|Dr BR Ambedkar, P Sainath|
Well-known Magsaysay award winning writer P Sainath, who is renowned more for extensive, in-depth reports on rural India as a top journalist, has said he “differs” from Dr BR Ambedkar’s view about the need for achieving greater pace of urbanization to fight caste discrimination.
Talking with Counterview on the sidelines of a recent NGO function in Ahmedabad, Sainath said, his “disagreement” with Dr Ambedkar stems from the fact that the Dalit icon believed the rural-to-urban migration would end casteism, which has not happened.
“When he called upon Dalits to move to cities, Dr Ambedkar was speaking in a specific context and time”, Sainath, who is currently involved in an ambitious project in creating a people’s archives of rural India, said.
Calling himself "leftist journalist", Sainath, however, said, “Casteism remains alive in urban India in all its manifestations”, adding, “You just need to have a look at the matrimonial columns of newspapers to see this.”
Sainath was responding to the question about his keynote address at the NGO Janvikas’ function, held on January 28, where he said, among other things, that, for the first time since 1921, the pace of urbanization was the highest so high in the decade ending 2011, when “more numbers to were added to urban India in a decade than rural India.”
At 833.1 million, India's rural population, according to the 2011 census, was 90.6 million higher than it was a decade ago. However, the census found, the urban population was 91 million higher than it was in 2001.
In 1921, the rural population actually fell by close to three million compared to the 1911 Census – and the reason was the 1918 influenza epidemic, which killed between 11 and 22 million deaths more than would have been normal for that decade.
Sainath said, if influenza left its fatal imprint on the 1921 enumeration, the story behind the numbers of the 2011 census speaks of another tragedy: collapse of millions of livelihoods in agriculture and its related occupations, leading to “despair-driven exodus”.
The top writer-journalist was asked whether what he wasn’t contradicting Dr Ambedkar, father of the Indian Constitution, exhorting Dalits to move to urban areas. Dr Ambedkar's exhortation was based on the view that a village was "but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism.”
Sainath "clarified" to Counterview, there are several types of migration. These include rural to urban migration, rural to rural migration, urban to urban migration, he said, insisting, here, too, there is a difference between “natural migration” and “distress migration” in each of these cases.
“While I do agree with Dr Ambedkar that migration from rural to urban areas adds anonymity to Dalits, there is little to show that it has ended casteism. Those living in housing societies know the prevalence of caste-based segregation in urban areas”, he said.
“In fact”, Sainath underlined, “Even in those who immigrate to the US are not out of the caste framework. When it comes to marriage, they come to India for choose their partner from their own caste. Within the US, they have their own caste-based temples.”
Sainath’s comments acquire significance against the backdrop of top economist Arvind Panagariya, vice-chairman, Niti Aayog, holding the view that Government of India’s policy changes -- ranging from Make in India campaign, to land and labour "reforms" -- were meant to trigger migration of people from rural to urban areas in search of jobs.