Modules Notes for Eighth Annual Winter Course on Forced Migration 2010

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

Module A

States, Partitions, Forced Migration and Issues of Citizenship

1. Partition has been accompanied by massive population movements that were both violent and eruptive in nature. The faultlines of this wruption took place along, regions, nations, localities, genders, ethnicities and families.


2. Partition resulted in new nationalisms and cultural boundaries that attempted to toe the line of territorial borders of the new nation.

3. With the movement of population comes displacements and relocation. This is accompanied by melancholia, nostalgia for the old homeland. Such melancholia shapes the cultural lives of new societies or run as an undercurrent in that society

4. Partition is gendered. It is perceived and experienced differently by men and women. Such perceptions get excluded from mainstream political discourses. Recent feminist writings on partition have sought to incorporate these notions back into history-writing.


5. Ethnicities and small nationalities get sidetracked too in considerations of nationalist history writing of partitions. Yet they too have been partitioned and especially those who live in borderland areas share common cultures across newly fashioned borders. Ecological disasters wreak havoc among such communities, who have had their traditional boundaries torn asunder. To many, such borders are a mere physical aberration to their continued existence and welfare.



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

Jasodhara Bagchi and Subhoranjan Dasgupta (ed), The Trauma and theh Triumph; Gender and Partition in Eastern India, Vol 1 and 2, Kolkata, Stree Publishers

Mushirul Hasan (ed) Inventing Boundaries: gender Politics and the Partition of India,New Delhi, OUP, 2002

Radha Chakravarty ( translated and compiled) Crossings: Stories from Bangladesh and India
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

Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Women in India’s Partition, new Delhi, Kali for Women,1998

Tai Yon Tang and Ganesh Kudaiysa, The Aftermath of Partition in South Asia, London, Routledge

Urvashia Butalia, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India, London , Penguin, 1998 



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

2.       RW.: Mohajirs : The Refugees By Choice



Module B


Gender Dimensions of Forced Migration, Vulnerabilities, and Justice


According to the annual report of the UNHCR entitled "Global Trends" the number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution worldwide stood at 42 million at the end of 2009, out of which 16 million people are refugees and asylum seekers and 26 million internally displaced people uprooted within their own countries. More than eighty percent of the total 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 and again, a majority of these refugees are made up of women. Keeping these facts in mind this module tries to indicate 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 marginalization of women by the South Asian states. These states at best patronize women and at worse infantilize, disenfranchise and de-politicize them. It is in the person of a refugee that women’s marginality reaches its climactic height. 

The nation building projects in South Asia have led to the creation of a homogenized 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 marginalizing 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. Against this backdrop this module intends to deal with some select cases from South Asia to address such theoretical assumptions. In our discussion 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. 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 patronized them verbally by portraying their “need” for protection it also infantilized 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 marginalized them from the decision making process and made them non-participants.  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. Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin in their book entitled Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition portray the trauma faced by these women who could never be considered as full citizens.

Even today the refugee women do not represent themselves. Officials represent them. 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 the former Prime Minister of India, 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 Government of India’s (GOI) 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. In fact, when they are got shelter in camps with other women as well as men, their private space get merged with the public space. Above all, 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.

Many displaced women who are unable to cross international border swell the ranks of the internally displaced. Even in IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps women are responsible for holding together fragmented families. For example, 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.   

It is pertinent to point out in this context that, 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. 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.

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 homogenize them, ignore their identity, individuality and subjectivity. By reducing refugee women to the status of mere victims in our own narratives we accept the homogenization of women and their de-politicization.  We legitimize a space where states can make certain groups of people political non-subjects.  In this module we intend to discuss the causes of such de-politicization that often results in displacements keeping the refugees, IDPs and stateless women in mind and consider policy alternatives that might help in their rehabilitation and care.

Suggested Readings



Paula Banerjee, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury and Samir Das, Internal Displacement in South Asia, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2005.  (Please read chapter 9) 

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

Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, New Delhi , 1998. (Please read chapter 3) 

Urvashi Bhutalia, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India , Delhi : 1998. 

Ritu Menon (ed.), No Women’s Land: Women from Pakistan, India and Bamgladesh write on the Partition of India, Women Unlimited, New Delhi , 2004. 

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

Ranabir Samaddar, The Marginal Nation, Sage Publications, New Delhi , 1999. (Please read chapter 12) 

Jasodhara Bagchi and Subhoranjan Dasgupta, eds., The Trauma and the Triumph: Gender and Partition in Eastern India, Vol.1, Stree, Kolkata, 2003. 

-------------------, The Trauma and the Triumph: Gender and Partition in Eastern India, Vol.11, Stree, Kolkata, 2009.


Paula Banerjee, “Agonies and Ironies of War,” Refugee Watch, No. 2, April, 1998. 

Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury, “Violence, Victimhood and Minority Women: The Gujarat Violence of 2002”, Lipi Ghosh (ed.), Political Governance and Minority Rights: The South and Southeast Asian Scenario, Routledge, New Delhi , 2009, PP.44-64. 

______________, “Women After Partition: Remembering the Lost World in a Life without Future” in Navnita Chadha Behera (ed.), Gender, Conflict and Migration, Sage, New Delhi , 2006, pp. 155-174. 

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.

Refugee WatchI (RW), Nos. 10-11  


Relevant Websites: 

UNHCR Policy on Refugee Women  

Select UNICEF Policy Recommendation on the Gender Dimensions of Internal Displacement  


RW: Dislocated Subjects : The Story of Refugee Women  

RW: War and Its Impact on Women in Sri Lanka  

RW: Afghan Women In Iran  

RW: Refugee Women of Bhutan  

RW: Rohingya Women – Stateless and Oppressed in Burma  

RW.: Dislocating the Women and Making the Nation



Module C

International, Regional, and the National Legal Regimes of Protection, Sovereignty and the Principle of Resposibility

Protection of refugee is a worldwide problem that international community have attempted to address since the early twentieth century. The Statute of the UNHCR adopted by the General Assembly in December 1950 established the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that is the principal international agency concerned with the assistance and protection of refugees. Its primary responsibilities relate to ‘providing international protection and seeking permanent solution for the problem of refugees’. Among its key function is the supervision of the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees of which Article 35 requires State Parties to cooperate with it.

Refugee in international law is governed by a complex network of national, regional and international law. The 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees are the principal legal instruments established for the protection of refugees which have been ratified by 147 states. In fact, 1967 Protocol extends temporal and geographical application of the 1951 Refugee Convention. It is argued that 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol failed to recognize the person whose migration is prompted by natural disaster, war or broadly-based political and economic turmoil. By mandating protection for those whose (western inspired) civil and political rights are jeopardized, without at the same time protecting persons whose (socialist inspired) socio-economic rights are at risk, the Convention adopted an incomplete and politically partisan human rights rationale.

The 1951 Convention elevates ‘the status of refugee protection as a matter of international concern’. It contains most widely accepted definition of the term ‘refugee’ and ‘principle of non-refoulement’.[i] There is increasing threats to the principle of non-refoulement recent years. The evolution of non-entrée policies in the industrialized world and interdiction in the high seas become a regular state practices.

The two main characteristic of the Convention definition are its strategic conceptualisation and its Eurocentric focus. The Convention is thus on the one hand restricted the scope of protection and on the other hand sought to create a right regime conducive to the redistribution of the post-war refugee burden from European shoulders. In this sense, the Convention was intended to distribute the European refugee burden without any binding obligation to reciprocate by way of the establishment of rights for, or the provision of assistance to, non-European refugees. It was not until more than fifteen years later that the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees expanded the scope of the Convention definition to include refugees from all regions of the world.

Next to the almost entirely missing obligations and implementation criteria, one should note that the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol is not comprehensively enough to secure the protection of refugees, leaving some critical elements outside its otherwise generously defined scope of application. Some of these missing elements are related to the centrality of state sovereignty, which is intrinsic to the refugee protection. In this context it may be noted that states have consistently refused to undertake an obligation to accept a right of asylum enforceable at the instance of an individual. [ii]

Ever since the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, states have realized the necessity of new rules, partly in order to fill gaps left by the present international refugee regime, but also to tune the international protection regime system better to cope with the rapid changes in refugee situations. At the end of 2009, the total number of ‘persons of concern’ under the mandate of the Office of the UNHCR had increased to 34,464,20. Several attempts to modify the international protection regime of refugee have been made over the years. These include the definition contained in the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugee, the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problem in Africa (OAU Convention), the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. These international instruments on refugee acknowledges three alternatives as plausible permanent solutions to refugee problem – (a) repatriation to the country of origin; (b) local integration; and (c) resettlement in a third country. The discussion on durable solutions is extremely over-politcized and often resembles a clash between state generated refugees and receiving state that find no channel of communication between them. A vital element omitted from the regulatory domain of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol is the provisions relating durable solutions. This omission is particularly awkward since durable solutions have as their core objective of refugee problem. The 1969 OAU Convention (Article V) remains the only international instrument to make an explicit reference to voluntary repatriation. However, the solutions to refugees don’t come easily. States involved in durable solutions apply pressure in varying form and degree on the refugees and thereby deteriorating conditions in areas where they have settled. In brief, international refugee law’s impact on the search for solutions to the refugee problem is at times imprecise and inadequate.

Additionally, in 1966, Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC) adopted the principle concerning treatment of refugees and later a Group of Arab experts meeting in Cairo in November 2002 adopted a non-binding Declaration on the Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons in the Arab world. These principles, also non-binding in character, have however exercised little influence in the region.

The increasing regionalisation of refugee problems and the growing membership of the United Nations have made it difficult to achieve the consensus required for the introduction of any new universal treaty on refugees. This has resulted increased gap between the responsibility entrusted to UNHCR and the obligations undertaken by the states. Numerous proposals are advanced to bridge the gap and to make refugee protection principles. One could group these suggestions (without claims for an exhaustive listing) into three categories:

(1) The first cluster of proposals suggests the insertion of supervision based on state reporting, advisory opinions or individual complaints to the international refugee regime similar to the ones existing monitoring mechanism in international human rights regime. This would arguably require the states to provide UNHCR with information concerning the condition of refugees, their implementation of the Convention and national laws relating to refugees, and thereby the states will get engaged in a ‘kind of dialogue of justification’. It is argued that, states already have a reporting obligation under Article 35(2) of the Convention. However, at present the application of this provision has not been regularized. Another option within this category, sketched by Professor Walter Kalin, is the creation of permanent Sub-Committee, possibly within the framework of the Executive Committee, responsible for Review and Monitoring. It is also conceivable that the Sub-Committee would be responsible for carrying out reviews of specific situations of refugee flows or of particular countries, which would be identified on the basis of transparent and objective criteria. Kalin has suggested, that these Refugee Protection Reviews would combine independent fact-finding and expertise with elements of peer-review (discussion of reports by other States Parties).

Other, subtler proposal put forward by Kalin is in essence to introduce a thematic Rapporteur that would be handled by the Executive Committee.

(2) Other proposition in this context, is introduction of a judicial body to encourage consistent interpretations of the provisions in the Convention and the standards in the Conclusions. Justice Tony North argued fervently for many years the introduction of an ‘International Judicial Commission on Refugees’. [iii] Under this proposal, the Commission would be created under the supervisory mandate of UNHCR contained in Para 8 of the UNHCR Statute, but would be independent of UNHCR. It would be nine-member independent body of experts, providing advisory legal opinions pertaining to questions of interpretation of the Convention. The members of the Commission would select these questions, although UNHCR would have a special power to seek opinions from the Commission. As Kalin notes, ‘it might be difficult to garner support for this proposal amongst States’.

(3) To fill some of the current gaps in the international protection regime, one possible means of influencing states can be to formulate and develop standards on International Protection through Conclusions adopted by the Executive Committee of UNHCR. Corinne Lewis suggested that ‘the although the Conclusions are not binding on states, Executive Committee is the only specialized forum for the development of international refugee law standards at a global level’. [iv] It is argued that the Conclusions therefore have the potential to have significant normative influence as an expression of the consensus of the international community on a specific protection matter. However, as Holborn quite rightly notes, despite this, they have generally been afforded relatively low status internationally. [v] In addition, Oscar Schachter, for example, believe that because international organizations are created to develop international norms, when states become members of those organizations, they accept an obligation to cooperate with each other to do so. Following the recommendations of such organizations therefore become a means by which states can fulfill this obligation. [vi]

However, all these proposals, besides the obvious difficulty of formulating them in a non-arbitrary and enforceable manner and of obtaining the states consent are not easy. Moreover, all of these suggestions are essentially ‘academic’ projects and not really politically driven ones that enjoy the support of the States Parties of the Convention. In fact, as the UNHCR/States Parties of the Convention clearly shows, the search for protection of refugee solutions within the UNHCR has largely given up. States are happy to maintain their low level of commitments and the escape to the forum of UNHCR offers security in this regard. Despite the impressive number of states that have ratified the Convention, and thus arguably committed to the objective of protecting the refugee, it is highly unlikely that a negotiating bloc would form within the UNHCR to push for some of the above ‘refugee’ solution. This is because when one looks at the political economy behind the adoption of the additional responsibility under the Convention, there is not only one voice. Different states have ratified it for different reasons following their own specific agendas.

Bayani introduced the subject of state responsibility for displaced populations. This issue has remained unsettled because of starkly different positions of the major states drivers, the European states, which also reflect pro-culture stances during the 1951 Convention debate. One proposition in this context is to introduce relevant international law norms and the evaluation of the past practices with reference to obligations owed by the state of origin to the receiving country. Another suggestion has been to create obligations owed by the state of origin to the international community. Tomuschat suggested the UNHCR has a right to recover the costs incurred in assisting refugees from the country of origin. Chimni raised question would the UNHCR has the legal standing to claim the costs of assisting refugees? [vii]

As a consequence of this deepening discord, ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ discourse is becoming increasingly attractive for politicians as the popularity of human rights champions wanes, in particular in developed countries and as national values and interests, especially after 9/11, gain prominence. Yet the politically driven disconnect between sovereignty and responsibility, while easily justified before the constituencies concerned, is not necessarily beneficial for either the domain of refugee or that of protection/solution. Oscar Schacter argues that ‘it is highly undesirable to have a new rule allowing humanitarian intervention, for that could provide a pretext for abusive intervention’. [viii] The idea of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ was first put forward by the Sudanese scholar and Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Internally Displaced Persons, Francis M. Dang, particularly in a publication by the Brooking Institute Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa (1996). Here Deng believed the sovereign state as the primary guarantor of human rights and human security. This document came after two major defeats for the new interventionism, after following the ignominious withdrawal of UN forces from Somalia in 1993, and the failure to halt atrocities in Rawanda in 1994. However, Deng linked his new idea of sovereignty to the failure of the US Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Meanwhile, Kofi Annan challenged international society to avoid ‘future Rawandas’. The challenges were responded by western scholars and political leaders, most notably by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), an independent panel partly funded by the Canadian government. In its report, the ICISS expounded the new doctrine ‘the Responsibility to Protect’. Here Third world states reaffirmed their long understanding on issues of self-determination, development and non-intervention. The author submits that one should avoid to extend norms beyond the point at which they cannot provide meaningful guidance.

Issues for Discussion

The record of the refugee protection standards raise a number of general questions: Does the protection offered by the international, regional and national instruments sufficient to address the Refuge Problem? Whether the norms created by these instruments and state practice are coherent? Can the UNHCR provide guidance as to standards which must be maintained by states; and can the system be used to enforce these standards in order to provide an effective guarantee to refugees? To what extent present durable solutions available in refugee system be workable? A central issue in durable solution of refugee problem whether ‘voluntary repatriation’ is better than ‘local integration’ and ‘third state resettlement’, that is used rarely? Could it be possible to develop law of state responsibility in regard to refugee problem? The question of enforcement/compliance of refugee standards is certainly one of the most sensitive issues in international refugee law. Do we promote international human rights machinery to play a more active role in refugee affairs? To what extents are recent proposals enforcing obligations on states reflected in various meetings/symposiums become reality? By and large, would a reform in refugee system be viable?

The focus will also be on ‘sovereignty’: asylum and refugee; the implication of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ and ‘responsibility to protect (R2P)’ on refugee problem. The basic question is; what did the opponents of R2P means when they argued that third world states should not accept the R2P because it ‘allows powerful states to intervene in poor countries for illegitimate purpose’. And what did the proponent mean when they said that such argument did not lead to the opponent’s conclusion.

Suggested Readings

B. S. Chimni (ed.), International Refugee Law: A Reader (Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2000).

Vera Gowland and Klaus Samson (ed.), Problems and Prospects of Refugee Law (The Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, (1991).

Sadruddin Aga Khan, “Legal Problems relating to Refugees and Displaced Persons”, Recueil Des Cours, vol. I (1976), pp. 287-352.

E. Reut-Nicolussi, “Displaced Persons and International Law”, Receuil des Cours, vol. II (1948).

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


[i] Article 33(1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention  prescribes that ‘no refugee should be returned to any country where he or she is likely to face persecution or torture’.

[ii] The frequently cited Article 14 of the UDHR provides that ‘everyone has the right to seek but not granted asylum. The 1977 United Nations Conference on Territorial Asylum convened to consider such a possibility ‘was an abject failure’.

[iii] Anthony M. North and Joyce Chia, “Towards Convergence in the Interpretation of the Refugee Convention: A Proposal for the Establishment of an International Judicial Commission for Refugees”, in Jane McAdam (ed.), Forced Migration, Human Rights and Security (Oregaon, Oxford and Portland , 2008), pp. 225-261.

[iv] Corinne Lewis, “UNHCR’s Contribution to the Development of International Refugee Law: Its Foundations and Evolution”, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol 17, no. 1 (2005), pp. 66-67.

[v] Louise W. Holborn, Refugees: A Problem of Our Time: The Work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 1951-1972 (The Scarecrow Press Inc., Cambridge, 1975), pp. 110-111.

[vi] Oscar Schachter, International Law in Theory and Practice (Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1991).

[vii] B. S. Chimni, International Refugee Law-A Reader (Sage Publications, New Delhi , 2000), pp-269-270.

[viii] Note 6.



Module D

Internal Displacement with Special Reference to 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 due to disasters 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. 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.


Contextualising Internal Displacement in South Asia

South Asia is cultural mosaic diverse cultures, languages, customs, norms and other social practices which often over lap providing continuities and idscontinuities in the region. The socio-cultural notion of nation-state formation is not congruous with the politico-territorial formations in the post-colonial period. So there is obvious scope for ethnic and religious tensions in the intra-state level and inter state level. The South Asian situation on ethnicity and religious tension resolution for future is inevitably somewhat nebulous and shrouded in uncertainty. “It is also evident that religion and language as components of ethnic identity are important in dividing as well as unifying groups in South Asia. For example, in Sri Lanka, language is a basis for intra-group unity amidst an internal cleavage along religious lines, whereas ethnic groups in Pakistan are divided along linguistic lines even though they share a common religion. In Bhutan, Buddhism tends to unify the linguistically divided Bhutanese against the Nepalese speaking Hindu migrants from Nepal. As regards India, language is a major unifying force for many groups in conflict, while religion remains the main source of conflict in a few cases—notably in Punjab and Kashmir. It is only in Bangladesh that both religion and language provide the basis for inter-group division and intra-group unity”[ii]. This is the most significant complexity in which ethnic (language) and religious identity is intertwined in such a way to add more complexity to the region.

The structural framework of the region—incorporating features such as close geographical proximity, socio-cultural linkages and inter-dependent politico-strategic relations of states—creates internal pressures for regionalization of ethnic conflict as an inevitable part of political life.[iii]

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.

Besides, conflict as source of displacement, naturural disasters are recurrent in South Asia, which at times are trans boorder impact oriented as well.  It is witnessed as in the case of Indian ocean tsunamis of  2004 hitting Sri Lanka, India and Maldives, Kashmir earthquake of 2005 affected both Indian and Pakistan side of Kashmir, Aila cyclone in May 2009 affected India and Bangladesh. Recent flood has affected thousands of lives in Pakistan. It is partinent to ponit out in this context that, as a result of continuous environmental degradation; flood and river-bank erosion in the plains, and landslide in the hills have become endemic. This has caused innumerable deaths, destruction and population displacement. The intensity of flood, river-bank erosion and landslide has increased substantially over the years in terms of area and victims. Now the only few South Asian countries are in the process of setting up the legal-institutional framework to tackle disasters. India has taken the lead to constitute a national disaster management authority (NDMA) based on national disaster management act (2005). This is supposed to provide the national policies and guidelines not only to tackle post-disaster relief and response but also to promote proactive  preparedness and mitigation measures. Other countries are also taking their own measures in the lines of Hyogo framework for action (2005).

Moreover, the heavy emphasis on large-scale projects for infrastuctural development of the country has led to the displacement of millins in South Asia. Development-induced displacement has been associated with the construction of dams for hydroelectric power and irrigation purposes but also appears due to many other activities, such as mining and the creation of military installations, airports, industrial plants, weapon testing grounds, railways, road developments, urbanization, conservation projects, forestry, etc. affecting multiple levels of human organization, from tribal and village communities to well-developed urban areas. Needless to say, establishment of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Export Promotion Zones (EPZ) stipulate huge land requirements causing millions of people’s displacement from their ancestral land in era of globalization.

Why IDPs are more Vulnerable

Although all persons affected by conflict and/or human rights violations suffer, displacement and likely to increase the need for protection. Following are broad reasons why IDPs are considered more vulnerable due to:

  • Movement to unhealthy or inhospitable environments
  • Destruction of community social fabric and social organizations
  • Seperation or disruption of family groups
  • Women may be forced to assume non-traditional roles or face particular vulnerabilities.
  • Internally displaced populace, and especially groups like children, the elderly, chronically ill, physically challenged or pregnant women, may experience profound psychosocial distress related to displacement.
  • Due to displacement livelihood may be badly affected which may add to physical and psychosocial vulnerability for displaced people.
  • School education for children and adolescents may be disrupted due to lack of restoration of schools or increase in distance in new location. Even sometimes children do not get adequate study space
  • Internal displacement to areas where local inhabitants are of different groups or inhospitable may increase risk to internally displaced communities; internally displaced persons may face language barriers during displacement.
  • Internally displaced persons may lack identity documents essential to receiving relief benefits or legal recognition. Such documents are either lost or misplaced during displacement.
  • Lack of basic amenities such as proper shelter, nutrition, water, sanitation, etc.  

In south Asian context the situation of IDPs seems particularly more vulnerable when one considers that there are hardly any legal mechanisms that guide their rehabilitation, care and protection.  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.’ The Principles consolidate into one document the legal standards relevant to the internally displaced drawn from international human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law by analogy. In addition to restating existing norms, they address gray areas and gaps identified in the law. As a result, there is now for the first time an authoritative statement of the rights of internally displaced persons and the obligations of governments and other controlling authorities toward these populations.[iv]

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.  Although the Guiding Principles do not constitute a binding instrument like a treaty, they do reflect and are consistent with existing international law. They address all displacement—providing protection against arbitrary displacement, offering a basis for protection and assistance during displacement, and setting forth guarantees for safe return, resettlement and reintegration.[v]

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.”[vi] The definition provided by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement highlights two elements: (i) The coercive or otherwise involuntary character of movement; the definition mentions some of the most common causes of involuntary movements, such as armed conflict, violence, human rights violations and disasters. These causes have in common that they give no choice to people but to leave their homes and deprive them of the most essential protection mechanisms, such as community networks, access to services, livelihoods. Displacement severely affects the physical, socio-economic and legal safety of people and should be systematically regarded as an indicator of potential vulnerability. And (ii) The fact that such movement takes place within national borders. Unlike refugees, who have been deprived of the protection of their state of origin, IDPs remain legally under the protection of national authorities of their country of habitual residence. IDPs should therefore enjoy the same rights as the rest of the population. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement remind national authorities and other relevant actors of their responsibility to ensure that IDPs’ rights are respected and fulfilled, despite the vulnerability generated by their displacement.

Some 25 million people worldwide currently live in situations of internal displacement as a result of conflicts or human rights violations. Although internally displaced people now outnumber refugees by two to one, their plight receives far less international attention.[vii] 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.  It is pertinent to make such rights accessible to vulnerable people of South Asia who are already displaced or live in fear of displacement. This module overall attempts to nurture the dialogue and discussion on issues concerning internal displacement.

Many IDPs remain exposed to violence and other human rights violations during their displacement. Often they have no or only very limited access to food, employment, education and health care. Large numbers of IDPs are caught in desperate situations amidst fighting or in remote and inaccessible areas cut-off from international assistance. Others have been forced to live away from their homes for many years, or even decades, because the conflicts that caused their displacement remained unresolved. While refugees are eligible to receive international protection and help under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, the international community is not under the same legal obligation to protect and assist internally displaced people. National governments have the primary responsibility for the security and well-being of all displaced people on their territory, but often they are unable or unwilling to live up to this obligation.

Salient Features of Guiding Principles

The Principles identify the rights and guarantees which, when fully observed and respected, can prevent arbitrary displacement and address the needs of internally displaced persons in terms of protection, assistance and solutions. In keeping with its focus on needs, the Principles are structured around the phases of internal displacement: They address protection against displacement (Principles 5 – 9); protection during displacement (Principles 10 –23); the framework for humanitarian assistance Principles 24 – 27); and protection during return, local integration in the locations where persons have been displaced, and resettlement in another part of the country (Principles 28 – 30).[viii]  It is important to understand the context it is relevant and applicable as stated by Walter Kalin in his interpretative notes on Guiding Principles-Annotations: “The protection of internally displaced persons is complicated by the fact that internal displacement can occur in three different situations: (1) during peace, e.g., as a result of natural or man-made disasters or tensions and disturbances that fall short of internal armed conflict where human rights law applies; (2) during non-international armed conflict governed by some of the most important principles of humanitarian law and by many human rights guarantees; and (3) during interstate armed conflict where the detailed provisions of international humanitarian law become operative, and at the same time, many important human rights guarantees remain applicable.” The Guiding Principles cover all three situations and attempt to facilitate the invocation and application of relevant legal norms, as it is often difficult in practice to determine which norms apply to each of these situations. The Principles identify those guarantees that have to be observed in all situations.[ix]

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 module 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 module 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 module hopefully will fill that awesome and disturbing vacuum. The module 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 module 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.  


1.Paula Banerjee, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury and Samir Das, Internal Displacement in South Asia, sage, New Delhi, 2005

2. Addressing Internal Displacement: A Framework for National Responsibility Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

3. Erin Mooney, “The Concept of Internal Displacement and the Case for Internally Displaced Persons as a Category of Concern",  in Refugee Survey Quarterly, Volume 24, Issue 3, 2005.

4. Report on ‘Protecting and Promoting Rights in Natural disasters in South Asia: Prevention and Response’, Brookings Institute-University of Bern, Project on Internal Displacement,  2009

Web-based E-Materials

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

2.  Sovereignty as Responsibility: The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement/ Roberta Cohen

3.  An Overview of Revisions to the World Bank Resettlement Policy

4. Walter Kälin, “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – Annotations”,  Studies in Transnational Legal Policy, No. 32, published by The American Society of International Law and The Brookings Institution Project on Internal Displacement, 2000.

Additional Reading List


1.  Sibaji Pratim Basu, (ed.) The fleeing People of South Asia, Selections from Refugee Watch, Anthem South Asian studies, 2009

2.  Larry Maybee, Benarji hakka, (eds.) Custom as a Source of International Humanitarian Law,  ICRC, AALCO, 2006

3.  P.R. Chari, Mallika Joseph, Suba Chandran, (eds.) Missing Boundaries: Refugees, Migrants, Stateless and Internally Displaced Persons in South Asia, Manohar, New Delhi, 2003.

4.  Anuradha M. Chenoy, Militarism and Women in South Asia, Kali for women, New Delhi, 2002

5.  United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Analytical Report of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1992/23

6.  Roberta Cohen, ‘The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: An Innovation in International Standard Setting,’ Global Governance, Vol. 10 (2004)

7.  Putting IDPs on the Map: Achievements and Challenges, Forced Migration Review, Special Issue, December 2006.

8.  Michael Barutciski , Tension Between the refuge and concept and IDP debate,  FMR, December 1998.

9.  Jon Bennett,  Forced Migration within National Borders: The IDP Agenda,  FMR, Jan-April, 1998.

10. Indian National Disaster Management Act, 2005,

11. Draft Document on Sri Lankan National Framework for Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation,  2008.



[i] Pradip Prabhu, “Tribals Face Genocide,” Combat Law: The Human Rights Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 4 (October-November 2002) p. 73

[ii] P. Sahadevan, “Ethnic Conflicts and Militarism in South Asia” International Studies, 39,2 (2002) p.103.

[iii] Ibid. p.104

[iv] Walter Kalin, “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – Annotations”, 2000. p.xi

[v] Ibid. Francis M. Deng in his Preface note, p.xiii

[vi] Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Para. 2

[vii] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Norwegian Refugee Council

[viii] Walter Kalin, P.3
[ix] Ibid. p.7





Module E

Resource Politics, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation, and Displacement


Natural Resources are basic and essential for survival of people. In contemporary South Asia there is generally rush and competition to grab natural resources both by the State as well as private/corporate leaving the communities concerned in jeopardy. 

Natural resources are usually referred to as land or raw materials from economic point of view, which occur naturally in environments without human intervention. A natural resource is often characterized by amounts of biodiversity existent in various ecosystems. Natural resources are derived from the environment. Many of them are essential for our survival while others are used for satisfying our wants. Natural resources may be further classified in different ways. On the basis of origin, resources may be divided into: (a) Biotic resources are obtained from the biosphere, such as forests and their products, animals, birds and their products, fish and other marine organisms. Mineral fuels such as coal and petroleum are also included in this category because they formed from decayed organic matter; and (b) Abiotic resources include non-living things. Examples include land, water, air and ores such as gold, iron, copper, silver etc. Considering their stage of development, natural resources may be referred to in the following ways:

  • Potential Resources - Potential resources are those that exist in a region and may be used in the future. For example, petroleum may exist in many parts of India, having sedimentary rocks but until the time it is actually drilled out and put into use, it remains a potential resource.
  • Actual Resources are those that have been surveyed, their quantity and quality determined and are being used in present times. The development of an actual resource, such as wood processing depends upon the technology available and the cost involved. That part of the actual resource that can be developed profitably with available technology is called a reserve.

With respect to renewability, natural resources can be categorized as follows:

  • Renewable resources are ones that can be replenished or reproduced easily. Some of them, like sunlight, air, wind, etc., are continuously available and their quantity is not affected by human consumption. Many renewable resources can be depleted by human use, but may also be replenished, thus maintaining a flow. Some of these, like agricultural crops, take a short time for renewal; others, like water, take a comparatively longer time, while still others, like forests, take even longer.
  • Non-renewable resources are formed over very long geological periods. Minerals and fossil fuels are included in this category. Since their rate of formation is extremely slow, they cannot be replenished once they get depleted. Of these, the metallic minerals can be re-used by recycling them. But coal and petroleum cannot be recycled. [i]

Natural Resource Management

Natural resource management is a discipline in the management of natural resources such as land, water, soil, plants and animals, with a particular focus on how management affects the quality of life for both present and future generations. Natural resource management is interrelated with the concept of sustainable development, a principle that forms a basis for land management and environmental governance throughout the world. There can be many examples to show that natural resources are by no means purely economic matter but also have political connotations, therefore resource politics is apt to be named.  There is a strong inter play between economic and political matters vis-a-vis resources. Basic natural resources like water, fertile land, are about survival of people, where as other natural resources like ore, oil, timber are about revenue therefore political behaviour/ structures are also important.

In order to get the broader perspective one may use ‘resource politics’ which brings in the multi-dimensional dynamics/ issues relating to political, socio-economical, cultural, legal issues in an inter twined manner.  One has to understand how resource and politics are inter related in the South Asian region.

With an overall South Asia perspective, one can look at resource politics, to see how and why resource scarcity and dependence can trigger or have detrimental effects on the processes and structures of democracy, peace, stability, socio-economic development, ethnic balance. At inter-state level for example, there is always water sharing problem between India and Pakistan or India and Bangladesh. Even taking intra-state example, in Sri Lanka the ethnic conflict got continued due to strife over social, cultural, economic and political spaces. The conflict also got heightened over water resource sharing at Mavil aru. When the LTTE closed the sluice gates of the Mavil Oya (Mavil Aru) reservoir on July 21 2008 and cut the water supply to 15,000 villages in government controlled areas it triggered the escalation of war and ended with annihilation of LTTE, apparently in mid 2009.

However, intervening factors, such as regional differences, climate variability, and human manipulation of ecosystems (1) generate a highly uneven distribution. (2) Population growth and increasing per capita demand with the latter growing twice as fast as the former, further limit the local availability of water (Gleick 1998).  Extrapolating this trend, the United Nations fears that in 2025 two-thirds of the world population will suffer from water stress (United Nations 1997). "Water stress" as a category is part of the demographic index used to measure water poverty, marking the beginning of water stress at a per capita availability of 1,700 [m.sup.3] per year, chronic water scarcity at 1,000 [m.sup.3] and absolute water scarcity at 500 [m.sup.3] (Gleick, Chalecki, and Wong 2002).  

It is important to see how one industrial disaster could pollute the air, water and soil. Or how natural disasters could affect natural resources, as in the case of tsunamis (agricultural land salination, mangrove), cyclone (marine resources).

Climate Change

Climate change will inflict damage on every continent, but it will hit the world's poor disproportionately hard. Whatever hard-fought human development gains have been made may be impeded or reversed by climate change as new threats emerge to water and food security, agricultural production and access, and nutrition and public health.

“Climate Change and Global Poverty: A Billion Lives in the Balance?” draws on expertise from the climate change and development communities to ask how the public and private sectors can help the world's poor manage the global climate crisis. Increasingly, climate change and development are two sides of the same coin. Effective climate solutions must empower global development by improving livelihoods, health, and economic prospects, while poverty alleviation itself must become a central strategy for both mitigating emissions and reducing global vulnerability to adverse climate impacts.

Global warming and climate change are inter related issues. The anthropogenic input mainly through fossil fuel use, deforestation and industrial revolution, which releases about six billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, has resulted in warming up of earth and has become one of the greatest threats facing the planet. Global surface temperature over the 100 years ending in 2005, has increased by about 0.74 ± 0.18 °C. The atmospheric CO2 concentrations has increased from the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million to 379 parts per million in 2005.  [ii]

Global warming has effected a change in quantum and patterns of precipitation. The changes in temperature and precipitation patterns increased the frequency, duration and intensity of extreme weather events like floods, droughts, heat waves and cyclones. Other effects of global warming include higher or lower agricultural yields, further glacial retreat, reduced summer stream flows, species extinctions and disease outbreaks. Deforestation also affects regional carbon reuptake, which can result in increased concentrations of CO2, the dominant greenhouse gas. Land-clearing methods such as slash and burn compound these effects by burning bio matter, which directly releases greenhouse gases and particulate matter into the air.

The oceans play a vital role in the earth’s life support system through regulating climate and global biogeochemical cycles through their capacity to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). But, the additional input has resulted in the reduction of ocean pH, which will have a subsequent effect on the carbonate chemistry through the reduction of the carbonate ions, aragonite and calcite, used by many marine organisms to build their external skeletons and shells. Ocean acidification has already increased ocean acidity by 30 % and could increase by 150 % by 2100. The increase in global temperatures are causing a broad range of changes like sea level rise due to thermal expansion of the ocean and melting of land ice, leading to inundation of coastal areas and displacement of substantial human populace.CO2 (Carbon dioxide) emissions belong to the most important causes of global warming. So, intervention is very much essential with the participation of people so as to mitigate the effect of the global warming. Awareness is very much lacking on among the public on the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, to follow energy saving methods etc.

Environment and Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC), aimed at fighting global warming. The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty with the goal of achieving "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."[iii]

The Protocol was initially adopted on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan and entered into force on 16 February 2005. As of November 2009, 187 states have signed and ratified the protocol.[iv]

Under the Protocol, 37 industrialized countries (called "Annex I countries") commit themselves to a reduction of four greenhouse gases (GHG) (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride) and two groups of gases (hydrofluorocarbons and per fluorocarbons) produced by them, and all member countries give general commitments. Annex I countries agreed to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from the 1990 level. Emission limits do not include emissions by international aviation and shipping, but are in addition to the industrial gases, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are dealt with under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The benchmark 1990 emission levels were accepted by the Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC (decision 2/CP.3) were the values of "global warming potential" calculated for the IPCC Second Assessment Report.[v] These figures are used for converting the various greenhouse gas emissions into comparable CO2 equivalents (CO2-eq) when computing overall sources and sinks.

The objective is the "stabilization and reconstruction of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." The objective of the Kyoto climate change conference was to establish a legally binding international agreement, whereby all the participating nations commit themselves to tackling the issue of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. The target agreed upon was an average reduction of 5.2% from 1990 levels by the year 2012. According to the treaty, in 2012, Annex I countries must have fulfilled their obligations of reduction of greenhouse gases emissions established for the first commitment period (2008–2012).[vi]

The five principal concepts of the Kyoto Protocol are:[citation needed]

  • Commitments. The heart of the Protocol lies in establishing commitments for the reduction of greenhouse gases that are legally binding for Annex I countries, as well as general commitments for all member countries.
  • Implementation. In order to meet the objectives of the Protocol, Annex I countries are required to prepare policies and measures for the reduction of greenhouse gases in their respective countries. In addition, they are required to increase the absorption of these gases and utilize all mechanisms available, such as joint implementation, the clean development mechanism and emissions trading, in order to be rewarded with credits that would allow more greenhouse gas emissions at home.
  • Minimizing Impacts on Developing Countries by establishing an adaptation fund for climate change.
  • Accounting, Reporting and Review in order to ensure the integrity of the Protocol.
  • Compliance. Establishing a Compliance Committee to enforce compliance with the commitments under the Protocol.

Case Study I: Bio-Diversity, Katghora Forest Reserve, Chhattisgarh[vii]

Fifty-year-old Bhuvan Pal Singh can barely read or write but for thousands of inhabitants of the Katghora forest reserve in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh he holds a revered position as a traditional healer.

Bhuvan treats his patients with medicinal plants for free. He believes he cannot charge for knowledge that has been passed down for generations and for something that is after all from nature. Many of his patients travel miles for treatment and his register reveals the diversity of ailments he diagnoses, everything from backaches to cancer.  His wrinkly face lights up as he explains the medicinal treasures that the forests hide. “There are many things doctors can cure but so too can the forest,” he says. Home to 8,000 medicinal plants, India’s natural forests form the primary source of healthcare for 60 to 80 percent of the population and often the only succour for the 320 million that live on less than Rs.50 a day.    

Changes in the last few years however have begun to worry him. “Five years ago it used to take me barely a day to find dhatu (an orchid commonly used to cure rheumatism) today it takes me double the time,” he worries.  Bhuvan is not alone in his concerns about his forest’s diminishing wealth. An estimated 10 percent of India’s flora and fauna are on the list of threatened species, and many more are on the verge of extinction. 

Rapid economic growth and limitations in integrating environmental concerns into development planning have put increasing pressure on biodiversity across India, which is one of the globally recognized mega diverse countries rich in biodiversity. With only 2.4 percent of the earth’s land area, India accounts for seven to eight percent of the world’s recorded species.

Home to 89,000 species of animals, 46,000 species of plants and nearly half the world’s aquatic plants, India’s management of its natural resources has regional and global significance. However with half of country’s land already under cultivation, rising population and the threat of climate change, protection of diverse habitats poses a formidable challenge.

Recognising this, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting several initiatives to conserve the country’s rich and diverse ecosystems and demonstrate strategies to reduce poverty. The importance of such initiatives cannot be underscored in a country where 47.2 percent of those living below the national poverty line are members of scheduled tribes, the overwhelming inhabitants of India’s forest areas. UNDP’s conservation activities cover several states, including Bhuvan’s state of Chhattisgarh where the project focuses on several key elements – conserving and enhancing floral and faunal diversity through the active involvement of joint forest management committees and sustainable livelihood support to communities. Here is hoping that the efforts are in time to save Bhuvan’s magical plants.

The links between the consequences of neoliberal globalisation and climate change, groups have come together to organise a Social and Climate Justice.

Case Study II: Sunderbans, West Bengal

Taking Sunderbans, West Bengal in to account, Independent experts like Dr.Dipankardas Gupta have argued that it is one of the most vulnerable & threatened eco-systems in this country due to climate change impact, human intervention & faulty developmental policies & priorities. Excerpts of Solution Exchange, UNDP based on the key findings are:

Firstly, it is an extremely fragile ecosystem affected by sea level rise @ 3.14 mm/year and in some places as high as 5.22 mm/year which is much higher than the global average. This has led to massive soil erosion and submergence of a few islands resulting to a few thousands climate/environmental refugees;

Secondly,  between 86-90 sq.  kms of land has been lost in the last 30 years and scientific data & field observation shows that the rate of loss is increasing;

Thirdly, according to Indian Meteorological department article published in the journal 'Mausam', there is a 26% increase in severe cyclones during the last 120 years in the Bay of Bengal and the Sunderbans, both in West Bengal & Bangladesh, which have experienced 4 super cyclones between 2006-09, including Aila Cyclone in 1998;

 Fourthly,  increasing salinity over the years has reduced crop productivity & fish catch, the main livelihoods of the people, as well as posing an increasing threat to the bio-diversity. In various scientific reports, loss of various flora, fauna & aquatic species have also been reported. There are also documented evidences that the Sunderbans is becoming increasing hostile for even migratory birds;

Fifthly, in the May 2009 Cyclone Aila in which more than 2.5 million persons & 194,000 families were affected, embankments were breached and the tidal surge made most of the cultivable land saline and destroyed most assets, all livelihoods equipment, fish & prawn farms, livestock, boats and most personal belongings. Most of the land continues to be unfit for agriculture, especially paddy. Even till this date, there is very little livelihoods options, except for some manual labour work being provided by the Government, civil society organizations for reconstruction & recovery work and by contractors & in the brick kilns; Sixthly, even before Aila, Sunderbans was becoming increasingly endemic to indebtedness, migration, child labour, women & child trafficking, very poor nutritional status especially amongst children & women, high incidence of TB, malaria & other diseases as a result of poor nutrition & sanitary conditions. These problems have exacerbated manifolds after Aila and have brought to the fore the increasing risks, vulnerability and poverty of the communities at risk.

And Seventhly, most of the affected blocks were already selected under the UNDP-GoI & Govt. of West Bengal 's DRR Programme. However, no early warning, preparedness or organized response by the 'Task Forces' was reported by any stakeholder. Some agencies are still involved in recovery activities. Some have DRR components but a systematic approach to institutionalize DRR from family to community to local institutional levels is yet to be observed, except for rare instances. There are a few groups and the Forest Department who are working on forest protection and especially on mangroves plantation. It is seen that there is no agency which is trying to integrate DRR as well as development work with Climate Change Adaptation (CCA). Apart from adaptation, mitigation has also to be urgently incorporated especially in threatened ecosystems like the Sunderbans.

During the recent Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, the voices of marginalised like,  Tuvalu’s delegate, Ian Fry, calling for a binding agreement, not the mere “political agreement” that has been widely expected for weeks now—and asks for a new protocol that will limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius, not 2, the target of most negotiators, is never heard outside. Mr. Fry’s speech gets an unusually hearty round of applause, including from the NGO delegates but governments including India and China did not take it seriously, or out rightly neglected it. This is irony where developing countries trying to represent the smaller countries are not able to accommodate their views.

Disaster Management

Disaster is defined as ‘the impact of an event or phenomenon which is caused by nature or human induced, which result in number of deaths and destruction of property where by affecting normalcy of life, causing damage to society, economy and environment, which by and large is beyond the coping mechanism of the community or society concerned’[viii]. Well in the recent years there has been series of disasters globally. Notably in India the Orissa  Super Cyclone in 1999, Gujarat (Bhuj) earthquake in 2001, Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, etc., has brought in shift in government policies. Based on the experiences gathered on the impact of disasters, now Government of India has evolved holistic and integrated approach to disaster management.  There are some positive developments in national level in the disaster management context such as the introduction of Disaster Management Act of 2005, and other institutional structures such as National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) up to Panchayat Raj level in its formation. The National Policy framework has been prepared after due deliberations and keeping in view the National Vision ‘to build a safe and disaster-resilient India by developing a holistic, proactive, multi-disaster and technology-driven strategy for disaster management. This will be achieved through a culture of prevention, mitigation and preparedness to generate a prompt and efficient response at the time of disasters. The entire process will centre-stage the community and will be provided momentum and sustenance through the collective efforts of all government agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations.[ix] This Policy framework is also in conformity with the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the Rio Declaration, the Millennium Development Goals and the Hyogo Framework 2005-2015. NDMA’s Objectives, Guidelines and Policy formulations have evolved to include efficient response and relief with proper preparedness and mitigation with caring and humane approach towards the vulnerable sections of the society.

In India when the institutional mechanism is geared up at national level, many provincial States are yet to gear up with disaster management structures. It is yet to be seen whether the paradigm shift from reactive responses to proactive preparedness and mitigation is going to be a reality. There is long way to go. Particularly there is need to strengthen the community resilience through community based disaster management.

Now linking climate change adaptation with disaster risk reduction is another major challenge because it needs fundamental change in government’s approach which has been using the prism of development from GDP alone. It needs to make community participatory and local specific approaches to succeed in tackling the issues of climate change, environment degradation, disaster and displacements.

There are several inter related issues like coastal zone management, special economic zones formation, rehabilitation policy, etc. which affect weak and marginalised sections. It is important to see the inter relationship between resource politics, environmental degradation, global warming, climate change, and natural disasters.  Now we need to see the link between Disaster Risk reduction (DRR) and Climate Change adaptation (CCA). India had agreed to adopt regional Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) measures under the Delhi Declaration (August 2006) and incorporate DRR into national development schemes under the 10th Five-Year Plan (2002-07). Moreover, in June 2008 the Prime Minister of India released the “National Action Plan on Climate Change” (NAPCC), which laid out principles to protect the poor through inclusive sustainable development and stressed inclusion of civil society.

Mahatma Gandhi’s talisman is very useful here to conclude here “Earth has the natural resources to meet the needs of human race but not its greed”.

Suggested Readings

1.      Jean Elshtain,  Democracy and the Politics of Displacement Response 

2.      Lael Brainard, Abigail Jones and Nigel Purvis, eds., Climate Change and Global Poverty A Billion Lives in the Balance? In Global Poverty, Climate Change, Development, Developing Countries, Foreign Aid,  Brookings Institution Press, 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.  Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change Reports, 2007

13.  Indian National Disaster Management Act, 2005

14.  National Action Plan on Climate Change(NAPCC) 2008

15.  K.M. Parivelan, Community Based Disaster Management Approaches, TNTRC, 2008


[i] Wikipedia on Natural resources,

[ii] Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change Report (IPCC), 2007.

[iii] United nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, November, 2005.

[iv] Kyoto Protocol Status of ratification as per UNFCCC.

[v] Methodological issues relating Kyoto Protocol, UNFCC 1998.

[vi] see Annex B of the Protocol

[vii] UNDP’s Good Practices Report on  Biodiversity,

[viii] As per Indian National Disaster Management Act, 2005

[ix] NDMA Policy note,


Module F

Research Methodology in Forced Migration Studies 

  • Online lecture by Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury


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.In the social sciences methodology is taken to be a discipline, bordering on philosophy, whose function is to recommend and examine the methods, which should be used to produce valid knowledge. Methodology lays down procedures to be used in generation of valid knowledge and these procedures are justified or criticized by means of philosophical arguments. It is clear that methodology’s claim to prescribe correct procedures to social sciences presupposes a form of knowledge that is thought to be provided by philosophy.  In this sense methodology presupposes a particular kind of relationship between philosophy and the social sciences where judgment and validation of the claim to knowledge is possible. Different philosophies may conceive of that relationship in different terms, and to that extent each discourse describes a different ‘regime of truth’, that is, the operation of criteria, norms and procedures for identifying or arguing about ‘true’ propositions in any given case.   

2. 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.  

3. ‘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. 

4. 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. 

5. 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. 

6. 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. 

7. Theoretical critique of positivism has encouraged in recent times a shift to qualitative methodology in social research. The basic assumptions central to this critique can be briefly stated as: (i) commonsense knowledge of social structures cannot be discounted in favor of the misplaced hope of achieving an objective knowledge; in an inter-subjective world both observer and observed use the same resources to identify ‘meanings’, (ii)Statistical logic and experimental methods are not always appropriate for the study of this inter-subjective world, (iii) In an inter-subjective world, policy interventions based on a stimulus-response model of change can neither analytically nor politically acceptable. 

8. ‘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.   

9. 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.  

10. 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.  

11. 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.  

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

13. 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. 

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, Oxford University Press

Bryman, Alan (1992) Quantity and Quality in Social Research, Routledge.

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

Kripendorff, Klaus (2003) Content Analysis: an introduction to its methodology, Sage Publications

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 and Media 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 185-220. 

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 S (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). 


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



Module G

Ethics of Care and Protection


  • Online lecture by Samir Kumar Das

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. When Herder sounded the caveat that “the deluged heart of the idle cosmopolite is a hut for no one” (Herder 1968:76), he thought he was reflecting on the ‘philosophy of the history of mankind’ and formulating the universal principle of an ethical system firmly anchored in home. For Herder however, home and homeland stand in a continuum. Home acquires its meaning insofar as it is situated within a homeland; a home outside one’s homeland is permanent exile – and obviously an oxymoron.  

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.     

          How do we bring our ethics of care and protection to bear on power that circulates within the society? Answer to this question has taken on two clearly divergent courses: On the one hand, the state as the most concentrated form of power in any society is sought to be reformed in a way that it becomes sensitive to this necessity. Now that the interior of the state is hardly dense as Herder would have believed and is ‘invaded’ by many who are not natives but complete strangers, foreigners or migrants – many of whom are illegally settled, the state has also to recognize the new multicultural reality. According to Habermas, this “will sap the resources of civil solidarity unless the historical symbiosis of republicanism and nationalism can be broken, and the republican sensibilities of populations can be shifted onto the foundation of constitutional patriotism” (Habermas 2001:76). His writings underscore the importance of translating the new ethical principles into the core of the Constitution and body of laws that govern us. For him, it implies by and large a Constitution-making project.

          This also calls for a certain reconfiguration of citizenship in a highly citizenized world. Francois Crepeau in course of his valedictory address to the Winter Course (2009) suggests: “As they are an integral part of the city, immigrants should be considered as citizens. They would be citizens with a small “c”, as they are not nationals. They can however be considered locally as citizens, on an equal footing with everyone who also lives and works in the city” (Crepeau 2010:46). In other words, what is at issue here is the nuanced and graded nature of citizenship.

          On the other hand, a group of writers has shown how people find it imperative to recognize this new reality by way of practising ‘cosmopolitanism’ defined by Appiah as ‘a new way of life’ and ‘a temperament’. While he does not rule out the necessity of switching over to what Habermas calls ‘postnational ethics’ – which will be a grand design the implementation of which will take time that we cannot wait for, he draws our attention to how people negotiate and make compromises while living in the society and therefore living together with others without having to bother about the rigour and consistency of their ethical principles. For theorists of cosmopolitanism, care is built in the ‘way of life’ rather than in any fully blown ethics that we aspire to be guided by. Social life is all about the way we negotiate and make compromises – our way of life and temperament – and not ethics. Social life in other words is far less ethically demanding than what we take it to be. Are we then entering into a phase where there will be withering away of ethics? Will ethics of care and protection be replaced by politics of everyday negotiation and compromise?        

Suggested Readings

Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2006): Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (New York, Princeton University Press.

Banerjee, Paula, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury & Samir Kumar Das eds. (2004) Internal Displacement in South Asia: Relevance of UN’s Guiding Principles. New Delhi: Sage.

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

Crepeau, Francois (2010): ‘Dealing with Migration: A Test for Democracies’ in Refugee Watch: A South Asian Journal on Forced Migration, 35, June.

Das, Samir Kumar ed. (2008): Blisters on Their Feet: Tales of Internally Displaced Persons of India’s Northeast. New Delhi: Sage.

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.

Habermas, Jurgen (2001): The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Max Pensky. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Herder, Johann Gottfried von (1968): Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind, abridged with an introduction by Frank Manuel, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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’.



Module H

Media and Forced Migration


In the recent upsurge of violence in Kyrgyzstan (in April and thereafter in May 2010), most western media reportage of events highlighted the instances of attacks on migrant (Uzbek) communities. Kyrgyz and Russian reports were more nuanced and at time, prone to obfuscation in the reporting of what exactly had led to the targeting of Uzbeks in the southern city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Most websites, especially interactive portals, had Kyrgyz Internet users decrying the involvement of “a third force”. A majority of the net users did not have pejorative things to say about Uzbeks, Turks and other minorities who live in Kyrgyzstan, but bemoaned (what they perceived as) the biased reporting about events in their country. What then, is one to make of this divergence between lived realities and media representations? Are all media representations therefore guilty of bias?

At the outset, it needs to be mentioned that the media (with all its attendant diversity and differences) has something definitive to say about all conflicts that lead to human tragedies such as forced migration. Sociologically, the media has generally looked at such events as those that occur within societies bounded within definite and discrete territorial units. Hidden behind this apparently universal definition of what society is, are two specifically European philosophical preoccupations. The first is the preoccupation with social order, arising in the sociological tradition with anxieties about the impact of mass proletarianisation and industrialization. Secondly, European philosophical tradition also shaped a very specific conception about the ‘state’.

Amongst an array of philosophers who theorized on the state, Max Weber’s concern with identifying the distinctive features of the modern state – which he defined as a type of political community possessing a monopoly of the legitimate use of force in addition to the association with a territory – is important to consider. In non-European/Northern societies where state formation had a different history, the need to extend the discussion (on conflict) to include “non-state”, segmented societies is of extreme importance. For greater part, the media has followed the political organisation of modern societies as its baseline and set up typologies of other cultures according to the categories thus defined.

This becomes clearer when one considers the fact that nearly one fourth of humanity inhabits the region we call South Asia. Their voices are an important consideration, therefore, in the manner in which conflicts are expressed and experienced. The voices of this critical mass of humanity range from outright secession from states created and carved out of colonialisation, to range, to ethnic homelands within a specific nation-state, devolution of powers and demands for autonomy. What differentiate these conflicts from each other is the causes that lead people to express the need for change and the forms that such expressions take. At one level, security analysts would have us believe in the all-powerful catch word that insurgencies (be it in Punjab, or Northern Sri Lanka, or North West Pakistan) are essentially about losing control to non-state actors and therefore re-emphasizing the need for establishing order and discipline. This is however far from the only view (on conflict) that one can be reconciled to. Identity – be in religious, tribal or ethnic – is a recurring theme in South Asian conflicts. In a sense, these calls to organize around notions of peoplehood are all the more important in South Asia because the existing “modern” states have not found a language to engage with residues of social formations that predate the formation of the states. The only area where the states have found common ground, as mentioned earlier, has been in their security-oriented view to assertions of identity and claims to power (by those marginalized by nation-building processes). In all these forms of conflict, there is an attendant reorganisation of space, where individuals and collectives are either corralled in, or chased out of.

Media Managers and the Public Domain

It is a fact that social representation often falls short of actual representation and the media has a lot to do with perpetuating the illusions of democratic participation. Interactive television programmes, complete with a sample audience and well-dressed host, typify the remote, impersonal nature of modern democracies. While it is true that in most people share an orientation to the public world, where matters of common concerns are addressed, the public connection is focussed principally on the mediated versions of that public world.

The 20th and 21st century public spheres are actually conscious of status differentials, where alternate and opposing cultures are not readily accommodated. Hence it is worthwhile to examine four dimensions of the media that go on to create a public sphere: (a) media institutions, where one can specifically look at ownership patters; (b) media representation, where representatives and experts stand in for citizens; (c) general social structure with its multiple public spheres and (d) face-to-face interaction. In the interplay between the four dimensions, one can have a fairly accurate understanding of the nature of the public sphere, vis-à-vis issues of conflict and forced migration of vulnerable people.

In the South Asian context, the media is party to sustaining the fear of the outsider and driving home the “need” to drive out undesirable people from the land. There is a perception of anarchy amongst different sets of actors, where the reality of undocumented and (often) forced migration is seen as a sign of weakness on the part of the parent state, to police its borders and effectively control its population.