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Racism in India towards migrant labourers

The story of public sector banks in Punjab

27 December 2010

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Mail Today, 27 December 2010


Punjab banks display nothing but racism

Most Indians will say racism is something that prevails in the west. But Mail Today’s report on the blatant bias of certain nationalised banks in Punjab towards migrant labourers points to the pernicious nature of racism in India.

The policy of these banks of stipulating a separate day in the week for migrant labourers, who are mostly from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and making them form separate queues if, by mistake, they land up on the wrong day, is nothing short of apartheid. It is akin to the separate and inferior enclosures for Indians in cinema halls before independence, and the denial of access to transportation and other public services to blacks in the United States till the mid- 1960s.

Racism should have absolutely no place in the 21st century, and that, too, in a country which prides itself as being different from the west when it comes to dealing with race.

The rationale given by bank officials, that “ it is the non- resident Indians and not migrant labourers who run the bank” and the latter, being “ smelly and dirty” are likely to turn away ‘ elite’ customers, is appalling to say the least.

This behaviour seems to stem out of the fear of losing elite customers to private banks with posh offices where the poor don’t even dare to enter. Making nationalised banks competitive in the market and appeal to the elite clientele does not, in any way, mean that they start mirroring the biases, supposedly carried by their customers.

Such instances can be seen as a product of a larger malaise in society in which the elite lives in gated communities and lets the poor fester in slums. It also reflects the failure of different states in the country in treating migrants, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds, with dignity.

What they fail to realise is the central role these migrants play in sustaining the economies of their states.

If not for the rights of their fellow countrymen, the bank officials must mend their ways at least for the sake of the industrial and agricultural sectors in Punjab, which are almost completely dependent on migrant labourers.