Mahanirban Calcutta Research group


Justice, Protection, and Government of the People: A Two-Year Research and Orientation Programme on Protection and Democracy in a Post-COVID World (2021-2023)


Concept Note


Justice, Protection, and Government of the People: A Two-Year Research and Orientation Programme on Protection and Democracy in a Post-COVID World (2021-2023)

Concept Note 

 The IWM and the MCRG have come together to collaborate on the project ‘Justice, Protection and Government of the People: A Two Year Research and Orientation Programme on Protection and democracy in a Post-Covid World (2021-2023)’ and continue building a Europe-South Asia Platform on migration and forced migration studies which continues to build on their earlier collaboration in 2020-2022. The programme will explore the emerging phenomenon of the ‘government of the people’, thus the emerging complex of institutions, procedures, policies, calculations, practices and laws that shape the complex form of care and protection. In executing the programme, MCRG will host the South Asian segment and IWM will host the European segment of the programme.

There is a deeper reason behind invoking the idea of the ‘government of the people’. In this neoliberal time, the work of governing the population of a country at least in South Asia - is performed not only by the concerned state. The work of governing the people may be dispersed throughout the population groups, and performed by a variety of public and private agencies. Solidarity and care practices by various public forces besides the government, the task of protecting public health handled by various local self-governments and state governments, the dominating presence of various business groups in care industry or logistical industries, are only few of the instances of a time when people are being governed not centrally or by a specific institution only, but by several institutions and at several levels. Yet while activities and responsibilities are decentralized, power is increasingly centralized in the post-COVID world.

Therefore, when we address the question of justice and protection in South Asia, we need an examination of the sphere of practices that are governmental but neglected in conventional studies. In order to understand the significance of justice for vulnerable population groups including the displaced and of the duty to protect the people in general, we have to examine the relation of the population with the state, and at a fundamental level the relation of a vulnerable society to the government that claims to be democratic. In this sense, the government does not refer only to political structures or to the management of states in this region. Rather, it designates the way in which the conduct of individuals or of groups in a crisis time is directed. Therefore, we need to study how the lives of women, discriminated groups, children, migrant labour, or labour in an expanding gig economy, etc., are being managed in the Covid-19 world; also, how social protection policies are framed by governments and authorities at lower levels. In this context, we propose to explore the emerging complex of institutions, procedures, policies, calculations, practices, and laws that shape the complex form of care and protection. If population groups are not protected, democracy loses its legitimacy. The game of government is an art through which some people learn how to govern others and some learn how to govern themselves, and yet some learn to let themselves be governed by others. Democracy is more and more defined by this emerging phenomenon of the ‘government of the people’ in which justice and protection take veritable meanings.

The composite figure of the refugee and the migrant is a key one in this new scenario. It signals the general precariousness we find all around. It links the particular question of care and protection with the general well-being of the society. It authenticates, or conversely, puts in question the legitimacy of a government. It tells us of the borders within a society which the lower orders of the society have to cross all the time to survive.

One of the most foundational realities of 21st century globalization is the cross-border mobility on research and dissemination, both in terms of human resources and the exchange of ideas. If nothing else, the Covid-19 crisis has taught us how connected the globe is. The age of pandemic has shown us that knowledge sharing, knowledge diversification, and knowledge dissemination are no longer a luxury but a necessity. As the problems are global, the solutions need to be global. International exchanges are meant to lead us to the establishment of international collaborations and conclaves. Hence platforms of collaboration are the need of the time. International collaborations have become one of the hallmarks of good research programmes and CRG realises it. With IWM and several other European and South Asian institutions, CRG intends to create a knowledge platform that will, it is hoped, encourage the creation of a robust international community of scholars in migration and forced migration studies that would be collaborative, mutually stimulating, and rigorous in researching the questions of the hour.

Thus, the Europe-Asia research platform will include:
(a) Increased collaboration and joint research with like-minded institutions in Europe and Asia in studies of citizenship, democracy, governance, migration, and justice;
(b) and specifically, a young participations from all partner institutions. It will be a Euro-South Asian conclave;
(c) Joint publications as a means to strengthen the platform;
(d) Steps towards ensuring greater participation from countries outside South Asia in the November workshop and conference;
(e) And finally, strengthening of South-South collaborations, bringing in participants from other institutions from regions such as Southeast Asia and Africa.
The platform will encourage work towards equity of knowledge production and deepening interdependence between Europe and Asian social science communities. Needless to say, the platform will aim to promote research that will be both intersectional and just. It will be alive to issues of racial, gender, class, caste, religion and other forms of injustice.

In other words, this proposal seeks to combine the specific issue of refugee and migrant protection with the general issue of care, protection, and democracy. The phenomenon of the government of the people that has emerged prominently in recent years will be at the heart of the study. The proposed programme aims to situate itself in a post-COVID scenario. The ideas and programmes suggested here will be pursued with the added important purpose of network widening, platform building, and deepening global understanding of a post-COVID world.

In this light, CRG’s research agenda for 2021-23 will move around inquiries on themes, such as:
(a) Citizenship and statelessness; sites of statelessness;
(b) Environment, public health, and displaced population groups;
(c) Shock migrations;
(d) The pandemic, restructuring of the economy including restructuring of labour; gig economy and migrant labour; precarious labour in unorganised sector;
(e) COVID-19 jurisprudence (laws, judgments, legal commentaries etc., on the issue of protection in the wake of the pandemic and the right to life);
(f) Women labour in the pandemic time;
(g) Governmental policies for the protection of the victims of the double crises: public health crisis and economic crisis; governmental practices of social protection;
(h) Care economy and solidarity economy;
(i) Solidarity practices;
(j) Pandemic, bio-politics from below, and the new meaning of social justice in form of policies on access to food, education, work, and health by women, Dalits, minorities, migrants, and refugees and other vulnerable groups; the re-envisioning of the link between justice and democracy that gives a new meaning to the ‘government of the people’.

All these are to be studied in the frame of the ‘Long 2020’—the pandemic in a longer historical time frame and its likely impact in the years to come; (b) South Asian and broadly Asian context; (c) and a joint framework of European-Asian experiences of public health management, social protection, refugee and migrant protection, and new meanings of justice, care, and democracy. Thus, CRG will seek broader participation from South Asian / Asian and European institutions in its activities as much as possible. In various activities given below, there will be inputs and participation of the IWM.

Creative programmes (such as mobile exhibitions for schools and colleges, mapping exercises, and translation programme) and other specialised conclaves (media workshops, teacher’s workshops, etc.,) will also be organised in the forms of outreach, dissemination of research findings, and network building.
Similarly, the programme of public archive building (on the basis of CRG’s Living Archive) as part of CRG’s resource centre will receive additional impetus.


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