Letters on June 5 Issue

Letters on June 5 Issue
“Invention of Tradition”

Mukulika Banerjee and Manisha Priyam’s discourse on “Margins and Marginality” (June 5, 2020) has offered us a nuanced reading of the Pathalgadi movement of Jharkhand and the electoral victory of the anti-BJP coalition in the assembly elections of December 2019. It shows how customary rights and the symbols of a tribal community could be successfully combined with radical provisions of our Constitution in giving birth to a kind of alternative politics.

This reminds us of observations made by Eric Hobsbawm in the classic book, The Invention of Tradition, co-edited by him with Terence Ranger (Cambridge University Press, UK, 1983). Hobsbawm noted multiple instances of “invention of tradition” by the Left and the Right: “Socialists…found themselves acquiring an annual May Day without quite knowing how; National Socialists exploited such occasions with liturgical sophistication and zeal and a conscious manipulation of symbols”.

The Pathalgadi movement of Jharkhand invented the “subaltern” tradition of a tribal community and got connected with electoral politics, resulting in a change of the political regime in the state. But we should keep in mind that there have been many instances in contemporary India where “subaltern” traditions have been appropriated by the rightwing groups to consolidate their power.

Arup Kumar Sen, Kolkata
Estimating Reverse Migration

A lot of wild numbers have been floating around the migrants returning home. The article "How many casual workers have sought to go home" by Nomaan Majid (May 29) is a logical attempt to quantify the reverse migration after the lockdown.

The migrants are not always the individual workers but also include their families (evident from the pictures in the media). The NSS data show that the average household size for the households in ‘adverse accommodation’ in urban areas is 3.02 versus 4.15 in ‘non-adverse accommodation’. So when a migrant worker with insecure living arrangements decides to leave the city he/she will have another two members with her.

The same NSS data also show that for the households living in ‘adverse accommodation’, 65% have one worker and 20% have more than one worker. As for households with casual workers, 11% have 1 casual worker, 3.3% have more than 1 casual worker. In fact 47.5% of households with adverse accommodation have one regular worker and 9% have more than one worker. Adverse accommodation does not appear to be a measure of vulnerability in terms of employment status.

Clearly the quantification of the type of people who are returning to their home villages or towns due to the lockdown is a risky exercise.

PC Mohanan
Estimating Reverse Migration: A Response

In the absence of current and relevant data, it is indeed risky to quantify anything.  The motivation for doing so was also that “wild” numbers were floating around on the number of  returnees.  We wanted to know if the number was closer to 10 million or 100 million. 

Based on an assumption about worker types, independent criteria reflecting potential adversity and vulnerability were used to identify limits. The assumption is that the worst hit group will be of casual workers, so they will dominate the first wave. This is a prior, a given.  

The independent criteria of vulnerability and adversity are the period of stay in an accommodation, and the terms of stay. Some estimates are done on these bases. These make for ranges. So, for example, we have estimates based on the period of stay, type of accommodation arrangement and the intersection of the two. These give us ranges from around half a million to 4.8 million for casual workers (3.5 million to 32.5 million for all workers). 

One may need to note that it is only when adverse terms of accommodation are combined with redundancy that there will be a greater chance of eviction. Once any worker is in this situation, the decision to move would depend on his/her financial capacity to stay on.  

An important point made concerns workers’ families who return with them.  We have not explicitly addressed the issue of household members, and some will return with the workers. So, if estimates were to be done of how many family members were returning with every worker it would increase estimates. However, if such an estimate is done, to assume that the average household will return with every worker may perhaps be problematic. Single persons would find it easier to leave. For example 26.7% of urban casual workers in the Housing Survey are single (never married, widowed, divorced). This would come to just over 5 million in 2017-18 Periodic Labour Force Survey terms.

Nomaan Majid
On Citizenship and Language Identity

As a research associate on a project based in central India I am very interested in tribal studies and was therefore delighted to read "Counts and Consequences: Citizenship and Language Identity" by G.N. Devy.

We need to hear now more from than ever before from cultural activists. It is not about a celebration of diversity for the sake of diversity alone. The times are such that we need well researched works to rise above the pseudo narratives of racial and religious supremacy (re)presented by the ruling party and its ideological base.

Praveena Mahla
Psychological consequences of the coronavirus

The article on the psychological consequences of Covid-19 by Honey Oberoi Vahali (Psychosocial Challenges In the Midst of the Coronavirus, May 19) is an excellent one. While a lot has been written about Covid-19 and its various consequences, very few have addressed the psychological impact. The author should be congratulated for doing so.

T. S. Saraswathi
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