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WHO IS AN INDIAN?
Chinmay Tumbe’s book talks about how migration changes the social structure. Chahak Mittal attends the launch and discovers some answers
The diaspora of India, at 25 million, is much greater as compared to the country’s internal migrants, the figure of which stands at 16 million. This means that we have a larger Gujarati diaspora in the US than in other states of India,” said Chinmay Tumbe, a PhD graduate from IIM Bengaluru, speaking at the launch of his fascinating exposition, India Moving: A History of Migration. The book makes several interesting observations as the author has researched the history of migration in India.
The panellists at the dicussion included Dr Rajeev Gowda, ex-IIM Bangalore professor, and Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha from Karnataka; Prof Rupa Chanda, Chinmay’s mentor at IIMB; Arvind Subramanian, chief economic adviser; and Swati Chopra, senior commissioning editor at The Penguin Random House India who discussed how India needed a thesis on migration — which has never been done so extensively before.
Migration in India has been a common phenomenon, shifting its regional boundaries and bridging the diversities every now and then. However, India has never paid attention to this phenomenon, which has painted its demographic scenery full of languages and cultures.
And the book addresses this gap by covering topics like, ‘The rich history of Indian migration and the Great Indian migration;’ ‘Mahabharata and Ramayana — exile and return (both modern and post-modern aspects);’ ‘Migration, especially in Bihar;’ ‘Who gets to even move?;’ ‘Developments in job networks and diasporas;’ ‘Internal and external migration;’ ‘Involuntary and voluntary migration.’
Tumbe highlighted that “The Great Indian Migration,” as a concept is clustered. “The whole idea of Pakistan was based on religious lines and that the two communities cannot live in religious harmony. But then, just like we realised, that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together, now after almost 70 years, we realised that even Muslims cannot do so either,” said Tumbe. He added, “There is no concept of a non-migrant Indian. Hence, the biggest question that this book answers is, ‘Who is an Indian?’”
The panelists touched upon many topics and brought them to consideration. Prof Chanda questioned, “How do we look at the diaspora in terms of NRIs?” Chinmay described it thus, “The idea of an internal diaspora comes from sociology; however, Indian sociologists haven’t paid attention to it. Moreover, we haven’t really looked at India’s internal diaspora.”
Dr Gowda compared the dramatic change in Indian and Chinese diaspora, “We would definitely compare to China now. Initially, we had nothing compared to it. People today have gone beyond their necessities and have become extremely successful.”
While discussing international and domestic diaspora, they touched upon another interesting aspect of the issue. “How much migration happens in a proactive manner? Also, to what extent is it reactive?” questioned Prof Chanda.
Subramanian pointed out the importance of keeping a count of migration. “It needs to be a part of the demographic dividend of India.” He also highlighted how focussing on both external and internal migration is important. “It is fair to say that in terms of policies, we focus more on inward migration rather than the external one. Immigration is a wake-up call for politicians and the exit of people is a sign that things are not going the right way in the country.”
Dr Gowda highlighted the concept of ‘brain drain’ which began with the onset of external migration. He said, “A lot of talented people would choose to migrate because of the quality and class of life abroad. So you are left wondering that without a mass of good talent, what do we do to move ahead and to function better?”
“The general population of India has been in circulation. There have been mass migrations like Partition, Kashmir exodus, from Bihar or massive migration from coastal Karnataka to Mumbai in search of livelihood,” said Chinmay.
When asked about how migration, just as it bridged various diversities, also resulted in a loss of culture especially during the Partition, the author said, “There is whole chapter in the book about Partition and displacements. In the 20th century, we had three Partitions, not one, which is one of the biggest arguments in the book. The first one was the Partition of the then Burma in 1937, the second was Partition of India in 1947 and the third was the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. All these were very traumatic. However, Partition of India in 1947 has been the biggest event of mass displacement. These would be classified as involuntary migration. Even though people moved, had they been given a choice, they would have probably chosen to stay wherever they were. This book doesn’t celebrate involuntary migrations. The concept is that voluntary migrations are for good.”
He highlighted that during the British rule in India, “The one good thing that Britishers did was to keep track of who migrated and moved to which place. The census of India hasn’t released the migration survey on which they had been working since 2011.”
Tumbe revealed that he ended the book with a note, Vasudeva Kutumbakamba, meaning, “the world is one family.” Prof Chanda told the audience that during his research, he told her that he travelled in trains of Orissa to find out how migration was working there. Chinmay laughed and nodded. She ended the discussion with the song, “Mere piya gaye Rangoon, vahan se kiya hai telephone...” to highlight how old and endemic the idea of migration was to the nation.
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