Modules 2004

Module A    /    Module B    /    Module C    /    Module D    /    Module E    /    Module F



Nationalism, ethnicity, racism, and xenophobia


Module A deals with Nationalism, ethnicity, racism, and xenophobia.  In the context of South Asia nationalism and ethnicity assume particular importance.  The emergence of the modern states of South Asia is linked to the end of colonialism in the sub-continent and its partition – first into two and later into three new nation states. However, the process of decolonisation still continues. The formation of the nation-state is a European concept and the creation of nation-states in South Asia is a fall-out of European colonial rule in the region.  Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 created the largest mass migration in human history.  This was the beginning of a phenomenon which continues till today.   Partition of the subcontinent on religious lines resulted in creation of religious and ethnic minorities.  Ethnicity and religion both assumed serious proportions resulting in an upsurge of nationalism and further partition.  In 1971 there was another partition leading to forced displacement across borders and within borders of the new nation states.  At the root of every conflict was, of course, the question of land and resources.  Since most of the cross border migrations in the region were a result of partitions of states, there is a special emphasis on partition refugees. 


This module therefore attempts to analyse and give an overview of the following:  

  1. Nationalism and the formation of nation states in South Asia have resulted in massive displacement of the people of the region.

  2. Partition refugees forming a distinct category of refugees

  3. Land as a primary factor in forcible displacement of people

  4. State policies in South Asia regarding the protection and rehabilitation of refugees.

The course contents of this module focus primarily on the partition refugees and their resettlement in the host states.  The policies of the Indian Government in the rehabilitation of refugees from both East and West Pakistan in particular are highlighted as it is generally considered that the Government did an adequate job of rehabilitating and resettling the refugees.  There is also a chapter on citizenship and its implications in the context of South Asia.  The role of land and resources as the underlying factor in conflict-induced displacement of people is also included, with case studies taken from different countries of South Asia.  




Gendered nature of forced migration, vulnerability, and justice


Module B deals with the Gendered nature of forced migration, victim-hood and gender justice.  It is important to remember that women and children constitute some 80 per cent of the world's millions of refugees and other displaced persons, including internally displaced persons. They are threatened by deprivation of property, goods and services and deprivation of their right to return to their homes of origin as well as by violence and insecurity. Of particular concern is the fact that sexual violence against uprooted women and girls is employed as a method of persecution in systematic campaigns of terror and intimidation and forcing members of a particular ethnic, cultural or religious group to flee their homes. Women and children continue to be vulnerable to violence and exploitation while in flight, in countries of asylum and resettlement and during and after repatriation. Women often experience difficulty in some countries of asylum in being recognized as refugees when the claim is based on such persecution.


At the same time refugee, displaced and migrant women in most cases display strength, endurance and resourcefulness and can contribute positively to countries of resettlement or to their country of origin on their return. Women make an important but often unrecognized contribution as peace educators both in their families and in their societies. They need to be appropriately involved in decisions that affect them.


The situation of the refugee population depends on host countries and the relationship shows how refugee populations are affected.  It is important particularly for women who always form the bulk of most refugee populations. However most countries ignore this fact and continue to formulate gender “impartial” refugee policies. Such policies are based on male experiences of displacement and so they may affect women adversely.


This module, therefore, attempts to give an over view and analyse the following:

  1. Forced displacement of populations is first and foremost forced displacement of women.

  2. Displaced women, especially single women and children form a distinct category of victims

  3. The common and specific features of women displaced due to conflict and those displaced due to development policies

  4. Narratives of displaced women is important in forging appropriate state responses for their protection and care.

The course contents of Module B include UNHCR policies on refugee women and guidelines on the international protection for gender related persecution, as well as UNICEF policy recommendations on gender dimensions of internal displacement.  There are also case studies of refugee women in different states of the region and the different regimes of care in place.  Space has also been devoted to refugee women during partition and the violence inflicted on them as the reverberations of the partition of the subcontinent are still being felt by the states in the region.  Moreover, abduction and rape of women by members of different communities was one of the particularly horrifying aspects of the partition, compelling India and Pakistan to sign the Abducted Persons Recovery and Restoration Act in 1949 which in turn affected women’s agency in decision making.  Some of the highlights of this module, thus, are the voices of women victims of the Partition, as one of history’s many lesson and essays on immigrant women, racial and residential segregation, the needs and cares of widows, pregnant women and children, and some case studies regarding the repatriation and rehabilitation of refugee women.




International, regional, and the national regimes of protection, sovereignty, and the principle of responsibility


Module C deals with the International regime of protection, sovereignty and the principle of responsibility, and political issues relating to regional trends in migration in South Asia.


Refugee Law is a relatively new branch of International Law. First major step towards developing an international regime of protection was 1951 convention in a Post World War Two situation, later modified in 1967. From then on 1951 convention has formed the core of all Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law for the protection of refugees. However since its inception there have been objections to the provisions of the 1951 convention on the grounds of Euro centrism, and insensitivity towards the internecine racial, ethnic and religious conflicts in third world which has resulted in the creation of refugees in large numbers. The provisions of the convention have served well to the protection of refugees during the Cold War times but has failed to do so after that, when there has been an attempt at dealing with the refugee problems ‘at source’. This has led to the international interference in the internal matters of a sovereign nation creating further problems for states and for the displaced. This has been witnessed very recently in the Darfur region of Sudan and in past in former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and other African countries.


Another failure has been the inability of the convention to recognise the special needs of women, children, and aged people within the sections of refugees, though this has been addressed to some extent in the provisions of CEDAW convention but need to be reflected in 1951 convention as well. The provisions of 1951 convention further need revision due to increased complexities in the process of refugee generation, protection and also due to advances in the field of refugee studies. The increased focus on refugee studies has led to broadening of definitions of ‘refugee’, ‘protection’, ‘rights’, ‘justice’ etc.


A casualty of above mentioned problems has been that 1951 convention has not been ratified by all the nations of the world. India is one such nation which has stayed away, citing certain biases in the provisions of the convention. However, it has developed its own provisions to deal with the problems of refugees on a case-by-case basis in absence of a consistent national policy. This has its own problems, for example India has provided all possible help to Tibetan refugee due to its own political necessities but has not done so with the Bangladeshi and Bhutanese refugees. The provisions of Indian state has also not progressed with the evolution of feminist critic of the protection regimes which needs attention and creation of a consistent policy accommodating the faults in current practices.


In this module we have focussed on the various aspects of refugee protection at an international level in general and on South Asian level in particular. To mention a few of them :

  1. What do we mean by Refugees, Asylum, Protection etc in socio-politico and legal terms ?

  2. What are the special provisions required for protection of women, children and other marginalised communities in the overall context of refugee protection and law ?

  3. What’s the distinction between the Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law with respect to refugee protection ?

  4. What are the safeguards available for the protection of refugees in International Law ?

  5. What is the responsibility of the state and society towards the refugees ? Can they simply be seen as problems and responsibility of the host country alone ?

  6. Is there a link between the refugee protection regime, international law and globalisation ?

  7. What has been the record of Indian state vis-à-vis refugee protection since partition ?

  8. And other related issues.

Just to give an idea of the literature in the module, some excerpts from the previous year’s participants literature review is enclosed :

  1. “The study pack, on which the following literature review is based, is a compilation of articles that focus on various aspects of the refugee problems in the international system. They incorporate commentary on the way experiences of and discourses on refugees have changed since World War I. The analyses focus on political practices that create refugees, the evolution of international protection as well as the European bias and other shortcomings of this system.

  2. The writings of B S Chimni are an excellent exposition of the international response, primarily legal in nature that has developed in relation to the needs of refugees. His edited book International Refugee Law: A Reader is a comprehensive collection that brings together comments and analyses on various aspects of international refugee law and policies. It is also useful in understanding the evolution of definitions of refugee and related terms as well as the contesting viewpoints on issues of international protection, responsibilities of host countries, role of UNHCR as well as the rights of refugees.

  3. … in an examination of the global space, Chimni in Globalization, Humanitarianism and the Erosion of Refugee Protection exposes the current discourse on humanitarianism as an ideology that hegemonic states use to dominate international politics. Unlike terms such as human rights and refugees, humanitarianism does not have a legal definition and this allows proponents of globalisation to hijack the term in order to expand neo-liberal regimes. These proponents, mostly belonging to northern countries, are increasingly trying to dispose off their share in international protection through transfer of material resources. While this is compatible to the globalisation agenda, it also helps them close their borders against people seeking refuge within their national territories. In response to this worrying trend, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had pleaded with international institutions that execute such decisions to develop “a ‘peace-friendly’ structural adjustment programme” (Annan, 1998; cited in Chimni, 2000). 

  4. Tapan K Bose brings forth how the compulsions of state formation itself created a large number of refugees by trying to impose a "homogenous ‘national identity’", closely identified with the language, religion and culture of the dominant groups, on all people. (Bose: p.41). In the South Asian context, he contends that post-colonial attempts to build "majoritarian nation-states of the European kind" led to forceful imposition of dominant identities on people, which created tensions between the communities. Competition for scarce resources and the need for political freedom also caused population flows…”   [Soumita Basu]

  5. Some chapters from Ranabir Samaddar, ed, Refugees & the State : Practices of Asylum & Care in India, 1947-2000 and Sanjay Kr. Roy, ed, Refugees and Human Rights provide an excellent window to the situation of refugees in India be they the Tibetan refugees, Bangladeshi Refugees, Afghanistan refuges and others. It also discusses and analyses the position of Indian government vis-à-vis various international laws and conventions. The articles also look at various socio-politico and economic dimensions involved in the refugee problem.



Resource politics, environmental degradation, and forced migration


Module D deals with Resource politics, environmental degradation, and forced migration.  Annually, the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the globe are affected by forced displacement due to infrastructure projects like dams, mines, industries, power plants, roads.  Even in displacements induced by conflicts, it is the question of resources that lies at the heart of most of these conflicts.  The situation in South Asia is no exception.  In fact, the phenomenon of displacement due to resource politics and environmental degradation may said to be more pronounced in this region because of the industrialisation drive of these developing states and also because of the inadequacy of existing legislatures in either preventing such displacement or in facilitating suitable rehabilitation of the victims of such projects.  Very often it is the state that is the transgressor, responsible for effecting such displacement.    At the same time, it has been observed that most of the displaced remain women and children, and even when men are displaced, their displacement negatively impacts on the womenfolk.  The displaced rarely get adequate compensation for their losses of homes, livelihoods, resources.  Most often than not they get no compensation and are hardly ever provided relief or rehabilitation packages by the Government.  Since most of the displaced are usually marginalised groups, they are unaware of their rights to adequate compensation and better rehabilitation and neither do they benefit from the end products of the developmental projects. 

This module is thus designed to give a comprehensive understanding of the following: 

  1. Resources lie at the heart of conflicts which in turn lead to forcible displacement of groups of population.

  2. The concept of environmental degradation and environmental displacement.

  3. The effect of resource politics and environmental degradation on women

  4. Guidelines on how to prevent such displacement and how to shape adequate policies to ensure the adequate rehabilitation of the displaced.

The Course literature for Module D focuses mainly on case studies of developmental displacement of peoples, resulting from resource politics and environmental degradation.  The chapter “Uprooted Twice : Refugees from the Chittagong Hill Tracts” deals with the displacement of the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts - first due to developmental projects and then - due to the settlement policies of the Government to try and change the demographic composition of the area in order to consolidate the territorial integrity of the state.  The same scene unfolds in the paper on developmental displacement of people in Pakistan, many of whom have yet to be resettled even after 30 years of displacement.  Sanjoy Borbora’s article on Ethnic Politics and Land Us: Genesis of Conflicts in India’s North-East focuses on how resources become a source of contention and therefore conflict resulting in displacing people. Meghna Guhathakurta’s paper on the shrimp industry in Bangladesh reveals how women particularly are affected by the tie up between global capital and local economy, not only in terms of personal displacement but also by the migration of the men folk in search of employment because of the disruption of the traditional economy and employment patterns.   


The report of the workshop on Engendering Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policies and Programmes in India gives an insight into how women particularly are affected by developmental projects and resource policies and how policies can be and need to be framed keeping in mind the gendered angle and with the participation of women, in order to understand and learn ways to redress the problems particularly faced by them. 




Internal displacement - causes, linkages, and responses


Module E deals with Internal displacement – causes, linkages, and responses.  When 1951 convention for protection of refugees was framed no one had imagined that within few decades the number of Internally Displaced Persons[1] (IDPs) would surpass that of refugees. Today on an estimate there are 25 million[2] IDPS spread all over Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. These people have been forcibly uprooted from their homes by civil wars, ethnic conflicts, natural and man-made disasters. The most important concern of the world civil society is the fact that these IDPs are trapped within their own country boundaries in conflict zones under situations of gross human rights violation. Within them women, children and older people have to suffer most because of increased vulnerabilities in situations like this. In these situations they not only suffer from forced displacement from their place of natural habitat but also economic, political, societal, and emotional displacement. It becomes extremely difficult for women to perform even mundane daily chores in circumstances like these. Expecting mothers have to suffer extreme hardship due to negligence, lack of food, health and sanitation measures. The problems of women further gets multiplied due to gendered nature of the protection laws which prioritises male members as claimants for compensation and other benefits.


The displacement also means loss of pride, prestige, self-respect, privacy and values which can’t be quantified as the material loss of houses, and property. The condition of IDPs is no better than that of refugees except for the fact that they have not lost their national identity and rights due to them as citizens of that state. Since the internally displaced remain within the borders of their own country and thus are forced due to seek shelter, they pose a challenge to the humanitarian nature and the human rights concerns of the international law. Displacement of people from their houses, dwellings and surroundings affect a broad range of rights like the right to life, equality, freedom of speech, expression, information, residence, movement, trade, occupation, right to religion, culture, language and property. But it is the extraordinary situation in conflict zones that makes it difficult for IDPs to enjoy rights prescribed by the states. 


As mentioned in beginning IDPs are product of specific circumstances in the respective countries but who is responsible for providing relief to them ? Who is responsible for their ‘empowerment’ and ‘Sustainable’ Resettlement and Rehabilitation ? Who is responsible for restoring the faith, pride, prestige, sense of loss, mental agony, physical torture, harassment which they have to go through in these conditions ? Not that everything can be compensated but still it is important because any relief measure has to be more than the immediate. That is why the relief measures have to be targeted towards ensuring permanent peace, settlement and constructive transformation of the conflicts which leads to generation of IDPs. This would ensure not just survival but dignity, participation and sustainability of just norms. How can one do this ? who is responsible for this ?

The guiding principles on Internal Displacement, prepared by UN Secretary General’s special representative on Internal Displacement, assigns primary responsibility of providing relief and protection to concerned national authorities.[3] However primarily because of the nature of the problems and circumstances which create IDPs, and the conflicting sovereignties of nation states provisions has also been made for action by international communities, organisations, and relief agencies in the Guiding Principles under article 25.2. It states, ‘International humanitarian organisations and other appropriate actors have the right to offer their services in support of the internally displaced. Such an offer shall not be regarded as an unfriendly act or interference in a State’s internal affairs and shall be considered in good faith’. These Principles developed by Farncis M Deng provide comprehensive guidelines on the issues of protection from displacement; protection during displacement; providing humanitarian assistance; return, resettlement, and reintegration of IDPs. However, the greater challenge before the international communities and nation state is to deal with the roots of factors which generate IDPs. On the surface of it the causes could be the ethnic conflict, civil wars, natural or man made disasters but deep inside the problem lies in the process of nation-state formations, cultural differences, notions of development, and the growing hegemonic influence of capitalist system of production furthering inequality, authoritarianism, majoritarianism, and growth of a class at the centre at the cost of majority at margins.


The solution to the problems of IDPs has further been affected by recent developments. Firstly, there has been a spurt in the power and influence of global corporations together with the democracies all over the world, especially in Africa and Latin America. However, the very corporations has acted strongly to undermine the influence and growth of upcoming democracies and promoted the cause of authoritarianism and majoritarianism to garner profit for themselves at the cost of people who have lost control of their natural resources and democratic rights to these corporations. The control over the scarce resources directly or indirectly has been at the root of most of the conflicts around the world which produces a big chunk of IDPs. The global civil society is slowly beginning to realise the complex nexus of the global capital, their imperialistic designs and the ruling sections of the Third World which survives at the cost of exploitation of natural resources, forced displacement and the conflicts among various groups. The anti-globalisation protests are a beginning at the world scale but much is happening at the grass root level among social movements and civil organisations by empowering the people.


This module is an attempt at precisely addressing these issues and providing an opportunity to discuss the problems of IDPs, the rights available to them, and the response by various national, international organisations engaged in relief and rehabilitation measures. The module also attempts to discuss the larger politics behind the generation of IDPs through specific case studies from North East India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and in general at world level. Some of the articles also discuss the specific problems of women and children during displacement and their increased vulnerabilities. The module should be seen more as an initiation in to the complex world of IDPs and the reasons behind their conditions because they are rooted deep in to the political, economic, and social structure of the nation states at the local, national, to global level.




Ethics of care and justice


Even though we may say that the establishment of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by the General Assembly Resolution of 14 December 1950 was a political step taken in the midst of the gathering clouds of cold war, as we re-read the resolution, we cannot deny today, even while acknowledging the political character of the step, the strong ethical roots of the humanitarian step that was being envisaged. Calling upon the States to cooperate with the United Nations in the work of refugee protection, execution of measures towards the improvement of the situation of the refugees, in admitting refugees, promoting their assimilation, especially facilitating their naturalisation, permitting the refugees to transfer their assets for their resettlement, etc. was a humanitarian call, whose roots lay in the ethical obligations of hospitality, care, and protection. The way in which the political task of ensuring the rights of the forcibly displaced and the ethical task of providing hospitality have combined through years has much to offer us as lesson.


Rights too have ethical roots. Protecting the displaced has widened in scope and significance, it now includes protecting the internally displaced persons also – uprooted due to violence, fear of attack and torture, and environmental disasters often because of wrong development policies. This task of protection has three sources or components – the human rights dimension, that is, protection is based on the acknowledgement of the rights of the displaced to get protection, asylum, relief, and rehabilitation; the humanitarian dimension, that is, the United Nations and the States have the duty to protect and extend cover to all those who flee persecution, torture, discrimination, and are ousted to seek shelter whether in another place within the country, out outside across the border; and finally the ethical dimension, that tells us “what we owe to each other”. These three components do not always sit happily together, yet they are the eternal associates in the task of protecting the shelter-seeker. The gender dimension reinforces the combination and the tension inherent in this task.


Set against this perspective, the aim of this module is to bring to light (a) the different components of the humanitarian task of protection, particularly the ethical component; (b) the moral basis of international human rights laws; (c) the contradictions within the international humanitarian system and structure; (d) the relations between rights, law, and ethics; (e) and the practical moral issues involved in the task of protection, settlement, and compensating the victims of forced displacement.


This is a critical module. Reading the relevant material under this module will mean taking things not in their usual profile or state, but critically, upside down, in relations with many other things that we hitherto take for granted, and interrogating the relation between politics and morality.