The ‘settler’ conundrum

The ‘settler’ conundrum

Madhusudhan: The ‘Settler’ Conundrum, The ‘settler’ issue has taken the centre-stage in poll discussions as those who have moved to the Telangana areas from Andhra and Seema regions during and after the Nizam rule for employment, business, agriculture, etc.

The word that keeps resonating in Middle East and western media is ‘settler,’ used in reference to Israelis who have been settled in the occupied Palestinian lands of West Bank under an official Israeli government policy. The idea, Palestinians allege, is to deprive them of their ancient lands and make the newly-occupied areas Jewish settlements.

Madhusudhan: The ‘Settler’ Conundrum

Israeli occupation and Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Arabs and Israelis and no American effort has been able to resolve the row or halt the exodus of Israelis to occupy Palestinian lands. The Arabs, as well as the sympathisers of their cause, scoff at the Israeli settlement policy and call those who have made their homes on the Palestinian lands ‘Jewish settlers.’ In a sense, the term is derogatory and disparaging. Thousands of kilometers away from the Mideast’s hotspot, the word ‘settler’ has gained currency in Andhra Pradesh, soon after the process of bifurcation has started and the widespread use of the term has begun with the announcement of elections to parliament and the two legislative assemblies in the divided State.

The ‘settler’ issue has taken the centre-stage in poll discussions as those who have moved to the Telangana areas from Andhra and Seema regions during and after the Nizam rule for employment, business, agriculture, etc. are holding a trump card called vote which they can effectively use to make or mar the political chances of candidates contesting from different seats on tickets of various parties. No doubt, the ‘settlers’ who constitute a sizable proportion of population in Hyderabad and surrounding areas as well as in some districts have a major say in the outcome of parliamentary and assemblies’ elections this month-end and next month. But, notwithstanding their enormous economic and political clout, should they continue to be called ‘settlers, not Seemandhras?

According to Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a ‘settler’ is defined as “a person who arrives, especially from another country, in a new place and takes the land in order to live on it and farm it.” Wikipedia states that “a settler is a person who has migrated to an area and established permanent residence there, often to colonise the area. Settlers are generally people who take up residence on land.”

If we go by these definitions, and historical cases, settlers live on land that was home to local and indigenous people and examples are galore in Australia, Russia and Europe. The definition is aptly applicable to Israeli settlers in occupied Arab lands. In all such cases, what is notable is the ‘settlers’ are not from within the country but outside of it. Ancient history was replete with instances where ‘outsiders’ had waged bloody battles with local people for supremacy and control of natural resources by settling down in the adopted land. It’s a different issue the ‘settlers’ had become a part of the social milieu after some decades. The issue, now, is whether the en masse movement of people (some prefer to call it migration) from one region to another within the geographical area of a country and settling down either for livelihood or commercial gains without disturbing the existing social order will earn them the sobriquet ‘settlers’?

If we dig into history, a majority of people across the globe are ‘settlers,’ that is mass human migrations that had taken place for thousands of years. According to an article in New Scientist that illustrated the process in a map, human beings first left Africa about 60,000 years ago in a series of waves that peopled the globe.

Even today, thousands leave India for greener pastures in the West, particularly the USA and West Asia for lucrative jobs. Millions of Indians have taken American residence and settled down. Similarly, the Indian Diaspora could be found from North to South America. West Asia is hugely populated by Indian migrant workers whose stay is linked to their contract work or job. Nowhere in these countries are Indians hailing from all the States in the country called ‘settlers.’ If they are Indian Americans in the US, they are people of Indian origin/ancestry in East Asia and guest/Indian workers elsewhere. However, there is an exception: I have been told that Biharis who had migrated to Pakistan during the partition are still called “Bihari settlers” that evokes contemptuous feelings.

It is a tragedy that people talking the same language – with regional variations which are common to any major language – and living together for over half a century, described by some as leading a divorced life under one roof, should become victims of political machinations that have driven a wedge between common people using the ‘settler’ issue as a hammer.

Are Seemandhra people who have been living in Telangana districts in general and the Twin Cities in particular for decades really ‘settlers’? If they are, what about those who have come down from North Indian States and made the City of Nawabs their permanent place of residence? They don’t carry the ‘settler’ tag; on the other hand, they are credited with enriching the cosmopolitan character of the City of Hyderabad. True, they do, and deserve kudos for making Hyderabad what it is today: Vibrant with a rainbow culture.

In the same vein, there is no need to discredit the whole Seemandhra population in Telangana, a majority of which is nothing to do with State politics and treat them as villains of the piece. Worse, calling them ‘settlers.’ More than the political leadership, the media has to take the blame for abuse of the word. In the absence of a shorter word for headline purposes, the press seems to have settled down on the term which is inapt. It only helps fuel animosity at a time when tempers and the election fever are running high.

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