We are all migrants

What a lot of fuss was created around the coronation of Nina Davuluri, an Indian American, as this year’s Miss America! Her victory led to a veritable explosion of outrage and calumny from offended “Americans”, some of whom went on to characterise her as “Arab” or as complicit in the 9/11 attacks on New York. The lady in question coolly fobbed off all this unwanted attention with the observation that she was first and foremost an American. Understandably so, since she was born in the USA well after her parents migrated there from India.

This incident underscores the manner in which we, on this planet earth of ours, tend to appropriate proprietary rights to that piece of land on which we (and at least some generations of our forefathers) were born. See the continuing controversy over the Hispanics who have, over the past many years, moved to the USA without valid documents. Or, for that matter, nearer home, the repeated efforts by some in the political class to highlight the migration of people from Bangladesh to India. The so-called “free world” of Europe and America espouses free trade in goods, services and capital but is unwilling to extend this dispensation to manpower. Once the human element comes in, quotas and restrictions kick in, free trade be damned!

The world could probably do with a healthy dose of Advaita philosophy from India. Once we realise the inherent unity of all creation and the oneness of all beings, we will hopefully cease to view any living species on this planet as distinct from us. While animals and other species are unlikely to interact with humans and demand equal treatment, we desperately need, as Homo sapiens, to evolve a world view that does not set up one human being of any race as apparently superior to another.

Recent statistics clearly show major migrations both within and between countries. “Pull” and “push” factors have contributed to this phenomenon of labour mobility. Countries too display schizophrenic tendencies when it comes to permitting labour entry. When cheap labour is needed to perform tasks that the local populace deems below its dignity to undertake, immigration doors are opened. Once the demand is met or the local population feels threatened by perceived loss of job opportunities, entry barriers are erected. Recent political moves in the U.K. and the European continent are pointers to the growing unease with what is seen as “unchecked migration”.

In the long run, maturity lies in realising that all of us are, in one sense or the other, migrants to our current locations. Take the two largest democracies in the world. The United States is nothing if not the land of settlers over the past four centuries. As for India, it has seen inward migrations of varying numbers right from the pre-Christian era to the present day. Our present day Indo-Aryans would do well to remember that, at one point of time, they too were considered unwelcome invaders and often had to subjugate the local population by use of force. The same applies to many present day Americans — they ought to remember that their ancestors, often persecuted in their countries of birth, were welcomed with open arms into the USA.

In conclusion, let us remember the golden words penned by that great poet and lyricist Gulzar in the Hindi film ‘Parichay’:

मुसाफ़िर हूँ यारों न घर है न ठिकाना

मुझे चलते जाना है, बस चलते जाना।

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