I come from a family of migrants. My paternal grandparents were from Gujarat. My father’s younger brother was born in Karachi. On my mother’s side, the family is very distantly from Gujarat but more recently from Solapur. My mother’s sister lives abroad. My sister and I grew up in Bombay (not Mumbai). My sister and all (well, most; see the comment below) my cousins live abroad too. My wife’s father was a Gujarati from Varanasi, her mother is from Ahmedabad via Surat (or vice-versa). And for all of us, Mumbai (once Bombay) is home, though it is not the place from which we come. What are we in Mumbai but migrants?
That is why the Union Home Minister’s recent comment, attributing the spurt in crime to ‘migrants’, was so deeply offensive (the more so because they came from someone so frighteningly intelligent). By that reasoning, all of us are potential criminals—simply because we originally come from somewhere else. His subsequent recantation only makes matters worse, and his claim to being a migrant himself fools no one: he now faintly justifies his remark by correlating migrants to unauthorised settlements (read, slums) and, therefore, crime. He’s not alone in saying this. A year ago, Sheila Dixit said much the same thing. Now the Shiv Sena’s official orifice has weighed in supporting the Home Minister’s initial remark.
Articles 19(1)(d) and (e) of the Constitution provide a context. The first says that every citizen has the right to “move freely throughout the territory of India” and the second that it is every citizen’s right to reside and settle in any part of the country. That is not merely the right to perambulate or go walkabout. It is the right to move, settle down and work anywhere in the country. Sixty years ago, this is how the Supreme Court read our Constitution1. In 1964, the Supreme Court said that this fundamental right is available to every citizen, and that includes a prostitute2. There is no latent criminality in migration.
Many animals migrate, some in spectacular ways as wildlife movies show, and for different reasons. As geese fly to the sun, humans migrate to cities. When they do so they are voting with their feet—people come to cities looking for work, not to become criminals. Some succeed, many do not. Some migrate of choice, others of necessity. Some are driven off their lands by poverty and the burden of loans that cannot be repaid for generations. Others are displaced by large projects, the benefits of which—where there are any—are kept from them. What they find in our cities is work—all kinds of work, much of it the kind many of us would never dream of doing: driving taxis, sweeping streets, carrying tiffins, working as menials, labourers and servants. What they do not find is any recognition of their value as human beings, or of the work they do; and our cities would collapse without them.
People live in slums because they have no choice; because we do not have systems of affordable housing for those who support our lives. That includes several thousand of Mumbai’s police force. The thinking seems to be that if you live in a slum, you must be a criminal and therefore, by definition, a criminal; or, more bluntly, poverty is a crime. This is irrational, and it is the profile of a thoroughly unjust society in which the privileged sect treats those without the luxury of choice as outsiders. Fuzzy thinking and fluid definitions are always the handmaidens of an unspeakable purpose.
There is simply no correlation between migrants and crime. Migrants are convenient scapegoats for incompetent law enforcement. In Mumbai, a Maharashtrian police inspector is accused of raping a minor, but never of being a migrant. More telling is the context of the Union Home Minister’s statement, the gang-rape by five men of a BPO employee in South Delhi. The ‘migrant’ here was the victim. She comes from Mizoram.
Wherever we live, we are all migrants, all outsiders: ministers, judges, law officers, actors, politicians, bureaucrats and, of course, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, India’s First Migrant. But we are first Indians, and to be a migrant is the right of every citizen of India.
I come from a family of migrants. My paternal grandparents were from Gujarat. My father's younger brother was born in Karachi. On my mother's side, the family is very distantly from Gujarat but more recently from Solapur. My mother's sister lives abroad. My sister and I grew up in Bombay (not Mumbai). My sister and all (well, most; see the comment below) my cousins live abroad too. My wife's father was a Gujarati from Varanasi, her mother is from Ahmedabad via Surat (or vice-versa). And for all of us, Mumbai (once Bombay) is home, though it is not the place from which we come. What are we in Mumbai but migrants?