I am a Maharashtrian married to someone from outside the state. As a feminist, I have occasionally wondered if I should not have kept my maiden name when I got married, even if that would not take my feminist credentials very far, my maiden name being my father’s and not my mother’s last name. But suddenly today, I am glad that I did change my last name because I am no longer easily identifiable as a person from Maharashtra. And I am glad of that because I do not want to be associated with the cruel, misguided and self-defeating movement among some people in the state to throw out those ‘outsiders’ who are apparently not showing enough respect and gratitude to the state.
I am no big fan of the Amitabh Bachchan family, even if I have enjoyed many of the films featuring its various members. And yet I defend strongly their right to live in any part of the country that they please. And I want to stand up for those non-Maharashtrians who do not have their money and their political clout and can do nothing when they are hounded for not respecting the sentiments of the Marathi manoos.
I myself have spent much of my life as an ‘outsider’ by the current definition of the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Thanks to familial circumstances I have lived, studied and worked in several parts of the country and it appears now that I must be grateful that the ‘original’ inhabitants of the many places I happened to be in did not take it into their heads to threaten me with dire consequences if I did not learn the local language (sometimes I did, sometimes I did not), show unending respect for their great achievements (and really, which part of the world, which people, cannot boast of some great achievements?) and repeatedly thank them for allowing me to inhabit their lovely land. Instead, I found that for the most part, it was fun to be among people who spoke a different language or worshiped a different God (even when they seemed to worship only the God of material wealth), or ate what seemed like weird food. We often mocked these differences but without any real hostility, we taught one another how to say "I love you" and to hurl abuses in our respective languages, and all in all, I came out of this peripatetic life happy that I had had a chance to experience it and never really feeling that I did not rightly belong somewhere.
For who after all is an ‘outsider’ and who is the native? That this is a difficult question to answer is clear enough from the changing definitions employed by those who would reserve Maharashtra for the Maharashtrians. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was the ‘south' Indians who were accused of not respecting local sentiments and local rights. Then in the 1980s and 1990s, religion became the marker of identity and it was the turn of Muslims to fear for their lives. And now, suddenly, it is this amorphous category called 'north' Indian that seems to have aroused the righteous indignation of the followers of the Shiv Sena and/or the MNS. Next, once these vile foreigners have been chased out of Mumbai and things still do not improve rapidly enough for the common man, it will probably be the turn of those village bumpkins from outside the state who speak Marathi, but speak it with a funny accent, or of those who are Marathi-speaking but not Hindu, or for those poor souls who are the right language and the right religion but the wrong caste (if such people can even be said to have a soul in the first place).
Quite apart from the non-Maharashtrian’s right to live in Maharashtra, there is the question of Maharashtra’s need for people from outside the city or the state. And Maharashtra is not unique in this. Whatever our romantic notions of potential self-sufficiency and the corrupting influence of outsiders, the fact is that in no part of the world today are these notions based on any careful evidence.
Unfortunately today, all over the world, it is the gut reaction, the common man’s wisdom, that are valorized as being the only guides to what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. The USA of course currently leads in, politically at least, promoting such "anti-intellectualism" and disdain for thoughtfulness, but that would be a foolish example for the Shiv Sena to follow. Instead it needs to look at the experience of history and the conclusions of the large and growing research on the importance and value of immigrants for all concerned sides – immigrants themselves of course, but also for the people, economies and societies of the receiving lands as well as the sending lands.
I will not dwell on the gains from immigration to migrants themselves or to their original homelands. The Sena is obviously aware of these gains, for it is precisely these supposedly unfair gains that it is complaining about. And it is also aware I am sure of all the gains that Maharashtrians themselves are making when they live and work in places outside Maharashtra and even India. There would not be so many Maharashtrians outside Maharashtra if this was not so.
But there is also a large body of knowledge on the contributions of immigrants to the life and economy and culture of the places they move to, that is, the places where these outsiders set up home. The United States certainly knows this truth. That is why, in spite of anti-immigration diatribes by a host of public figures (one good example is the daily dose of pouting anger about outsiders that CNN viewers have to put up with from programmers like Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck), the government , with pressure from the IT industry, from the universities, from small and large business owners, has quietly continued to let hundreds of thousands of migrants into the country as well as has often turned an almost blind eye on those immigrants who have come in through less clear-cut legal means.
This is because the U.S. , the huge anti-outsider biases in its foreign policy notwithstanding, knows that at the domestic levels, outsiders accounts for a large share of the economic, technical, scientific and cultural advances that the country continues to make, advances that countries with more restrictive policies, such as Japan and some parts of Europe, are losing out on big time. This is hardly surprising. Migrants, whether they come because they have been pushed out by the desperate circumstances of their places of origin, or pulled in because of the attractions of the place of destination, are usually the most productive part of the sending or receiving population – in terms of being able-bodied or skilled or just plain motivated. That is, they are rarely net dependents of the place they move to; they give more than they take. A large social science research literature attests to this intuitive truth.
Just as one can imagine the economy of the US coming to a grinding halt if all foreigners are asked to leave, the Sena leadership should do the mental exercise of imagining the economic and social situation of a Maharashtra populated only by Maharashtrians. The legal and moral questionability of such a situation apart, purely pragmatic considerations demand an openness to outsiders, even if they seem strange and different and not sufficiently docile.
And the economy is only one part of the absolutely essential contribution that outsiders make. There is so much more. A confident and thriving society and culture develops and survives not when it is left to its own secluded devices, but when it throws open its doors. Even if some ambiguous elements creep in when this happens, on the whole, at the risk of sounding sentimental, I would go with the repeatedly mouthed but rarely acted on statements of two of the otherwise vastly different leaders of modern India, Gandhi and Tagore.
"I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible."
"…Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
…Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake".
It would be much more useful and much more self-serving in the long run for those Maharashtrians who support the demonizing of outsiders by the various branches of the Shiv Sena/MNS to concentrate instead on raising the level of the challenge that Marathi manoos can pose to outsiders, not through crude physical bullying (which, in any case, it is shameful that they can even threaten to do in a country which supposedly subscribes to the rule of law – their boldness on this only goes to show how easily even the keepers of the law have bought into this myth of wounded Marathi pride) but by investing in the kind of education and skills that make the crowds of poor, dispossessed Maharashtrians get the jobs, start the industries and own the businesses that they now resent outsiders for ‘taking’ from them.
Even better will be an investment in then encouraging many of these trained and confident Maharashtrians to find and grow the wings that will take them to distant places to themselves become the outsiders that can also flourish away from home. When they do this, they will be able to spread the ideals and the vibrant culture as well as the eccentricities of Maharashtra to these new places. And, most marvelous of all, they will discover that language and religion and state and national boundaries are meant to be pushed because in this wonderful place called the world, there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ Maharashtrian or a pure anything for that matter and to want to be a pure anything is to become a frog in the well and miss out on all the pleasures and pains that come with going headlong into the unfamiliar.