Appams in Lucknow?

Written by  //  September 7, 2010  //  Economic & Social Policy  //  5 Comments

A guest post by Sakshi Gupta

I always look forward to the latest that Indian advertising has to offer on all my visits back home.  I find the ad break to be miles ahead of the main programming content both in terms of entertainment value and information on the state of the nation. This time, apart from the usual slew of kids spouting the virtues of toothpaste and mutual funds alike, I saw a new story – of four young people, from four different small towns in India, migrating to small towns in other parts of the country.

While I cannot claim to speak for small cities and towns all over India, when I was growing up in Lucknow in the nineties, migration was definitely a one way street. The only ‘outsiders’ we knew were the few government officers who were posted here. Otherwise, it was a fairly unchanging, homogenous community.  My single-minded ambition, and that of most of my classmates from school, was to find our way out of the dead-end that Lucknow seemed to us.  This ambition pervaded almost all parts of the society – from the poorest labourer to the most prosperous businessman.  No one ever seemed to want to migrate to the city, and it is not difficult to imagine why – the stiflingly conservative and corrupt atmosphere really had nothing much to offer.

The much celebrated process of liberalization in India had started in the 90s, but change was still ten years away from Lucknow.  From 2002 onwards, each time I came back home from University on vacation, there was something new in the city – a mall, a multiplex, an international bank, a new car showroom. These appeared at the time to be very superficial changes, which altered little more than the city’s already tortured skyline.

The impact of these changes is easy to see now. While most middle class families still aspire to send their children to Delhi or to other metros after their schooling, the new jobs that have been created in the city are being filled by a workforce drawn from two channels: immigrants from outside the state, and local residents (particularly women) who were either earlier not a part of the workforce at all, or were employed as domestic help (more on this second category in a later post).

So far, the number of immigrants is still low enough to inspire only some curiosity, and large scale reactionary responses of the kind seen in Mumbai and Bangalore in recent times have not occurred. However, while these are early days yet, I believe that the nature of migration here is fundamentally different from that seen by larger and more prosperous urban centres in other parts of the country, and accordingly the experience with immigration is likely to be markedly different as well.  I have a few ideas on why this is likely:

Lack of a strong state identity in UP: The states that have seen the greatest opposition to immigration from other regions have had strong regional identities with linguistic and cultural pride as the cornerstone.  In Maharashtra for instance, the ‘Marathi Manoos’ has an overarching identity, that goes beyond the fault-lines of caste, sub-caste or dialect. In UP, on the other hand, identities are highly fractured. Identification on the basis of the membership of a gotra, sub-caste, caste or village is so strong, that there is no room for a state-wide identity. The ‘immigrant outsider’ is not seen to militate against a common identity in the same way as in Karnataka or Maharashtra.

Politics of cronyism: Following on from the point above, among the existing residents, power is derived from the membership of a caste or sub-caste, and links with other powerful members (politicians, policemen, high ranking civil servants) of the same sub-group. In a state known for its absence of good governance and law and order, social capital plays an extremely prominent role. Who you know is the primary determinant of what you can get done. The immigrant, who usually does not have these deep rooted links, is accordingly not viewed as a threat by the local community.

Immigrants viewed as apolitical and trustworthy: The other rather unusual factor that could come to the aid of the immigrant is the existence of the ‘positive stereotype’.  Existing side by side with ridicule for unfamiliar religious, cultural and linguistic traits, there is also a grudging respect and trust for the outsider. Put another way, distrust for the familiar is so great, that it becomes easy for the locals to repose trust in the immigrant. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a local businessman would feel much more at ease if his file goes to a Bengali or South Indian government officer than a local man. These positive stereotypes that have existed in the minds of the people for decades since independence are hard to dispel, and this could work in favour of greater acceptance for the immigrants.

Economic profile of immigrants: The last factor that makes the nature of immigration here different from that seen by other parts of the country is the economic profile of the immigrant. Migration from UP and Bihar to Maharashtra and Karnataka is often linked with poverty and distress of the migrants in their home state. The jobs taken up by these migrants are on the unskilled and poorly paid end of the spectrum, and the resentment from locals who also aspire to a share of this small and dear pie is high. In marked contrast, the inward immigration to UP has occurred mainly to fill a local skill-deficit, and immigrants have tended to occupy managerial posts in large companies and banks.

Enough print space has been taken up by the benefits of immigration in Indian and international journals, and I do not propose to revisit those arguments in this piece.  I am also acutely aware that it has been easy enough in the past to incite ill will towards a single minority group in the past and make them scapegoats for all real and perceived ills of the local community. This has been true of UP as of other places, and each of the factors that I have mentioned above may be quickly neutralized by a single wave of irrational hatred. Nevertheless, this scenario is not likely currently and I hope, as reverse migration into Lucknow and other urban centres in UP picks up pace, it remains free of such irrational hatred owing to UP’s perception of immigrants and their place in society.

5 Comments on "Appams in Lucknow?"

  1. Anupama Hebbar September 9, 2010 at 8:21 am ·

    Sakshi,
    Good post. I am not entirely convinced on the point about regional identity though. Migration (especially in to Bangalore – both from rural areas in Karnataka and from other states) has resulted in a great strain on the State’s resources. Bangalore lacks the infrastructure to accommodate 6 million inhabitants (as I am sure you agree after the countless traffic jams and overflowing drains we have seen!). This, I believe, has led to the forging of a highly politicised Kannadiga identity – with no disrespect to Kannada’s rich heritage. Given that political and legal battles are fought on religious /cultural rather than economic grounds, it appears to me that language/region is perceived as a more legitimate tool to fight the increasing number of rich young ‘north  indians’ in the city. The politicians see this as an opportunity to garner votes based on misplaced regional loyalties and to distract the public from yet another unfinished underpass.  Dig a little deeper and all that most people resent is the lack of jobs and the longer lines at MTR! For the same reasons, I also tend to disbelieve (with no authority whatsoever other than having lived in Mumbai), the overarching identity of the Marathi Manoos. The legitimacy of economic stress as a grouse against migration (versus the fundamental right to free movement within the country) is a topic for another day I guess.

  2. Alok September 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm ·

    One aspect of the “nativist” feeling in Bangalore and Bombay (the “new” names sound wrong in English, just as “Bangalore” or “Bombay” sound wrong in Kannada and Marathi) has to do with language. There’s a sense (quite justified) that local languages, with their rich culture, heritage and history are getting buried under because of the presence of a large number of immigrants who 1. Don’t know the local language and 2. Assume they don’t need to know the language because they already know a “national language”.

    As a Bangalorean, I think its great that my city attracts hard-working young men and women from across the country, increasing its national and global profile and making the city more cosmopolitan. Any effort to stop this on purely parochial grounds should be roundly condemned. But, really, would it kill the techies from UP and Bihar to learn a little more Kannada than just “swalpa adjust maadi”?

  3. Alok September 9, 2010 at 6:47 pm ·

    Also, those who think migration is a strain on a city’s resources etc. forget that cities, despite being entirely man made, grow organically. Cities don’t grow in neat increments according to well laid out formulae, and it is probably helpful to think of traffic jams and shortages as the sort of growing pains teenagers complain of. Not that we shouldn’t do anything about it, but the solution lies not in turning back the clock but accepting the reality of migration and planning accordingly.

  4. Sakshi Gupta September 10, 2010 at 6:55 am ·

    Thanks Anupama and Alok.

    Anupama: I accept that the identities of the Kannadiga and the Marathi Manoos have been constructed in part as a response to immigration and the resulting stresses. The point, however, is that in UP a regional identity may prove to be more difficult to construct, because language and region are not as powerful as rallying factors as they may have been in other parts of the country. Division on grounds of caste and community are so firmly entrenched that it would be difficult for a parochial group to unite these disparate groups under a single umbrella of language and regional chauvinism in opposition to the immigrants.

    Alok: I couldn’t agree more with the point that that civic infrastructure needs to keep pace with the needs of growing cities. In the face of unresponsive and corrupt governments that cannot be bothered to invest in infrastructure, immigrants are easy scapegoats for problems faced by the existing residents.

  5. Harini September 12, 2010 at 3:42 pm ·

    I think with regard to the situation in Bangalore mirrored in a few other states it is also a problem that the migrants refuse to learn. In my three years at NLS I have not even seen one north Indian classmate attempt to learn Kannada whereas I know that all my friends in DU who don’t know Hindi pick it up. While I concede that you can get by with English and Hindi in Bangalore and there is no necessity to learn kannada at least one should try.

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