It is a sad reflection of our parochial and divisive times that even the horrendous rape of a toddler blew up into an unwanted and avoidable politically polarising issue in Gujarat. Worked up over the crime against the child, members of her community chose to direct their angst on the whole migrant community to which the accused belonged rather than securing justice for the victim. The episode was played out following the rape of a Thakor girl, allegedly by a migrant worker from Bihar on September 28. Over the next few days, thousands of workers from Bihar and UP were forced to flee the state as vigilante groups, one allegedly led by Congress legislator Alpesh Thakor, took the law into their hands and unleashed a spree of revengeful attacks on the migrants.
It is imperative that the state government quells the atmosphere of fear and hate and woos back the workers, who have done no wrong and are rightfully earning their livelihood in Gujarat. In fact, some of them are second-generation residents and as native as the nativist Thakor. It is shameful, indeed, that Indians moving to other states endure the same discrimination and racism that accompanies them when they migrate to another country. Instances of such divisive forces have raised their monstrous heads in Maharashtra and Karnataka, especially against the poorer sections.
There is another layer intricately embedded into the thinly-veiled antagonism ready to erupt at the slightest provocation: that of joblessness. The scant regard by the locals for the cheap, but invaluable, contributions rendered by migrants from northern states in Gujarat’s onward march to industrialisation is a byproduct of the growing restlessness of youth, increasingly staring into a future with sparse job prospects. Until their energy is harnessed with productive activity, they will be putty in the hands of politicians on the prowl seeking ways to build vote banks by fanning parochialism. Surely, our Gujarati PM, representing Varanasi, would not want an exodus of UPites from Gujarat; especially when in 2014, these migrants were the best ambassadors of Gujarat’s success story.