Violence on the sub-continent

By Cam Cotton-O'Brien

Sadly, the fevered rumours of violence in India are not just the fantasies of malarial dreams. They are the all-too-real reports resulting from a rapidly-industrializing state’s struggles with development and the desperately impoverished that are being left out.

Maharshtra is the most economically viable state in India. Home to Mumbai (Bombay), it is also rapidly becoming one of the cruelest. There has been a trend in India of late whereby migrant workers from the shockingly impoverished states of the sub-continent are being attacked by the locals. The reason is that, though India’s economy continues its relentless march towards industrial-wealth, most of the Indian population remains mired in some of the worst living conditions and biggest slums on the planet.

It is understandable that people living in massively underdeveloped regions of India want to move to cities like Mumbai to improve their situation. There are areas in India where there is very little work to be had. The problem is that the pilgrimage to Mumbai doesn’t always–perhaps doesn’t usually–lead to an escape from poverty. What it does do is exacerbate a problem of overcrowding that has already reached unfathomable levels.

The frustration underlying this campaign of fear, carried out by those who perceive migrant workers as a burden and a threat, is apparent. Despite there being many opportunities for success in the areas of India experiencing the greatest growth, such as Mumbai, there are simply far too many people for the needs of the masses to be satisfied. While I was in Mumbai this past summer the most striking thing for me was the disparity between the rich and the poor. It was more than anything I had ever seen because, although we certainly have the type of wealth to put a Bentley dealership on a corner in the west, we do not have the type of poverty that will put a begging leper on the street a block away.

The reason this escalating trend of violence is so disturbing is because of who it is directed against. In a situation such as this, it could be readily understood if the target was the government, but when it is other, desperate citizens of the country, there is a much more intense and urgent cause for concern. The perpetrators of these attacks have, due to short-sighted rage and despair, decided to take it out on the people immigrating to their areas instead of those who might have a chance at actually changing the situation. This is an absurd tactic that points to monumental problems to be addressed.

It indicates a base and irrational fear and bewilderment that has not progressed to any sort of clear idea of how to actually solve the problem, or even recognize who has the capacity to make an attempt at doing so. Obviously, in a situation where people are fleeing to Mumbai in droves, they must be leaving some abominable economic deprivation behind. Not only are they abandoning their families (though continuing to send money back to them), they are living in the heat and squalor of one of the most cramped cities on the planet, often in the slums or on the streets. Thus, it is apparent that there is substantial reason for doing so and that the problem cannot be solved by directing abuse at them.

Legitimate (non-violent) agitation should be directed against the government, not against the immigrants fleeing their hopelessly poor homes. Attacking them accomplishes little. The crowding of cities like Mumbai is such that these assaults, even if they stopped some immigration and even drove some people out, would not be able to solve the problem. Beyond that, the basic conditions in Mumbai would still, due to the huge social divide there, force the poor to live in disgraceful conditions.

These disturbing trends are also indicative of India’s largest social problem, the interminable disparity between the various groups. Though the caste system has been officially abandoned, rigorous differences between social classes are still observable. This problem is exacerbated by religious tensions in the country, which have also resulted in violent attacks and murder.

All things considered, it is not difficult to see how this sort of distressing situation has come about. It must be realized, though, that attacking fellow countrymen will not serve to reduce the problems that people are facing. The only institution that can be appealed to is the government, which for its part needs to assume the hefty task of mitigating the rigid social structure of India and attempting to ease tensions between the various factions, religious or otherwise.

It is no easy responsibility to assume, but there seems no choice–India has already begun to rip itself apart.

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