Migrants make up almost half of Bengaluru, and the tradition of welcoming people from elsewhere dates back the city’s early days, historians say.
Kempegowda, who founded the city in 1537, invited artisans from many places to settle in his new capital, says Meera Iyer, convenor, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach).
Historian Suresh Moona says three main factors encourage migration to Bengaluru: language cosmopolitanism, salubrious weather and business friendliness. “Unlike in other South Indian cities, you can get by here with just English and Hindi,” he says.
Although air pollution and traffic congestion are problems, the weather is pleasant. During colonial times, British commissioners used to lobby to come to the city because of its ‘England-like’ climate, he says.
The most important reason for migration is the city’s ability to generate employment and opportunity. “There is an ease of doing business here, which explains the city being a hub not just for IT but also for the textile, automobile and health industries,” he says.
Is migration good?
“I remember someone likening society to a tree, with the so-called original settlers as its roots and migrants as the nutrients that nourish the tree. I like that image because migrants often contribute to the richness and growth of a society,” says Meera. Moona says a city stagnates without migration. “A city grows faster with migration. Job opportunities are created and consequently business grows,” he explains.
Ganesh Chetan, convenor of Kannada Grahakara Koota, says migration is healthy, but it should not result in an erasure of the origins of a city.
“Natives must not end up feeling insecure about their identity in their own city,” he says. Some parts of Bengaluru have become ghettoised due to migration and this has led to conflicts, he observes. Meera says it is good for migrants to learn the language of the city and its customs.
“Some migrants never adopt the city as their own and may not care about the city at all. But they are a minority,” she says.
Moona believes while things are better than 10 years ago, migrants are still not as respectful of Kannada culture as they should be. “I agree migrants should learn Kannada. In fact the working class from the lower strata of the society do learn the language, it’s the educated that don’t bother,” he says.
He explains that when a city gives so much it is only fair that you make an effort to integrate with its culture.
“Even security guards at malls give instructions in Hindi, I don’t blame Kannadigas for being irked when they see this,” he says.
Reluctance to learn
Ganesh Chetan of consumer rights group Kannada Grahakara Koota says problems arise when migrants, without making any effort to learn Kannada, expect Kannadigas to learn Hindi.
“One should understand that India is not a homogenous nation, we are a collection of federations and when one migrates, one must respect and learn the customs of the state,” he says. Hindi-speaking migrants are more reluctant than others to learning the language, which has led to multiple demonstrations against Hindi imposition in the past few years, he says.