Gujarat: making ‘others’ of our own

Migrant workers wait to board a train out of Gujarat in view of protests and violence breaking out over the alleged rape of a 14-month-old girl, in Ahmedabad. PTI

Gujarat has seen a very large exodus of migrant workers belonging to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the last two weeks. Despite assurances of safety to the scared migrants and action against a number of people who intimidated and even attacked them, the exodus has not stopped. The trigger was the rape of a 14-month-old baby by a Bihari worker on September
28. The culprit was arrested, but the incident led to large-scale violence against migrants, especially in the northern districts of the state. The campaign against them tapped into the pent-up sentiments against “outsiders’’ and was led by an outfit called the Thakor Sena, led by a Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor. The victim’s family belonged to the community to which Thakor belonged. He described the violence as a manifestation of the unrest among youth over lack of employment opportunities. Congress president Rahul Gandhi also seemed to endorse the view, stating that the state government had failed to create jobs. 

Lack of jobs can be an explanation but no justification for violence. Gujarat, like most other parts of the country, has seen insufficient creation of jobs. Joblessness has been increasing and the latest monthly employment survey for September confirmed it. One main reason for the Patidar agitation for reservation of jobs, too, was the lack of jobs for the youth. This has created resentment against migrants who are seen as taking away the few jobs available and which should go to the people of the state. The government has been under political pressure to act on this. Last month, it announced that 80% of the state’s factory and service sector jobs will be reserved for domiciles. This can hurt a state like Gujarat, where migrant workers are the backbone of the economy. About 30% of the state’s population is made up of migrants and that shows how dependent it is on migrant labour. States which are industrially more developed have a higher rate of influx of migrants. 

The issue is not just about the economy, which will suffer a setback if migrant labour is discouraged and thrown out. Every Indian has the right to live and work in any  part of the country and governments have the responsibility to protect this right. Diversity and free interaction between various groups make states and the country economically, socially and culturally stronger. It is wrong to consider some groups as outsiders, to create resentment against them and to claim that they are the source and cause of all problems. The BJP is adept in creating the “outsider’’ and the ‘’other’’, and the situation in Gujarat has its roots in this policy. 

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