The issue of ‘migrants’ and ‘immigrants’, whether legal or illegal, has dominated the discourses in the social media and the newspapers in recent weeks, especially after some unfortunate incidents. While the discussions have been heavily biased towards a pledge to gouge out illegal immigrants(which hardly happens), I would like us to rethink on some of the benefits of having migrants and while at the same time deliberate on how to abate it. For our information, migrants are those who come for a period of time whereas immigrants are those who settle down permanently.
While discussing about migrants, let’s first take a re-look of the history of Dimapur. History reminds us that the original inhabitants were mainly kacharis who had their capital at Dimapur. Today, Dimapur is populated by many Naga tribes including migrants mainly from both Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Manipur, Rajasthan, Punjab and our neighbouring country Bangladesh. Whether the migrants are legal or illegal, I believe, is hardly our business. Our main concern should be how useful or harmful they are for our society.
Dimapur became a small town during the British rule with businessmen being mostly Marwaris and Bengalis. The trend still continues and the major businesses are still controlled by outsiders which today has become the talking point of many Nagas. Let us remember, however, that these businessmen had to work under duress for a long time facing threats and demands from multiple revolutionaries. They somehow kept Dimapur from turning back to the early days of jungles and wastelands. Many of us remember that Dimapur, even in the 1990s, was still a small town with hardly any building worth the name. Even businessmen from outside were afraid to invest lest they become the target of Naga insurgents. In the midst of that, the migrant workers persevered. The ceasefire agreement between Naga Insurgents and Govt. of India had changed the dynamics to such an extent that Dimapur today is comparable to cities like Imphal, Dibrugarh, Siliguri etc.
Migrants as a whole, bring in new ideas and fill up the gaps where we are still wanting. Infact, throughout the world, we see that it is the migrant community who brings in substantial positive changes to the economy and society. For example, in Dimapur district, the Bangladeshis were the one who introduced many new ways of work even in the field of agriculture or architecture. They helped replace the old way of thrashing the grain harvest by hand with that by buffalos. Besides, they are the ones who open up shops including pharmacies in remote areas providing very useful services.
The issue that worries most of us is “Bangladeshi immigrants”. If the problem is of their illegality, then that’s the problem of India and Assam to handle. Now, as for their dominance in trade in most districts of Nagaland and their permanent settlement, whom shall we blame? Aren’t they the go-to-man for all the works that we don’t want to do? Infact, we prefer them because unlike Naga workers, we can underpay and get away with it. The ‘uprisings’ against them in various towns, I believe, is just a sham. They are here to stay as long as we are not willing to do our own works. Infact, we should be grateful to them for doing most of the works which we were not able to do-at death cheap rates. They have ‘built’ up not only Dimapur but also the whole of Nagaland. If we feel threatened, bullying will not do. We have to just start learning to do our own work. If local people can be cobblers and Masons in Aizawl and Churachandpur, or for that matter open up tailoring shops and saloons, why can’t we? Why do the little shops or businesses that we do have to be over expensive or why do the local Auto drivers have to over-charge? The problem of migrants taking away all our business is our own doing.
As mentioned earlier, Talks about chasing away migrants and immigrants, especially those considered ‘illegal’ keep surfacing time to time not only from Dimapur but also from other districts. There is a general tendency here in Nagaland to look down on people categorised as migrants. What name may we give to Nagas who go outside to cities like shillong, Guwahati, Kolkata, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai etc. to study or to work? Are they tourist! Infact, when one looks at Naga history even within Nagaland, we are one of those heavily migratory groups shifting from one village to another or one village to town be it from Khonoma to Medziphema or from Zunheboto to Niuland. Most of us staying in Dimapur ourselves are migrants! Thus, migration is a universal fact starting from pre-history where people are always on the lookout for greener pastures. We live in a world where exclusivist mentality no longer holds ground. A person is a migrant one time or the other in his life. Thus the mentality of looking down on migrants should change.
However, there are areas we need to be deeply cautious. The probability of immigrants changing the demography of the state especially Dimapur, is a serious matter. Enrolling them in electoral rolls will have a severe consequences in the future as far as the political and social structure of the state is concerned.
The way forward is not about creating hatred and antagonism against them and it is not Christian to campaign their deportation. We might help ourselves and posterity tremendously with us ‘lazy people’ doing our own work and having political foresight.
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr Hewasa Lorin, Nungchim Christopher, Seyiesilie Vupru, Vikono Krose and Kvulo Lorin. Portrait photographer: Rhilo Mero. For feedback or comments please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.