Daily Archives: 7 March 2010

How Indian media gets migration story wrong

KIRAN RAO BATNI writes: There is a popular misconception among some big-city people—especially among those who work for multinational companies and the English media in cities such as Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi—that India is basically a country of nomads, i.e. people who have no other business in life but to migrate from place to place, even from one linguistic state to another.

This misconception drives them to an Idea of India in which languages like Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Bengali are of near-zero importance, since people are anyway assumed to be nomads who go from one linguistic State to another (that Hindi is assumed to be some sort of universal language in India is something I won’t dwell on here, but it’s a disease in some Indians which works together with this misconception to corrupt the real, beautiful, vibrant and diverse India).

In addition, systems of education, governance and employment at the India level are basically built for migrants (that too, Hindi speakers); natives are simply regarded as “less Indian”.

I have argued elsewhere that this is the exact opposite of what ought to be.

So let’s look at the facts of migration in India. The hard facts. The hard-to-digest facts.

I took Census 2001 migration data and did some basic arithmetic to arrive at how many Indians stay put in the village or town of birth, in the district of birth, and finally in the State of birth. Normalized to every 1,000 Indians, the data looks like this (note that an error of 1 here is an error of 1 million, but the graphs do their job of illustrating the main point I’d like to make):

That is, for every 1,000 Indians questioned by the Census, 953 were born in the same State.

That is, they are not migrants from another state.

Simlarly, 878 out of 1,000 were born in the same district in which they were questioned. And finally, 701 out of 1,000 were born in the same village or town in which they were questioned—these are folks who haven’t migrated even within their own district!

The foregoing should offer sufficient evidence that India is not a country of nomads—we don’t migrate like nomads do. It should also offer sufficient reason to not build systems of education, governance and employment for migrants at the cost of natives. It should also offer sufficient discouragement to those people (including in the Government of India) who believe that Indian languages other than Hindi don’t characterize India.

But to drive home the point a bit more, here’s another graph which plots the actual number of inter-state “migrants” in India in comparison with “natives”. Note that a migrant here is a migrant crossing a State border, which is most often a border between two States which speak different languages; similarly, a native is a person born in the state of enumeration:

From what I know, children in kindergarten can recognize which bar is higher. It is not rocket science to decide which one should form the centre of policy attention at New Delhi. But, to put it somewhat humbly, New Delhi seems to have other plans.

Isn’t it time the folks who sit in New Delhi and run India, as well as some of our big-city friends, went back to kindergarten?