October 29, 2008
Mumbai The papers in India were quick to report the latest news from the World Urban Habitat report 2008 report on cities indicating that by 2025, just 17 years, three of the ten largest cities in the world will be in India with Mumbai in the #2 slot, Delhi at #3, and Kolkata still holding onto #8, though 40% larger. Mumbai and Delhi will both pass 25 million residents with only Tokyo being larger and both moving past Mexico and Sao Paulo to claim their positions.
With more than half of India’s residents now living in cities for the first time, all of this is based on a continued trend of in migration from the countryside into the presumed job centers of the urban mass. The richer cities acting like magnets to suck in migrants from the poorer states.
Despite the sophistication and urbanity of Bombay, there is a deadly tension centered on such migration, which is now the center of all news and much conversation due to the gang of 7 or 8 Marathi-speaking men (from the state of Maharashtra where Mumbai is located) beating of three Biharis leading to the death of one 25-year old worker on the train as they returned home for the Diwali festival. This violence is seen as a direct result of the anti-North campaign started by the somewhat shadowy and bizarre politician, Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a far right organization that has spurred the growth here of the communalist party, the BJP, often seen as central to the religious killings based on their Hindu-first movement and intolerance of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and others. Thackeray is notorious in the west for a long profile he offered in the New Yorker that seemed to paint him as virtually a mafia don with weird habits and dangerous beliefs.
His son on the front pages of the paper in reaction to the killing blamed Bihari politicians for not doing a better job of creating jobs and business opportunities in Bihar. Not a word was said of the tragic death.
A poll on CNN/IBN of listeners reported that 60% were afraid to take a position that Raj Thackeray was totally off base and embarrassing all of Mumbai.
All of this is the US equivalent of having a KKK leader or someone of that stripe with significant political power and a ruthless willingness and ability to enflame the worst sentiments and fears around jobs and direct them at others.
Migration and immigration are hot button issues that somehow managed not to be central in the US election this year, but an incident like the killing in Mumbai brings home the desperate human rights issues that lie behind these fierce economic drives to work and survive. We need laws that reconcile these issues and real protections in a lot of places around the world. If not, there are Raj Thackeray’s in lots of countries, not just India.