A refugee reaches a point of no return which is the eventual catalyst. Those who opine on refugees must remember this
We are born of refugee stock—parents who came across the borders with not much more than their clothes on their back, often even without any documents. There are enough people we know who, even today, want only one thing from whichever now foreign country they escaped from—a copy of their college or school certificates. Most other material or sentimental ‘things’ are forgotten, though they do stay bottled up somewhere in the sub-conscious. In most cases, modern day India has been good for the refugees in 1947, and so the benefits far outweigh the losses, and that makes up.
So when the Mumbai riots on 11 August 2012 made the news, two events stood out, which seem to have finally broken that dam:
1) The open destruction of the soldier's memorial.
2) The rabid speeches by most of the Muslim speakers.
If just saying that makes this writer an agent of Hindutava, or anti-Muslim, then let me clarify before I go ahead—there is no major religion in this country, or even in the world, which I do not have in my immediate family, and pretty much every part of India is represented therein too. And even the Muslims in my circle of family and friends are ashamed of what people did in Mumbai on 11th August. The essence is that people know who is behind this. Muslims in India, like everybody else, are not a homogeneous entity that they can be taken for granted, whether they are domestic, refugees, or migrants.
Today, if you take the trouble to go for a walkabout in the hard-core Muslim back-streets of Jama Masjid, then the word is clear—we don't want any part of this destruction, we are Indians first, and we know that peaceful co-existence is the only way we are going to get ahead, too. Word is out—this was and is not the behaviour expected of refugees, or migrants from other parts of India, or anybody. Nor is it only anti-Maharashtra, which is a point that Raj Thackeray seems to miss in his otherwise fairly well-balanced speech he gave recently at Azad Maidan. An English translation of which can be found here: (http://gauravsabnis.blogspot.in/2012/08/translating-raj-thackeray-speech.html)
Having grown up in Maharashtra, I can understand what Maharashtrian pride or ‘garv’ means, and when in Maharashtra, am proud to be part of it too. My only submission to Raj Thakeray and others who understand Maharashtrian pride, is this—please make it part of Indian pride too. After all, after 1947, my father's regiment was the Maratha Light Infantry. The Indian pride was what the ‘Ganpats’ believed in, and still believe in. And this is what I learnt at their feet.
Maharashtra as a coastal state has had wave upon wave of refugees, migrants and immigrants landing up. This is nothing new. Have they adapted? Take a look at those who have. Putting aside later date migrants—such as Parsees, Sindhis and Punjabis—would people want to research where Saraswat Brahmins came from, for example? Sure everybody has faced hardships when they landed up. The modern media options enable vast coverage on the hardships faced by refugees flowing into India—whether it is Muslims in the East (Bangladesh and Myanmar), Hindus from the West (Pakistan), Tribal people from the North (Nepal), or Tamilians of all religions in the South (Sri Lanka). We don’t get to read much about refugees from the islands (such as Maldives and Chagos/BIOT) mainly because the numbers aren’t there and our media is still unable understand that flow.
But one thing is clear—it is understood that the motivation in all cases is economics and the quality of life, though of late, it seems that the economic aspect gets more importance, at least through the outpourings of a vast variety of perception builders from across mediums. As a first generation Indian of refugee, I find that the most difficult thing to comprehend is—how do those who opine on the subject get it so wrong? For a refugee, it is all about reaching a point of no return on quality of life or even basic survival, which is the eventual catalyst, attitude also being that economic situation in the future will resolve itself somehow?
When we were growing up soon after what we could call “Refugee era version 1.0” (Partition 1947), it was drilled into our heads that we had nothing to feel sorry about, and that we had one chance at quality education and freedom—to pole vault our way to success. At that time, we sought education, of any sort—basic government schools, schools run by religious bodies or specific communities, Central schools, or even the ‘public’ schools. I would think that most of us could not afford the expensive private boarding schools, where the non-refugee elite sent their children. And if you were taunted because your clothes weren’t new, or your cycle was a hand-me-down, or your books were “second-hand” or your school sweater/blazer weren’t of the correct sort, well hey, you didn’t bring those fights home. You resolved them. And you worked for better marks too.
We didn’t have a “native place” to go to on vacations, but we had relatives re-settled after 1947 in places as diverse such as Calcutta, Bombay, Ujjain, Cuttack, Delhi, Rohtak, Dhanbad, Muradnagar, Simla, Poona, Jabalpur and far-away Ootacumund (Ooty). This was in addition to holidays spent at other army “family stations”. By the time we had entered our teens, we, as refugees, typically travelled the length and breadth of the country while our non-refugee friends had often seldom been out of their home towns.
The big lesson we learnt as refugees—we merged with the environment, we lived with it and we shared the benefits. We did not try to super-impose whatever could have been considered “our way of life” which we had left behind. Simple—our parents and grandparents had left that “way of life” behind because it was not working out for them. Is it anybody’s case that the typical 1947 refugee did not have orthodox grandparents, who would have loved to continue their ways in the new environs, called India?
Sure, the non-refugees had more clothes and the ladies in their family had far more jewellery than we could ever aspire to own. Their family heirlooms and histories went back generations while our heritages were memories of lush wheat or paddy fields in stories told at night by grand-parents. But one thing that was drilled into us in every which was this—that you are in no way inferior to anybody just because you are refugees, and there is no room for self-pity either.
So, I had uncles and aunts who didn’t know a word of spoken English or Hindi and the women wore the purdah/ghunghat, when they arrived in India as youngsters in 1947. Their language of instruction in West Punjab being Urdu but they nevertheless went on to excel in their professions globally only by the sheer dint of repeated exhortations and support from amazing sources. One would work part-time in shops (a nuclear scientist in the US after graduating from IIT), bind books (a very senior person Indian Air Force and Indian Army), learn maths and English till late at night from a very helpful South Indian neighbour in Karol Bagh (reputed architect and city planner in the US). Of course, there were plenty of doctors, engineers and teachers—professions which helped refugees pole vault over society positioned barriers. This was across the board with others from the “Refugee Era 1.0”.
We were simply not allowed to feel sad or miserable. I still remember Jawaharlal Nehru speaking to the refugees, across the road from where I live, in Lajpat Nagar, when he spoke to the effect of—you are the future, you have to work hard to rebuild the country, and be happy while doing it. Especially when I see Afghan refugees of all sorts, re-settled at Lajpat Nagar, catching up on life without much ado and certainly without self-pity, I see the spirit of “Refugee Era 1.0” alive and kicking.
Why is it that for the rest, the submission of the media, mostly that the modern refugee needs pity and some sort of special status? Don’t we understand—the reason refugees are here is because they want to improve their quality of life and in some cases, want to be alive. They don’t want our pity; they just want access to the basics, and with just that as well as half a chance, will be able to re-build their lives, as good or even better than those who were relocated in 1947.
As an article for a magazine devoted to money and life, I submit—strong economies are built around repeated waves of fresh refugees, or migrants, and giving them the opportunity to claw their way up. By challenging the existing inertia levels they inject fresh energy into the system, through various means. Let them come to India, allow them come to Maharashtra, but move them out of the refugee camps, free board and lodging kind of ‘economic’ solutions, and not stop them from evolving upwards. Spread them over the country. This new blood and fresh energy. And most importantly, make it very clear to them, they need to adapt to the new environment and not expect that the environment change for them. If they liked their previous environment so much, then they can always go back.
After all, as refugee children from version 1.0, the Tarana- e-Hindi by Allama Iqbal was what we were taught to sing, and in its not so famous verse it also asks:
Ae Aab-e-Rood-e-Ganga! Woh Din Hain Yaad Tujh Ko?
Utra Tere Kinare Jab Karwan Humara
Oh, waters of the river Ganges! Do you remember those days?
Those days when our caravan halted on your bank?
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love-writing.)
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