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Was Chennai sending a message?

 | March 23, 2012

Migration and mingling of masses are ostensibly beginning to create a new kind of social disorder.


Much like Mumbai that once became a haven for job-seekers from many parts of India, Chennai now seems to be treading a similar path.

The southern Indian city has in recent times been attracting hordes of men from some of the poorer regions in the north who leave their home and hearth in the hope of bettering their prospects.

Unlike Mumbai and the Shiv Sena in particular that have time and again been disinclined to tolerate such migration – emphasising that India’s financial capital must be for Maharashtrians – Chennai has not been unwelcoming. At least not overly.

During the past couple of years, I have watched an army of Nepalis descend on Chennai, as I have seen tens of men from Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and North-eastern States make the city their home.

While the Nepalis have mostly become security guards, the others have been employed in construction, restaurants, beauty parlours and barber shops.

Gone it seems are the days when the local barber was invariably a guy from Kerala or the waiter at your South Indian eatery was a Tamil. The barber today could be a North-easterner, and so perhaps the man who waits at your table. The men who build your flats are from Bihar and Odisha, and the guy who guards your home and office is often a Nepali.

While I wonder why the Tamils have deserted their posts, this migration and mingling of masses are ostensibly beginning to create a new kind of social disorder.

While I was shocked during a lunch at a well-regarded Tamil restaurant to find the waiter serving me “rasam” before “sambar” (akin to putting on your table the main course before the soup), this appears like a minor bother in comparison to what happened recently.

Early this year, two bank robberies were committed in Chennai in broad daylight, so to say, and the five men suspected to have done the crime were shot dead by the police some days ago.

The cops said the men holed up in a flat refused to surrender when asked to do so, and began firing on the policemen. The men in uniform had to use their revolvers in self-defence killing the five men.

Message for ‘expats’

While the present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (whose capital city is Chennai), Jayalalithaa, is known to strive for a crime-free society, the shoot-out, commonly described as “encounter deaths”, was seen as a message for “expats” in Chennai.

Observers contend that Jayalalithaa wanted to tell those from outside the state to behave themselves and not treat the relatively prosperous and peaceful Tamil Nadu as some kind of gold mine open to plunder.

Earn if you want to in Chennai and spend by all means, but do not go about looting banks and messing with the law and order.

Bank heists are uncommon in Tamil Nadu. While they were seen even as early as in the late 1960s in places like Kolkata, Chennai has been relatively free from them.

While the bank robberies in Chennai are a cause for concern, the present All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government, headed by Jayalalithaa, must examine the reasons for the recent spurt in the inflow of labour from outside Tamil Nadu.

Salaries and wages have not gone up with the general cost of living in the state, which is among the most expensive in the country. While the Tamil worker/employee is not willing to accept lower remunerations, the “expat”, coming as he or she does from rather impoverished regions and backgrounds, is ready to step in.

Employers seeking to maximise profits in a country where greed and cost-cutting tendencies rule have no qualms about hiring “outsiders”, even if they do not speak Tamil.

However, killing a suspect – whatever be his/her offence – is as heinous a crime as murder. No state or country can ever justify this, at least with a clean conscience.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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