Modules Notes for Winter Course 2007

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

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Module A

Forced Migration, racism, immigration, and xenophobia

1. The first module (Module A) deals with linkages between the phenomenon of forced migration and those of racism, xenophobia, and immigration. We shall deal here with trans-border forced migration in the context of racism, xenophobia, and the immigration issues in the world today, though we have to remember that racism and xenophobia produce forced migration within the country also. Since in this course we have another module dealing with internal displacement, we have chosen here to concentrate on cross-border refugee flows and other forced population movements across the border.


While international law on protection of refugees deals with the condition, status, and the rights of persons who have already escaped the persecution and crossed the border to seek asylum, this module deals with what may be called the “root causes” of the flight. It is in this respect that we have to discuss the phenomena of racism and xenophobia, and the relation of the state controls on immigration with the issue of protection of refugees.  


2. Yet it must be understood that when we discuss the root causes of the refugee flow and the un-wanted and unprotected status of the refugees, we are not ignoring the historic patterns of migration on which population flows including forced population movements are often built. Some have termed this as “transplanted networks”. This historical perspective is essential as a perspective when we consider refugee flows. Also it must be borne in mind that whatever be the cause, refugees have a right to care, protection, and settlement, though it is true that if the root causes are not considered seriously, then there is a probability that we shall consider the refugee situation as a banal one, and neglect thereby the question of the rights of the refugees or the duty of the States and the international community to protect the escapees of violence. One example is around the concept of “well-founded fear” which is a test for grant of refugee status.


3. The “well-founded fear” concept has evolved from a relatively simple inquiry within which the refugee's subjective feelings of "terror" were prominent, to a much more complex and wide-ranging inquiry within which concepts such as the "safe state" have become increasingly the sole determinants of the issue of the well-founded fear. Thus, the refugee has become a fundamentally unreliable base point of inquiry such as to justify the shift to a generalized or group-based evaluation of a well-founded fear. Some one has asked rhetorically, but it makes lot of sense: What would happen if the refugee interviewed the government official? Would the official be able to comprehend that many of his or her deepest longings were the same as those of the refugees, but without the physical dislocation? Would they understand that their own doubts were the same as (those of) the refugees? Or take this case, on which a jurist had to comment, “Refugee determination procedure on individual basis and the unequal sharing of burden of care have now produced confused, traumatized, and nervous shelter-seekers who travel rarely with supportive documents, false or no papers, and land in alien systems which are frequently hostile or incredulous" hosts”. In this case involving a Sri Lanka Tamil who had fled persecution allegedly at the hands of the LTTE (R. SSHD ex parte Karunakaran 25 January 2000, unreported), the judge commented, “The civil standard of proof, which treats anything, which probably happened, is part of a pragmatic legal fiction. It has no logical bearing on the assessment of the likelihood of future events or (by parity of reasoning) the quality of past ones... The method of evaluation is itself not one of hard facts. But it requires knowledge not only of applicant's own tale, and what is accepted of it, but a whole range of other factual matters.”


Therefore the problem we are now confronting in studying root causes is the “exceptional” nature of the refugee situation. Is the refugee situation exceptional because the refugee is merely outside some state responsibility? Or, and this is what we are implying, is the refugee situation exceptional because of the inherent violence of the state, and the incapacity of all states to fulfil their human rights obligations consistently? The question is complicated, because it affects the political attitude and will of the States to grant asylum to a person on the ground of “well founded fear”.


4. In any case, the dual phenomena of racism and xenophobia have become almost universal phenomena. Racism has appeared in new forms, cultural differences are essentialised as biological differences on the supposed reality of which old racism arose and persisted. Conflicts drawn to its extreme level produces neo-racist differences, the sign of which is the increasing division of population groups along supposed physical lines, segregating groups thereby in an extreme manner. Such extreme differences become in time hereditary principles of discrimination. Xenophobia is a related phenomenon; aggressive attitude towards national differences produces neo-racist differences. It had been so earlier also. Partition of states produces the most concentrated violence, reshaping states reshape minds, and the formation of new states happens amidst mass murders, mass dislocations, and mass displacements. Partition refugees are a special category, for they lose the right to return even – a right granted at least nominally to other groups of refugees.


5. The right to return is a significant issue in this context.  Refugees enjoy very few rights but one of the most intrinsic rights for a refugee is the right to return.  Although much debated internationally the right to return is most clearly enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under its provisions on the right to freedom of movement (Article 12.4) which says that No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.  But this right has often proved to be a chimera at least in South Asia.  A historian has shown that perhaps the first group of people, though not refugees, whose right to return was denied by a South Asian state were the Indian emigrants who travelled abroad in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to work as plantation labourers. All through the nationalist period the fate of these labourers in their country of domicile was a rallying point for Indian leaders to portray the dark side of foreign rule. There was constant reiteration that the state was responsible for all the people who were born in India. Yet during the legislative assembly debates in 1944 the leaders came to a consensus that these émigrés rightfully belonged to their country of domicile and not in India. Unlike nationalists during the colonial period, the leaders of the post-colonial State formation project no longer looked forward to the return of the emigrants who were slowly being considered as foreigners.  South Asian independence was accompanied by a blood bath.  The partition of India and Pakistan resulted in two million deaths and about 15 million people were displaced. Most of the refugees were lucky enough to get domicile and often citizenship in their country of domicile. Yet problem arose over the issue of return. In people’s memory their Desh (country) was where they were born. But once displaced they did not have the right to return even when they so desired.  South Asian states passed legislations whereby property of the displaced were confiscated by the State and treated as enemy property.  So the home that they wanted to go back to remained only in their own imagination. One often hears the argument that because partition refugees got an alternate citizenship they lost the right to return. In South Asia there are however, other groups of refugees who remain as stateless people; yet they are denied the right to return. We have the instances of two such groups of refugees: the Chakmas (Jumma people) and the Bhutanese. This module has to discuss in the context of these experiences as to how South Asia’s political history is predicated by aliens, half-citizens, exiles, refuge, temporary shelters where citizens pass away their lives, illegal immigrants, - in short, the non-state persons who are beyond the pale of citizenship rights, and who are not even the proper subjects of the international law on non-state persons? The focus in any discussion on the right to return of citizens expelled has to be thus on the need to move away from the classical theories of sovereignty, democracy, State, and citizenship, and take the exile, the alien, the displaced (both internally and trans-border), and the half-citizen as the central figure of the politics in South Asia, the figure who is with us like the eternally accompanying shadow, so normalised that we forget its existence which we have taken for granted. In this physical milieu of expulsion, de-enfranchisement, and nationalisation, the right to return is at once the most crucial question and the most hallucinatory claim. The illusory nature in many cases of the right to return shows the deep nature of the causes that force displacement in the first place. The apparent reasons may go away, while the root causes remain. Once the population groups leave, they are reduced to extreme marginality wherefrom it becomes extremely difficult for them to force back to their original position in their “national” societies. Instead of durable solutions we have durable vulnerabilities. The root causes spark off forced migration, but marginal and vulnerable positions have a way of accumulating so that even when causes are removed marginal positions or situations persist.


6. The last point that we shall discuss under this module is the relation between refugee flow and immigration flow, and the way in which immigration is controlled today impacts on refugee protection also. The flow of (illegal) immigration has not only overwhelmed in some cases the flow of refugees, it has got mixed with it also to such an extent that we can say that aliens have appeared as a subject in the world today. Definition is of course available in municipal laws of who is an alien, and this is not surprising, because an alien is an alien to a State (but can there be an alien to all the states on earth?). But illegal immigrants who are aliens to a state have been in a state of double jeopardy - they do not have the good luck to get protection when they arrive, and they will not benefit from any moral responsibility owned by a state wherefrom they decided to exit, a state that evidently does not care much for the fleeing population. Allowing population to leave is part of its pursuit of a "nice exit" policy (except in case of migrant workers when foreign remittances to the economy would be going down). We have to remember that unlike the Civil and Political Covenant, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights does not create obligations on the states to fulfil immediately on signing. Therefore, a state can get away by arguing that its allocation of resources is insufficient, but is non-discriminatory. An illegal migrant who is forced to move out from his country is seen as showing desire for "good life", and thus not eligible for his/her right to protection of the social, economic and cultural attributes necessary for his/her dignity. The mix of the two flows, of the refugees and illegal immigrants, now accentuates all the problems facing humanitarian politics today. Here is an instance of what is happening therefore round the world, marking in a very condensed form the non-dialogic segment inhabited by the aliens who suffocate, perish, and die in the most silent way, without any chance to talk to the world of the international that they wanted to enter:


Last month fourteen men and women left their coffee farms in Veracruz, and began the journey north. Within days, their bodies were found on the hardpan of the Sonora desert. On first look, they died of agonizing dehydration, like hundreds more over the last few years, trying to cross the same forbidding border.


But their deaths were caused by more than lack of water. These farmers left their beautiful Veracruz mountains because free-market reforms - no rural credit, no crop subsidies and others - drove them off their lands. And having made the hard decision to look for jobs and a better life in the north, U.S. immigration policy made their deaths practically inevitable.


No visas were available for them - the waiting line for green cards at the embassy in Mexico City goes back to 1976. A draconian border policy has closed the safer routes across, pushing migrants further and further into the desert and mountains, making the great migrant stream less visible, along with its human cost.


And if they had arrived safely, what life would these farmers have found?


They would have become part of a migrant workforce with conditions and wages at the bottom, denied the most basic rights - no unemployment insurance, no medical care, no social benefits of any kind. Because of employer sanctions, the very act of working would have been a crime. Ironically, they might easily have been employed by the same corporations relocating jobs to Mexico, attracted by the very free-market conditions, which force migrants to leave.


But perhaps the worst thing about their deaths is the way they'll be used, not to advocate for humane changes in U.S. immigration policy, but to justify a new bracero program making border-crossers like them a permanent, second-class workforce for the profit of U.S. business.


President George Bush and his fellow free-market advocate, Mexican President Vicente Fox, are both under pressure to reduce border deaths. Vastly expanding guest worker programs, they argue, would open the doors of legal immigration to those now forced to cross in secret.

While guaranteed labor rights on paper, however, guest workers depend on the continuation of a job to remain in the country. Employers therefore not only have the power to fire workers who organize or protest bad conditions, but in effect to deport them as well.

Beneath a humanitarian cover, business gets what it wants - workers at lower wages with fewer rights...


Twenty years ago, most unions wrote off immigrant workers. In 1986, the AFL-CIO supported employer sanctions. But today unions are rethinking that attitude and as a result, the political alliances that limited the possibility for immigration reform have changed. Amnesty for the country's 9-11 million undocumented immigrants, which was off the radar screen in Washington just a few years ago, is now a realistic goal.


"Most unions today are at least trying to organize," explains Hotel Employees Union President John Wilhelm. "And no matter the industry, they run into immigrant workers. That's what brought home the failure of the AFL-CIO's old immigration policy."


Last year, the percentage of U.S. workers belonging to unions dropped from 13.5 percent to 13.3 percent, and fell to 9 percent in the private sector. For the overall percentage to stay constant, unions have to organize 400,000 workers a year; to increase by 1 percent, they have to organize twice that number, a rate not achieved since the 1940s.


Over the last decade, immigrant workers have proven key to labor's resurgence. "Every period of significant growth in the labor movement was fueled by organizing activity among immigrant workers," Wilhelm says. "We're a labor movement of immigrants and we always have been."


Reflecting this new attitude, unions are proposing an alternative to a new bracero program. "We're putting forward a comprehensive agenda, including legalization, repeal of employer sanctions, and workplace protections regardless of legal status," says Service Employees Union Vice-president Eliseo Medina. The new president of the Laborers Union, Terence O'Sullivan calls for opposition to contract labor, and for increasing the ability of immigrants to reunite their families in the U.S.

Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez has introduced a bill taking the first step - expanding legalization opportunities for immigrants who arrived before this year.


From the opposite end of Congress, Senator Phil Gramm, a recent convert (like Jesse Helms) to the bracero cause, is introducing a bill to permit recruiting guest workers for a year's labor, so long as they have no right to stay. At the same time, he proposes increased enforcement of employer sanctions to force workers into the program, making the undocumented even more vulnerable, their labor cheaper and their conditions worse...


The choice is not over what will or will not stop people from coming across the border, but over their status in the U.S. It's the age-old American dilemma: bondage whether as slaves, indentured servants or braceros) or freedom (even if that still leaves workers with the need to organize and fight to improve conditions).


Behind the debate lies a fundamental question: Is the purpose of immigration law to supply labor to industry on terms it finds acceptable, or is its purpose to protect the rights and welfare of immigrants themselves?


There is another framework for dealing with migration, other than contract labor and death on the border. The UN's International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families supports the right of family reunification, establishes equality of treatment with citizens of the host country, and prohibits collective deportation. Both sending and receiving countries are responsible for protecting migrants, and retain the right to determine who is admitted to their territories, and who has the right to work.


The Convention recognizes the global scale and permanence of migration, and starts by protecting the rights of migrants themselves. That's where an immigration policy based on human rights begins.


This is more than a refugee situation that is legally defined and assumed.  The new mix of forced and unwanted population flows and the inadequate appreciation of the new phenomenon in refugee studies raises the problem of method. While forced population movements have been hitherto studied from economic and demographic angles, its link with the politics of citizenship is still inadequately appreciated. Similarly, the notion of forced is so narrowly defined, that the structural violence continuously producing aliens escapes our attention, though violence and coercion are considered as benchmarks in determination of refugees.


7.Module A is the beginning. But the module should offer enough glimpses of the problems in the issue of refugee protection today, so that the following modules in this course can be appreciated better. And, one must not forget that in all instances and phenomena cited above gender stays as the most deeply inscribed category of discrimination and difference, if discrimination and difference are taken as the key opening words. A good beginning means an anticipation of the problems that will arise at the end.  



Etienne Balibar,  in Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class – Ambiguous Identities (Verso, 1991)
B.S. Chimni, International Refugee Law – A Reader (Sage Publications, 2003), section 5
Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Peace Studies I (Sage Publications, 2004), chapters 7-8, 13-14
Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Refugees and the State (Sage Publications, 2003), chapters 1-3, 6, 9
Ranabir Samaddar, The Marginal Nation (Sage Publications, 1999), chapters 1-4, 13
REFUGEE WATCH, “Scrutinising the Land Settlement Scheme in Bhutan”, No. 9, March 2000
REFUGEE WATCH, “Displacing the People the Nation Marches Ahead in Sri Lanka”, No. 15, September 2001 



  1. RW.: Displacing the People the Nation Marches Ahead in Sri Lanka

  2. RW.: Mohajirs : The Refugees By Choice



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Module B


Gender dimensions of forced migration, vulnerabilities, and justice


Over one percent of the total world populations today consist of refugees.  More than eighty percent of that number is made up of women and their dependent children.  An overwhelming majority of these women come from the developing world.  South Asia is the fourth largest refugee-producing region in the world.  Again, a majority of these refugees are made up of women. The sheer number of women among the refugee population portrays that it is a gendered issue. This module is meant to portray that undoubtedly both displacement and asylum is a gendered experience. At least in the context of South Asia it results from and is related to the marginalisation of women by the South Asian states.  These states at best patronise women and at worse infantilise, disenfranchise and de-politicise them. It is in the person of a refugee that women’s marginality reaches its climactic height.  


The nation building projects in South Asia has led to the creation of a homogenised identity of citizenship.  State machineries seek to create a “unified” and “national” citizenry that accepts the central role of the existing elite. This is done through privileging majoritarian, male and monolithic cultural values that deny the space to difference.  Such a denial has often led to the segregation of minorities, on the basis of caste, religion and gender from the collective we.  One way of marginalising women from body politic is done by targeting them and displacing them in times of state verses community conflict.  As a refugee a woman loses her individuality, subjectivity, citizenship and her ability to make political choices.  As political non-subjects refugee women emerge as the symbol of difference between us/citizens and its other/refugees/non-citizens. By taking some select examples from South Asia in this module we will addresses such theoretical assumptions.  Here the category of refugee women will include women who have crossed international borders and those who are internally displaced and are potential refugees.


The partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 witnessed probably the largest refugee movement in modern history.  About 8 million Hindus and Sikhs left Pakistan to resettle in India while about 6-7 million Muslims went to Pakistan.  Such transfer of population was accompanied by horrific violence.  Some 50,000 Muslim women in India and 33,000 non-Muslim women in Pakistan were abducted, abandoned or separated from their families.[1] Women’s experiences of migration, abduction and destitution during partition and State’s responses to it is a pointer to the relationship between women’s position as marginal participants in state politics and gender subordination as perpetrated by the State.  In this context the experiences of abducted women and their often forcible repatriation by the State assumes enormous importance today when thousands of South Asian women are either refugees, migrants or stateless within the subcontinent. Abducted women were not considered as legal entities with political and constitutional rights.  All choices were denied to them and while the state patronised them verbally by portraying their “need” for protection it also infantilised them by giving decision making power to their guardians who were defined by the male pronoun “he”.  By insisting that the abducted women could not represent themselves and had to be represented, the State marginalised them from the decision making process and made them non-participants.  Even today the refugee women do not represent themselves.  Officials represent them.  For the abducted women it was their sexuality that threatened their security and the honour of the nation.  Thus, their vulnerability was focused on their body.  This made all women susceptible to such threats and so had to be protected/controlled.  By denying agency to the abducted women the State made it conceivable to deny agency to all women. Readings taken from Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin’s Borders and Boundaries portray the trauma faced by these women who could never be considered as full citizens.


Refugee women from other parts of South Asia reflect trauma faced by women belonging to communities considered as disorderly by the state. Ethnic tensions between the Tamil minority and Sinhala majority leading to armed conflict since 1980s have led to several waves of refugees from Sri Lanka.  They are victims of a failed nationalizing project.  By 1989 there were about 160,000 refugees from Sri Lanka to India, again largely Tamil women with their dependents.  Initially the State Government provided these refugees with shelter and rations, but still many of them preferred to live outside the camps.  They were registered and issued with refugee certificates.  In terms of education and health both registered and unregistered refugees enjoy the same rights as the nationals.  Nevertheless in absence of specific legislation their legal status remained ambiguous. The precarious nature of their status became clearer in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.  All sympathy for these women disappeared after Gandhi’s assassination and in the Indian state perception they were tarnished by a collective guilt and so became expendable. 


After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination the politicians began to shun the refugees.  As most of these were women they were initially considered harmless but with the number of female suicide bombers swelling there was a marked change in GOI’s attitude to women refugees.  Soon the government turned a blind eye when touts came to recruit young women from the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu to work as “maids” in countries of Middle East.  Most of these women were then smuggled out of India and sent to the Gulf countries.  Often they were badly abused. By April 1993 refugee camps were reduced from 237 to 132 in Tamil Nadu and 1 in Orissa. In Indian camps refugee families are given a dole of Rs.150 a month, which is often stopped arbitrarily.  Women are discouraged from taking up employment outside the camps.  During multiple displacements women who have never coped with such situations before are often at a loss for necessary papers.  When separated from male members of their family they are vulnerable to sexual abuse.  The camps are not conducive for the personal safety of women, as they enjoy no privacy.  But what is more worrying is that without any institutional support women become particularly vulnerable to human traffickers. These people aided by network of criminals force women into prostitution.  Millions of rupees change hands in this trade and more lives get wrecked every day. Asha Han’s paper in Refugees and the State portrays the predicaments faced by refugee women in South Asia.


Many displaced women who are unable to cross international border swell the ranks of the internally displaced.  Paula Banerjee’s paper in Internal Displacement in South Asia portrays the trauma faced by IDP women. Even in IDP camps women are responsible for holding together fragmented families.  Today roughly one-third of all households in Sri Lanka are headed by women and the numbers increase many fold in the camps for internally displaced.  Although 89 percent women in Sri Lanka are literate, due to two decades of armed conflict women from North and East have lower levels of education with one in every four being illiterate.   A report based on a research carried out at Mannar district portray that among 190,000 IDPs women often find it impossible to generate enough income for buying food for the whole family.  In Illupakkadavai, all 36 heads of female headed households stated that they rely on dry rations for approximately 90 percent for their nutritional needs and that the children of women headed households are most vulnerable to exploitation.  In Sri Lanka suicide rates for women have doubled in the last two decades.[2]  


None of the South Asian states are signatories to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol.  As India is the largest South Asian state it should be interesting to see how women refugees are dealt with here.  In India Articles 14, 21 and 25 under Fundamental Rights guarantee the Right to Equality, Right to Life and Liberty and Freedom of Religion of citizens and aliens alike.  Like the other South Asian states India had ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1993.  Although there is no incorporation of international treaty obligations in the Municipal laws still rights accruing to the refugees in India under Articles 14, 21 and 25 can be enforced in the Supreme Court under Article 32 and in the High Court under Article 226.  The other guiding principles for refugees are the executive orders that have been passed under the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Passport Act of 1967.  The National Human Rights Commission has also taken up questions regarding the protection of refugees.  It approached the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution and stopped the Expulsion of Chakma refugees from Northeast India.[3]  Yet all these orders are adhoc in nature and the legal position remains nebulous.  This is true not just of India but all of South Asia. 


Pakistan also operated under the 1946 Foreigners Act.  According to the provisions of this Act no foreigner could enter Pakistan without a valid passport or visa.  Such an act can be detrimental for all persons fleeing for their lives and especially for women who are unused to handling documentation proving citizenship.  When six to seven million persons entered Pakistan after partition this Act proved useless and had to be supplemented by the Registration of Claims Act of 1956 and the Displaced Persons (Compensation and Rehabilitation) Act 1958.  Such Acts did not establish a legal regime for refugees in Pakistan, only the claims of a group of refugees.  The ad hoc nature of Pakistani refugee regime continued. As for Sri Lanka, it is not a refugee receiving country but a refugee generating country.  There are two Acts, which are especially detested by displaced people, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and Emergency Regulations.  Sri Lanka does not have any special acts that help or privilege internally displaced women who are vulnerable to abuse because of their gender.  As for other state laws in South Asia, Nepal has an Immigration Act of 1992, which provide that no foreigner is allowed to enter or stay in Nepal without a visa.  His Majesty’s Government has full authority to expel any foreigner committing immigration offences.  Most South Asian states have punitive measures for immigration offences but hardly any measures for helping displaced people. Further, none of these States have made any special stipulations for women refugees although a majority of all South Asian refugees are women.


As for international actors UNHCR is acquiring some importance in the region for their efforts regarding refugees and internally displaced.   There are around 20,000 refugees who are protected by UNHCR in India, of whom a majority are Afghans.  The UNHCR has a guideline for the protection of women refugees but it is left to the discretion of countries to follow these recommendations. In patriarchal states where policies are weighted against women, if these guidelines are left to the discretion of the government then it does not succeed in its purpose.  Further, the programmes of these institutions such as UNHCR are built on certain practices.  Similar to state practices the practices of international organisations such as the UNHCR also delegate woman to the status of victim, which is a disenfranchising phenomenon.  The women have little or no say on policies that govern their lives and bodies even in camps run by the UNHCR. Albeit the UNHCR concern itself with the protection of these women but they do not work towards their agency.  This is not to suspect intention of UNHCR but many of their policies such as the policy of repatriation can work against women who have acquired agency over their own person.  Decisions regarding their relocation also assume that refugees/women cannot have any say in it.  Even international agencies such as the UN Gender Mission can contribute to depoliticising women.  A case in point is Angela King’s mission to Peshawar and Islamabad.  When Afghan women requested the UN through Ms. King that they should try to mobilise educated Afghan women in peace-making, Ms. King reportedly asked them to apply for UN jobs instead.  After the meeting the women felt “confused, insulted, hurt, angry and substantially ignored.”  But they noted bitterly “this is not an unusual situation – neither within our societies, nor within the UN agencies”.[4]  Thus the gender bias found in state policies regarding women’s dislocation might also be reflected in the attitude taken by international agencies. 


The overwhelming presence of women among the refugee populations is not an accident of history. It is a way by which states have made women political non-subjects.  By making women permanent refugee, living a savage life in camps, it is easy to homogenise them, ignore their identity, individuality and subjectivity.  By reducing refugee women to the status of mere victims in our own narratives we accept the homogenisation of women and their depoliticisation.  We legitimise a space where states can make certain groups of people political non-subjects.  In this module we intend to discuss the causes of such depoliticisation that often results in displacements.  We will also discuss the situation of displaced women in South Asia and consider policy alternatives that might help in their rehabilitation and care.




Paula Banerjee, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury and Samir Das, Internal Displacement in South Asia, chapter 9.

B.S. Chimni, International Refugee Law – A Reader (Sage Publications, 2003), section 1

Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Borders and Boundaries, chapter 3.

Joshva Raja, Refugees and their Right to Communicate, chapter 8.

Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Refugees and the State (Sage Publications, 2003), chapter 9.

Ranabir Samaddar, The Marginal Nation (Sage Publications, 1999), chapter 12.

Refugee Watch, Nos. 10-11




  1. UNHCR Policy on Refugee Women

  2. Select UNICEF Policy Recommendation on the Gender Dimensions of Internal Displacement

  3. CEDAW :

  4. RW.: Dislocated Subjects : The Story of Refugee Women

  5. RW.: War and Its Impact on Women in Sri Lanka

  6. RW : Afghan Women In Iran

  7. RW.: Refugee Women of Bhutan

  8. RW.: Rohingya Women – Stateless and Oppressed in Burma

  9. RW.: Dislocating the Women and Making the Nation

[1] For a scholarly account of gender in the politics of partition refer to Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition (Delhi: 1998) and Urvashi Bhutalia, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (Delhi: 1998).
[2] Paula Banerjee, “Agonies and Ironies of War,” Refugee Watch, No. 2 (April, 1998) p. 21.
[3] See National Human Rights Commission vs. Union of India (1996: 1 SCC 295); Also Khudiram Chakma vs. Union of India (1994: Supplementary 1 SCC 614).
[4] Cassandra Balchin, “United Against the UN: The UN Gender Mission Attitude Towards Afghan Women Refugees Within its Own Rank is Glaringly Hypocritical,” Newsline (April, 1998) p. 95.


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Module C

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

Module C deals with the international and national legal regimes of protection of the victims of forced displacement and their rights.

Refugee Law is a relatively new branch of International Law. The first major step towards developing an international regime of protection was the 1951 Convention that was later modified by the 1967 Protocol. From then on the 1951 convention has formed the core of all Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law for the protection of refugees. The 1951 Convention defines a refugee as a person:

Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

However since its inception there have been many objections to the provisions of the 1951 convention. It is said that the Convention mandates protection for those whose civil and political rights are violated, without protecting persons whose socio-economic rights are at risk. Also it has been criticised on the grounds of its 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 for the protection of refugees during the Cold War times but have failed to do so after that.  Today the first world often attempts 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 of the Convention has been the inability 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.  In 1985, the UNHCR Executive Committee adopted Conclusion No. 39 that recognised that refugee women and girls formed a majority among the world refugee population.  The Conclusion also recognised that states were free to consider women facing inhuman treatment as belonging to a particular social group within the 1951 convention. In October 1993 the UNHCR adopted Conclusion No. 73 that stated that all those who have suffered sexual violence should be treated with particular sensitivity. However, there is little in UNHCR guidelines that can make women victims of sexual violence as special claimants for refugee protection. 

Today provisions of the 1951 Convention seems dated and in need for further 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. As a result of all these reasons the 1951 Convention has not been ratified by many nations of the world. Many regions have developed its own regimes for protection of people facing forced displacement. The OAU Convention expanded the definition of refugee contained in the 1951 Convention. The OAU Convention defines the term “refugee” to include persons fleeing their country of origin due to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination, or events seriously disturbing public order in either a part or the whole of the country of origin or nationality. This implies that “well-founded fear” is a subjective category and anyone facing civil and political disturbances and war need not prove their well-founded fear for life.  The Cartagena Declaration recommends a definition similar to that contained in the OAU Convention. In so far as Asia is concerned mention may be made of the Asian African Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC) in 1966. But this has not had the impact of either the OAU Convention or the Cartagena Declaration.  South Asia has not been able to develop a legal regime for refugees or IDPs.     

None of the South Asian states are a signatory to the 51 Convention or the 67 Protocol. India has also stayed away from these mechanisms, 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.

Refugees are to be distinguished from IDPs and the Stateless Persons.  While the 1951 Convention addresses the problem of refugees alone the UN Guiding Principles deal with the IDPs and the international legal rights of stateless persons are addressed in the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, 1954, which came into force in 1960.  It defines stateless person as a “person who is not considered as national by any State under the operation of its law”. The 1954 Convention was followed by the adoption of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 1961, which came into force in 1975. 

Not everyone who applies for refugee status can get protection.  In 1951 Convention there are a list of “exclusion clauses” containing categories of persons who do not deserve international protection. It excludes all those who have committed crimes against peace and security, serious common law criminals and individuals who have acted in contravention of the principles and purposes of the United Nations.    

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 (Module D discusses in details the legal principles of protection of IDPs). To mention a few of them: 

  1. What do we mean by Refugees, Asylum, and 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.


Paula Banerjee, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury and Samir Das, Internal Displacement in South Asia, Epilogue
B.S. Chimni, International Refugee Law – A Reader (Sage Publications, 2003)
Who is a Refugee?, Pgs. 1-81; Asylum, Pgs. 82-160; Rights and Duties of a Refugee, Pgs. 161-209

Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Refugees and the State (Sage Publications, 2003), chapters 10-11.
Refugee Watch No.4 (December 1998) articles by Sarbani Sen and Brian Gorlick.


  1. F-e-material 1 – International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law
    Document printed from the website of the ICRC.
    International Committee of the Red Cross
  2. F-e-material 2 –“A Patchwork Protection Regime; Internal Displacement in International Law and Institutional Practice” / David Fisher
  3. Convention Against Torture 


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Module D

Internal displacement - causes, linkages, and responses

“The look of pure terror on the face of the little Korku tribal girl child said it all as the elephant razed her house in the pouring rain.  Her parents pleaded with the Forest officials saying that they were living and cultivating the lands there for the past three decades.  However, the officials said they had no alternative, since they had been instructed to evict all encroachers as ordered by the Supreme Court.”[i]

The eviction of indigenous people from their land is a recurrent theme in South Asia.  Be it Ranigaon, Golai, Motakeda, Somthana, Ahmedabad, Bandarban, or Trincomalee, thousands of families are being evicted from their homes either in the name of conflict or in the name of modernization. They are being forced to stay in the open, in pouring rain with a number of them suffering from malnutrition and starvation and they are fearful for their lives at most times. The last two decades have witnessed an enormous increase in the number of internally displaced people in South Asia.  Their situation is particularly vulnerable because unlike the refugees they are unable to move away from the site of conflict and have to remain within a state in which they were displaced in the first place. These unfortunate people who have been displaced once are often displaced multiple times by the hands of the powers that be.  Yet as displaced they do not have the capacity to cross international borders but seek rehabilitation from the powers that are responsible for their displacement in the first place.


Besides being ‘potential refugees’ who might cross international borders, most of the IDPs living in these countries share ethnic continuities with the people of the neighbouring countries. The Pashtuns of northwest Pakistan for example, seem to harbour an active interest in the affairs of their ethnic cousins living in Afghanistan and vice versa. Similarly, much of what happens inside today’s Myanmar has its implications for the minorities of northeastern India and Bangladesh. Massive displacement and the resulting plight of the predominantly tribal populations such as, the Nagas of Myanmar continue to be one of the key running themes of the Naga rebel discourse across the borders and the ethnic cousins of Myanmar are described by it as, ‘the Eastern Nagas’. Insofar as the creation of national borders could not make many of these pre-existing ethnic spaces completely obsolescent, South Asia’s living linkages with West or South East Asia can hardly be exaggerated. Also national specificities notwithstanding South Asian IDPs are connected by their ethnicities, minority status and situations of extreme marginalisation.  This portrays the reality that in so far as in South Asia IDPs cannot be regarded as a national category.  It is essential to think of them as regional categories.


The situation of IDPs seems particularly vulnerable when one considers that there are hardly any legal mechanisms that guide their rehabilitation and care in South Asia.  Since the early 1990s the need for a separate legal mechanism for IDPs in South Asia has increasingly been felt.  This is not only to compile new laws but also to bring together the existing laws within a single legal instrument and to plug the loopholes detected in them over the years. Only recently the international community has developed such a mechanism that is popularly known as the UN Guiding Principles on internal displacement. This has given us a framework within which rehabilitation and care of internally displaced people in South Asia can be organised. Keeping that in mind it becomes imperative for scholars working on issues of forced migration in South Asia to consider whether South Asian states have taken the Guiding Principles into account while organising programmes for rehabilitation and care for the internally displaced persons (IDPs). 


The Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons set out the rights of internally displaced persons relevant to the needs they encounter in different stages of displacement. The Guiding Principles provide a handy schematic of how to design a national policy or law on internal displacement that is focused on the individuals concerned and responsive to the requirements of international law.  Similarly, governments (and particularly national human rights institutions where they exist), advocates, and displaced persons can use the Guiding Principles as a means to measure the compliance of existing laws and policies with international standards.  Finally, their simplicity allows the Guiding Principles to effectively inform the internally displaced themselves of their rights. The Guiding Principles are thus part of a growing number of “soft law” instruments that have come to characterize norm-making in the human rights field as well as other areas of international law, in particular environmental, labor and finance.  


One of the most important contributions of the Guiding Principles is to develop an acceptable definition/description of those who can fit within the category of internally displaced persons.  They are defined as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.” The Guiding Principles also reflect on the rights of displaced people, the obligations of their states’ towards them and also the obligations of international community towards these people.  This booklet is an effort to make such rights accessible to vulnerable people of South Asia who are already displaced or live in fear of displacement.


What Types of Displacement are Prohibited by the Guiding Principles?   


Principle 6 affirms that “[e]very human being shall have the right to be protected against being arbitrarily displaced from his or her home or place of habitual residence.”  Support for this proposition can be found in humanitarian law and also in the right to movement, guaranteed by a number of human rights instruments, which can be reasonably expected to have as its corollary the “right not to move.”  


It is important to note that the Guiding Principles do not claim that displacement is always prohibited.  In both humanitarian and human rights law, exceptions to the general rule are available.  Rather it is arbitrary displacement” that must be avoided and Principle 7 provides a sort of roadmap for avoiding arbitrariness.  First, all feasible alternatives to displacement must be explored.  In situations of armed conflict, this means that a determination must be made either that the security of the population or “imperative military reasons” require displacement before it can be carried out.  


Where displacement is to occur outside the context of armed conflict, Principle 7 provides a list of procedural protections that must be guaranteed, including decision- making and enforcement by appropriate authorities, involvement of and consultation with those to be affected and the provision of an effective remedy for those wishing to challenge their displacement.  These provisions are, of course, of particular interest to those facing displacement for development projects.


Moreover, in either context, “all measures” must be taken to minimize the effects and duration of the displacement and the responsible authorities are required to ensure “to the greatest practicable extent” that the basic needs of those displaced (e.g., shelter, safety, nutrition, health, and hygiene) are met. It should also be noted that Principal 9 articulates a “special obligation” to protection against displacement of a number of groups whose special attachment to territory has been recognized in international law, including indigenous persons, minorities, peasants, and pastoralists.


What Rights do Persons have once Displaced?


Displaced persons enjoy the full range of rights enjoyed by civilians in humanitarian law and by every human being in human rights law.  These include the rights to life, integrity and dignity of the person (e.g., freedom from rape and torture), non-discrimination, recognition as a person before the law, freedom from arbitrary detention, liberty of movement, respect for family life, an adequate standard of living (including to access to basic humanitarian needs), medical care, access to legal remedies, possession of property, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, participation in public life, and education, as set out in Principles 10-23.  


In several instances, the Guiding Principles specify how generally expressed rights apply in situations of displacement.  These should be of particular interest to those designing and assessing domestic policies on internal displacement.  For example, Principle 12 provides that, to give effect to the right of liberty from arbitrary detention, internally displaced persons “shall not be interned in or confined in a camp” absent “exceptional circumstances” and that they shall not be subject to discriminatory arrest “as a result of their displacement.”  Likewise Principle 20 provides that the right to “recognition everywhere as a person before the law” should be given effect for displaced persons by authorities facilitating the issuance of “all documents necessary for the enjoyment and exercise of their legal rights, such as passports, personal identification documents, birth certificates and marriage certificates.” 


The Guiding Principles provide for special consideration of the needs of women and children (including “positive discrimination” or affirmative activities on behalf of governments to model assistance and protection to their particular needs, consultation and involvement in decisions regarding their displacement and return or resettlement, protection against recruitment of minors and free and compulsory education), as well as for other especially vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and disabled. 


What Rights and Obligations do Humanitarian Organizations Have?


The Guiding Principles also lay out a number of rights and obligations of humanitarian organizations in Principles 24-27.  This section again stresses the point that “[t]he primary duty and responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons lies with national authorities” (Principle 25(1)).  In carrying out this duty, national authorities must not “arbitrarily withhold” consent to international humanitarian organizations’ offer of services to the internally displaced, and must “grant and facilitate” their free passage to areas where assistance is needed.  Humanitarian personnel, materiel, and supplies are not to be attacked or diverted for other purposes.  For their part, humanitarian organizations must carry out their operations “in accordance with the principles of humanity and impartiality and without discrimination” and should “give due regard to the protection needs and human rights of internally displaced persons” and not just their needs for assistance. 


What Help Should Displaced Persons Expect with Return, Reintegration and Resettlement?


In their final section, the Guiding Principles provide that competent authorities have “the primary duty and responsibility” to assist displaced persons by providing the means as well as by establishing conditions for return to their places of origin, or for resettlement in another part of the country (Principle 28).  Any return or resettlement must be voluntary and carried out in conditions of safety and dignity for those involved. 


As a corollary to the right to free movement, therefore, displaced persons have the right to return to their homes.   Although the right to return or resettle is not expressly stated in any particular human rights instrument, this interpretation of the right of free movement is strongly supported by resolutions of the Security Council, decisions of treaty monitoring bodies, and other sources of authority.


Moreover, although the displaced have the right to return, Principle 28 carefully specifies that they must not be forced to do so, particularly (but not only) when their safety would be imperiled.  The issue of the voluntariness of return or resettlement is recurrent in protracted displacement situations around the world.  In many places, governments and insurgent groups have ceded to the temptation to use the return or resettlement of displaced persons as a political tool. 


Principle 29 provides that authorities also have “the duty and responsibility” to assist displaced persons to recover “to the extent possible” their property and possessions, and where restitution is not possible to provide or assist the displaced persons to obtain appropriate compensation.   Like the preceding principle, this one relies on general precepts of the right to property, the right to remedy for violations of international law, as well as a growing adherence in Security Council resolutions, treaties, national law and other sources of authority.


Are their any special provisions for women?


In the guiding principles a concerted attempt was made to prioritise gender issues.  For example, while discussing groups that needed special attention in Principle 4 it was stated that expectant mothers, mothers with young children and female heads of households, among others, are people who may need special attention. In Principle 7 it was stated that when displacement occurred due to reasons other than armed conflict authorities should involve women who are affected, in the planning and management of their relocation.  Principle 9 upheld that IDPs should be protected in particular against “Rape, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and other outrages upon personal dignity, such as acts of gender-specific violence, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault.” Special protection was also sought against sexual exploitation.  Principle 18 stated that special efforts should be made to include women in planning and distribution of supplies. Principle19 stated that attention should be given to the health needs of women and Principle 20 stated that both men and women had equal rights to obtain government documents in their own names. 


Apart from the Guiding Principles there are other international mechanisms that displaced women can access.  They include the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (hereafter CEDAW) and the 1999 Optional Protocol sets out specific steps for states to become proactive in their efforts to eliminate discrimination against displaced women.  Article 2 of CEDAW clearly states that public authorities, individuals, organisations and enterprises should refrain from discrimination against women.  Article 3 reiterated women’s right to get protection from sexual violence.  Article 6 spoke against trafficking and sexual exploitation of women.  Since most displaced women are particularly vulnerable to traffickers this article is of some importance to them.  It must be noted that all the countries of South Asia are signatories to CEDAW with some reservations but not of the proportion that it negates the overarching principles and therefore the onus of being gender sensitive in their attitude and programmes is on them. Apart from these there are other international provisions that protect women’s human rights.  Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 calls for the halt of weapons against the civilian population and to protect all civilians, including children, women and persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities from violations of humanitarian law.   Article 29 of ILO 1930 Convention concerning forced or compulsory labour also impacts the situation of women.  It calls for the end of violations of the human rights of women, in particular forced labour, abuse and torture of labourers including women.


Are the Guiding Principles legally binding?


Although the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement is not a legally binding treaty it is formed of principles that are based on established legal mechanisms for aiding the human rights of the displaced people. Many of these Principles may gradually attain the status of customary international law. But as Francis Deng reminds us, “for the time being they serve as a morally binding statement.”[ii] A statement of this nature that promises to be ‘morally binding’ on a wide spectrum of primarily national governments and secondarily, other relevant international and non-governmental agencies must cut across the well-known divisions of the prevailing ethical and moral systems and elaborate itself in a way that it does not remain captive to any particular modality of moral reasoning. Plurality of such systems and modalities is helpful in building the much-needed ‘moral consensus’ around these principles.


While the Guiding Principles have already gained an impressive degree of recognition at the international, regional, and national level, more remains to be done to foster their use, particularly in South Asia, where many states with large displacement problems lack comprehensive policies or effective remedies for those.  It is to be hoped that this booklet will itself encourage that process.  South Asia has seen millions of people displaced both across borders and within borders – again both by conflict and by developmental projects, and in some cases by natural calamities.  This booklet is intended to make a survey of how far the Guiding Principles on IDPs is relevant to each state of the region and how far they have been implemented and what remains to be done.


Whose responsibility is it anyway?


If the state-centric nationalistic approach has meant the exclusion of minorities and has produced large number of refugees in the post-colonial states in Asia and Africa, state-centric national security perspective and development paradigm have not done any better. The people displaced against this backdrop may have got some relief if they have been able to cross international boundaries. Crossing the international boundary may entitle them to “refugee” status, thus providing them at least a fig leaf of relief and rehabilitation in an alien land. But wretched are those who remain internally displaced. They remain at the mercy of the same state and administration whose policy might have sent them on the run. According to all estimates, the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is rising compared to the refugees seeking shelter in another country. South Asia is no exception to this. But, so far, no systematic and comprehensive study was carried out. Only a few brief, and sometimes sketchy, reports and articles are available on the plight of the IDPs in South Asia. This booklet hopefully will fill that awesome and disturbing vacuum. The booklet is meant to explore the nature and the extent of displacement in respective countries of South Asia and provide recommendations to minimize the insecurity of the displaced by discussing mechanisms for rehabilitation and care. As for who takes responsibility for the displaced?  The answer is primarily the state, although there are attempts on its part to abdicate its responsibility in this regard. None of the states of South Asia recognizes right against forced displacement as a non-negotiable right. We have to note that it is the policies of the state and the model of development and nation building that it has pursued since its birth that have caused and continue to cause displacement in largest numbers. It is primarily a failure of the state system. The booklet is meant to explore how far South Asian states are sensitive to the needs of the IDPs, how they can be made sensitive to these needs and whether the UN Guiding Principle are being adhered to, to any extent.  


What is the way ahead?


In their few years of existence, the Guiding Principles have in fact obtained a high level of recognition.  When they were first presented in 1998, the Commission on Human Rights merely “noted” them and the intention of the Representative to use them in his dialogue with states.   Over time, however, the language of regular resolutions in the Commission, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly has grown increasingly warmer.  In 2003, for instance, both the Commission and the General Assembly “welcome[d] the fact that an increasing number of States, United Nations agencies and regional and non-governmental organizations are applying them as a standard, and encourages all relevant actors to make use of the Guiding Principles when dealing with situations of internal displacement[.]”   They have also been acknowledged at the level of the Security Council, at international conferences,  and adopted by the U.N. and wider humanitarian community as their standard.


The Guiding Principles have been well received by multi-lateral organizations at the regional level.  They have been welcomed in resolutions, declarations and statements by organs of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) (now known as the African Union), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Organization of American States (OAS), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Commonwealth.   


Among states in South Asia, Sri Lanka has similarly relied upon the Guiding Principles in the formulation of its National Framework for Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation.   Likewise, civil society institutions have made increasing use of the Guiding Principles to assess domestic policy and practice concerning displaced persons.  It is hoped that in the near future more states in South Asia will accept, adopt and adhere to the Guiding Principles regarding the internally displaced. To understand the relevance of the Guiding Principles a close study of the mechanism is imperative.  This booklet is meant to be such a study.  Its primary objective is to publicize the mechanisms available for the rehabilitation and care of IDPs in South Asia so that they can access rights and justice that are due to them


[i]Pradip Prabhu, “Tribals Face Genocide,” Combat Law: The Human Rights Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 4 (October-November 2002) p. 73.
[ii] Francis Deng’s ‘Preface’ to Walter Kalin, Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: Annotations (Washington DC: American Society of International Law, and the Brookings Institution ,2000), p. vi.


Paula Banerjee, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury and Samir Das, Internal Displacement in South Asia.
Addressing Internal Displacement: A Framework For National Responsibility
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement


1.   E-material: Protection of Internally Displaced Persons: Inter-Agency Standing Committee Policy Paper

2.  E-e-material2: Sovereignty as Responsibility: The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement/ Roberta Cohen

3.  E-e-material3:An Overview of Revisions to the World Bank Resettlement Policy



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Module E

Appropriate research methodology

Researching on Forced Migration


Much of research depends on wit, particularly if the enquiry is sensitive in the eyes of the people enquired into. And there is no training in wit. 

This lecture is more in the nature of sensitizing ourselves about possibilities rather than developing a blueprint, which is likely to become a straitjacket leading to foreclosure. One should be open, and of course capable, of breaking the grammar.


1.      1. For any researcher on any problematic, the first thing to ponder over is the choice of appropriate epistemology. The choice is a function of the nature of the issue to be enquired into and of a researcher’s non-academic intent, even his or her sympathy. This is assuming that the researcher is aware of his right to choose. A well-written text book on methods of research, an articulate teacher and a path-breaking text can produce closed minds, and thus stand in the way of development of such awareness.

2.      2. ‘Forced migration’ as a problematic demands a critical epistemology. It believes     in value-determined nature of enquiry, unlike positivism and post-positivism interested in explanation only. Further, it wants enquiry to critique with an intention to transform social, political, economic, and ethnic and gender structures, which constrain and exploit woman and man. The inquirer becomes an instigator, a ‘transformative intellectual’ confronting ignorance and misconceptions.

3.     3. Constructivism is another appropriate epistemological position, which envisages multiple realities. Constructivism enquires into people’s constructions about reality in order to understand these. The investigator is a ‘passionate participant’, engaged in enabling multivoice construction of his/her own as well as of other participants’ perceptions.

   4.  4. Both Critical epistemology and Constructivism want value-driven enquiry and its outcome ensuring empowerment of the marginal people. The forced migrants become marginal at the places of their arrival. In case they were already marginal in their original social location, they become doubly marginalised.

5.      5. These two epistemological positions direct a researcher to qualitative approach to the problem. This is also perceived as a ‘humanist’ approach, because it keeps woman at the centre of enquiry.

6.       6.  ‘Qualitative’ denotes an attention to processes and meanings that are not subjected to measurement in terms of quantity, amount, intensity or frequency.  Qualitative analysis is best understood in terms of what it intends to do: bring out the distinctive attribute of a social phenomenon or relationship between phenomena which can not be represented by a quantitative indicator entirely or at all. The synonymous expressions for qualitative approach also imply its character. These are: naturalistic’, ‘inquiry from inside’, and ‘interpretative’. Along with such labeling, there is a critical attribution that it is a paradigm meaning that it is a set of beliefs and imperatives concerning what should be studied and how. Qualitative research is multimethod in focus, involving an interpretative, naturalistic approach to its subject matter. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. Qualitative research involves use and collection of a variety of empirical material - case study, personal experience, introspective, life story, interview, observational, historical, interactional, and visual texts----that describe routine and problematic moments and meanings in individuals’ lives. Qualitative research is bricolage and researcher is a bricoleur, a ‘jack of all trades’ ready to use any strategy, method or data. There is no prior commitment to any. A context sets a research question, which in turn suggests a research practice. Qualitative research is a call for openness for the sake of better understanding. 

1.  7. The attributes of qualitative research establish how it seeks to locate distinctiveness of phenomena. These are: an explicit commitment to examining events, activities, experiences and their underlying normative framework ‘through the eyes of’ a people being studied; a detailed descriptive attention to aspects of everyday life process likely to reveal specific contexts of behavior; locating wider historical and social as well as immediate and particular context; and an examination of inter-locking processes. 

8.      8. An enquiry is good if knowledge possesses: according to critical epistemology if it has the property of historical situatedness (care taken about social, political, economic, cultural, ethnic and gender specificities of the studied situation); according to constructivism, trustworthiness, criteria of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability, and authenticity criteria of fairness, ontological authenticity (enlarging personal constructions), educative authenticity (leading to improved understanding of others’ constructions), catalytic authenticity  (stimulating action) and tactical authenticity (empowering action). These are set against proof of internal validity (isomorphism of findings with reality), external validity (generalizabilty), reliability (stability) and objectivity (distanced and neutral observer) for positivism and postpositivism.

1.    9. The philosophy underlying the qualitative approach is best represented in the unobtrusive measures. These are so-called because these do not intrude into social settings, groups and individuals who are objects of investigation. Unlike interviews and observation these are ‘non-reactive’ since these do not involve interaction between the investigator and the people being studied. The methods proposed for the workshop illustrate the unobtrusive. Such measures have a number of use values:

(i) Man being a ‘data producing animal’ there is an exciting range of existing data on gods and garbage, well-being and misery, pleasures and renunciation, etc.

        (ii)There are still data even if men are deaf, dumb or blind, co-operative or hostile to enquiry, literate or illiterate, alive or dead, powerful or vulnerable.

        (iii) Because individuals, ‘the knowing subjects’, are already ‘imprinted’ by their culture and history, and submit to culture’s power-knowledge relations, it is appropriate for investigators to use representational products in the form of variety of texts as their point of departure.

        (iv) The data are quantitative as well as qualitative.

        (v) Their availability makes data collection economical in all senses.

        (vi) These enable triangulation of data, methods and theories.

        (vii) These are not appropriated by any particular theory.
(viii) All the social sciences and humanities find these useful. 

  1010. Unobtrusive methods take a variety of forms: Textual analysis, Content Analysis, Discourse Analysis, and Analysis of visuals, Semiotics, Translation, and Analysis of existing statistics.

   111. Because more than one method can be necessary, the need for triangulation arises. The expression ‘triangulation’ is a metaphor drawn on trigonometry, a branch of mathematics. It means originally a method of surveying in which an area is divided in to triangles, one side (the base) and all the angles of which are measured and the lengths of the other lines calculated trigonometrically. Social scientists are seldom conversant about trigonometry. Hence we may be excused trying to make sense more of the suggestions thrown up by the specialist definition. These are: ‘area’, ‘angle’ which implies sides---three, that is, more than one, ‘survey’ and ‘calculation’. Central to this exercise is dividing in triangles and then relating them for a survey. For the social scientists, the area is the phenomenal world or a part thereof, which is sliced up, comprehended and then ‘sewn up’, again for comprehension. If the slices are different in nature, their comprehension involves use of different methods. In social sciences, triangulation means employment of a number of different methods in the belief that the variety facilitates achievement of validity of an observation. This is according to the positivist position. In post-modernist eyes, triangulation or use of multiple methods is useful for ensuring ‘rigor, breadth, and depth to any investigation’. Triangulation refers to the use of more than one approach to the investigation of a research question in order to enhance confidence in the ensuing findings. Since much social research is founded on the use of a single research method and as such may suffer from limitations associated with that method or from the specific application of it, triangulation offers the prospect of enhanced confidence.
12. Triangulation can take five forms:

(i). Data triangulation, which entails gathering data through several sampling strategies, so that slices of data at different times and social situations, as well as on a variety of people, are gathered                                                             .

(ii).  Investigator triangulation, which refers to the use of more than one researcher  in the field to gather and interpret data.

(iii). Theoretical triangulation, which refers to the use of more than one theoretical position in interpreting data.

(iv). Methodological triangulation, which refers to the use of more than one method for gathering data.                              

(v) Interdisciplinary triangulation, which refers to triangulation of different disciplines.

The fourth of these is the most common of them meanings of the term.

A distinction is also possible between within-method and between-method triangulation. The former involves the use of varieties of the same method to investigate a research issue; for example, a self-completion questionnaire might contain two contrasting scales to measure emotional labor. Between-method triangulation, involved contrasting research methods, such as a questionnaire and observation. Sometimes this meaning of triangulation is taken to include the combined use of quantitative research and qualitative research to determine how far they arrive at convergent findings.

Suggested Readings 

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy and Leavy, Patricia. (2004). Approaches to Qualitative Research: A Reader on Theory and Practice  

Bryman, Alan: Quantity and Quality in Social Research. 

Giles, Judy and Middleton, Tim (1999): Studying Culture: a practical introduction. 

Kripendorff, Klaus: Content Analysis: an introduction to its methodology. 

Denzin, Norman K and Lincoln Yvonna S(eds.)(1998-a): Strategies of Qualitative Enquiry. 

Denzin, Norman K and Lincoln Yvonna S(eds.) (1998-b): Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials 

Denzin, Norman K and Lincoln Yvonna S(eds.)(1998-c): The Landscape of Qualitative Research. 

Thwaites, Tony, Davis, Lloyd and Mules, Warwick (2002): Introducing Cultural andMedia Studies.

Hall, Stuart (2002): Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. 

Hammersley, Martyn and Atkinson, Paul (1995): Ethnography: Principles and Practice. 

Chaplin, Elizabath. (1994): Sociology and Visual Representation.

Paradigms of Qualitative Approach                              

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy and Leavy, Patricia. Approaches to Qualitative Research: A Reader on Theory and Practice (2004).pp 1-14,15-38, 62-78.

Bryman (1988) Quantity and Quality in Social Research, pp 45-71, pp95-97, 112-113.

Denzin, Norman K and Lincoln Yvonna S(eds.)(1998-a): Strategies of Qualitative Enquiry. pp 1-34.

Denzin, Norman K and Lincoln Yvonna S(eds.)(1998-c): The Landscape of Qualitative Research.pp 185-2220.

Analysing Representation

Giles, Judy and Middleton, Tim (1999): Studying Culture: a practical introduction. pp 56-80.

Hall (2002) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices pp 1-74.   

Thwaites, Tony, Davis, Lloyd and Mules, Warwick (2002): Introducing Cultural and

Media Studies.

Hesse- Biber and Leavy (2004) Approaches to Qualitative Research: A Reader on Theory and Practice pp 79-129,142-146, 303-315, 334-365.

Denzin, Norman K and Lincoln Yvonna S(eds.) (1998-b): Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials. pp 130-149.

Hall (2002): Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. pp 75-150.



Denzin, and Lincoln (eds.)(1998-a) Strategies of Qualitative Enquiry. pp 110-136. 

Hammersley, Martyn and Atkinson, Paul (1995) Ethnography: Principles and Practice.

Case study
Denzin and Lincoln (eds.)(1998-a) Strategies of Qualitative Enquiry. pp 86-109.

Chaplin, Elizabath. (1994): Sociology and Visual Representation.

Use of computers
Hesse-Biber and Leavy (2004) Approaches to Qualitative Research: A Reader on Theory and Practice (pp 535-545).


Denzin and Lincoln (1998) pp 357-358.

 Bryman, (1988) Quantity and Quality in Social Research pp 27-156.


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Module F

Resource politics, environmental degradation,violence and internal displacement and forced migration



Gandhi said, “Earth has the natural resources to meet the needs of human race but not its greed”. He said this in context of his developmental vision for the human civilisation in consonance with nature. This assumes much importance due to rapidly growing population and limited natural resources on earth. The growth rate of population is much greater than the rate at which natural resources are replenished. We are witnessing a resource conflict at an unprecedented scale today largely due to the crisis we are faced with. The resource crisis is directly or indirectly responsible for the conflicts all over the world be it in the developed world or developing world. Our capital and technology intensive developmental strategy has further contributed and is still contributing towards the resource crisis and environmental destruction leading to the forced displacement of a large section of population all over the world.


Annually, the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the globe are affected by forced displacement due to ethnic conflicts, infrastructure projects like dams, mines, industries, power plants, and roads and then due to natural disasters such as floods, river erosion etc. The forced migration is due to many reasons but question of control over natural resource has been at the centre of these reasons. 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.


In the last one-decade the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDP) are on the increase in South Asia just as in many other parts of the world. Discrimination against minorities, violence, war, ethnic hatred, state repression, demands for self-determination, natural and man made disasters such as famines and floods, ill-conceived development projects such as highways and dams – all have contributed massively to internal displacement. Often the victims of forced displacement are unable to cross borders due to severe lack of resources and are forced to live within a regime that had created occasions for their displacement in the first place. At the same time there are no legal or constitutional mechanisms in any country in South Asia for the IDPs in particular and there exists no inventory of best practices. In fact South Asian states have organized rehabilitation and care on an adhoc basis for the IDPs in the same manner as they have dealt with refugees.


At the same time, it has been observed that most of the displaced people 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, and 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 marginalized 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. These groups are largely dependent on the common property resources (CPR) for their survival owned by the state. The area under CPR has been decreasing across South Asia because states has been using it for various developmental purposes at the cost of marginalized communities leading to conflict between state and people. In the current age of globalisation this conflict has assumed gigantic proportions and people are organising for their rights over the resources against the state.


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. Impact of globalisation on the resource politics, environmental destruction and forced migration.

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

  6. South Asian dynamics of the resource politics and ensuing conflict between nations.

This module would thus deal with these questions through specific case studies from North East India and other parts of India and South Asia taking up cases of ethnic conflict, and developmental displacement all due to resource conflicts and environmental degradation.


Case of North East India


The resource conflict and forced migration are closely inter-linked. In India, this operates at various levels and regions and is reflected in the developmental imbalances across sections of society regionally and nationally. The worst manifestation of this has been in the North East region in the form of ethnic conflicts between various communities. It has witnessed protracted conflicts and displacements of thousands of people in the last few decades. On the one hand, we know of such cases, where an ethnic community claimed exclusive rights over a space that it defines as its “homeland” on the ground that it is the “original inhabitant” of the land. By the same token, they have held that outsiders have no right to settle there. In Assam in Northeast India in the last count (August 2004) a total of 37,677 families (2,37,768 people) were staying in makeshift camps in three districts of western Assam – Kokrakjhar, Bongaigaon and Dhubri.


These IDPs have been staying in make shift camps for past 10 years and have moved from one camp to other due to various reasons. Due to their prolonged stay in camps and no relief coming from the government some of these have already started going back to villages nearby their original places of residence on their own or with help of voluntary organisations. The IDPs have also witnessed large-scale migration to the bigger cities in search of livelihood and have created a money order economy in the camps. One of the prime reasons given by the government for its inability of rehabilitate them is the unavailability of suitable land. Their return has also become difficult because their land and other resources has been now occupied by the rival communities. All these factors together pose challenges for the IDPS and also for the agencies involved in relief and rehabilitation.


The land use pattern in North East India has also contributed towards the ensuing conflict between various communities and environmental destruction. Prior to independence if British encouraged plantation agriculture and brought many labourers from outside now it is the time of modern day developmental agencies who have been trying to change the agricultural patterns of the indigenous people and trying to encourage coffee plantation and other crops which are not viable in this region. The plantation labourers now termed, as ‘outsiders’ has now become target of local conflicts. The crisis in plantation economies has also rendered many people jobless and vast tracts of land unutilised and in control of private parties. A large chunk of land is also inhabited by the various security agencies in the region that further aggravates the situation. The region has also suffered considerable environmental destruction due to large scale deforestation leading to frequent land slide, increased siltation of rivers, floods, and river erosion displacing a large number of people. 


In addition to all this government has planned a large number of big and small dams to tap the water resources in the region. These dams would submerge a large tract of forests, land, and displace thousands of people. There is also danger of destabilising the region, which may cause earthquakes and land slides in future.  These measures will also have adverse impact on the neighbouring regions of Bangladesh and further contribute towards distress migration of Bangladeshis to the states of West Bengal and in North East. Already the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh has witnessed large-scale displacement and migration of indigenous people due to developmental projects and settlement policies of the Government which tried to change the demographic composition of the area in order to consolidate the territorial integrity of the state. Hence, it is important to take in consideration various factors before any such move is planned. 


Role of Globalisation


The phenomenon of globalisation has further aggravated the resource crisis by creating new demands for the resources and introducing private corporations with large financial resources. This has brought them in direct conflict with the communities who were early enjoying these resources and are now being handed over to private corporations by state for a price. One can see it, among others, from the extent of land most states acquire for private companies. For example, Orissa had acquired 40,000 ha for industries during 1951-1995 but plans to acquire 100,000 ha in a decade. Andhra Pradesh has acquired in five years half as much land for industry as it did in 45 years. Similar quantities are being acquired in Jharkhand for mines that foreign companies are eyeing. Goa had acquired 3.5 per cent of the state’s landmass 1965-1995 and plans to acquire 7.2 per cent of it during this decade.


Our experience suggests that governments have expressed their inability in rehabilitating IDPs citing paucity of land so, any land acquisition will happen only by confiscating common property resources (CPRs) being used by other communities causing tension between host communities and oustees, and culturable waste land which will need investment of an unusually higher order than the amount of compensation paid by the government. This needs to be understood that the CPRs are crucial to people’s sustenance. There are also instances where the rivers are being privatised; water systems are being privatised and creating extraordinary demands on the existing resources leading to environmental destruction. The unmindful exploitation of resources and unregulated discharge of harmful chemicals and waste materials are contributing to the environmental degradation. All these factors are together contributing towards resource and environmental crisis leading to forced migration of people.


In addition this module would discuss the impact on women of 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 in villages and semi-urban situations.  The module would also give insight in to these questions : How women particularly are affected by developmental projects and resource policies ? How policies can be and need to be framed with the gendered perception and with the participation of women in order to understand and learn ways to redress the problems particularly faced by them. 


Suggested Readings


“Uprooted Twice : Refugees from the Chittagong Hill Tracts” / Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, in Refugee & The State, Ed. Ranabir Samaddar, Sage : New Delhi.

“Pakistan : Development and Disaster”, Atta ur Rehman Sheikh, in Internal Displacement in South Asia, Sage : New Delhi

“Bangladesh : Displaced and Dispossessed”, Meghna Guhathakurta and Suraiya Begum, in Internal Displacement in South Asia, Sage : New Delhi

“Agrarian Impasse and the Making of an Immigrant Niche” in The Marginal Nation : Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal, Ranabir Samaddar,) 

“Ethnic Politics and Land Use : Genesis of Conflicts in India’s North-East” / Sanjay Barbora in Economic & Political Weekly, March 30, 2002

“Globalization, Class and Gender Relations : The Shrimp Industry In South-western Bangladesh” / Meghna Guhathakurta, unpublished

Report of Workshop on Engendering Resettlement & Rehabilitation Policies and Programmes in India, Mohammed Asif, Lyla Mehta and Harsh Mander, November 2002

“Development Induced Displacement in Pakistan” / Atta ur Rehman Sheikh, in Refugee Watch, No. 15

“Scrutinizing the Land Resettlement Scheme in Bhutan”, Jagat Acharya, in Refugee Watch, No. 9, March 2000



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Module G

Ethics of care and justice


Why should we care for and protect the victims of forced displacement? The “we” here refers to those who have not had experienced displacement themselves, yet harbour some form of an ethical commitment to the victims of forced displacement. The ethical language therefore is expected to establish some form of a connection between us and them, between those who are not forcibly displaced and those who are. Ethics in other words cannot but be dialogical. Its language in no way denies agency to the victims. CRG’s studies in the partition ‘refugees’ in the east, for example, underline a plethora of self-help initiatives undertaken by them. Ethical language therefore is a language of universality that cuts across the given boundaries of the victims’ groups and communities. While ethical language has to be universal, the phenomenon of forced displacement is not. It is true that the incidence of forced displacement has alarmingly been on the rise – thanks to the forces and processes of globalization, their number is still considerably smaller than that of the world’s settled population. Much of what the displaced persons do for themselves will not be construed as ethical practice. Ethics is essentially about the self caring for and holding itself responsible to the other. Ethics, as Levinas reminds us, ‘will never in any lasting way be the good conscience of corrupt politics’ (Levinas 1989:295). Caring the other however may be the means of caring for the self.


As the ethical connection can only be established through dialogues, that is to say, through arguments and reasoning between the parties involved in them, the terms of such arguments and reasoning need not be identical. We care for the displaced persons and our practices of care and protection may have been issued from diverse foundational principles. That we differ on the ethical principles does not put an obstacle to the very act of caring and protecting others. The dialogue must cut across the established divisions of ethical and moral systems and elaborates itself in a way that it does not remain captive to any given modality of ethical practice. While plurality of such systems and modalities is helpful in building the much-needed ‘consensus’ around these principles, rigour and coherence in our arguments and reasoning may more often than not turn out to be a liability for those who feel committed to the care and protection of the displaced persons. That is the reason why scholars like Peter Penz argue for more self-consciously uncertain and middle-level theories of ethics.[1]


The importance of ‘moral reasoning’ in initiating organized responses can hardly be exaggerated. That the principles underline the necessity of organized responses does not mean that there are no unorganized (like, the reflexive and instinctual) responses at all to the problem under review. But we must keep in mind that the organized and unorganized responses take on two rather distinct ethical trajectories. Most of the empirical studies on unorganized, altruistic responses in general (not necessarily towards the displaced persons) seem to indicate their un-self-conscious character. That is to say, those who care for and protect are not at the same time bothered about the fact that they are actually involved in any ‘extraordinary’ act that otherwise begs ‘moral reasoning’ (Monroe 1996:197-215). On the other hand, responses get organized, ordered and orchestrated precisely through an act of self-consciousness. It is by way of consciously entering into some form of argumentation and reasoning with others that we evolve the principles that are ‘binding’ on us. Mere abstinence or abhorrence will not do. Ethical writings are elaborated in the spirit of self-consciously deciphering the ethical basis of our responses to the problem.


Organized responses face the perpetual challenge of excising power from the ethics of care and protection. The challenge is perpetual because we hope to meet it only unsuccessfully, notwithstanding our best endeavours. There is no denying that what we do in the name of care and protection is structured in the power relations prevailing in the society. The question of care and protection in that sense can never be disentangled from that of power. Foucault shows how our care for others involved some form of self-empowerment and subjectivity on our part (Foucault in Rabinow ed. 1994:269-80). Samaddar for example, points out how our humanitarian responses geared to the objective of protecting life are scripted in and thereby reproduce, the imperial ‘power of death’ (Samaddar 2002). But the irony is that we as ethical agents always refuse to conflate what we do in the name of care and protection with what we ought to do and seldom confer moral recognition on the former. The ethics of care and protection imposes on us the painful obligation of denying the existence of power in the public sphere while at the same time being shaped and structured by it. The attempted, albeit tragic, erasure of power is a precondition of the functioning of public sphere as well as ethics. It is important to see how we effect the erasure through the language of ‘argumentation and reasoning’ in our attempts at making the ethical principles ‘binding’ on us.


What we see is the presence of a wide variety of argumentation and reasoning offered by us in justification of our advocacies for care and protection of the displaced persons. First of all, there is the rights-based argument. Care and protection according to this argument, will be construed as our ‘duty’ insofar as the ‘well being’ of the displaced persons becomes ‘a sufficient reason for holding us to be under this duty’ (Raz 1986: 166-8). The problem recognized by almost all the exponents of this argument is that the right against displacement is not an end in itself and cannot per se be regarded as the ‘sufficient reason’ for holding us under this duty. Sufficiency of reason does not reflect itself in the same way as in the two advocacies for the right against displacement and say, the right to life. If one’s displacement becomes a necessary condition for another’s enjoyment of the right to life – often understood as decent life, we can say that the former is derogable and the latter is not. Thus, the right against eviction routinely carried out in the metropolitan cities of South Asia – whether in Dhaka, Kolkata or Islamabad or elsewhere, has to contend with the argument for development and decent life defined everywhere as a ‘collective goal of the community as a whole’ (Dworkin 1977:82-5). The successful assertion of the right against displacement therefore entails some form of abrogation of ‘the collective goal’. Many of those who were evicted from the banks of the Beliaghata circular canal of north Kolkata had been living there for more than one generation. Yet all of them were the illegal occupants of land. In the absence of any legal title, they are unlikely to sustain their claim to land in the first place, in any court of law. The UN Guiding Principles (1998) too revise the right as only a limited right against arbitrary displacement. While we cannot compromise with the ‘collective goal’ we can certainly reduce the sufferings of the displaced through compensation, relief and rehabilitation. Conversely and by the same logic, we should be prepared to accept that the importance of the same right will vary if it ever becomes a necessary condition for the enjoyment of one’s non-derogable rights including that to life. What if it becomes impossible to carry out displacement without simultaneously violating ‘the rights to life and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’? What if displacement involves violation of the victims’ right to life and livelihood? Displacement in that case is bound to be illegal for it leads to derogation of an otherwise non-derogable right enshrined in the Constitution or law. By basing itself on the rights-based argument, the ethics of care and protection remains beholden to the contingent nature of the relationship between the right against displacement on one hand and any of the non-derogable rights recognized by the court of law on the other. An argument is often made to locate the rights of the displaced persons within ‘a radical democratic perspective’, bravely redefine the lines of derogability and non-derogability and thereby extend the sphere of their rights beyond the given limits of law by constantly waging and organizing political struggles (Jayal 1998). This in fact turns the rights-based argument by its head by basing rights on ethics and ethical reasoning and not vice versa.


This takes us to the heart of our second argument. According to it, care and protection always follow the established lines of community and kinship. Organizing responses beyond these lines proves particularly difficult especially in South Asia where community and kinship ties are found to be exceptionally strong. The community-based argument evidently has its limits: in course of organizing the responses, it not only reinforces the traditional lines of rivalry, but reenacts the inequities and asymmetries otherwise internal to these bodies. Various reports emphasize how life in camps, allocation and utilization of aid and assistance for the displaced persons reinforce the kinship and community lineages and become the fertile ground for future tensions and ethnic strife.


The limits of the community-based argument are sought to be overcome by what we call, the humanitarian argument. A somewhat old-fashioned version of the argument looks upon care and protection as a form of ‘moral exercise’ that we require for making our individual selves ‘pure and perfect’. Helping others according to this version is a form of self-help, of achieving one’s higher moral self. The objective of self-help does not however rule out the necessity of organized responses. Learning to work with others is also a means of helping oneself and the proponents of this argument recognize the importance of institutions and organizations in accomplishing this objective. Today however, the humanitarian ethics seldom turns on one’s own self. It instead considers others as equal ethical agents in the sense that they are as much entitled to ‘purity and perfection’ as we are. Viewed in this light, our care and protection are a tribute to their ethical entitlements, of which they are otherwise deprived.


Humanitarian ethics thus has two presuppositions: first, displacement in South Asia cannot be fathomed without the metaphor of home for it is not simply where we live or to which all of us are morally entitled like many other objects of our social existence, but it is the fountainhead of all our moral and ethical entitlements. Almost all the South Asian societies make a distinction between the home we simply live in and the home (e.g. ghar in Marathi or aamar gharkhon in Assamese) that helps shape what we aspire to become and therefore invest us with our moral identities. Any involuntary displacement is a disjuncture between home and home, between what we are and what we want to become, between our senses of lack and fulfillment. Secondly, should a conflict arise between our and their moral entitlements, humanitarian ethics always settles for a minimalist course. Those of us who have the commitment to and power of taking care and protecting the displaced persons will be under any moral obligation if and only if by taking care and protecting them we ‘do not sacrifice anything of comparable moral importance’, that is to say, our own right to life and livelihood (Singer in Markie ed. 1998:800).  


The variations in the tenor and accent of our ‘moral reasoning’ can hardly escape our attention. But they should not be blown out of proportions either. The rights-based argument may well be subsumed under the humanitarian argument or for that matter, the community-based argument, though of course it will be difficult to accommodate the community-based and the humanitarian arguments within the same ethical philosophy. In many ways, the arguments cut across each other and can hardly be considered as mutually exclusive. While in our ‘moral reasoning’, we face the challenge of extricating ethics from power, most of the studies in this respect point out how the practices of care and protection continue to be governed by power and security considerations. The camps and shelters built for the displaced persons represent sites where war is continued ‘by other means’. The budgetary allocation is paltry and irregular. The camp-dwellers are deprived of the non-derogable freedoms, the Guiding Principles propose to secure. Life is poor and insecure. Search for any durable solution ironically makes us confront power and negotiate its terms. Our attempts at disentangling ethics from power too are a power game.     


Suggested Readings 


Bose, Pradip Kumar (1999): ‘Trust and the refugee experience’ in Refugee Watch, June 1999.

Dworkin, Ronald (1977): Taking Rights Seriously. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Foucault, Michel (1994): Ethics: Essential Works of Foucault 1954 – 1984, Vol. 1, ed. Paul Rabinow. London: Penguin.

Jayal, Niraja Gopal (1998): ‘Displaced persons and discourse of rights’ in Economic and Political weekly, XXX (5), 31 January.

Levinas, Emmanuel (1989): The Levinas Reader, ed. Sean Hand. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Monroe, Kristen Renwick (1996): The Heart of Altruism: Perceptions of a Common Humanity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Penz, Peter (2000): ‘Development, displacement and international ethics’ (mimeo.)

Raz, Joseph (1986): The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Clarendon

Samaddar, Ranabir (2002): ‘Caring for the refugees: Issues of power, fear and ethics’ in Three Essays on Law, Responsibility and Justice, SAFHR Paper 12. Kathmandu: South Asia Forum for Human Rights.

Samaddar, Ranabir (2003): ‘In life, in death: Power and rights’ (mimeo.).

Singer, Peter (1998): ‘Famine, affluence, and morality’ in Stephen Cahn & Peter Markie (eds.), Ethics: History, Theory and Contemporary Issues. New York: OUP.

[1] Peter Penz (2002) describes it as ‘middle level analysis’ that situates itself between boundary-conscious ethical and philosophical systems on the one hand and simple and boundary-blind ‘moral intuitions’ on the other. He also calls for ‘engaging different theoretical perspectives in a “dialogue” with each other’.



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Module H

Media and displacement and forced migration


The 21st century is widely being described as a “media-saturated era”. Innumerable issues and events in public life are relentlessly being given exposure and ‘meaning’ through the act of mediation by media of various kinds--- print, broadcast, electronic and digital. As a consequence, there has been a significant increase in media’s role expectation in the mind of the audience around the world. But what is the state of affairs, especially in the context of a sensitive issue like forced migration, insofar as media’s role performance is concerned? Any search for explanation of the divergence and convergence of role expectation and role performance brings up a core media practice, namely, agenda setting, by which the mainstream media determine which issues are to be promoted and publicized as salient in public perception. Insofar as the media representations of forced migration/ forced displacement are concerned they are to be situated within this theoretical framework to go beyond a sectoral approach marked by scattered instances.


The issue of forced migration/ forced displacement in the realm of mainstream media generally falls in the technical category of “catastrophe communication”. In the specific context of South Asia, while there are instances, some quite impressive, of the mainstream media giving due attention to the issue the point should not be over emphasized. Forced migration, especially those following instances of intense violence like war, partition and ethnic conflict, have drawn mainstream media’s attention to unleash various media representations, but all within a specific and mostly brief time-span--- as long as the media believes that the ‘drama content’ retains the interest of the audience [specific instances will be given during the lecture]. In general the mainstream media’s act in putting forced migration in its ‘primary’ agenda has been short, scattered, capricious and abrupt. Often such representations are floated superficially, highlighting only the ‘event-oriented’ manifestations, without addressing the root causes. This practice is based on an arbitrary assumption that the audience fast lose interest in specific issues of forced migration and that “there is no market for it beyond a certain point”. This in turn enforce discursive closure.


South Asia is a site for many instances of forced migration. But the mainstream media being what it is on the question of media taking greater cognizance of such a vital issue mere reliance on its “good sense” is not a pragmatic and adequate approach. There is greater need to be pro-active in communicative act--- both in terms of generating extra-media human communication in the form of critical dialogues and in terms of strengthening the media communication, especially the largely underestimated local and alternative media, to exert pressure on the mainstream media to put forced migration in its agenda more systematically.


Select Readings


C. Bosso, “Setting the Agenda” in MM. Margolis and G.A. Mouser eds., Manipulating Public Opinion, Pacific Grove, 1989.

W.L. Bennett and R.M. Entman: Mediated Political Communication in the Future of Democracy, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

S. Iyenger and D.R. Kinder: News that Matters, Chicago University Press, 1987.

Ujjwal K. Chowdhury, “When the Dog Barks, but Sparingly: Indian Media and Displacement Issues” in O.P. Mishra ed., Forced Migration in the South Asian Region: Displacement, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Manak Publications, 2004.

Samir Kumar Das, “In Search of the Victim: Auditing the Mainstream Media in Contemporary India”,

Anthony Oliver-Smith, “Disasters and Forced Migration in the 21st Century”, 11 June, 2006,