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Bihari Migrants in Mumbai

Project Participants: 

Jyoti Verma , Ph. D (formerUniversity Professor of Psychology, Patna University, India)

Contact e-mail address: vermaj46@gmail.com

Bihari Migrants in Mumbai

Jyoti Verma , Ph.D

The study had a three fold objective namely, studying the local people’s ‘representations’ of the Bihari migrants, addressing to some ‘collective identity’ issues of the migrants and exploring the ‘reasons’ behind the deterioration in the relationship between the Bihari migrants and the local people of Mumbai. The main sample comprised of 307 people (152 Bihari migrants and 155 local people of Mumbai), plus 50 respondents distributed into 8 focus groups, (4 to be run in each regional group), and8 Bihari and 9 Marathi people who were interviewed. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used for data collection whose results appear under the following four heads:

1.   Bihari People as Migrants

The Bihari sample of the present study was a prototypical example of poor, less educated, male wage earners, who left their homes due to lesser job opportunities and poverty. These people were helped by relatives, acquaintances and fellow villagers to arrive in Mumbai and find a job. The average monthly income of the migrants’ was close to Rs. 6,600 and annual less than Rs. 80, 000 however; on the average the migrants could send home around Rs. 2,500 each month. The remittance money did well for all and was utilized for food, medical facilities, children’s education and marriage, paying loans, farming, and repairing and making house.

2.   The Socially Constructed Image of the Bihari Migrants

The local people’s representation of the Bihari migrants was a gestalt that resulted from feeling of anger towards the migrants because they left lesser job opportunities for them and brought pressure on the basic amenities of the city. It also included annoyance that the life style of the migrants lacked social etiquette, they showed certain unacceptable streaks in their personality, and got involved in antisocial activities. However, the positive patch in this image was that Biharis were hard working and relationship orientated.

The empirically extracted dimensions of the Bihari migrants’ socially constructed image presented them as simple, modest, and tolerant people who were sensitive towards other’s feelings.  On the other hand, the local people perceived them as clever, practical and fearless individuals who were law breakers and unconfident about their self and couldn’t be trusted. Moreover, as a regional group the migrants appeared unsophisticated and discontented people.

A Comparison between the Perceptions of the Two Groups

 In comparison to the local people, Biharis rated themselves significantly more highly on certain positive attributes such as simple, modest, tolerant, helpful and trustworthy people who were respectful and sensitive towards others’ feelings but also lazy, timid and unconfident of themselves. On the other hand, Marathi people perceived them as greedy, unreliable, dishonest people who violated law, were unreliable, cunning, selfish, fraud, quarrelsome, and jugadi  plus desirous of becoming rich anyhow.

Moreover, Biharis were perceived as people who didn’t work without pressure, bribed for work, harmed others’ work and blamed others for their own fault but helped their own community people. As persons, Marathi people found them rustic, sweet talkers and people with poor dress and civic sense. Contradictions appeared in the impressions of the two groups on a couple of  occasions when the local people  found the Bihari migrants hard working while the migrants’ rated them selves as lazy.  Similarly, the local people perceived a strong streak of dominance in the migrants which stood in contradiction with their self rating of being timid persons. It could be said that the socially constructed image of the Bihari migrants contained more of negative elements and was a reflection of the local respondents’ negative attitude towards them.

The factors extracted from the combined ratings of both the groups reconfirmed that Biharis were modest people who were sensitive towards other’s feelings plus individuals having low civic sense and rustic ways. However, the negative side of their image depicted them as dishonest and law violators, who wanted to become rich any how and were jugadi. The t test results suggested that the migrants had self categorized themselves significantly more highly on all the factors than the local people barring the one named ‘jugadi’ on which the groups did not differ.

Bihari People’s Perception of the Martahi People

The Bihari migrants’ perception of the local people could be studied only through the focus group discussions and interviews. It appeared that the migrants generally held a positive opinion about the Marathi people and found them nice, caring, cooperative and helpful people who were achievers, financially stable, and hard working. The associations with the word ‘Marathi’ reiterated their good qualities and added that they were generous, adjustable, empowered, and politically sound people. The few ‘bad’ things about the Marathi people included their dislike (chidh) for the migrants and job insecurity with the employer. It was heard that Marathis were selfish and the uneducated among them were ‘crooks’. Similarly, the rich locals showed dominance, held an attitude of hatred, were discriminatory towards the migrants and were political in nature.

3.   Collective Identity Issues

Factors extracted from the migrants’ own self ratings gave an idea of the migrants’ shared basis of collective identity. The migrants strongly endorsed that they were simple and modest people who were sensitive towards others’ feelings. Moreover they described themselves as timid, rustic, and trustworthy individuals who believed in confirmatory behavior. However, the other face of their self description made them appear as law violators and quarrelsome, unreliable and unsure about their self but nevertheless practical. To this description they added being loud and lazy and having low civic sense.

Coming to the formation, indicators and feelings of collective identity the results confirmed that doing day to day activities together, sharing similar fears, pain and pleasure with the fellow Biharis, promoted bonding and helped in forming a collective.   Regarding the indicators, the migrants affirmed that they were able to share a strong collective identity, liked to be addressed as ‘Biharis’, felt more close in heart with each other and felt strongly attached to their ‘Bihari’ name. Furthermore, they were able to meet their social support needs by identifying with their regional group but their feeling of happiness and courage to face their tormentors remained unaffected by this collective identity.  

4.   Reasons for the Deterioration in Relationship

Reasons Given by the Local People

According to the qualitative data the reasons behind the deterioration in the relationship between the two groups had to do with the migrants being job snatchers, and the pressure they created on the basic amenities of Mumbai. Some subtle reasons included dislike for certain personal characteristics, behaviour and habits of the Bihari people; while some apprehended that the migrants presented a threat to the Marathi culture by continuing their own traditions and regionalism.

Reasons Given by the Bihari Migrants

According to the migrants being considered job taker and low wage workers plus building up of pressure on the basic amenities of the city, were the prominent reasons behind the deterioration in the relationship between the two groups. The Biharis submitted that having been attributed certain negative personal attributes as a regional group, perceived as displaying socially unacceptable behaviors, considered being involved in anti-social activities and having ethnocentric orientation, were some other reasons behind the relationship problem.

 Furthermore, it was suggested that Biharis affected the Maharashtrian culture, took advantage of the Marathi people, and lacked good communication skills which negatively affected relationships. Moreover, politicians were made responsible for escalating the problem and Biharis saw themselves as politically inclined people which were perhaps not good for their relationship with the local people.  Strangely, only a few descriptions indicated that the Bihari migrants’ were ill treated by the local people or it was because of the Marathi people’s negative attitude and unkind gestures that the relationship between the two groups was worsening. 

An Impression of the Reasons Given by Both the Group

Taken in totality reduced employment options for the local people was one of the main reasons for the deterioration in the relationship between the two regional groups. Other common reasons were negative behavioural characteristics of the Bihari people, pressure created by the migrants on the basics amenities of the city, politics and political leaders plus culture pollution and linguistic conflicts, etc.  Interestingly both the groups considered ethnocentric orientation of the Bihari people behind the relationship problem.

Difficulty in Interpreting the Self Accusatory Reasons Given by the Bihari Migrants

It is difficult to interpret the observations when a group points out towards its own negative characteristics and behaviours and considers these as responsible for the deterioration in the relationship between them and the other group. It may be said that the Bihari migrants probably recognized some of their characteristics and behaviours and feared that these could adversely affect relationship with the local people. One also wonders as to why the Biharis would project them selves as responsible for capturing the local amenities of Mumbai? On explanation could be that they were conscious about the pressure created by their huge presence on the infra structure of Mumbai and therefore, couldn’t help identifying with the local people’s anger and hatred.

            Probably the migrants identified with the socially constructed negative image of them represented by the local people who disliked them, or may be they were projecting what the local people seemed to believe were the reasons behind the worsening of the relationship between their groups. It was not heard often that the migrants’ defended themselves against being called job snatcher, disagreed that their rang-dhang was responsible for the problems, and that the local people were unkind and ungenerous towards them. Kumar (2009) and Sanghavi (2008) give thought to the assertion of the cultural superiority and display of aversion towards the unsophisticated Biharis and explicate that this could be an expression of a particular form of deep prejudices of the so called superior, urban, upper caste, and middle classes against a group whom they did not find good enough.


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