The exodus of Biharis from Gujarat was caused by the entire community in the state being tarred with a single brush because one migrant worker may have been guilty of rape. This form of racism/provincialism discriminating against anyone not a “son of the soil” is a sad commentary on our society, which hasn’t matured beyond caste, community and state of origin feelings. It stands to reason that if there’s a criminal among people who has committed a despicable crime like rape, the individual should be targeted, brought to book and made to pay the penalty. To mistreat an entire community over one criminal is to indulge in a terrible form of tribalism that has no place in modern society, that too in a nation that swears by democracy and the right to move freely across state borders for jobs, education, business, etc.
The comment of the senior police officer who tried to gloss over the exodus of several hundred Biharis by saying they were just going home to celebrate the coming festivals is despicable. The officer should have been the first to reassure the migrant community, offer them protection and convince them not to surrender to pressure. His forces should have been hunting for those who threatened Biharis and caused the panic or even held them in captivity, as some have reportedly been. Action should be taken to fix the guilt on those who used the situation politically to drive the wedge further. If the state was seen to be taking firm action against the guilty, it would send a clear message that the law must be respected and adhered to.
There are states in India whose traditional agricultural activities can’t support waves of succeeding generations. Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and many states in the Northeast are known for economic migrants who move all over India in search of work, with the less qualified seeking construction jobs while the others explore the trade and services sectors. The idea of India will be threatened or demolished by these mass movements back home for safety, as we saw in the case of people from the Northeast leaving South India on mere rumours spread deliberately to cause panic. Huge preferences in education and jobs for “sons of the soil” aren’t supported by the laws governing the nation. Truth to tell, political movements and parties have thrived on stoking “Bhumiputra” sentiments and built themselves into strong positions in the fabric of India’s national life. The fear of jobs being taken away by locals is part of the larger problem of why “outsiders” are sometimes targeted. It is the duty of governments not to allow such sentiments to harden into an upheaval and an exodus born out of fear. The idea of one India is too precious to be frittered away.