Sons of the soil were themselves outsiders

Mumbai is not the only Indian city which has been a magnet for outsiders in search of economic opportunities and the chance to make a better future for themselves. The demographic profile of most of our metropolitan cities has altered dramatically with time. In the wake of Partition, the old residents of Delhi found themselves outnumbered by the refugees from West Punjab. The Punjabi migrants, in turn, have had to make way for newcomers from UP and Bihar who today dominate East Delhi. In the municipal limits of Kolkata there are more Biharis and bhaiyas from eastern UP than Bengalis. Yet, in no other city has the majority community mounted such a shrill campaign to keep out non-locals.

The Shiv Sena, and its recent offshoot, the MNS, managed to get away with hate campaigns against non-Maharashtrians through intimidation and violence for decades. The Sena built up its party on the single point platform of blaming Mumbai's woes on the outsiders' who moved in huge numbers to India's commercial hub. Its grievance is that less than half the city's population comprises Maharashtrians. And it blames the city's rapid deterioration in terms of civic services and infrastructure on the influx of migrants.

The irony is that the Marathas who now claim special "son of the soil" status in the city were themselves outsiders who came from the hinterland only by the late 19th century. The seven islands named in honour of the goddess Mumbadevi were originally inhabited by Koli fisher folk. In the mid-16th century, the Portuguese captured the island. A century later it was handed over to the East India Company. With the British developing Bombay as a major harbour and commercial hub, it attracted a large number of Gujaratis, Parsees and Christians by the 18th century. In fact, before the division of Bombay state in 1960, there was an equal population of Gujaratis and Maharashtrians. And when Bombay state was split along linguistic lines into Gujarat and Maharashtra there was a strong argument that Bombay city should retain a special independent status and not be incorporated into either state. The Gujaratis, Parsees, Christians, Bohras, Khojas, Punjabis Sindhis and others, who played a major role in building the city's institutions, including hospitals, theatres, colleges, museums, the film industry and the stock exchange, are today made to feel like second class citizens by the Marathas. The latest migrants, who came largely from Bihar and UP, in the latter part of the 20th century have become the focus of the Sena's attack.

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