to an expansion providing not only services but also new job opportunities for people in the adjoining areas. As the country continues to suffer from notions of ‘development’ in a misguided manner where only certain pockets gets funding, this in turn has led to talented and driven youth to leave their states and settle in a land where one is in a continuous struggle to redefine one’s own identity. Uttar Pradesh constitute 47% , Bihar around 31% and over 2 lakh people till 2013 from the North East have migrated for jobs, better education and due to unstable geo-political situations and working conditions in their respective cities. Delhi as a city continues to fascinate as people keep migrating in a quest to leave their previous lives so as to join the ‘rising middle class’. The statistics show that the capital has witnessed highest per capita incomes in the country thus becoming another reason for attraction.

One must also notice that these ‘migrants’ don’t bring any burden to the city’s social sphere. Despite the fact that many people who arrive in the capital have to deal with housing crisis and poor socio-economic conditions, that doesn’t bring any change to what I mentioned earlier. In 2010, when P.Chidambaram was Home Minister, his argument that ‘since Delhi attracts a large no. of migrants, it is the reason behind crimes taking place’ fuelled heated debates on this matter.

The case of saffronisation and exploitation

Any political party cannot play the card of cultural chauvinism as them being natives and others being outsiders thus making them vulnerable to harassment. The announcement of ‘Bawana mahapanchayant’ against Muharram procession by the BJP leaders and Trilokpuri communal clashes show us how effectively the ‘Hindu nationalist party’ is preparing grounds for the upcoming elections to show majority dominance against those already suffering. The entire rhetoric being played in the name of ‘moolnivasis’ and outsiders is simply for caste and religion based votes which the party wants to garner from the people as most of the migrants in these areas are from the lower castes. Now, these incidents are very symbolic to the areas where it occurred. Bawana and Trilokpuri are home to many migrants coming from the adjoining states. In the equation of a communal clash, one forgets that it’s the weak and the oppressed who are affected the most. It is important to mention that the  job role of most of the migrants from the lower classes are ‘menial’ like construction and transport workers, rickshaw pullers, maids, street vendors, delivery personnel, clerks, repair mechanics etc. All these jobs in the informal sector come with a social insecurity and are devoid of any kind of state or union aid. Where on one hand, this sector has 86% of the jobs, there are barely any laws working in the favor of these people. Moreover, in the wake of a communal polarization, this would in turn impact the secular fabric of the areas from where the migrants come from! It is also needed that the state government upon its formation should be able to cater to this problem at the ground level so that these people should not face a certain sense of alienation.

Cultural intolerance and racism 

A city is usually known by the heterogeneity it holds. It has a face not of a particular religion, ethnicity or caste group but of how vibrant it is in terms of diversity of the inhabitants. The only singularity or the common thread which Delhi has is that there isn’t any! However, Delhi has witnessed an ever increasing rise in racist attacks against the people from North East India, who also contribute to a large amount of the migrant population. A majority of them come to Delhi for higher studies while many others apply in jobs related to hospitality management, consumer services and BPOs etc.. It is surprising to witness the level of insensitivity and stereotyping prevalent in the city, which has suddenly come to our notice. Rapes, physical assaults, racist remarks, harassment faced by students by the landlords etc. are some of the issues which require teamwork and mass community centered initiatives in an attempt to at least slow down the entire problem. More hostels for students are required. The new government, once formed, should focus not only on cultural sensitization but should also figure out how to burst this bubble of prejudices and racist slurs.

For those who see migrants as a burden to the city’s resources, one cannot stop to argue that the entire idea is a blatant lie. Delhi which has always been in a cultural milieu where the entire construct of the city is working due to the class relations it hold, a poor migrant not only eases a middle class or elite with its services but it is due to them that their lavish lifestyle keeps on functioning. A majority of the population that relates itself to the political parties and acts as workers constitute of this migrant category. Even those few who call themselves as natives fail to notice that they are a part of second or perhaps third generation families living in the capital and have similar roots as that of the migrants.

It’s time that political parties start reconsidering the mechanism of city life where the ‘outsiders’ play an important part and withhold the entire city structure by providing their services. The fact that Delhi is prosperous is majorly due to the work done by the migrants working as students, professionals, and workers. One should not forget that they chose to be there not by default but by choice.

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