Friday, July 3, 2009

Is Maharashtra going nuts?

As any non-Maharashtrian living in Maharashtra now well knows, Maharashtra is not very friendly to “outsiders”. Now I have a problem with the word Outsiders in the context of interstate migration within the nation. After all, a Bengali is as much an Indian as a Marathi. However, letting that point slide for the moment, one does realize that there is some degree of ill feeling, mistrust, and dislike towards “outsiders” in most states in India (true around the world too, I think). On a smaller scale it manifests as ghettoisation, clique formation, and vaguely tasteless jokes at the expense of the OTHER.

However, Maharashtra seems determined to take its xenophobia to the extreme. When I arrived in Pune, to do an MA at the university campus, I arrived with highr expectations, having heard of the many similarities of Pune with Kolkata, of the amazing parallels in Marathi culture to that of Bengal. The university was reputed, and the Department of English supposed to be among the best. Needless to say, real Maharashtra was a rude awakening. The first shock was to find that although I had higher marks than most of my co-applicants for the MA seat, as a graduate from an “outside university”, I would have to take an entrance exam, where as students of Maharashtrian, especially Pune, universities would traipse in solely on the basis of their mark sheets.

And the number of seats I was vying for with all the students from all the OTHER universities of India? Less than 50%! 51% seats were exclusively for “Maharashtra” students. Add to this the existing reservations for SC, ST, OBC ,etc, etc, etc,… and I was fighting it out for about 6 OPEN seats with some 300 students, just at the university campus. Still…I had it easy, compared to today, when the Maharashtra NCP government has announced a 90% (WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?????) reservation in junior college seats for students of the local SSC board versus students from all other boards put together (even in PUNE schools) who can divide the bheekh of 10% seats amongst themselves.

When my brother, and kids of family friends, did the bachelor’s degree in engineering from Pune University, PU bhagwan was a common joke. Everyone knew, although the authorities never openly acknowledged, that “out of Maharashtra” students and people without a “kar” in their last names were treated differently. The smarest of them, with unspotted un-besmirched academic records would flunk in as many as five papers at a time. Not a single non- maharashtrian engineering student I know passed all for years of the course with an all clear, and most had at least one “year down”. Now while some of this may have been justified, it is a little hard to accept that ALL of them suddenly lost their brains as soon as they hit Pune University, or found themselves totally unable to cope. And that all their “Maharashtrian” contemporaries and classmates, even the ones with abysmally worse previous records suddenly all became geniuses.

Either the exam system was more geared to the “apne bacche”, or the examiners were horribly biased and not afraid to indulge those biases. Either way, it made for an unpleasant experience, academically, for many a bright non-Maharashtrian child forced to suffer years of repeated humiliation, and an ultimate damage to their entire careers, for the xenophobic tactics of some people.

Recently, Raj Thackeray put Maharashtra on the map (finally) for chauvinism when he and his MNS beat-up and threw out, out of state applicants for the railways recruiting exams and went on to perpetrate systematic violence against migrant workers and all other OUTSIDERS in Mumbai. Toda, all of Maharashtra is on the same wagon, it seems. I remember when phone and chat contacts from around the world asked me, after news of the Mumbai atrocities broke, about the situation in Pune. At that time I was happy to be able to say that I thought Raj Thackeray an isolated fanatic, and that he didn’t seem to represent the majority of Maharashtrians, who in my experience at least, were not openly chauvinistic or violent. I have now been proved wrong, and am ashamed to say that Maharashtra is not as I thought it to be.

“If you can’t beat ‘em, make ‘em like you” seems to be the NCP motto. In a bid to recapture the vote of the “marathi manoos” who is increasingly swaying towards Raj and his exclusionary politics, the NCP has been quick to introduce measures such as Marathi as a compulsory language up to the 10th standard, in ALL schools of ALL boards in Pune!!!!! Whether or not this holds up under the PILs and the lawsuits that are sure to be filed by concerned citizens and parents, the fact that they could even propose such a measure shows how deep the rot of “dhartiputra” has really gone. So now, as a Bengali in Pune, not only am I not allowed to vote here (read
THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING POLL BHOOTH and THE COMEDY CONTINUES…. on this blog), but now my child will be forced to study Marathi, at an “exam oriented” level, competing with kids whose mother tongue it is!

Oh yeah, there’s another evidence of how badly the state is LOSING IT, and giving into fanatic, extreme right wing, narrow minded, and extremist pressure groups and mindsets. This does not affect me personally, but seems equally incomprehensible, and is yet another symptom of the underlying CANCER. The CID has just been given the order to investigate why, in rural Maharashtra, hindu girls are marrying Muslim boys. What has a premiere investigative body got to do with peoples’ love lives, you ask? Well, according to some of the nuts in various positions of power, and positions able to exert pressure on the dear government, this is part of a “systematic conspiracy” being perpetrated by Muslims to increase their numbers.

Even if I believe for a minute (which I don’t) that it is a conspiracy, why have “they” chosen only Maharashtra as their target? And what’s the CID going to do about it? Are they going to prevent, by force, legally adult women from marrying whom they choose? Are they going to prevent the men from wooing whom they like? Please note that all these are love marriages. Not kidnappings, not forced nikaahs, MARRIAGES by the consent of both parties.

Doesn’t the CID have better things to do? High profile criminal cases are its normal forte, and there is no dearth of those in India. When a Salman Khan goes scot-free after killing pavement dwellers, when politicians and their families routinely rape, murder, pillage, defraud and cheat without so much as being charge sheeted. When business tycoons are making illegal billions and riding roughshod over ethics, morals, sensibilities and rights. When Dawood Ibrahims sit in luxury in surrounding lands happy in the knowledge that we cannot touch them. Are a few inter community marriages enough of a threat to need the experts from the CID?

Taken all in all, adding the really expensive cost of living, the increasingly surly and unfriendly locals, and all my apprehensions of what tomorrow might bring, Maharashtra in general, and Pune in particular, are no longer worth living in if you are a non-maharashtrian. Even if you have been born and brought up here, as some of my friends are finding out, you are still an “outsider” AND YOU ALWAYS WILL BE. And, more and more, Maharashtra is proving that it does not like, and will not tolerate OUTSIDERS. Marching orders methinks!

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