India is not a country of nomads

There is a popular misconception among some big-city people - especially among those who work for multinational companies and the English media in cities such as Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi - that India is basically a country of nomads, i.e., people who have no other business in life but to migrate from place to place, even from one linguistic state to another.

This misconception drives them to an Idea of India in which languages like Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Bengali are of near-zero importance, since people are anyway assumed to be nomads who go from one linguistic state to another (that Hindi is assumed to be some sort of universal language in India is something I won't dwell on here, but it's a disease in some Indians which works together with this misconception to corrupt the real, beautiful, vibrant and diverse India).

In addition, systems of education, governance and employment at the India level are basically built for migrants (that too, Hindi speakers); natives are simply regarded as "less Indian". I have argued elsewhere that this is the exact opposite of what ought to be.

So let's look at the facts of migration in India. The hard facts. The hard-to-digest facts.

I took Census 2001 migration data and did some basic arithmetic to arrive at how many Indians stay put in the village or town of birth, in the district of birth, and finally in the state of birth. Normalized to every 1000 Indians, the data looks like this (note that an error of 1 here is an error of 1 Million, but the graphs do their job of illustrating the main point I'd like to make):

That is, for every 1000 Indians questioned by the census, 953 were born in the same state. That is, they are not migrants from another state. Simlarly, 878 out of 1000 were born in the same district in which they were questioned. And finally, 701 out of 1000 were born in the same village or town in which they were questioned - these are folks who haven't migrated even within their own district!

The foregoing should offer sufficient evidence that India is not a country of nomads - we don't migrate like nomads do. It should also offer sufficient reason to not build systems of education, governance and employment for migrants at the cost of natives. It should also offer sufficient discouragement to those people (including in the Government of India) who believe that Indian languages other than Hindi don't characterize India.

But to drive home the point a bit more, here's another graph which plots the actual number of inter-state "migrants" in India in comparison with "natives". Note that a migrant here is a migrant crossing a state border, which is most often a border between two states which speak different languages; similarly, a native is a person born in the state of enumeration:

From what I know, children in kindergarten can recognize which bar is higher. It is not rocket science to decide which one should form the center of policy attention at New Delhi. But, to put it somewhat humbly, New Delhi seems to have other plans. Isn't it time the folks who sit in New Delhi and run India, as well as some of our big-city friends, went back to kindergarten?


Anonymous said...

See, this is the issue. This is the exact issue which is plaguing India. At the cost of rationality and simple development economics logic, you took an otherwise incomplete statistic to twist the facts as per your rhetoric.

The rhetoric being- Natives Zindabad,(oops did I offend you by my Hindi.. err Urdu?)

Alright, lets begin with a few questions. Whats similar in Mumbai, Silicon Valley and Singapore?Alright, Bangalore as well.

To further put things in perspective, compare the same cities with cities like, Nagpur, Allahabad and Patna?

My dear author, there is only one difference- that of immigrants; that of nomads. When immigrants move, from one place to another, they move with the hope and dream of a better life. They move with a determination, which stems from their perception, that this place is going to give them the life they wanted.
You know why Kolkata having a much richer and diverse history as socio-econo-political history lags behind Mumbai? One word: Nobody immigrates to Kolkata.

So the point being, immigrants are good. They bring with them immense ability to stretch their resources, take risks and build empires. Natives for the simple reason not mentally hardwired to do that.

So hear this, you want a better India, you encourage people to move. The more they move, the better it will be. For a better example, compare Southern States of US and Northern States. Alabama, Arkansas never figure out in the list. What figures out? California, Columbia, Detroit (all have predominantly Asian or European immigrants).

Dont be parochial, my dear author. By being less so, you ensure India grows and not stagnates.


ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

@ Soham

I never said migrants are bad, I only said there aren't many.

Watch out before you accuse me of calling them bad.

Now, state your argument. Keep your argument relevant by commenting on theme of the article, which is that there aren't too many migrants, and that New Delhi, "big-city people", and the English media should rectify their Idea of India.

Anonymousadmirer said...

I feel nomad is the wrong word chosen...people who come from other states/places/countries to settle in are just migrants....nomads are people who keep wandering without any permanent residence...I don't know why the author of Karnatique missed out this basic...

This is a reflection on the quality of the blog. Earlier there were few posts, and all were good. Nowadays, there seems to be an agenda but no vision behind all this...

Phantom said...

@ Anonymousadmirer

I don't see much of a difference between 2 words Nomad and Migrant. And, I don't think the literal meanings of the 2 words will change based on your perception. Hence usage of Nomad is as justified as migrant.

Then, if you are trying to qualify a blog based on your wrong perception (Here as per you 2 words are different, just shows how unsophisticated you are.

-Ramesh Rao

Anonymous said...

@ Soham

As the author has replied clearly, the article at no point, says migrants are bad. It neither says migration shouldn't happen. The point as I see here is that a true federal government in countries like India where migrants are less, should build the system "for the natives" and NOT for the "migrants".

This is only way you can protect the natives, their culture, their diversity and hence the unity of India. This message is very clear from this article and many more past articles published in Karnatique.


Kya-baat-kar-rahe-ho said...

Would help if you'd illustrate with examples of policy decisions that you say are tailored to discriminate against "locals" as opposed to "nomads". As also, do you mean policies of the states, or Union? The union government would have a limited role in many state functions, esp. education which you mention here.

ತಿಳಿಗಣ್ಣ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

@ Kya-baat-kar-rahe-ho

You'll find your answers in posts tagged "Federalism", "Hindification", and "Education" but here are two quick responses:

1. The granting of "official language of the union" status to only Hindi is a discrimination against natives and preference to nomads. Running Doordarshan in Hindi is discrimination against natives and preference to nomads. Drawing railway lines from Bengaluru to Howrah before linking it up to Mangaluru is preference to nomads.

2. I mean policies of the Union (remember I said "New Delhi"). In education, the union is singularly focused on CBSE/ICSE education, which was designed for and continues to be the education system of nomads who speak either English or Hindi. Search for "Kapil Sibal" or better, "Yash Pal" on this blog to see how the union is attaching no special importance to natives, and preferring nomads in many places.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kiran,I think this sounds pretty much biased against nomads.

In addition, systems of education, governance and employment at the India level are basically built for migrants (that too, Hindi speakers); natives are simply regarded as "less Indian".

Further on...

It should also offer sufficient reason to not build systems of education, governance and employment for migrants at the cost of natives.

So my point is exactly the opposite. Just as you have complaints against govt, the same I have as well. Its not doing enough for migrants. How? Encourage them to move more. How? Build superfast connectivity through railroads and otherwise.
Encourage them to take risks? How? By bringing the cost of business way way down.

Push policies for centre of excellence. Just as Chennai Govt(though I am against both DMK as well as AIADMK, but I must give it to them for superb admin) has pushed reforms to bring in Auto Companies in its fold, Mumbai for finance, Bangalore for IT(that, inspite of the govt. Hats off to the entrepreneurs), to a certain extent, Semi for Hyderabad(GoI is to blame for this-lock,stock and barrel for lethargy),Economics for Delhi and so on.

Your point being- concetrate more towards natives. I say, GoI should concentrate more on migrants and push natives to migrate as well. Everybody wins. Erstwhile natives grow financially, ensuring more competition among the traditional vagrant communities(Gujaratis, Marwadis,Telugus) creating a superb entrepreneurial environment as a result India grows.

Hope, instead of offending, I was able to shed more light behind my lost temper and logic.

Anonymous said...


This is only way you can protect the natives, their culture, their diversity and hence the unity of India. This message is very clear from this article and many more past articles published in Karnatique

A culture doesnt need protection. It needs exposure. Marwadis and Gujaratis are purrfecto examples of this. Malayalis too.
Take a look at Gujjus in US. Today Diwali is being celebrated in White House. What better PR can this be for India? Did Gujaratis become any less Gujarati? Ohh, they still have their Khaakra and Misal.

Marwadis.They have migrated to a place in India where folks ask - "is it still in India". North East. And with them they have brought their entire culture. Do you think Marwadis as a group lost their shine or the resident Marwadis in Marwad region of Rajasthan are ruing that things are not really the same anymore.

Hinduism (can I take it up, without being branded right wing) has survived and flourished because it has readily absorbed what looks good,smells good, and feels good. But unfortunately today, people who are trying to stifle it are threatening it(the effect is very prominent. We are afraid to be called Hindus lest we are branded right wing)

But I digress.
So all said and done, if a culture needs protection, its too weak to survive on its own anyhow

ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

@ jumpup

First of all, I completely agree with your point to "Praje" that a culture does not need protection. But that is only as long as a culture is juxtaposed with another culture. When juxtaposed with an army or a "nation", it does need protection. Do read about Tagore on this blog.

I can only hope you reconsider your call for increased central-government focus on migrants who form an insignificant minority of Indians. It's undemocratic. It's un-Indian. Because you cannot defocus from insignificant minorities and such trivialities, you're asking a billion people to move. Ah - that's very intelligent! Where have I read about this? Yes, when I read about Mohammad bin Tughlaq at school!

Anonymous said...

Tughlaq *forced*, *coerced* people to move from Delhi to Bhopal. I am asking GoI to *encourage* people to move. Last time I checked dictionary, there was a difference.

Because a billion people dont move, hence creating policies around them, is very populist, works well and draws momentary praises from short sighted intelligentsia. But as well,it simply fails in the long run. Or rather than the word 'fails', I would like to use the Hindi phrase Aundhe munh gidna It means falling right over the face.

Have a look around, half of India's problems are because of short sighted policies and the other half because to avert them, further short sighted policies were passed.

Policies which you are espousing will create a satisfied billion people today, at the cost of tomorrow.

These relationships are so subtle, that rightly it will not fetch votes, nor create immediate editorials which praise the government. But yes, history will remember the visionary.

A billion people are encouraged to move, not because the state has some whim of its own,but because in the long run, the concept of India will benefit as well as the economy.

Case in point: Do you shake your head, when North Indians(oh I hate this word so much), call each and every dark skinned fellow Madrasi? Sorry, Karnataka you have a problem here. You dont exist for them.

These things can only be solved by having a very encouraging environment of culture exchange.

Its unfortunate, that, culture exchange is usually the word when two people meet from two different countries. In India, there are 100 countries all residing in one giant country.

This brings me to the notion of Hindification. When state, creates an agenda of uniformity, it will always, repeat always be perceived as antagonistic, boorish and big-brotherly. Instead when the same things happen, from people to people perspective, it creates lasting change. Take a look at Hyderabad, Muslims and Hindi.
Would you believe, there is a school in Patna, which compulsorily teaches Telugu?

Why? There is a reason behind it. It seems most of the folks who study there are the wards of a Bank. This bank makes the majority of the employees spend around 5 years or so, in Andhra Pradesh. So that, there is a continuity, kids are made to learn Telugu.

Now, I am not meaning every school should teach all the 26 langs. This was a counter point to Hyderabad and Hindi. Pretty fitting isnt it?

ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

@ Jumpup,

There is no difference between governmental force for X and governmental encouragement for X. The government is the force.

>>> Have a look around, half of India's problems are because of short sighted policies and the other half because to avert them, further short sighted policies were passed.

You're so right. India being so center-heavy is the epitome of short-sightedness, unparalleled by any other event in contemporary history.

>>> Policies which you are espousing will create a satisfied billion people today, at the cost of tomorrow.

I espouse the policy of true federalism, and it is true federalism and true federalism alone which is the best form of government for India, and it is the only form of government in a diverse country which comes closest to democracy and the protection of human rights.

ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

Ah, we've addressed the "force" versus "encouragement" on our Kannada blog here:

ಹಿಂದಿ ಹೇರಿಕೆ ಅಲ್ಲವಂತೆ, ಉತ್ತೇಜನವಂತೆ! ಏನ್ ವೆತ್ಯಾಸ ಬುದ್ದಿ?

ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

@ Jumpup,

Since you concede that the "policy I'm espousing" can create a billion satisfied people today, I accept it as a compliment. Thanks for acknowledging that!

The other policy of unfettered centralism and utter disregard for human diversity and liberty has neither created nor shall create a billion satisfied people for even a fraction of a second in any time or clime.

And finally, let this go on record: The satisfaction of a billion people is hard to destroy.

Anonymous said...


Kiran, now that you are being so short sighted to place a temporary satiation higher than a long term development, I have nothing else to put forth.

Reminds me, of mandarins of 70's and 80's who sang paeans of communism, socialism and fought tooth and nail, for more competition. Their logic- "Can't you see, competition is going to render people unemployed?" ; or on similar lines, "Can't you computer is efficient stuff, its going to steal a million peoples bread"

The satisfaction of a billion people is hard to destroy, provided that its a real satisfaction.And history if anything has taught us a different lesson.

GoodBye and Good Luck

ತಿಳಿಗಣ್ಣ said...

Good Article....

Lets see what the 2010 Census says...

Going by the recent voter list of Bengaluru, it seems B'lure population has increased abundantly

ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

@ Jumpup

If time is any judge of what is short-sighted, and if you have been watching, you would have seen that it is centralism which is so utterly short-sighted. So short-sighted that time has started slowly gnawing away at its vitals.

Just some examples of the gnawing away: (1) Doordarshan gave way to thousands of channels in many Indian languages; (2) the states have started dealing directly with foreign institutions of commerce, (3) States which took Hindi imposition lying down such as Karnataka are standing up on their knees to oppose it.

Once again, thank you for recognizing that federalism can achieve the satisfaction of a billion people, albeit temporarily according to you. Although you haven't provided proof that it is a temporary situation, you need to realize that a temporary situation is better than an unattainable situation.

>>> The satisfaction of a billion people is hard to destroy, provided that its a real satisfaction.And history if anything has taught us a different lesson.

History hasn't taught you anything; you're refusing to learn even when it's being opened up as a book.

Of course, it has to be real satisfaction. You're wrong in thinking that I'm talking about running away from competition. I'm talking about making natives capable of competing with the best of the best in the world. The first step towards that is to recognize the legitimacy of their existence and to not heap mountains of irrelevance on them using rusted governmental machinery.

Strange you should see a parallel between what the Mandarins did and what I'm talking about here. It is the Mandarins who vote for centralism, not me. It is the Mandarins who disregard human diversity, not me. I think you haven't fully understood what I'm trying to say. It's a pity this cannot be done online.

vinay said...

This data is based on 2001 censes. Almost 10 year old data. Also, I still doubt the 2001 data itself. I am sure there was some mistake from 2001 census folks either intentionally/unintentionally. This data cant be true in metro cities for sure.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kiran,

One or other way you always end with up natives X migrants or related issues.I cant understand why cant you move from those issues and looking for native development and skills.

Radha said...

@ Ezhil - Kiran is indeed talking about the issue around native development and skills. The union policy-making is skewed towards migrants when in fact it should be for the natives, for their development & skills. The issues are very inter-related.

ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

@ Ezhil,

Actually, our Kannada blog is doing exactly that. We chose to do that in Kannada because the audience for such topics related to Kannadigas consists mainly of Kannadigas.

In this blog we're mainly focusing on issues relating to systems which interface Kannadigas with the rest of India and the world, and is therefore written in English. And of course, those systems are of importance not only to Kannadigas, but also to speakers of other Indian languages.

Some readers seem to have taken the wrong cue from me writing about migrants. I never said that migrants are bad. I only said that they are few in number, and tried to clear the misconception that they almost outnumber the natives. It is a matter of concern that such misconceptions form the basis of much policy-making at New Delhi.

Radha said...

@Kiran - I disagree that there is general misconception about the migrants outnumbering the natives. Rather, there is a bias towards migrants, irrespective of their numbers -
very consistent with Jumpup's ideaology that migrants mean growth/wealth.

Check this article out from 'The Economist' - How much more biased can it get?
The article itself is irrelevant but for the text below:

"Almost a third of its population was non-Marathi then; over half is today. Its wealth was created largely by Gujarati, Rajasthani and Parsee traders."

Sounds like the 80/20 rule, yeah! Are immigrants altruistic? They decided to migrate or settle down in the same place at the time of the founding of the states, for various
personal reasons - freedom to practice their culture,language, weather, job opportunities, religion, crime rate etc. But the issue is that they fail to assimiliate and recognize the state's culture that let them thrive. Are the benefits not mutual? Can the Gujarati (non-natives) who decided to make Maharashtra the home state atleast call himself/herself Gujarti-Marathi? Why do they refuse to learn Marathi after decades? Above all, I come across Marathis who pity migrants/settlers and would converse in Hindi instead! It really makes me wonder what/who is wrong!!

ಕಿರಣ್ ರಾವ್ ಬಾಟ್ನಿ / Kiran Rao Batni said...

@ Radha

Bias towards migrants irrespective of their numbers. Hmm...interesting. I have met lots and lots of natives who feel outnumbered, but this is interesting.

>>>Its wealth was created largely by Gujarati, Rajasthani and Parsee traders.

I don't have a problem with "traders who originally came from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Persia (?)", but I have a problem with the line above. Traders from outside the state not blending-in is not acceptable. And this is perhaps the most important, the most secular of blending-in's that we're talking about! We're not asking them to lose their religion, we're just asking them to respect the language of the land and use it in secular contexts!

Again, the problem is that not-blending is legitimized in India. In fact, the govt and the English media make it seem as if non-blenders are the real India, and anyone who talks about the importance of blending-in is termed un-Indian, parochial. They should try that in Europe, Japan, China, Israel, etc!

I think all this has its roots in how the British conceptualized India. It was below their dignity to blend-in with natives, and it was only they who had mobility all over India. They ultimately created an elite layer which feels the same way.

helle said...

It's rattling post. I liked it.

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