Blame it on the Bhaiyyas

Bhaiyyas brought the Mumbai Brouhaha on their own heads, says a Bhaiyya after the dust has settled.

3 March, 2008

Ah Shilpa Shetty, you poor Indian for whom the country cried over the slurs they hurled on the tone of her skin underneath the layers of foundation and make up. We were up in arms against Big Brother, for it was so racily racist. You went on to win the show, the pounds, and Big Brother, after all the bother and brouhaha, made sure you were in the limelight thence. Just when we had forgotten about the divide that separate the red meat from white, came a remark from down under. Our Bhajji was heard screaming at his fever pitch highest what people construed as ‘monkey’. Let us not dwell on how similar this English term is to a particularly offensive Hindi cuss word. The fact is that they called us racists.

Are we, really, racists? What with the North Indian, Marathi manoos dichotomy wielding the separatist axe on parts of Maharashtra, and Mumbai in particular, we could very well be. While Raj Thackeray, Maharashtra Navnirman Seva leader and the man whose lips did the damage, was arrested and released soon after without much ado – except a few bhaiyyas being beaten up, some shops being burnt, some stones being pelted at buses. In retaliation, Abu Asim Azmi of the Samajwadi Party had his share of maudlin limelight, marching up to the police station in a bid to hand himself over for the cause of North Indians. The police did well to turn him away, we loved the mockery. The sons of Maharashtrian soil found a good reason for parochial patriotism.

Raj Thackeray was derided by all for his comment on Amitabh Bachchan. But as analysts went around town weighing the words that had apparently spelt hatred, perhaps, the problem was not so much as what Raj said, but with what was picked up from his statement and played up by the media. Raj Thackeray had probably meant to say that his love for Maharashtra was like Amitabh Bachchan’s is for Uttar Pradesh. If that is true, then media must have been stoned to the eyeballs. It was only one television channel that had played Raj’s statement in entirety. The rest just went gaga over words that would open the golden TRP Sesame for them. And as if this was not enough, over-analysis of the manifest problem across a majority of TV channels did nothing but to trivialize the roots of the problem that lie deep within the cultural.

What Thackeray said comes from his own sets of values, or the lack of them as others might perceive it. To quote NDTV, here’s what he said, “Amitabh Bachchan chose to contest elections from Uttar Pradesh instead of Mumbai. If a person of such stature who is revered in Mumbai can feel patriotic about his own state, can't Raj Thackeray feel the same?” Now considering this, Raj does seem to have a point. His statement is not so much about how bhaiyyas are taking over, as it was about a justification for his loyalty to Maharashtra. In a way, illegitimate migrants are a problem. Mumbai is bursting at seams with overpopulation already. There is not enough space to accommodate those who come here and remain ungainfully unemployed. Or come to the city and make a criminal living.

But this does not mean that it is only the bhaiyyas that are so. This issue overrides regions. One does not condone Raj Thackeray, but one must also realize his argument, though a little off the mark by a wide angle, has raised the point of curbing the menace of unproductive migration that only deters progress and is a burden on the state. Much like the problem of illegal migrants from Bangladesh crossing over to India.

The media also shrieked sending bhaiyyas back to Bhaiyyaland was not the solution. As hackneyed as it sounds, there is truth in the statement. Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra, wherever industries have flourished, have seen a rise of immigrant workers from north. If they leave, does Maharashtra hold enough man-power to keep the mills running? Will it offer taxi-drivers’ jobs in Mumbai to the woe-struck farmers who would have otherwise committed suicide? Do we hear any promises on what the alternative arrangements are for the Marathi manoos? Are the sons of the soil filling up the empty mills in Nasik now that the bhaiyyas have gone back? Will Raj Thackeray tell us what the options that have opened up for the Marathi manoos now are?

Amidst all this controversy, it was heartening to learn that a majority of Mumbaikars did not agree with what had happened. However, should bhaiyyas play the victim here? At the risk of sounding a betrayer to me being technically a bhaiyya myself, I must say this. Whatever has led to the hatred are not entirely Raj’s words. The resentment perhaps stems over the bhaiyyas’ general behavioral and social traits. If one looks at the condition a state like Uttar Pradesh is, one could not but hang their head in shame. We are responsible for the widespread migration from this state. A rich agrarian state is a goldmine being controlled by the goons that have no interest in welfare. But that is the larger issue. We are looking at people in general. Bhaiyya folk need to do some soul searching to come up with a solution to this dead ringer of an alarm bell over how our own land is desperately crying: “Reform, or be reviled!”'

In numerous conversations with auto-rickshaw drivers, I have found this common thread – we bhaiyyas look down upon the city life as amoral. Who gives us the right to judge how people live here? After all, if you have to idolize your homestead and culture, you might as well stay there only. You come here to earn your bread and butter, and you curse the very people who are your source of income. As they say in Hindi, “Jis thaali mein kha rahe hain, usi mein chhed kar rahe hain (creating a hole in the plate from which they are eating – I agree I should stop translating such adages).”

You look at women who wear any outfit other than salwar kameez or sari as an object of desire. And I do not say this out of my imagination, countless such drivers, often of young, marriageable age, perhaps even married with their spouse in their village have commented on that passing woman as if she were dying to be in their arms. And I will also add this, though this is a problem that cuts across classes and regions, many bhaiyyas have the annoying habit of spitting that long chewed, stinking gutkha spittle without much concern for anything or anyone around them.

Minor issues, these, but it all adds up to the common dislike. I am not proposing personal reforms, just trying to hold up a mirror, and wishing we bhaiyyas thought about why they call us what they call us. And should we really blame them when it is the case of the pot calling the kettle black? We north Indians do not flinch calling someone ghati or kadhichat, madrasi, or chinky, sardar, jatt, etc etc etc. We smirk at food cooked in coconut oil. We are as region-centric as the rest of the country, and therefore, perhaps before we can run to mummy crying, we better understand that we are no different.

Politics will remain separatist; it is not new in India. Bal Thackeray had a similar drive against south Indians in the 1970s. It is a throwback to those times. There will forever be issues to sweep under the carpet, for hatred is easily mongered. The problems of farmers in the interiors of Maharashtra will not be talked about with as much gusto by the leaders as the problems of people ‘trying to take over their piece of land’. And we’d raise a stink over an Indian living abroad being told to comply with the norms there (I do not mean those that breach their personal rights to religion or manner of dressing therein). We criticize them for saying that we are taking over their jobs, and we issue similar statements about migrants in the state.

In all, the hypocrisy of the issue is hilarious. However, the violence is not funny. We are racist, but we refuse to accept it. That would mean an end to the long tradition of culture-bashing that rings in almost every household in the country. 




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