Migrants' role in Goa's development

By Prabhakar Timble
02 April 2013 08:56 IST

The Chief Minister’s verbal frown on the floor of the Goa Assembly blaming migrant workers and Naxalites (!) from Jharkhand for the increasing crime rate in Goa would on one side embolden the  anti-migrant sentiment and on the other side provide relief to the police and law enforcing agencies as they have a saleable reason to explain their failures. Crime statistics would most likely disprove such beliefs. It is possible that there are criminal elements amongst the immigrants as we have within the locals. Just as workers, executives and traders immigrate; the criminals use the same road and railway routes. However, this constitutes a microscopic fraction. The majority of migrants are performing productive economic activities; otherwise they just cannot survive in the immigrated land. Such baseless statements by Ministers as replies to queries in the legislature can be the cause of social tensions in a climate which is already surcharged against the migrants.

Migration is unstoppable

I am not making either a case for migrants or against them. The reality is that migration and immigration has come to stay. It is unstoppable and inevitable. Initially, the backward and disadvantaged groups are characterised by high rates of geographical mobility i.e. migration. Poverty, unemployment and the shift from agriculture are the earlier indicators. However, migration of professional and technical population along with affluent executives is associated with the march of the economy from industrialism to service sector. The earlier is the drain of labour from neighbouring states to Goa and later could be described as the brain drain from Goa to the rest of India and overseas. Goa is a subject of both at one and the same time.

Goa being a small state with a cosmopolitan culture and yet a unique identity, migrants are viewed as those who disturb this exclusive balance. In relation to the geographical and demographic compass of other states of India, Goa is different. It is also a bundle of contradictions. The locals here still fight for official status for two languages and two scripts along with government grants for a medium in a totally different language which they want to make unofficially official.  There are social, cultural and identity issues at stake, more particularly in the coastal villages. Today, we find an equal number of migrants in the village bazar as the locals in the Church on a Sunday mass.  It is this threat of skewed numbers that foments the anti-migrant emotion. It is against this background that we notice the Gram Sabhas and Village groups of Goa opposing almost all proposals of investment or development in the village.  To a large extent, the opposition at the Gram Sabha is from those members who are defeated at the Panchayat elections. In a multi-cornered contest at Panchayat elections, the aggregate number of defeated candidates is sizeable in relation to the elected members of the Panchayat.  It is really a funny situation wherein the elected Panchayat is held hostage by the Gram Sabha under the domineering influence of the candidates who are rejected by the village electorate and who later form the active component at the Gram Sabha. I have not heard of Gram Sabha directing and recommending the Panchayat “to do” specific projects or encourage a set of economic activities in the village.

Goa would not be a land of opportunities as it is today subtracting the contribution of migrants which is our target of attack. We see their involvement in all the sectors filling the void created by non-availability of local human power. Real estate, housing, public works and infrastructure projects would not move ahead without migrant labour. There is wide presence of migrant workers in resorts, hotels and shacks which constitute the tourism sector. Extractive industries such as mining and industries vulnerable to high pollution depend on outside labour. Migrants take the share as traders in fish, vegetable and fruit markets. Water supply, irrigation, gas pipe line, major and minor bridges and sewerage projects could be commissioned due to the sweat of the migrants.

Workers not criminals

We need to acknowledge that migrant workers come from their villages to almost a homeless existence either in towns or neighbouring states. The motivation is to earn a passport for vertical mobility and a different life for their children. They come with this hope in towns and cities and initially are forced to work in almost inhuman and insanitary conditions. They work on public projects wherein the government contractors do not adhere to any norms of labour laws and social security.  Many of them climb on the ladder as small entrepreneurs and traders. Some are fortunate to provide education to their children to enable them to take up skilled occupations.

Positioning migrant workers as criminals may serve the appetite of locals who regard such workers as nuisance. The Chief Minister should realise that migrant workers are an unavoidable concomitant of the development process and the prevalent social structure in our country.  As a Home Minister he should not allow the police and enforcement agencies to wash off their hands by gumming the label of criminal on the migrant workforce. 

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

Indians over the centuries have been very accomodating of foreign people/ cultures/ ideas. Immigrants have been able to integrate with the local population seemlessly.

Its only recently that the Immigrants have been targetted for political reasons. We saw it happening with our neighbours Maharashtra and now we see it happening in our own Goa.

While politicians will continue to blame Immigrants for their own short-comings, its up to us the people to not get carried away by what our elected representatives say but use our sense of judgement.

A well written and though provoking article by Prabhakar Timble.

- Devdatta Rivonkar, Santa Cruz, Goa | 05 th April 2013 23:53

 

I appreciate the observations of Jason Keith Fernandes, tend to agree with most of them. The only point of departure would be w.r.t. the comment on political relationship of Goa with the Indian Union.

- Prabhakar Timble, Margao | 03 rd April 2013 10:22

 

Thank you, this is an excellent and timely intervention. However, there are a couple of minor in the argument that I would like to take issue with, without ofcourse drawing from my larger appreciation of the argument itself.

1) The first issue I would like to differ with is your suggestion that “The reality is that migration and immigration has come to stay. It is unstoppable and inevitable.”

Migration and immigration are here to stay, and they are as you say unstoppable and inevitable. However, there are ways in which it can be dealt with once we are able to analyse this movements from varying perspectives. One way to inquire into this movement is to inquire is this movement is in fact a colonial movement, a way in which the Indian republic is displacing its problem of the inequality of wealth distribution onto a wealthier periphery without addressing fundamental questions in the mainland. To be able to do this, you will recognise that I am looking at Goa as outside of the Indian mainland, and I do this unapologetically since I do believe that there are questions with regard to Goa’s integration into the Indian Union that have stil not been resolved.

In this context, I would like to draw attention to the fact that contrary to the way in which you have constructed borders as fully permeable, most often, borders, and especially international borders are semi-permeable, allowing free flow to capital, and restricted flow to populations. I am not arguing for making borders less permeable for populations, but I would like to point out that the inevitability of the population flow over Goan borders is really the result of the political relationship that Goa has with the Indian Union.

2) “Goa is different. It is also a bundle of contradictions. The locals here still fight for official status for two languages and two scripts along with government grants for a medium in a totally different language which they want to make unofficially official.”

Once again, I would argue that the examples you cite are contradictions because we do not look at the issues from an appropriate location. To begin with, these demands appear as contradictions because we assume that the issue with Konkani is one of linguistic nationalism. I would argue that it is not, and has been read as such only because of the way in which Konkani has been presented by the dominant forces within the Konkani language establishment. I would argue that from 1961, the various battles that have been fought on the backs of largely the Catholic labouring classes, is a fight to ensure security of identity. This battle has been highjacked by the Goan elites to effect their own agenda of securing their benefits, and increase the space for their autonomy.

3) “To a large extent, the opposition at the Gram Sabha is from those members who are defeated at the Panchayat elections. In a multi-cornered contest at Panchayat elections, the aggregate number of defeated candidates is sizeable in relation to the elected members of the Panchayat. “

I am not sure that the example you give is necessarily testament to the holding hostage of democracy. Given that in the Indian electoral system uses a first-past-the post system,where the person with the highest number of votes wins, even if this individual does not enjoy a majority vote, the situation you describe is a natural outcome. Indeed, the first-past-the post system is best suited to two-party systems, which is not the case as you point out in panchayat elections. Indeed, as a result of the problem with the system, the elections ought to be read as securing the right of the successful candidate to lead deliberations in the panchayat, but not to make unilateral decisions. The discussions in the gram sabha are key to ensuring an effective democracy, even if there may sometimes be cases of holding hostage as you indicate.

I’ll end with thanking you once again for your intervention.

- Jason Keith Fernandes, Taleigao- Goa/ Lisbon- Portugal | 02 nd April 2013 16:03

 

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