Why North Indians migrate to Tamil Nadu?

Several conspiracy theories, political reasons are stated for the inward migration in Tamil Nadu. But what really is the truth?

Human Migration from one place to another happens due to a variety of reasons. Some of them include better employment opportunities, standard of living, better access to education & healthcare etc. Usually, this migration happens from lesser developed places to relatively well-developed places. This logic applies equally well in the county to country migration and within the country migration.

Migration of “North Indians” is being reported in various states throughout India. Almost all southern states, Maharashtra, Gujarat have seen considerable such migrations and these states have seen concerns raised by some sections of its society, although in varying degrees of urgency and primacy. The term “North Indian” is generically used for anybody who has come from outside of the southern states, irrespective of it being central India, northern India, western India or from northeastern India.

The migration of “North Indians” has become a topic of political interest in Tamil Nadu, Bihar & various North Indian states due to the false propaganda by the BJP in Bihar claiming that many Biharis are killed & assaulted in Tamil Nadu. This was further amplified by several news outlets. We have written separate articles about the misinformation and false propaganda by the BJP which can be read here, here, and here.


Why Tamil Nadu?

This article is focused on the Tamil Nadu perspective but some of these points can be attributed to other states as well. Setting aside the misinformation and false narrative surrounding the alleged attack against Biharis (North Indians) in Tamil Nadu, there is no denying that there are some concerns raised against the sharp influx of people from other states in Tamil Nadu. Several political parties, organizations, and public figures have raised an issue with such inward migration.

In simple terms, there are two kinds of opposition to this trend. One is, opposition to the jobs in the state government and the union government offices functioning in the state being allegedly given to people from other states (generally addressed as north Indians) in ever increasing rate. This includes jobs that are quite visible to the public eye such as the employees working in railways, airports, public sector banks etc. This has been a historical problem stretching several decades and this is considered as a denial of Tamil Nadu people’s rights to these jobs.

There is another kind of opposition that has grown in recent times. It is the generic opposition to people from other states into Tamil Nadu, irrespective of the nature of the work they indulge in. This kind of opposition has varying degrees of severity. There is a benign advocacy for not allowing ‘outsiders’ in the state. Then there is a more aggressive pushback, perhaps violent and dangerous, that is being put forth against inward migration. For eg. Right-wing Tamil nationalist party Naam Tamilar Katchi’s chief Seeman had threatened to file ‘fake’ cases on the charges of theft, rape, sexual harassment etc on north Indians to be followed by custodial torture which the party’s chief claims will be used to scare them out of the state.

In many ways, this mindset has emerged sheerly out of ignorance and fearmongering. The ignorance is due to the lack of understanding in the social, political, demographic & economic reasons for such mass migration of people into the state of Tamil Nadu. Fearmongering aspect stems from the good old human nature; the fear of outsiders.  This has led to narratives ranging from a conspiracy to destroy the people of the state culturally & ethnically to a political scheme to capture power in the state by a party, usually the one ruling at the Union level.

These clear-cut differences may be blurred and seem like one when observed from a skewed perspective which lacks thorough examination, and this misunderstanding is further amplified by the ambiguity in clear roadmaps by even those who champion anti-immigration rhetoric in whatever way they do. At the same time, one has to understand why the situation in Tamil Nadu is conducive to the inward migration of workers. Some of the reasons explained below briefly.


Tamil Nadu’s Fertility Rate

In simple terms, Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime or during her childbearing years. In the topic of TFR, the replacement level fertility is considered very important which is pegged at birth of 2.1 children to a woman on an average scale. At this rate, the population will sustain at the same level over one generation to another, if there is no mass migration of people. If the TFR is more than 2.1, the population would increase and if it drops below 2.1, the population will reduce over time and eventually might even collapse.

Tamil Nadu’s TFR had remained below this 2.1 level at least since the mid-2000s. Even though it was reported that there is a slight increase to Tamil Nadu’s TFR, it is still at 1.8 which is much lower than the replacement level of 2.1. Quite alarmingly, data released by Sample Registration System has estimated the value to be at 1.4 which is one of the lowest in the world. What this entails is that the rate of birth in Tamil Nadu has been less than what is required to maintain the population and the state’s is about to face a population decline in absence of migration.

Average age of the population

Due to the TFR of Tamil Nadu being very low, it had resulted in another problem as well. The average population is much older. According to some estimates (see here, here) the median age of people in Tamil Nadu would be more than 40 years old by the year 2036. This was calculated using the data from 2011 and in that year the median age of Tamil Nadu was 30 years, which is one of the oldest in the country. By 2036, Tamil Nadu will have the oldest population in the country. This results in a significantly lower younger population which makes up the bulk of work force.


Tamil Nadu is highly educated

The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education is 46.9% in 2020-21 down from 49% in 2019-20 is still significantly higher than the national average of 27.3%. The GER in higher education for the top 5 most populous states which also have some of the youngest populations are as follows: Bihar (15.9%), Uttar Pradesh (23.2%), Maharashtra (34.9%), West Bengal (21.3%), Madhya Pradesh (27.1%), Jharkhand (17%). Gujarat, one of the most industrious states, has a GER of just 22.2%.

With almost half its population being highly educated, Tamil Nadu’s work force has predominantly moved towards more skilled work with subsequently higher pay and white-collar jobs both inside the country and abroad. The nature of work that the population of Tamil Nadu aspire has gone through a considerable change.

There is a correlation between states with the highest population and its median age being relatively younger and the corresponding GER ratio being lower.


Tamil Nadu’s Industrialization

According to a report from the Reserve Bank of India, Tamil Nadu has 38,837 factories in the state which is the highest in the country, towering over Gujarat’s 28,479 and Maharashtra’s 25,610 factories, which are the second and third highest states. These factories require a large number unskilled, semi-skilled workers which Tamil Nadu is not able to adequately offer due to its demography which is also relatively old, highly educated.



Effect on migration

These factors have an interlink between one another and have a compounding effect which has manifested into the current inward migration of population in Tamil Nadu, which will only intensify in the coming years, at least for the next 2-3 decades. By 2030, Japan which is expected to have one in three people above the age of 65. The solution to the shrinking population due to low birth & severely aging population is immigration, undoubtedly. Without migration, the country would struggle economically & politically.

Wave of migration

Whenever there is a discussion about human migration, the phrase “wave of migration” is often used. This wave of migration changes over time in intensity, frequency, and direction.  As mentioned earlier, these factors include social, political, demographic, and economic reasons. The unrest in the middle east has generated multiple waves of migration from the middle east to various parts of the world, predominantly Europe.

Tamil Nadu which is seeing inward migration was once an epicenter of outward migration. Tamils in the past have migrated to Burman (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia etc. Inside India too, several thousands have migrated to Mumbai, Karnataka etc where they form a significant minority population. In 1960s, Tamils along with other south Indians faced significant violence during the early days of Shiv Sena, which saw the inward migration in Maharashtra as a threat to its employment, culture, politics and economy. Times have changed and so has the migration pattern.

Tamil Nadu is now seeing an inward migration. Maharashtra’s hostility is directed against North Indians recently. Even in Gujarat, incidents of wrath against migrants have been reported.


Dangers of Anti-Immigration Mindset

There will be many similar features in the inward migration seen in Tamil Nadu when we compare with other states seeing similar trends. Apart from this, there could be more complex and nuanced features as well which the general populace does not understand, and this has led to the anti-immigration mindset. Parallels of this can be seen in many countries of the European Union, United States, Australia, United Kingdom etc.

Irrespective of this mindset being nurtured against a person from another state, country, race, religion; it has the potential to lead to civic unrest and violence. Further, this could have a cascading effect on the economy which might have attracted the migration in the first place. In a geography which is undergoing significant change in its demography, any loss of progressive momentum in the economy would deliver a severe blow which might take several generations to bounce back, if ever there is a chance.

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Ramasamy Jayaprakash

Ramasamy works as a Senior Sub-Editor at YouTurn and writes articles in Tamil and English. He also makes videos for YouTurn's Tamil & English YouTube channels.
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