‘Locals’ versus ‘Migrants’: Divisive Forces Within the Street Vending Community

By Shivangi Rajora

In Maharashtra, the ‘sons of the soil’ movement gained traction in the 1960s with the birth of the regional political party Shiv Sena, at a time when the state was experiencing widespread unemployment among its youth. The party targeted non-Marathi speakers who were blamed for stealing jobs which they said were meant for the local Marathi speakers. Since then the movement has continued with varying degrees of intensity, sometimes using violence against the ‘outsiders’, other times limiting itself to provocative newspaper editorials. When migrant vendors were interviewed during fieldwork, they said that the effects of the movement were rarely ever limited to the opinions, they were reflected in the practices of the vendor markets. More often than not, migrant vendors preferred to stick together. They chose their vending spots around each other. Negotiations with the police and the encroachment department were a little more difficult than they are for Marathi-speaking folk. And experience had taught them to not complain. Excerpts from two interviews — one with a local vegetable vendor and another with a migrant kulfi seller — expose the inherent biases and discriminations that have been encouraged by this movement. However, this blog is based on a short study and provides mere glimpses of the sentiments expressed during fieldwork, and may not be indicative of the dynamics of the city which need to be studied in depth.

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‘We had to conduct businesses without any electricity for twenty years’

During fieldwork in the Mahalaxmi vegetable market in Sahakar Nagar, a residential neighbourhood in the southern part of Pune, we asked a vendor if his shop had electricity connection and this is what he had to say:

“When the corporator had build this market in 1994, in order to get electricity connection for all the shops, he asked us to invest half the amount and said he would pay for the other half. Half the people in this mandi are from Tamil Nadu. They don’t even understand our language. These Tamilians did not agree. They didn’t understand what he was saying and refused to consent for the paying half the price for getting the connections. We had to conduct businesses without any electricity for all these years. I only got this connection four months ago. Three other Maharashtrians also got it with me. These Tamilians still work without electricity. People from outside cause a lot of problems. They are taking away our kid’s jobs. They know nothing. It is so easy to get fake certificates and marksheets in UP and Bihar. Our kids actually study. But they never get any jobs. When Lalu was the rail minister, he had special trains running from Bihar to Maharashtra carrying migrants here who would take our jobs. He took advantage of his position of power to get them jobs. When our Kalmadi was the rail minister, he did not make use of the position, he did not even get Marathi-speaking people jobs in Maharashtra itself. Now because they don’t have jobs, our children are turning towards a life of alcoholism and violence. You tell me, if you have a degree but you cannot get a job, what would you do?”

The excerpt of the interview proves that the sentiments of the “sons of the soil” movement remain strong within all sections of the society and market. What the vendor told us was just an opinion, still relatively harmless.

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‘My cart has been confiscated two times, and both times, I had to pay extra.’

An interesting conversation took place with a kulfi vendor in the same market, who belonged to Uttar Pradesh:

“I came to Pune 24 years ago with my cousin. I have been selling kulfi for the last 22 years. I used to work in a kulfi-making unit. This is actually my brother’s cart. When he passed away I took over, it was natural as I already knew how to make kulfi. I am from UP (on being asked his accent was different). I came to Pune with my cousin 24 years ago. I can understand a little bit of Marathi.”

On being further asked if he thought being a non-Marathi speaker was disadvantage, he said, “It was a bit of a problem in the beginning as very few people in the city spoke in Hindi and the language was totally new to me. But I learned to manage. It is all fine now. I have a good sale every evening in the market”. He then, had to be explained that the question was in context of the ‘sons of the soil’ movement that had been popular in the state few years ago with strong political colors to it. He kept denying of any problems he would face. So the conversation progressed to his family history which yielded that he belonged to Mathura in UP, the same place as the author does. This fact probably helped in building of some trust because asking the same question the next led to a different conversation.

The summer institute is a full-fledged 3 credits course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. It is conducted as a continuous module of approximately 2 weeks  duration, involving immersion in a community and location. This year’s institute studied the socio-political dynamics of street vending, especially in relation to the recent Street Vending Act (2014) that cited key constitutional provisions in support of street vendors and established guidelines for state governments so that the state can safeguard the vendors’ right to livelihood. In the following month, we will be posting some of the students’ research in the form of blogs, photo essays, narratives, life stories and analytical pieces that describe in great detail the everyday lives of vendors and local street markets. Watch this space for more.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html

 

 

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