No matter what the debate regarding the inflow of migrants to Mumbai, causing a threat to the sons of the soil, the Biharis and bhaiyyajis (those from Uttar Pradesh) are a force to reckon with. 40% of Mumbai’s population is of Bhojpuri origin. They provide the sinews to the city also known as City of Seven Islands, City of Dreams or the Gateway to India.
I was in Mumbai last weekend, invited by the Uttar Kshetriya Mahila Manch (UKMM) to be Chief Guest at their annual festival held in Bandra (10th October 2015). Shrimati Amrita Devendra Phadnavis, wife of Maharashtra’s Chief Minister along with Shrimati Vidya Thakur, State Minister, Women and Child Development Maharashtra were also present. It was a vibrant gala of music, dance and celebration of women’s dynamism and sense of contribution to the well-being of society. The choreography was maintained at a peak for more than two hours by no other than the ambassador of Bhojpuri folk music Malini Awasthi well-known to Mauritius. In fact Malini Awasthi will be in Mauritius in the context of the Festival of India by the end of November this year to give the kick-off to the International Bhojpuri Festival.
Chaired by Dr Pushpa Singh, a young dynamic medical consultant in medical practice for 25 years, the Uttar Kshetriya Mahila Manch is a group of 500 professional women of Mumbai hailing from Uttar Pradesh. They are doctors, businesswomen, advocates, artists, media professionals, TV anchors, film personalities, MBAs, Travel and Tourism professionals, finance CEOs and entrepreneurs. In short, they are skilled persons. They provide advocacy for the underprivileged and their aim is to further empower their sisters. They conduct a wide range of activities that contribute to the welfare of society, holding eye camps, visits to homes, eliminating poverty, giving educational, legal and medical assistance and promoting empowerment of women in general. The aim is to better society as a whole.
The vibrancy of these professional women of Uttar Pradesh settled for generations now in Mumbai reflects the pulsating and remarkable networking among the middle and upper strata of a people who had come in search of greener pastures from the east of India’s poorer pockets. Many of them hail from Jaunpur. They have set up businesses such as transport, finance, building, construction and land development planning. Their fast social mobility lead observers to no longer look at them with hostility or disparaging undertones but with “respectful note”. It is however erroneous to believe that Biharis have the same clout over Mumbai as they do over Delhi, Kolkata or rural Punjab. Here it is the “bhaiyyajis” or migrants from Uttar Pradesh who predominate.
Each decadal census onwards from 1961 has shown a rise from 12.01% to 24.28% in the flow of migrants from Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai. The liveliness and positivity of the Uttar Kshetriya Mahila Manch reflects the dynamic social mobility of a migrant population in the mega and wealthiest city of India where life never goes to sleep. Mumbai for that matter has the highest GDP of any city in South, West or Central Asia and has the highest number of billionaires and millionaires among all cities in India besides being the heart of Hindi cinema. Capital city of Maharashtra, Mumbai is also the most populous city in India with an estimated city population of 18.4 million and another 2 million of commuters. In 2009, Mumbai was named an alpha world city.
To survive successfully in the cutthroat environment of Mumbai is not an easy game. That is why the social platform created by a bunch of migrant women from some of the poorest states of India including Jaunpur is to be saluted for their success story. If migrants from Uttar Pradesh and their co-migrants from Bihar joined forces, they could bring large parts of Mumbai to capitulate or to a halt.
Mumbai, India’s largest city, takes its name from Mumba Devi or Maha Amba, honouring the goddess worshipped by the Koli tribes: original inhabitants of the seven islands. Mumba aai is a form of Parvati, Shiva’s consort. Mumbai: Mumba + aai (aai in Marathi means mother) is not only a unique centre of business, fashion and film making, being home to the world’s largest film industry, entertainment hub, financial hub, the Bollywood but also home to about 8 million of people of Bhojpuri origin. Reserve Bank of India, Bombay Stock Exchange and India’s National Stock Exchange are located in Mumbai. Thus Mumbai offers abundant business opportunities.
The Bhojpuri origin people span the whole gamut of the social ladder, from some of the richest magnates of Mumbai such as Shri Kripa Shankar Singh, former Minister in the Government of Maharashtra who was present at the function, Commissioners of Police, IAS, Municipal counsellors, university professors, income tax officers and film artists. Some of them were present at the Bandra Women festival, including Sameer, the famous prolific Bollywood lyricist from Benaras whose father “Anjaan” is the well-known composer of “Ho Khai Ke Paan Banaras Wala” and Udit Narayan and wife Deepa, also popular in Mauritius.
Further down the ladder are Mumbai’s scooter wallas, taxi drivers, paan wallas, dudh wallas and other roadside businessmen without whom Mumbai would be paralysed. Some of Mumbai’s Bhojpuri babus rank as far back as the fourth generation. Incredibly 7% of this community ranks among the topmost crust of Mumbai’s elite society. The Bhojpuri people of Mumbai live mostly in the suburbs such as Andheri East and West, Lokhanwala Complex, Sakinaka, Mallad, Thana, Parla, Boriwali, Goregaon, Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai), Kalyan, etc. Sakinaka which was but a small suburb some years ago has now become a vibrant business and finance centre of Mumbai. These provide rich political springboards to politicians. In fact the main political parties invite powerful politicians from Uttar Pradesh specially who roam from house to house in times of elections to rally votes.
If one wants more women leaders in organisations, women should be provided opportunities that will enable them to advocate for themselves, and forge an identity for themselves as well as their counterparts who are left out. There are plenty of potential roles available for such women. The leadership qualities of these glamorous professional women from Mumbai were amazingly visible and they are equally sharp and articulate. As they keep on moving into decision-making positions they can aspire to senior leadership and strategic posts and challenges.
Mumbai’s Bhojpuri women reflect the ability of people who can carve out a niche for themselves when they are given the opportunities. The Uttar Kshetriya Mahila Manch offers effectiveness, solidity and identity for women.
- Published in print edition on 16 October 2015