Readings for Winter Course on Forced Migration, 2007

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

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Forced Migration,racism,immigration, and xenophobia
<%'---------------- There a 'Neo- Racism'?---------------------------%>
Etienne Balibar, 
" Is There a 'Neo- Racism'?" in Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class – Ambiguous Identities (Verso, 1991)

<%'--------Wars, Population Movements and State-Formation-Private in South Asia------------%> B.S. Chimni, International Refugee Law – A Reader (Sage Publications, 2003), section 5
Samir Kumar Das, “Wars, Population Movements and State-Formation-Private in South Asia” in  Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Peace Studies I (Sage Publications, 2004)
<%'--------------Borders as Unsettled Markers - The Sino-Indian Border--------- %> Paula Banerjee, “Borders as Unsettled Markers - The Sino-Indian Border” in  Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Peace Studies I (Sage Publications, 2004)
<%'-----------Women Across Borders in Kashmir - The Continuum of Violence-----------%> Asha Hans, “Women Across Borders in Kashmir - The Continuum of Violence” in  Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Peace Studies I (Sage Publications, 2004)
<%'----------Nationalities, Ethnic Processes and Violence in India’s North-east-----------%> Monirul Hussain, “Nationalities, Ethnic Processes and Violence in India’s North-east” in Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Peace Studies I (Sage Publications, 2004)
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, Mohajirs: The Refugees by Choice, No. 14, June 2001 
REFUGEE WATCH, “Displacing the People the Nation Marches Ahead in Sri Lanka”, No. 15, September 2001 

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Gender dimensions of forced migration, vulnerabilities, and justice

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

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

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

Paula Banerjee,"Refugee Women and the Fundamental Inadequacies in Institutional Responses in South Asia", in Joshva Raja, Refugees and their Right to Communicate

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

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

Refugee Watch, Nos. 10-11


UNHCR Policy on Refugee Women

REFUGEE WATCH: "Select UNICEF Policy Recommendation on the Gender Dimensions of Internal, No. Displacement",10 & 11, July 2000

REFUGEE WATCH: "Dislocated Subjects : The Story of Refugee Women", No. 10 & 11, July 2000 
REFUGEE WATCH: "War and Its Impact on Women in Sri Lanka", No. 10 & 11, July 2000 
REFUGEE WATCH: Afghan Women In Iran 
: "Refugee Women of Bhutan", No. 10 & 11, July 2000 
REFUGEE WATCH: "Rohingya Women – Stateless and Oppressed in Burma", No. 10 & 11, July 2000 
REFUGEE WATCH: "Dislocating Women and Making the Nation", No. 17, December 2002 

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


Paula Banerjee, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury and Samir Das, Internal Displacement in South Asia, Epilogue

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

Who is a Refugee?, Pgs. 1-81; Asylum, Pgs. 82-160; Rights and Duties of a Refugee, Pgs. 161-209

Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), Refugees and the State (Sage Publications, 2003), chapters 10-11.

Refugee Watch No.4 (December 1998) articles by Sarbani Sen and Brian Gorlick.

F-e-material 1 – International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law
Document printed from the website of the ICRC.
International Committee of the Red Cross

F-e-material 2 –“A Patchwork Protection Regime; Internal Displacement in International Law and Institutional Practice” / David Fisher

Convention Against Torture 



Additional Reading Materials/ Lecture Text



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Internal displacement - causes, linkages, and responses


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

Addressing Internal Displacement: A Framework For National Responsibility

Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

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

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

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


Additional Reading Materials/ Lecture Text

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


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

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

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

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

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


Additional Reading Materials/ Lecture Text


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Ethics of care and justice


"Trust and the refugee experience" / Pradip Kumar Bose, in Refugee Watch, No. 5 & 6

"Development, displacement and international ethics" (mimeo.) /  Peter Penz

"In life, in death: Power and rights" (mimeo.) / Ranabir Samaddar

"Power, Fear, Ethics" / Ranabir Samaddar, in Refugee Watch, No. 14


<%'------------------- There a 'Neo- Racism'?----------------------------------%>


Is There a 'Neo- Racism'?

Etienne Balibar


To what extent is it correct so speak of a neo-racism? The question is forced upon us by current events in forms which differ to some degree from one country to another, but which suggest the existence of a trans­national phenomenon. The question may, however, be understood in two senses. On the one hand, -are we seeing a new historical upsurge of racist movements and policies which might be explained by a crisis conjuncture or by other causes? On the other hand, in its themes and its social significance, is what we are seeing only a new racism, irreducible to earlier 'models', or is it a mere tactical adaptation? I shall concern myself here primarily with this second aspect of the question.[i]


First of all, we have to make the following observation. The neo­racism hypothesis, at least so far as France is concerned, has been formulated essentially on the basis of an internal critique of theories, of discourses tending to legitimate policies of exclusion in terms of anthro­pology or the philosophy of history. Little has been done on finding the connection between the newness of the doctrines and the novelty of the political situations and social transformations, which have given them a purchase. I shall argue in a moment that the theoretical dimension of racism today, as in the past, is historically essential, but that it is neither autonomous nor primary. Racism - a true 'total social phenomenon' ­inscribes itself in practices (forms of violence, contempt, intolerance, humiliation and exploitation), in discourses and representations, which are so many intellectual elaborations of the phantasm of prophylaxis or segregation (the need to purify the social body, to preserve 'one's own' or 'our' identity from all forms of mixing, interbreeding or invasion) and which are articulated around stigmata of otherness (name, skin colour, religious practices). It therefore organizes affects (the psychological study of these. has concentrated upon describing their obsessive character and also their 'irrational' ambivalence) by conferring upon them a stereotyped form, as regards both their 'objects' and their 'subjects'. It is this combination of practices, discourses and representa­tions in a network of affective stereotypes which enables us to give an account of the formation of a racist community (or a community of racists, among whom there exist bonds of 'imitation' over a distance) and also of the way in which, as a mirror image, individuals and collec­tivities that are prey to racism (its 'objects') find themselves constrained to see themselves as a community.


But however absolute that constraint may be, it obviously can never be cancelled out as constraint for its victims: it can neither be interior­ized without conflict (see the works of Memmi) nor can it remove the contradiction which sees an identity as community ascribed to collec­tivities which are simultaneously denied the right to define themselves (see the writings of Frantz Fanon), nor, most importantly, can it reduce the permanent excess of actual violence and acts over discourses, theories and rationalizations. From the point of view of its victims, there is, then, an essential dissymmetry within the racist complex, which confers upon its acts and 'actings out' undeniable primacy over its doctrines, naturally including within the category of actions not only physical violence and discrimination, but words themselves, the violence of words in so far as they are acts of contempt and aggression. Which leads us, in a first phase, to regard shifts in doctrine and language as relatively incidental matters: should we attach so much importance to justifications which continue to retain the same structure (that of a denial of rights) while moving from the language of religion into that of science, or from the language of biology into the discourses of culture or history, when in practice these justifications simply lead to the same old acts?


This is a fair point, even a vitally important one, but it does not solve all the problems. For the destruction of the racist complex presupposes not only the revolt of its victims, but the transformation of the racists themselves and, consequently, the internal decomposition of the community created by racism. In this respect, the situation is entirely analogous, as has often been said over the last twenty years or so, with that of sexism, the overcoming of which presupposes both the revolt of women and the break-up of the community of 'males'. Now, racist theories are indispensable in the formation of the racist community. There is in fact no racism without theory (or theories). It would be quite futile to inquire whether racist theories have emanated chiefly from the elites or the masses, from the dominant or the dominated classes. It is, however, quite clear that they are 'rationalized' by intellectuals. And it is of the utmost importance that we enquire into the function fulfilled by the theory building of academic racism (the prototype of which is the evolutionist anthropology of 'biological' races developed at the end of the nineteenth century) in the crystallization of the community which forms around the signifier, 'race'.


This function does not, it seems to me, reside solely in the general organizing capacity of intellectual rationalizations (what Gramsci called their 'organicity' and Auguste Comte their 'spiritual power') nor in the fact that the theories of academic racism elaborate an image of community, of original identity in which individuals of all social classes may recognize themselves. It resides, rather, in the fact that the theories of academic racism mimic scientific discursivity by basing themselves upon visible 'evidence' (whence the essential importance of the stigmata of race and in particular of bodily stigmata), or, more exactly, they mimic the way in which scientific discursivity articulates 'visible facts' to 'hidden causes' and thus connect up with a spontaneous process of theorization inherent in the racism of the masses.[ii] I shall therefore venture the idea that the racist complex inextricably combines a crucial function of misrecognition (without which the violence would not be tolerable to the very people engaging in it) and a 'will to know', a violent desire for immediate knowledge of social relations. These are functions, which are mutually sustaining since, both for individuals and for social groups, their own collective violence is a distressing enigma and they require an urgent explanation for it. This indeed is what makes the intel­lectual posture of the ideologues of racism so singular, however sophisti­cated their theories may seem. Unlike for example theologians, who must maintain a distance (though not an absolute break, unless they lapse into 'gnosticism') between esoteric speculation and a doctrine designed for popular consumption, historically effective racist ideo­logues have always developed 'democratic' doctrines which are immedi­ately intelligible to the masses and apparently suited from the outset to their supposed low level of intelligence, even when elaborating elitist themes. In other words, they have produced doctrines capable of providing immediate interpretative keys not only to what individuals are experiencing but to what they are in the social world (in this respect, they have affinities with astrology, characterology and so on), even when these keys take the form of the revelation of a 'secret' of the human condition (that is, when they include a secrecy effect essential to their imaginary efficacity: this is a point which has been well illustrated by Leon Poliakov)[iii]


This is also, we must note, what makes it difficult to criticize the content and, most importantly, the influence of academic racism, In the very construction of its theories, there lies the presupposition that the 'knowledge' sought 'and desired by the masses is .an elementary know­ledge which simply justifies them in their spontaneous feelings or brings them back to the truth of their instincts. Bebel, as is well known, called anti-Semitism the 'socialism of fools' and Nietzsche regarded it more or less as the politics of the feeble-minded (though this in no way prevented him from taking over a large part of racial mythology himself). Can we ourselves, when we characterize racist doctrines as strictly demagogic theoretical elaborations, whose efficacity derives from the advance response they provide for the masses' desire for knowledge, escape this same ambiguops position? The category of the 'masses' (or the 'popular') is not itself neutral, but communicates directly with the logic of a naturalization and racization of the social. To begin to dispel this ambiguity, it is no doubt insufficient merely to examine the way the racist 'myth' gains its hold upon the masses; we also have to ask why other sociological theories, developed within the framework of a division between 'intellectual' and 'manual' activities (in the broad sense), are unable to fuse so easily with this desire to know. Racist myths (the 'Aryan myth', the myth of heredity) are myths not only by virtue of their pseudo-scientific content, but in so far as they are forms of imaginary transcendence of the gulf separating intellectuality from the masses, forms in dissociable from that implicit fatalism which imprisons the masses in an allegedly natural infantilism. 


We can now turn our attention to 'neo-racism'. What seems to pose a problem here is not the fact of racism, as I have already pointed out ­practice being a fairly sure criterion (if we do not allow ourselves to be deceived by the denials of racism which we meet among large sections of the political class in particular, which only thereby betrays the com­placency and blindness of that group) - but determining to what extent the relative novelty of the language is expressing a new and lasting articulation of social practices and collective representations, academic doctrines and political movements. In short, to use Gramscian language, we have to determine whether something like hegemony is developing here.


The functioning of the category of immigration as a substitute for the notion of race and a solvent of 'class consciousness' provides us with a first clue. Quite clearly, we are not simply dealing with a camouflaging operation, made necessary by the disrepute into which the term 'race' and its derivatives has fallen, nor solely with a consequence of the trans­formations of French society. Collectivities of immigrant workers have for many years suffered discrimination and xenophobic violence in which racist stereotyping has played an essential role. The interwar period, another crisis era, saw the unleashing of campaigns in France against 'foreigners', Jewish or otherwise, campaigns, which extended beyond the activities of the fascist movements and which found their logical culmi­nation in the Vichy regime's contribution to the Hitlerian enterprise. Why did we not at that period see the 'sociological' signifier definitively replace the 'biological' one as the key representation of hatred and fear of the other? Apart from the force of strictly French traditions of anthropological myth, this was probably due, on the one hand, to the institutional and ideological break which then existed between the perception of immigration (essentially European) and colonial experi­ence (on the one side, France 'was being invaded', on the other it 'was dominant') and, on the other hand, because, of tilt; absence of a new model of articulation between states, peoples and cultures on a world scale.[iv] The two reasons are indeed linked. The new racism is racism of the era of 'decolonization', of the reversal of population movements between the old colonies and the old metropolises, and the division of humanity within a single political space. Ideologically, current racism, which in France centres upon the immigration complex, fits into a framework of 'racism without races’, which is already widely developed in other countries, particularly the Anglo-Saxon ones. It is racism whose dominant theme is not biological heredity but the insurmount­ability of cultural differences, a racism, which, at first sight, does not postulate the superiority of certain groups or peoples in relation to others but 'only' the harmfulness of abolishing frontiers, the incompati­bility of life-styles and traditions; in short, it is what: e. A. Taguieff has rightly called a differentialist racism.[v]


To emphasize the importance of the question, we must first of all bring out the political consequences of this change. The first is a de­stabilization of the defences of traditional anti-racism in so far as its argumentation finds itself attacked from the rear, if not indeed turned against itself (what Taguieff excellently terms the' turn-about effect' of differentialist racism). It is granted from the outset that races do not constitute isolable biological units and that in reality there are no 'human races'. It may also be admitted that the behaviour of individuals and their 'aptitudes' cannot be explained in terms of their blood or even their genes, but are the result of their belonging to historical 'cultures'. Now anthropological culturalism, which is entirely orientated towards the recognition of the diversity and equality of cultures - with only the polyphonic ensemble constituting human civilization - and also their transhistorical permanence, had provided the humanist and cosmo­politan anti-racism of the post-war period with most of its arguments. Its value had been confirmed by the contribution it made to the struggle against the hegemony of certain standardizing imperialisms and against the elimination of minority or dominated civilizations - 'ethnocide'. Differentialist racism takes this argumentation at its word. One of the great figures in anthropology, Claude Levi-Strauss, who not so long ago distinguished himself by demonstrating that all civilizations are equally complex and necessary for the progression of human thought, now in 'Race and Culture' finds himself enrolled, whether he likes it or not, in the service of the idea that the 'mixing of cultures' and the suppression of 'cultural distances' would correspond to the intellectual death of humanity and would perhaps even endanger the control mechanisms that ensure its biological survival.[vi] And this 'demonstration' is immedi­ately related to the 'spontaneous' tendency of human groups (in practice national groups, though the anthropological significance of the political category of nation is obviously rather dubious) to preserve their traditions, and thus their identity. What we see here is that biological or genetic naturalism is not the only means of naturalizing human behaviour and social affinities. At the cost of abandoning the hier­archical model (though the abandonment is more apparent than real, as we shall see), culture can also function like a nature, and it can in par­ticular function as a way of locking individuals and groups a priori into a genealogy, into a determination that is immutable and intangible in origin.


But this first turn-about effect gives rise to a second, which turns matters about even more and is, for that, all the more effective: if insur­mountable cultural difference is our true 'natural milieu', the atmo­sphere indispensable to us if we are to breathe the air of history, then the abolition of that difference will necessarily give rise to defensive reac­tions, 'interethnic' conflicts and a general rise in aggressiveness. Such reactions, we are told, are 'natural', but they are also dangerous. By an astonishing volte-face, we here see the differentialist doctrines them­selves proposing to explain racism (and to ward it off).


In fact, what we see is a general displacement of the problematic. We now move from the theory of races or the struggle between the races in human history, whether based on biological or psychological principles, to a theory of 'race relations' within society, which naturalizes not racial belonging but racist conduct. From the logical point of view, differ­entialist racism is a meta-racism, or what we might call a 'second­position' racism, which presents itself as having drawn the lessons from the conflict between racism and anti-racism, as a politically operational theory of the causes of social aggression. If you want to avoid racism, you have to avoid that 'abstract' anti-racism which fails to grasp the psychological and sociological laws of human population movements; you have to respect the 'tolerance thresholds', maintain 'cultural distances' or, in other words, in accordance with the postulate that individuals are the exclusive heirs and bearers of a single culture, segregate collectivities (the best barrier in this regard still being national frontiers). And here we leave the realm of speculation to enter directly upon political terrain and the interpretation of everyday experience, Naturally, 'abstract' is not an epistemological category, but a value judgment which is the more eagerly applied when the practices to which it corresponds are the more concrete or effective: programmes of urban renewal, anti-discrimination struggles, including even positive discrimination in schooling and jobs (what the American New Right calls 'reverse discrimination'; in France too we are more and more often hearing 'reasonable' figures who have no connection with any extremist movements explaining that 'it is anti-racism which creates racism' by its agitation and its manner of 'provoking' the mass of the citizenry's national sentiments).[vii]


It is not by chance that the theories of differentialist racism (which from now on will tend to present itself as the true anti-racism and there­fore the true humanism) here connect easily with 'crowd psychology', which is enjoying something of a revival, as a general explanation of irrational movements, aggression and collective violence, and, particu­larly, of xenophobia. We can see here the double game mentioned above operating fully: the masses are presented with an explanation of their own 'spontaneity' and at the same time they are implicitly disparaged as a 'primitive' crowd. The neo-racist ideologues are not mystical heredity theorists, but 'realist' technicians of social psychology…


In presenting the turn-about effects of neo-racism in this way, I am doubtless simplifying its genesis and the complexity of its internal variations, but I want to bring out what is strategically at stake in its development. Ideally one would wish to elaborate further on certain aspects and add certain correctives, but these can only be sketched out rudimentarily in what follows.


The idea of a ‘racism without race’ is not as revolutionary as one might imagine. Without going into the fluctuations in the meaning of the word 'race', whose historiosophical usage in fact predates any re­inscription of 'genealogy' into' genetics', we must take on board a number of major historical facts, however troublesome these may be (for a certain anti-racist vulgate, and also for the turn-abouts forced upon it by neo-racism).


A racism, which does not have the pseudo-biological concept of race as its main driving force has always existed, and it has existed at exactly this level of secondary theoretical elaborations. Its prototype is anti­-Semitism. Modern anti-Semitism - the form which begins to crystallize in the Europe of the Enlightenment, if not indeed from the period in which the Spain of the Reconquista and the Inquisition gave a statist, nationalistic inflexion to theological anti-Judaism - is already a 'cultur­alist' racism. Admittedly, bodily stigmata playa great role in its phantas­matics, but they do so more as signs of a deep psychology, as signs of a spiritual inheritance rather than a biological heredity.[viii] These signs are, so to speak, the more revealing for being the less visible and the Jew is more 'truly' a Jew the more indiscernible he is. His essence is that of a cultural tradition, a ferment of moral disintegration. Anti-Semitism is supremely 'differentialist' and in many respects the whole of current differentialist racism may be considered, from the formal point of view, as a generalized anti-Semitism. This consideration is particularly important for the interpretation of contemporary Arabophobia, especi­ally in France, since it carries with it an image of Islam as a 'conception of the world’, which is incompatible with Europeanness and an enter­prise of universal ideological domination, and therefore a systematic confusion of 'Arabness' and 'Islamicism'.


This leads us to direct our attention towards a historical fact that is even more difficult to admit and yet crucial, taking into consideration the French national form of racist traditions. There is, no doubt, a specifically French branch of the doctrines of Aryanism, anthropometry and biological geneticism, but the true 'French ideology' is not to be found in these: it lies rather in the idea that the culture of the 'land of the Rights of Man' has been entrusted with a universal mission to educate the human race. There corresponds to this mission a practice of assimilating dominated populations and a consequent need to differ­entiate and rank individuals or groups in terms of their greater or lesser aptitude for - or resistance to - assimilation. It was this simultaneously subtle and crushing form of exclusion/inclusion, which was deployed in the process of colonization and the strictly French (or 'democratic') variant of the 'White man's burden'. I return in later chapters to the paradoxes of universalism and particularism in the functioning of racist ideologies or in the racist aspects of the functioning of ideologies.[ix]


Conversely, it is not difficult to see that, in neo-racist doctrines, the suppression of the theme of hierarchy is more apparent than real. In fact, the idea of hierarchy, which these theorists may actually go so far as loudly to denounce as absurd, is reconstituted, on the one hand, in the practical application of the doctrine (it does not therefore need to be stated explicitly), and, on the other, in the very type of criteria applied in thinking the difference between cultures (and one can again see the logical resources of the 'second position' of meta-racism in action).


Prophylactic action against racial mixing in fact occurs in places where the established culture is that of the state, the dominant classes and, at least officially, the 'national' masses, whose style of life and thinking is legitimated by the system of institutions; it therefore func­tions as a undirectional block on expression and social advancement. No theoretical discourse on the dignity of all cultures will really compensate for the fact that, for a 'Black' in Britain or a 'Seur' in France, the assimi­lation demanded of them before they can become 'integrated' into the society in which they already live (and which will always be suspected of being superficial, imperfect or simulated) is presented as progress, as an emancipation, a conceding of rights. And behind this situation lie barely reworked variants of the idea that the historical cultures of humanity can be divided into two main groups, the one assumed to be universalistic and progressive, the other supposed irremediably particularistic and primitive. It is not by chance that we encounter a paradox here: a 'logi­cally coherent' differential racism would be uniformly conservative, arguing for the fixity of all cultures. It is in fact conservative, since, on the pretext of protecting European culture and the European way of life from 'Third Worldization', it utopianly closes off any path towards real development. But it immediately reintroduces the old distinction between 'closed' and 'open', 'static' and 'enterprising', 'cold' and 'hot', 'gregarious' and 'individualistic' societies - a distinction which, in its turn, brings into play all the ambiguity of the notion of culture (this is particularly the case in French!).


The difference between 'cultures, considered as separate entities or separate symbolic structures (that is, 'culture' in the sense of Kultur), refers on to cultural inequality within the 'European' space itself or, more precisely, to 'culture' (in the sense of Bi/dung, with its distinction between the academic and the popular, technical knowledge and folklore and so on) as a structure of inequalities terrdentially reproduced in an industrialized, formally educated society that is increasingly internationalized and open to the world. The 'different' cultures are those which constitute obstacles, or which are established 'as obstacles (by schools or the norms of international communication) to the acqui­sition of culture. And, conversely, the 'cultural handicaps' of the domi­nated classes are presented as practical equivalents of alien status, or as ways of life particularly exposed to the destructive effects of mixing (that is, to the effects of the material conditions in which this 'mixing' occurs).[x] This latent presence of the hierarchic theme today finds its chief expression in the priority accorded to the individualistic model (just as, in the previous period, openly inegalitarian racism, in order to postulate an essential fixity of racial types, had to presuppose a differentialist anthropology, whether based on genetics or on Volker­psychologie): the cultures supposed implicitly superior are those which appreciate and promote 'individual' enterprise, social and political individualism, as against those which inhibit these things. These are said to be the cultures whose 'spirit of community' is constituted by individualism.


In this way, we see how the return of the biological theme is permitted and with it the elaboration of new variants of the biological 'myth' within the framework of a cultural racism. There are, as we know, different national situations where these matters are concerned, The ethological and sociobiological theoretical models (which are them­selves in part competitors) are more influential in the Anglo-Saxon countries, where they continue the traditions of Social Darwinism and eugenics while directly coinciding at points with the political objectives of an aggressive neo-liberalism.[xi] Even these tendentially biologistic ideologies, however, depend fundamentally upon the 'differentialist revolution', What they aim to explain is not the constitution of races, but the vital importance of cultural closures and traditions for the accumu­lation of individual aptitudes, and, most importantly, the 'natural' bases of xenophobia and social aggression, Aggression is a fictive essence which is invoked by all forms of neo-racism, and which makes it possible in this instance to displace biologism one degree: there are of course no 'races', there are only populations and cultures, but there are biological (and biophysical) causes and effects of culture, and biological reactions to cultural difference (which could he said to constitute something like the indelible trace of the 'animality' of man, still bound as ever to his extended 'family' and his 'territory'), Conversely, where pure cultural­ism seems dominant (as in France), we are seeing a progressive drift towards the elaboration of discourses on biology and on culture as the external regulation of 'living organisms', their reproduction, perform­ance and health. Michel Foucault, among others, foresaw this.[xii]


It may well be that the current variants of neo-racism are merely a transitional ideological formation, which is destined to develop towards discourses and social technologies in which the aspect of the historical recounting of genealogical myths (the play of substitutions between race, people, culture and nation) will give way, to a greater or lesser degree, to the aspect of psychological assessment of intellectual aptitudes and dispositions to 'normal' social life (or, conversely, to criminality and deviance), and to 'optimal' reproduction (as much from the affective as the sanitary or eugenic point of view), aptitudes and dispositions which a battery of cognitive, socio psychological and statistical sciences would then undertake to measure, select and monitor, striking a balance between hereditary and environmental factors, " In other words, that ideological formation would develop towards a 'post-racism'. I am all the more inclined to believe this since the internationalization of social relations and of population movements within the framework of a system of nation-states will increasingly lead to a rethinking of the notion of frontier and to a redistributing of its modes of application; this will accord it a function of social prophylaxis and tie it in to more indi­vidualized statutes, while technological transformations will assign edu­cational inequalities and intellectual hierarchies an increasingly important role in the class struggle within the perspective of a general­ized techno-political selection of individuals. In the era of nation-­enterprises, the true 'mass era' is perhaps upon us.

[i] It was only after writing this article that Pierre-Andre Taguieffs book, La Force du prejuge. Essai sur Ie racisme et ses doubles (La Decouverte, Paris, 1988), became known to me. In that book he considerably develops, completes and nuances the analyses to which I have referred above, and I hope, in the near future, to be able to devote to it the discussion it deserves.

[ii] Colette Guillaumin has provided an excellent explanation of this point, which is, in my opinion, fundamental: 'The activity of categorization is also a knowledge activity…Hence no doubt the ambiguity of the struggle against stereotypes and the surprises it holds in store for us. Categorization is pregnant with knowledge as it is with oppression.' (L ‘Ideologie raciste. Genese et langage actuel, Mouton, Paris/The Hague 1972, pp. 183 et seq.)

[iii] L. Poliakov, The Aryan Mylh: A History of Racisl and Nationalist Ideas in Europe, transl. E. Howard, Sussex University Press, Brighton 1974; La Causalile diabo/ique: essays sur /'origine des persecutions, Calmann-Levy, Paris 1980.

[iv] Compare the way in which, in the United States, the 'Black problem' remained separate from the 'ethnic problem posed by the successive waves of European immigration and their reception, until, in the 1950s and 60s, a new 'paradigm of ethnicity' led to the latter being projected on to the former (d. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United Slates, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1986).

[v] See in particular his 'Les Presuppositions definitionnelles d'un indefinissable: Ie racisme', Mots, no, 8, 1984; 'L'ldentite nationale saisie par les logiques de racisation. Aspects, figures et problemes du racisme differentialiste', MOIS no, 12, 1986; 'L'ldentite franiWaise au miroir du racisme differentialiste', Espaces 89, L 'i'Eienlile franfaise, Editions Tierce, Paris 1985. The idea is already present in the studies by Colette Guillaumin, Sce also Veronique de Rudder, 'L'Obstacie culturel: la difference et la distance', L 'Homme et la sociele, January 1986. Compare, for the Anglo-Saxon world, Marrin Barker, The New Racism: Conservatives and the ldculogy of the Tribe, Junction Books, London 1981

[vi] This was a lecture written in 1971 for UNESCO, reprinted in The View from Afar, transl. J. Neugroschel and P. Hoss, Basic Books, New York 1985; Cf, the critique by M. O'Callaghan and C. Guillaumin, 'Race et race.,. la mode 'naturelle' en sciences humaines', L 'Homme el la societe, nos 31-2, 1974. From a quite different point of view, Levi-Strauss is today attacked as a proponent of 'anti-humanism' and 'relativism' (cf. T. Todorov, 'Levi-Strauss entre universalisme et relativisme', Le Debal, no. 42, 1986; A. Finkielkraut, La Defaile de la pensee, Gallimard, Paris 1987). Not only is the discussion on this point not closed; it has hardly begun. For my own parr, I would argue not that the doctrine of Levi-Strauss 'is racist', but that the racist theories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been constructed within the conceptual field of humanism; it is therefore impossible to distinguish betWeen them on the basis suggested above (see my 'Racism and Nationalism', this volume, pp. 37-67).

[vii] In Anglo-Saxon countries, these themes are widely treated by 'human ethnology' and 'sociobiology'. In France, they are given a directly culturalist basis. An anthology of these ideas, running from the theorists of the New Right to more sober academics, is to be found in A. Bejin and J. Freund, eds, Racismes, anliracismes, Meridiens-Klincksieck, Paris 1986, It is useful to know that this work was simultaneously vulgarized in a mass­ circulation popular publication, J'ai lOut compris, no. 3, 1987 ('Dossier choc: lmmigres: demain la haine' edited by Guillame Faye).

[viii] Ruth Benedict, among others, pointed this out in respect of H. S. Chamoerlain: 'Chamberlain, however, did not distinguish Semites by physical traits or by genealogy; Jews, as he knew, cannot be accurately separated from the rest of the population in modern Europe by tabulated anthropomorphic measurements. But they were enemies because they had special ways of thinking and acting. "One can very soon become a Jew…" etc.' (Race and Racism, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1983 edn, pp. 132 et seq.). In her view, it was at once a sign of Chamherlain's 'frankness' and his 'self-contradiction'. This self­contradiction became the rule, but in fact it is not a self-contradiction at all. In anti­Semitism, the theme of the inferiority of the Jew is, as we know, mucl) less important than that of his irreducible otherness. Chamberlain even indulges at times in referring to the 'superiority' of the Jews, in matters of intellect, commerce or sense of community, making them all the more 'dangerous'. And the Nazi enterprise frequently admits that it is an enterprise of reduction of the Jews to 'subhuman status' rather than a consequence of any de facto subhumanity: this is indeed why its object cannot remain mere slavery, but must become extermination.

[ix] See this volume, chapter 3, 'Racism and Nationalism'.

[x] It is obviously this subsumption of the 'sociological' difference between cultures beneath the institutional hierarchy of Culture, the decisive agency of social classification and its naturalization, that accounts for the keenness of the 'radical strife' and resentment that surrounds the presence of immigrants in schools, which is much greater than that generated by the mere fact of living in close proximity. Cf. S. Boulot and D. Boyson­Fradet, 'L'Echec scolaire des enfants de travailleurs immigres', Les Temps modernes, special number: 'L.  ’lmmigration maghrebine en France', 1984.

[xi] Ct. Barker, The New Racism.

[xii] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. I, An Introduction, transl. Robert Jurley, Peregrine, London 1978.


<%'----------Wars, Population Movements and State-Formation---------------%>


Wars, Population Movements and State-Formation  in South Asia

Samir Kumar Das


This essay seeks to offer some very tentative and provisional hypotheses by way of establishing the inter-connections amongst such phenomena as war, population movement and formation of state system in South Asia. While individual studies focusing on any one of these phenomena are available, studies articulating them into a common frame of reference are not only rare, but almost non-existent. The importance of such a common frame can hardly be denied: On the one hand, it draws our attention to the necessity of appreciating them in their combination rather then in isolation from each other and makes them an indispensable part of contemporary political inquiry. On the other hand, it also serves as a convenient point of departure for many of the future researches that might be interested in working on the hypotheses enumerated here. Viewed in this light, the present essay is only a preliminary attempt at deciphering their inter-connections within a common frame of reference.


The task is not easy; for one thing there is no simple and foreordained way of understanding their inter-connections. The commonplace belief that modern wars are of such a scale and magnitude that they necessarily result in massive demographic displacements whether within the country or across it does not exactly hold true in a region like South Asia. Or even if it does, it certainly does not in the same manner, as is the case in other parts of the world. Contrary to popular expectations, large-scale population movements from one country to another especially after partition could not give birth to demographically homogeneous nations either in India or in Pakistan. Now with the benefit of hindsight and of course at great cost, we are slowly realizing that no amount of population movement - however gigantic and long-drawn that be, would ever contribute to such homogeneous and seamless nations and cleanse them of ethnic minorities. For another, we have also to recognize that any understanding of how these phenomena are inter-connected requires to be qualified by what I would call, an among-other-things rider. Thus, when we argue that the connection between war and population movement is so complex that the former sometimes follows the latter instead of preceding and catalysing it - as was the case in 1971 war, we have to take account of a plethora of factors which in conjunction with that of population movement presumably due to a prolonged spell of civil war in the then East Pakistan, had triggered off the Indo-Pak war and led to the liberation of Bangladesh.


War and War-like Situations


Before we make any further headway, it may be instructive to sound at least two methodologically important caveats.


First, wars, especially those of South Asia, give unto themselves not just one but many "histories". As one raises this issue, one obviously reminds oneself of how the "official" history of Pakistan interprets them and how it is - to understate the point, at variance with its Indian counterpart. Besides, there is no reason to accept that the official history of whatever country is the only available uncontested history within the country - that can throw all other narratives from out of existence. What is authenticated as the official history of war is seen to be constantly engaged in a war of attrition with a multiplicity of histories that narrate the wars in their own characteristic ways. By way of engaging with the official history, they tend to assert their right to be different from it. The point has two implications. The first implication is that, these little narratives influence population movements as much as they are influenced by official histories. While exploring the possibility of writing an alternative history of two Bengals, Sudhir Chakrabarty in his inimitable style noted how the space of the Lalan (a famous Sufi saint of the nineteenth century) cult in central Bengal cut across the international boundaries drawn as a result of partition. About ten followers of the same cult belonging to Betai village of the district of Nadia now in West Bengal decided to cross the international boundary in 1955 without of course the valid papers that were and are still needed to cross it, in order to visit the holy samadhi (burial site) of the great saint located in the-then East Pakistan. They were subsequently arrested and taken into custody by the Pakistani authorities for having tried to violate the international boundary. This is an instance of how the notion of an alternative space runs parallel to the internationally defined space of nation-states and force the latter to compete with it.[1] The second implication is that, we may say that the role of little narratives in the formation of state-system can hardly be underestimated. It is for instance suggested that the formation of a state implies the appropriation and in its wake complete obliteration of the little narratives under reference. This "fundamentally imperial structure" of the state ideology in the words of Dipesh Chakrabarty, "never described the actual political practice in India where religious idioms and imagination had always been strongly present".[2] To my mind, the problem is much more complicated than what the scholars of state formation would have us believe. It has to do with the larger question of allowing the state to come to terms with and if necessary, to accommodate these little narratives. The unities of the state discourse are now ruptured in a way that they have lent to the little narratives a hitherto unprecedented freedom of playing a critical role in constructing the official narrative and in bringing them to bear on it. State's discourse is more a constellation of these forces than their complete obliteration. It is as we shall have occasion to see, much more porous and loose-ended than what the prevalent theories of state formation take it to be.


Secondly, histories of war and histories of peace are not separate or for that matter separable. They are deeply inter-woven in the sense that there seems to be a vast twilight zone comprising what may be called, war-like situations that cannot be clubbed together with either of the two above-mentioned categories. It is necessary to introduce this category into our frame of reference for they play an important role - much more important than that of war in setting off population movements in South Asia. Both the irreducibility of little narratives and the problematic nature of war and peace make it imperative on our part to decipher the inter-connections among war, population movement and state formation in a primarily interpretative way rather than in any strictly empirical way. Where the world of wars is constituted in a problematic manner and gives unto itself many histories than one, we can only hope to make sense of them with the help of our own interpretation, that is to say, with our own way of `worlding' the world of wars. The exercise cannot but be interpretative.


While wars in history have attracted a good number of philosophers starting from Thucydides down to let us say, Chris Hables Gray whose Post-Modern Wars has created a sensation since its publication in 1997, Clausewitz's definition of it still serves as the only viable point of entry into the subject. As he points out: "War act of force to compel our enemy to do our will".[3] Viewed in this perspective, wars and war-like situations are divergent from each other on at least three major counts: First, the force employed in times of war is self-spiralling in character. Clausewitz for instance argues: "If one side uses force without compunction, undeterred by bloodshed it involves, while the other side refrains, the first will gain the upper hand. That will force the other to follow suit; each will drive its opponent toward extreme, and the only limiting factors are the counter-reprisals inherent in war."[4] In war-like situations also, one definitely compels another "to do one's will" given that there is a unitary will of the sort that Clausewitz has in mind, without "driving another to the extreme". A country while inciting and perpetuating war-like situations in another chooses not to "drive another to the extreme" because it is not willing to risk the reprisals for interests which in its perceptions are not too fundamental to warrant a full-blown war. Or it may be that the interests are considered to be fundamental but war-like situations are preferred to wars as a means for attaining them. Sumit Ganguly for instance makes the point that even in times of hot Indo-Pak wars, mutual understanding and diplomatic communication were never lost.[5] That a country is not willing to push its adversary to the extreme and is intent on keeping the exercise of violence within a tolerable threshold does not mean that war-like situations are less effective instruments of a country's foreign policy. In fact, such wars as Chris Hables Gray argues, have in a large measure been successful in calling the triumphalism of the West into question ("What makes this war so important is that it reversed the hundreds of European victories")[6], and establishing the superiority of oriental technologies like, people's war to western technologies and cyber-war.


War according to Clausewitz, is a conflictual engagement between two "whole" communities with respective "wills" pitted against each other. One wonders whether such fully formed, homogeneous communities with their fragments knit into seamless wholes, with their wills sharply different from each other ever exist - or to say the least, pre-exist the outbreak of wars even in advanced western democracies. For wars in South Asia have also been principal vehicles of organizing peoples into fairly homogeneous nations. As Ainslie Embree informs us, "The 1962 war with China was a turning point in defining India as a nation. Nehru spoke of it as a blessing in disguise because internal disunity had been swept aside by the Chinese threat and the new mood could be used to achieve industrial advances as well as military preparedness."[7]  War-like situations on the contrary imply that there may remain some fragments within what the state claims to be parts of its national body that simply refuse to be regarded as its constituent parts and join the state's preparations for coping with them. Such fragments reflect the limits of a state's nationhood and are seen to act at times at the behest of the enemy country. Hence, while coping with war-like situations, a state has to wage a war with its fragments.[8] Classical political theory also tells us that a citizen's attachment to the national body particularly in times of war is to be regarded more as an end in itself than a means to an end. Machiavelli for instance, contended that wise princes would prefer to "lose battles with their own forces than win them with others in the belief that no victory is possible with alien arms".[9] That is why, his Prince underlines time and again the importance of the natives in the army structure who are likely to fight wars unto the last without asking why and whose obeisance to the nation is both unflinching and unwavering. On the other hand, a nation during war-like situations especially in South Asia reportedly includes many fragments whose attachment to it hardly contains any intrinsic worth. They consider themselves to be a part of the nation only so long as their attachment fulfils certain interests particular, if not peculiar to themselves. While referring to the "border people" who have migrated to West Bengal from Bangladesh, Ranabir Samaddar argues that for them, citizenship is very like an ordinary commodity that is freely bought and sold, in one word, transacted without any sense of moral piety, depending on the mutual interests of the parties involved in it in a world that according to him, is completely demoralized: "Citizenship has come to such a state, it means not membership of a political community, but one end of a transactional relation".[10]


Thirdly, Clausewitz makes a clear distinction between force and political will. Although it is true that force at times especially during wars has a tendency to "usurp" political will, ideally it should be employed in order to implement the latter rather than anything else. Clausewitz's definition not only contains a strong rationalist tinge whereby force is made subordinate to will but also in the same vein sensitizes us to such situations where wars might verge on the irrational and use of force might look senseless with no apparent political will to be implemented. War-like situations serve as glaring instances where the Clausewitzean distinction between force and political will is blurred - if not already vanished, for in this case there seems to be no political will other than and independent of the use of force. A country that is keen on imposing such situation on another becomes successful and fulfils its objective the moment it imposes it, for it thereby secures a certain disarming of its enemy - one of the chief objectives of war, by way of compelling it to keep a substantial part of its armed troops busy with maintaining law and order inside the country. According to one conservative estimate, India had committed a quarter million of its armed troops to quelling armed insurrections in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. War-like situations are like self-evident truths in the sense that there is no hidden truth beyond what is self-evident to us.


Several imageries of war are in currency to refer to war-like situations. Some of them are - proxy wars, (un-)civil wars and low-intensity conflicts. Conversely, India has engaged in four wars of varying degrees of intensity since 1947 - three of which have been with Pakistan. As Sumit Ganguly, widely acclaimed as an expert on Indo-Pak wars, maintains, "While many people quibble over definitions of war, it is safe to say that by any reasonable standard there were three wars between India and Pakistan between 1947 and 1971".[11] Wars are episodic or to borrow a Clausewitzean expression "single-short blows", but war-like situations are embedded in the state's regime of the normal.[12]


War-like Situations and Population Movements


None of the wars mentioned above, has resulted in any major trans-border population movement. None of the twelve major bilateral population movements outlined in Myron Weiner's study published in 1993 - excepting only one, "the flight of Bangladeshis to India" had to do directly with war - precisely, the Indo-Pak wars.[13] In this case too, war did not precede but followed the massive population influx from the-then East Pakistan to India, though of course there was a considerable return migration immediately after the war which helped India in securing at least the semblance of a demographic balance within a short while. 


At this juncture, we must make a distinction - albeit of conceptual nature, between two kinds of population movements - one induced by war and the other by prolonged spell of war-like situations. First of all, the probability of return migration is as we have already noted, always higher in cases of war than in that of war-like situations. Since the latter often masquerade as the normal, they are of enduring nature and do not seem to create an atmosphere conducive to the migrants' forthwith return to their homes.  Secondly, the country that receives the immigrants in times of war usually keeps a close watch on their movements, scrupulously counts their numbers as far as practicable, sometimes recognizes them as refugees in need of some special treatment, seeks to herd them together in sufficiently secluded camps so that they do not disappear into the faceless and lonely crowd called, nation, that it claims to enclose and represent and most importantly, garner international support in their favour with of course a varying degree of success. During Bangladesh crisis for instance, other countries assumed nearly one-fourth of the estimated costs of supporting the refugees in camps and virtually none of the costs for the larger number who had found sanctuaries outside the camps. The figure reached 9.8 million at its peak and out of it approximately 3 million did not choose to go the state-run relief camps.  Richard Sisson and Leo Rose, have argued that in spite of state's attempts at isolating them and re-locating them to some  far-off parts of the north-east, they posed a major burden to the nation's exchequer and to the economy as a whole.[14] But whatever the state does as part of its humanitarian programme concerning the refugees, it never allows the distinction between its citizens and foreigners to be blurred and obliterated.  The making and maintaining of such distinction is always considered to be crucial to the state's nation-building project. But since much of the immigration that takes place during war-like situations are of illegal and clandestine nature, it goes on undetected and at times it becomes difficult - if not impossible on the part of the receiving country to see to it that they do not get mixed up with the faceless multitude of the nation.[15]  State's failure in making and maintaining the distinction has sparked off at least two mutually opposite kinds of social reactions. On the one hand, there are attempts on peoples' part (as was the case during the Assam movement of 1979-1985) at making the state do what it does not otherwise do, that is to say, build the nation.  What the state might do is not to keep a watch on the illegal entrants from across the borders for that is quite impossible, but to keep a count on its own citizens and thereby lend to the nation a face that has hitherto remained faceless and anonymous. Voters' identity cards and citizenship certificates are some of the markers that are meant for separating the citizens from the foreigners. A modern state cannot do without "enumerating" its people into a closely-knit and measurable nation.[16]  On the other hand, the state's insistence on making and maintaining this distinction creates panic in the minds of some communities whose identity as Indian citizens is to say the least, ambiguous.  The movement of the Gorkha National Liberation Front under the leadership of Mr. Subash Ghisingh in Darjeeling (West Bengal) for their certification as Indians serves as a case in point.


Thirdly, wars in South Asia have invariably centred on the territorial question.  In other words, they were fought with motives other than dumping a country's surplus population on another country.  In none of the four wars excepting that of 1971, have the population movements been too significant to cause an alarm. Conversely, war-like situations are sometimes created and perpetrated with the motive of conveniently dumping the excess population on another with the advantage of remaining unrecognised by the receiving country. It is for instance argued that the civil war in pre-war East Pakistan was a means, resorted to by the Pakistani state, of making section of its people mostly consisting of the Bengali Hindus leave the country and easing out the excess population constantly posing a danger to the country's economy and "Islamic" culture.  Indeed, a theory of lebensraum though expressly denied by the Bangladesh state, is catching fast the imagination of the Bangladeshi intelligentsia. For instance, an eminent professor of Dhaka University has reportedly argued that tremendous population pressure is bound to take the country to the road to inevitable disaster in near future and unless the people of Bangladesh are permitted to spread out to such vast and of course sparsely populated tracts of land that just lie across her north-eastern and south-eastern borders comprising a substantial part of north-eastern India and the Arakan Hills of Myanmar, Bangladesh would not be able to withstand the imminent disaster.[17]


State System and State Discourse


The term state-system may be used in two relatively distinguishable senses.  In the macro sense, it may be understood to mean the complex web of inter-linkages amongst different nation-states of South Asia and the inter-linkages are so intimate that "each acknowledges and to some extent guarantees others' existence". The closest approximation to such a system is the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). In the strict sense, one wonders whether SAARC can be taken as an illustration of such a system for one notices here nations that acknowledge and guarantee - only grudgingly, if at all, each other's existence. The survival of Pakistan as a sovereign state depends on an explicit negation of the principles that lay down the foundations of the Indian state. The reverse is also true. In the micro sense, it refers to a process whereby a state with its intricately woven network of political institutions gets itself formed.  Charles Tilly's The Formation of National States in Western Europe is still regarded as an excellent exposition of formation of state systems in Western Europe. The opening essay underlines four diverse processes implicit in the project of state formation - territorial consolidation, centralization, differentiation and monopolization of the legitimate means of force and coercion. It means over and above, the establishment of a central political authority that is sufficiently differentiated from the prevailing social groups - ethnic and non-ethnic, enjoys a virtual monopoly over the legitimate instruments of coercion and the writ of which extends over the entire territory that it lays claim to.  While Tilly's definition has a strong institutional bias, it does not adequately maks us sensitive to the discourse that informs and under-girds whatever the state does by way of institutionalising itself.


The concept of state discourse has at least four significant implications that may be discussed at this point. First, what it does is to privilege those who adhere to it and to incorporate them into the national body as its "natural" constituents.  By the same token, it also excludes those who do not or may be, who refuse to acquiesce to the discourse and urges them - not always implicitly, to vacate the territory that it claims to consolidate into a nation or to stay in it as ethnic minorities with an attendant denial of their rights which they consider to be fundamental to their survival as distinct cultural communities. The state discourse thereby facilitates the process of "natural" selection.[18] Partition and in its wake the birth of two nation-states in South Asia have given the people an opportunity of being "naturally" enclosed by either of the two state discourses antagonistic to each other.  The opportunity also conferred on them an obligation - of making up their minds. They could not do without joining either of the two nation-states.  Political geography of modern nation-states hardly leaves room for those who would like to be identified with units - larger or smaller than those of the nation-states. Hiranmoy Bandyopadhyay in a book written in an intimate, semi-autobiographical style has cited more than a dozen instances where Bengali-speaking Muslims of post-partition West Bengal thought it unethical on their part to stay on even after the birth of a separate Muslim state.[19]  When state discourse grips the masses, it does not have to exercise force in order to make the territory homogeneous. The more it rules by discourse, the less it feels the necessity of resorting to force and coercion.


In this connection, it may be pointed out that citizens' attachment to a state may be either of the two polar types or any combination of them: transactional and natural.  In the first case, people who are to be incorporated into the national body are first of all assumed as outsiders whose entry into it depends on a bargain that they have to strike with the concerned state or vice versa.  The relationship between the state and its people in this instance is evidently of contractual or transactional nature. The state normally does not quite encourage people to enter into a relationship of this sort partly because it is expensive as the state has to deliver what Packenham once called, "political goods" like, law and order, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness etc., and partly because peoples' loyalty to the state in this case is of fragile and vacillating nature. As soon as the state stops for whatever reasons, delivering the goods, loyalty is or at least is threatened to be withdrawn.  It is for this reason that the state always chooses to translate the first kind into the second one. In this instance, peoples' association with the state is taken to be too tacit to be actively demonstrated.  This as we will see later, lends to the discourse an element of unchallengeability.  M.J. Akbar's India - The Siege Within may be regarded as a text that accepts Kashmir's inclusion in India as an accomplished and irreversible fact and thereby keeps the question beyond the realm of negotiation. This text helps in sanitizing the issue and robs it of its problematic character.  At the same time, it is a classic illustration of a paranoid text that accuses Pakistan and other vested interests of problematizing the issue and transforming it into a question.


Secondly, our emphasis on the state discourse enables us to appreciate its distinction from the otherwise widely used term - nationalist discourse.  The post-modernist critique has called the state's claim to enclose and represent a nation into question and has drawn our attention to the challenges that it faces while building the nation both from within and also from without. Some of the fragments the state considers to be organic to the national body are increasingly questioning the assumptions that aim at assimilating them into it and depriving them of the right to retain their cultural identities.  Similarly, alongside these sub-national fragments, there are also trans-national centres of power - sometimes represented by other sovereign states which not only context the particular state's unilateral claim over the national body but stake their own claims over it.  When both these forces work together, they pose a potent threat to the state. The nation in other words, has become a contested site.  In that sense, the concept of state discourse confines our attention to what the state does and thereby frees us from the obligation of characterizing its activities as necessarily nationalist.  Thirdly, our distinction between state formation and state discourse instructs us to keep the opposition to the latter clearly distinct from the cases where the institutional prerequisites of the state are under attack. Such a distinction is necessary for "the new revolutionaries are concerned not so much about the political structure of the nation-state as they are about political ideology that under-girds it".[20]  It is for this reason that the concept of state discourse has acquired some prominence in recent years.


Fourthly, the concept is inseparably connected with that of modernity.  We may even say that they advent of modernity has bestowed on the state the responsibility of holding on to and elaborating a discourse. A brief comparison of the process of state formation in modern India with that in pre-modern times may be instructive at this point.  Since a plurality of states existed within a more or less culturally contiguous geographic space, any expansion, contraction or even annihilation of state's borders did not necessarily lead to any significant migration of population from one place to another in pre-modern India.[21]  This does not mean that there was no migration whatsoever in pre-modern India. Migration to be precise was sparked off by factors other than the modification and transformation of political boundaries. Peasant migration within the larger Gangetic plains of undivided Bengal was a very common feature even during the colonial rule. In other words, the state did not have to elaborate a discourse; it was in the words of Rudolph and Rudolph, "an instrument for upholding and protecting the society and its values'"[22] As a consequence, the cultural order of the society was not severely disrupted and the people did not feel it imperative to move over from place to place once the changes in state's boundaries came into effect.  In sum, political changes would hardly touch upon the society and its values. As modernity encourages the states to organize their territories into culturally enclosed spaces and enumerate their peoples into tightly-knit, homogeneous nations, it also feels the necessity of clinging to and elaborating a discourse that as we have already argued, facilitates "natural" selection.  That people are migrating from Bangladesh to the bordering states of India reveals that they could not qualify the process that the Bangladeshi state has set for its nation. Increasing Islamization, sharply deteriorating economic conditions, frequent military interventions along with many other factors  have made their lives difficult in Bangladesh and push them as it were, to flee the country where they have been living for generations.[23]  They are in Myron Weiner's language, "rejected" people.


War, War-like Situation and the State Discourse


The prevailing literature on Indo-Pak wars looks upon them essentially as conflicts between two "patently antagonistic models" or state discourses as we have termed them.  Partha S. Ghosh for instance observes,

These two models (those of India and Pakistan) have not only been mutually incompatible, but having been professed in two contiguous countries with the same socio-historic experience, with no mutual boundaries, and with a record of conflictual relationship that developed immediately after independence over Kashmir, they have become patently antagonistic threatening each one's basic principles of state policy...Islamic Pakistan and secular India became anathema to each other for the simple reason that the very survival of the states depended on an assertion on precisely those theories which had resulted in the partition, namely, the two-nation theory based on religion versus the one-nation theory based on territorial and historical concept of "Mother India".[24]


Such a view to my mind, suffers from many shortcomings two of which deserve a special mention at this point. First, it not only exaggerates the mutual antagonism between these two countries, but wrongly assumes that the discourses are fully formed and elaborated well before they take on and confront each other. It also presupposes that the strategies that the adversaries employ against each other in times of war are issued from the discourses that are both given and immutable. According to this view, the Indo-Pak wars fought almost at regular intervals till 1971 have not seemingly played any role in bringing into existence, elaborating, modifying and even transforming their respective discourses. Secondly, and as corollary to the first, this view freezes the discourses at a given point of their evolution - in our case at the point when the subcontinent was partitioned into two sovereign states and is unable to account for the changes that the discourses have undergone since then while adapting themselves to the changing requirements of time. In that sense, both the state discourses had to strive hard for negotiating with the "patent models" or stereotypes which have been generously used to characterize them - "the two-nation theory based on religion" and "the one-nation theory based on territorial and historical concept of Mother India". Such stereotypes also fix up the limits to states' spheres of action and negotiation. I propose to illustrate these points with reference to the elaboration of the discourse of the Indian state in course of the three major wars with Pakistan between 1974 and 1971.


The first Indo-Pak war that took place immediately after independence may be conceived of as the moment of contingency in its elaboration: First, India continued to interpret the Kashmir imbroglio with the terms that were directly derived from what is popularly known as, the nationalist discourse crystallized during the struggle against colonial rule since the last century. It was seen primarily - if not exclusively, as an extension of the colonial policy of dividing the Indians and "weakening the new nation and preventing her from becoming a powerful factor in Asia" through the creation of Pakistan. It is interesting to note that Great Britain continued to remain India's point of negative reference. India took time to recognize Pakistan as her principal adversary. Besides as investigative reports point out, she was not seriously interested in committing herself to any kind of long-term involvement in Kashmir: "If in the normal course, Kashmir had acceded to Pakistan, few in India would have been upset about it...To many in India, the tribal raid was an instance of Pakistan's arrogance, similar to that displayed by the Muslims before independence, which, if not challenged immediately, would manifest itself even more blatantly in the years to come. What seemed important then...was not the acquisition of territory by India but stopping Pakistan from enlarging its boundaries".[25] As a counter-factual argument, it has been suggested that had Sheikh Abdullah not asked for India's military assistance at that crucial hour in fighting the raiders, India in all probability would not have been involved in what ultimately turned out to be an endless war. But once she committed herself, there was no going back and her discourse bore the imprints of the involvement in a way that proved to be inerasable. What was then dismissed as too contingent a factor to engage our sustained attention came to occupy a central position in the State's scheme of things and became the be-all-and-end-all of our national identity.


The war of 1965 may be interpreted as the moment of trial not of course in the ordinary sense of "the one-nation theory based on territorial and historical concept of Mother India" being pitted against "the two-nation theory based on religion", but in the deeper sense that the Indian state found it extraordinarily difficult to remain steadfast to what it had decided to embrace - "the one-nation theory" itself. The war had conferred on the state the special responsibility of holding it accountable to a theory that admittedly transcended the religious and communal differences and was believed to have consolidated its citizens into the generic community of Indian nation. The depreciation of this theory was so blatant and spectacular in the everyday political practice that the state was not only busy with confronting an external enemy on the warfront but grappling with the responsibility that the rhetoric of one-nation theory has assigned to it. The Indian state was passing as it were through a particularly schizophrenic state in which more than being engaged in a war with an external enemy, it had to come to terms with what it held to be its true moral self. The transformation of "a low-key, amorphous, tolerant and peculiarly consensual nationalism" into a highly monochromatic form which was out to throttle and emasculate the cultural diversities and steamroll them into one homogeneous type at about the same time had turned the discourse by its head and constantly reminded us that no amount of political reconstruction would be able to bring the discourse to the line of actual political practice and vice versa. The state was caught up in a terrible political dilemma: It could neither discard nor stand up to the rhetoric of one-nation theory. Besides, the minorities' natural concern for their communities located just across the borders was stigmatised as flagrantly anti-national. As Ayesha Jalal writes, "Indian Muslims have had to distance themselves from any display of concern about their predicament across the border".[26] Even M.J. Akbar notes that with Nehru's demise, "the communal Hindu element in the power structure could not be kept under control".[27] He makes a particular reference to the anti-Sikh agitation in which several communal organizations came together and joined their hands in forcing the state to assume a monochromatic form.


According to Sumit Ganguly, the war of 1965 proved beyond any doubt that "there was no ground swell of support for Pakistan's claim on Kashmir amongst the Muslim population of the state".[28] It is interesting to see how in spite of the two wars, the state discourse of India could retain its popularity even amongst the Muslims of the state. It was the promise of "secularism and socialism"' held out by the discourse rather than the actual political practice, that played a key role in attracting the Sheikh and his people to veer towards India. As Sheikh Abdullah is reported to have said, "...We have joined India because of its ideal - secularism and socialism. India wanted to build a state where humanism would prevail. So long as India sticks to these ideals, our people have a place nowhere else but in India".[29] It seems that they were still prepared to give India what in juridical language may be called, a benefit of doubt and more significantly a chance to prove before the world as well as herself that her political practice was worthy of the promise embedded in the discourse.


The war of 1971 may be characterized as a moment of unchallengeability in the evolution of the discourse of the Indian state. It is so not because it established its unchallengeability vis-a-vis that of the Pakistani state, but because it succeeded in keeping its nationalism claims out of contention with the later. The realm of contention is defined as a common site where one discourse challenges and in turn, is challenged by another. It is like a boxing bout where two states share a common ring. But what if the terms of discourse are fashioned in a way that they invest it with an element of certainty? This may not have (and as we know, did not) pre-empted the challenges, but it obviously frees it of the obligation of answering back and responding to them. In that sense, the state discourse during this period seems to have been situated outside the realm of contention underlying the war. As a result, nationalist claims were instantly read as nationalist credentials and never subjected to the test of what Ranabir Samaddar designates as "permanent plebiscite", that is to say, the test that seeks to establish the nationalist credentials of a state. This is how the discourse during this time acquired a sanitized and unproblematic character. In this connection, we may confine ourselves to an analysis of two complimentary processes through which the discourse could sanitize and de-problematize itself: One, the nationalist character of the Indian state is too taken for granted to remain open to contestation and challenges. It is accepted as an accomplished fact - too "accomplished" to be demonstrated or constantly "displayed and presented". As Sudipta Kaviraj puts it: "This encouraged a massive pretence on the part of a national movement and later by the national state that the question of cultural construction of the nation was left behind in the past, rather than still lying in future. It made Indians believe that the imagining of the nation was an accomplished and irreversible fact: it did not have to be constantly presented and justified".[30] Thus, it is argued that the coincidence of the Indian state which the Indian nation had achieved in the past and interestingly in a past that remains not only unverified but unverifiable with the effect that the possibilities are effectively neutralized. While this coincidence is held to be pivotal to the question of state's legitimacy, effective de-problematization and sanitization were also the prerequisites for resolving successfully the question of state's legitimacy.[31] Two, another way through which it could be achieved was to take the battle to the enemy camp and to accuse it of having failed in the task of harmonizing the state with the nation or better say, in trying to make possible what essentially is impossible. The making the Pakistani state is such an impossible event in history and history will take its own course by way of unmaking it. Hence what happened was not history and it would assert itself by taking revenge. In other words, Indo-Pak war of 1965 was more a war of Pakistan with history than with India. While the Indian state was relieved of the responsibility of building the nation on the ground that the latter was an "accomplished fact", for Pakistan the task was not only unaccomplished, but simply un-accomplishable. Sumit Ganguly for instance has written, "As Pakistan came apart, its claim on Kashmir also eroded, in a major way. The inability of the West Pakistanis to convince their brethren in the East to remain in the same polity, made it exceedingly difficult for the Pakistani leadership to lay claim on the basis of religious composition. Naturally India took advantage of the discrepancy between fact and theory."[32] While Indian state has sought to de-problematize its own nationalist claims, it also in the same measure problematized those of the Pakistani state. Both these processes went hand in hand with each other.


To re-state our arguments very briefly: First, our analysis shows that the state discourses in South Asia are neither inflexible nor incompatible with each other, though of course frequent wars have sought to define them in patently antagonistic terms. The first Indo-Pak war serves as a classic illustration of this point. It shows how the contingent factors left their mark on the articulation of the discourse of the Indian state. Second, elaboration of the discourse on the part of the state has set forth certain limits to its nature and range of operations. The war of 1965 for instance, points out how the forces were increasingly going out of India's control and her political practice fell far short of what the rhetoric of one-nation theory demanded from her. The 1971 war on the other hand, illustrates how the state sought to master the forces through what Kaviraj calls, "massive pretence", that is to say, by way of keeping it out of the realm of contention.


Let us now see what bearing the war-like situations have on the formation and elaboration of state discourses. As an offending strategy, they are meant to subvert the terms of another state discourse. One may look at the problem in either of the two ways or even a combination of them: First, war-like situations may arise when the fragments that the state claims to represent and articulate into its nationhood may refuse to be assimilated into it and sometimes choose to act at the behest of a country that has been held responsible for the conflagration of the war-like situations. We are painfully aware of a number of nationalities strewn all over India starting from Kashmir in the north to the Nagas in the north-east that play host to such war-like situations. The anti-statism of the United Liberation Front of Assam springs not so much from the fact that Assam has been subjected to "the internal colonialism" of New Delhi but very much from the fact that "she has never been part of India" and the Indian state has no authority whatsoever to convert her into one of its constituent units.[33] It also happens that sometimes the fragments that according to a state lie beyond its national corpus and therefore need to be excluded from it show an excessive eagerness to be encapsulated within it. It is true that in state's perceptions, their exclusion is constitutive of the nation it claims to represent; but they do not share the same perceptions.


War-like situations may also be used as a defensive strategy in the sense that the state while employing it may be interested in restoring to itself the discourse that is apparently under attack from an offending country. The reports published by such human rights organizations as Committee for Initiative on Kashmir, Peoples' Union for Democratic Rights, Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International are increasingly drawing our attention to the role of the Indian state in inciting, fomenting or for that matter, perpetrating war-like situations in Kashmir. Thus to cite an instance, a Lokshahi Hakk Sangathana report has identified as many as eight militant organizations including Muslim Liberation Front and Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon which have been planted by the Intelligence agencies with an eye to drive a wedge in militant ranks and divide the Kashmiri people. [34] Such a role of the Indian state helps it recapture its control over the discourse that faces attack from others. It seeks first, to prove that the Kashmiris are too heterogeneous to be called a nation and that the eagerness to be included in the national body may acquire an equally militant form with the implication that militancy is no monopoly of secessionism, War-like situations in other words, may be a means through which a state chooses to negotiate its terms with the little narratives or histories of the fragments which pose a potent threat to the prevailing state discourse. That negotiation is a continuous process only establishes that the state discourse is not too strong to appropriate and completely obliterate them. These narratives and fragmentary histories are simply irreducible.


Lecture at the first South Asian Peace Studies Orientation Course held by the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Calcutta, October 1997

Notes and Reference

            [1]... Sudhir Chakrabarty, `Folk Histories and the Possibilities of Writing and Alternative History of the Two Bengals : A Case Study of Central Bengal' (1977), mimeo.


[2]... Dipesh Chakrabarty, `Modernity and Ethnicity in India' in John McGuire Peter Reeves & Howard Brasted (eds.), Politics of Violence : from Ayodhya to Berhampada (New Delhi, 1996), p.217. Also, Bhikhu Parekh, `Cultural Diversity and the Modern State' in Sudipta Kaviraj & Martin Doornbos (eds.), Dynamics of State Formation : India and Europe Compared (New Delhi, 1997), pp.177-203.

            [3]....      Carl Von clausewitz, On War, ed. & trans. by Michael Howard & Peter Paret (Princeton N.J, 1976), p.75.

[4]....      Ibid., pp.75-6.

                        [5]....      Sumit Ganguly, `Wars without End: The Indo-Pak Conflict' in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, ed. Richard Lambert, September, 1995. Ganguly elsewhere writes:"...the instances of cooperation amongst seemingly deadly adversaries does offer a scaffolding of hope upon which future generations in India and Pakistan might erect more enduring structures of cooperation". See, Sumit Ganguly, `Discord and Cooperation in Indo-Pak Relations' in Kanti P. Bajpai: Harish C. Shukul (eds.), Interpreting World Politics (New Delhi, 1995), p. 411.

[6]....      Chris Hables Gray, Post-Modern War: The New Politics of Conflict (London, 1997), p.157.

[7]....      Ainslie Embree, `Statehood in South Asia' in Journal of International Affairs, Summer, 1997, 51(1), p.4.

                        [8]....      Samir Kumar Das, "National Security and Ethnic Conflicts in India: A View from the North-East" in Arun Banerji (ed.), Security in South Asia (Calcutta, 1998).


[9]....      N. Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. with an introduction by George Bull (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), p. 84.

            [10]....     Ranabir Samaddar, Marginal Nation: Report on Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal (Calcutta : MAKAIAS, 1996), p. 29.

            [11]....     Sumit Ganguly, The Origins of War in South Asia: Indo-Pakistani Conflict since 1947 (Lahore, 1989), p.8.

                        [12]....     I have analyzed it in Samir Kumar Das, `The Extra-ordinary Partition: The case of Post-Partition Assam" (1997), mimeo.

            [13]....     Myron Weiner, "Rejected Peoples and Unwanted Migrants in South Asia" in Economic and Political Weekly, 28 (34), 21 August, 1993, pp. 1737-46.

            [14]....     Richard Sisson & Leo Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh (New Delhi, 1990), pp. 178-81.

                        [15]....     Samir Kumar Das, Regionalism in Power: The Case of Asom Gana Parishad (1985-1990) (New Delhi, 1997), pp.122-6.

                        [16]....     Sudipta Kaviraj, `Religion, Politics and Modernity' in Upendra Baxi & Bhikhu Parekh (eds.), Crisis and Change in contemporary India (New Delhi, 1995), pp.295-316.

            [17]....     See Sadeq Khan, `The Question of Lebensraum' in Holiday, 18 October, 1991. Also, Abdul Momin, 'Lebensraum for Bangladehis?' in Holiday, 22 November, 1991.

            [18]....     Homi Bhabha, `Narrating the Nation' in John Hutchinson & Anthony D. Samith (eds.), Nationalism (Oxford, 1994), pp.316-12.

                        [19]....     Hiranmoy Bandyopadhyay, Udbastu  (Calcutta, 1970).

[20]....     Mark Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State (Delhi, 1994), pp.6-7.

            [21]....     See, Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, `State Formation in Asia: Prolegomenon to a Comparative Study' in The Journal of Asian Studies, 46(4), November, 1987. Also, Satish Chandra, `State, State Formation and Statecraft in Indian History and Tradition' in L.R. Singh (ed.), Nation-Building and the Development Process (Jaipur, 1994). Also, Hermann Kulke, `the Study  of the State in Pre-Modern India' in Hermann Kulke (ed.), The State in India 1000-1700 (Delhi, 1995).

                        [22]....     Lloyd I. Rudolph and susanne H. Rudolph, In Pursuit of Lakshmi : The Political Economy of the Indian State (Bombay, 1987), p.67.

                        [23]....     Amalendu De, `Bangladeshe Dharmeeya Janabinyas : Manchitra Paribartan' (in Bengali), in Parichaya, 61 (10-12), May-July, 1992.

[24]....     Partha S. Ghosh, Cooperation and Conflict in South Asia (New Delhi, 1995), pp.17-8.

[25]....     Krishan Bhatia, The Ordeal of Nationhood (New York, 1971), p. 286.

            [26]....     Ayesha Jalal, Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia : A Comparative and Historical Perspective (New Delhi, 1995), p. 236.

                        [27]....     M.J. Akbar, India : The Siege Within: Challenges to a Nation's Unity (Middlesex, 1985), p. 264.

[28]....     Sumit Ganguly, The Origins, op.cit., p.146.

[29]....     Quoted in M.J. Akbar, op. cit., p. 250.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 30… Kaviraj, `On the Structure of Nationalist Discourse' in T.V. Sathyamurthy (ed.), State and Nation in Context of Social change, vol. I, (Delhi, 1994), p. 330.

            [31]....     Montserrat Guibernau, Nationalisms: The Nation-State and Nationalism in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 1996), pp.59-62.

[32]....     Sumit Ganguly, The Origins, op. cit., p. 136.

[33]....     See, Samir Kumar Das, ULFA: A Political Analysis (Delhi, 1994)

            [34]....     Lokshahi Hakk Sangathana, Voting at the Point of a Gun: Counter-Insurgency and the Farce of Elections in Kashmir (Bombay, 1996), pp. 32-3.



Borders as Unsettled Markers - The Sino-Indian Border

Paula Banerjee


It was the age of the Great Game and Lord Curzon was at the helm of British affairs in India.  In his now famous observation, he revealed the problem that confronted the British not just in India, but in the entire "modern" world.  Frontiers, he said were indeed the razor's edge on which hung modern issues of war and peace.[1]  How could the British then bring back their 10,000 troops, deployed in Chitral, Tochi Valley, Landi Kotal, and Khyber Pass? Following Curzon's principles, they could not afford to give up Quetta or any of the frontier posts. Ultimately the British constructed strategic railways up to Dargai, Jamrud and Thal, and frontiers were left to tribal levies. The borders became a problem.


Many years later, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the great patron of Pakistan's nuclear programme, wrote,

…Geography continues to remain the most important single factor iin the formulation of a country's foreign policy...Territorial disputes...are the most important of all the disputes.[2]


Borders, as markers of territoriality, have reared their ugly heads once again in South Asia.  Are borders then a continuous problem in this region?  This article seeks to examine the issue by taking up the Sino-Indian border as a case. The argument here is that borders are basically human constructs that become problematic at different historical junctures; the rationale behind this problem needs to be sought in the wider political context.  Human history provides eloquent testimony to how trouble-free borders suddenly become troublesome, such as the Tacna-Africa in the Attacama in the nineteenth century, or the border between the two Koreas, or even the Malvinas Islands in South Atlantic in 1983.  South Asia is no exception to this general axiom. But the crucial question is what political conditions make borders problematic in postcolonial South Asia?  And how do borders, in turn, influence the politics of the region?




As with most other postcolonial constructs the origin of South Asian borders can be traced to the British.  Their frontier policy between 1880 and 1920 resulted in the acquisition of a large area in South Asia, inhabited by numerous indigenous populations, without any clear-cut boundaries that separated one territory from the other. Speaking of Africa, Lord Salisbury had once made a telling comment about the principles that the British followed in general while constructing markers around territories all over the world, he said:


We have been engaged in drawing lines upon maps where no white man's foot has ever trod; we have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindred by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where the mountains and rivers and lakes were.[3]


Symptomatic of the British way of drawing borders was the Durand Line named after Sir Mortimer Durand, who negotiated it with the Amir of Afghanistan in 1893.  The Durand Line was based neither on any clear physical feature nor on any distinct political organization.[4]  In the foothills of the Afghan Plateau, there was nothing to suggest that one watershed could be a better boundary than the other, especially when the main rivers flowed transverse the direction the boundary followed.  The small tribal communities that inhabited the area were fiercely independent.[5]  The boundary that Durand had negotiated with the Amir was demarcated with extreme difficulty by May 1896, with the exception of a section around the Khyber Pass, which was finally settled after the third Afghan war in 1921.


In the north, the British negotiated a satisfactory boundary with Nepal that was flanked by two areas in the Himalayas where they were unable to persuade China to settle for any boundary. The border remained contested. In the east, Britain persuaded China to settle for a line marking the limits of Burma, but entirely failed to prevent France from establishing posts in the headwaters of Mekong valley. With Tibet, the border issue was settled by the Treaty of Lhasa (1904).  For India, perhaps the most serious British failure was their inability to persuade China to agree to any boundaries in northern Assam, east of Nepal, and the Aksai Chin.  In northern Assam, India at present relies on the McMahon line, which was a product of British attempts after 1904 to limit Chinese expansion and define the precise area of British responsibility in the Himalayas.  There are two versions of the McMahon line and China considers neither mandatory. The Chinese maintain that the Simla Convention is not binding on them since they never ratified it.  Both India and China agree that there is traditional boundary in Aksai Chin but disagree on its location.  China at times even rejects the claim that a boundary was drawn at all.[6]  Unlike the Indo-Pakistan border, there is a lot more unanimity of "national sentiment" as far as the Sino-Indian border is concerned. From time to time we glibly tend to portray the Chinese as bad guys and forget the greater problem - the border issue. 


The end of the empire created a new set of boundaries and borders, but old problems persisted.  Partition, which was supposed to resolve all territorial issues rationally, turned out to be an edifice of complete irrationality.  The governments in the region largely emulated their colonial predecessors not only in methods of governing but also in rationalizing territorial issues.  The new boundary lines created political compulsions of their own resulting in a remorseless hunt for that spatial claim which would serve the political demands of sovereignty. The Great Game was not over; it was only converted into a number of smaller games waiting to erupt at any given movement.[7]  The terrain where the game was played remained disputed. The great actors disappeared from the stage, but the acted upon remained confronting new specificities with outmoded methods.


The Case of the Sino-Indian Border


The border dispute between India and China epitomizes the politics of borders in South Asia. It is not a product of partition but a relic of the days of the colonial times.  It may not have the same emotional appeal as the Pakistani-Indian border, but it has defied solution at any level.  It is a remnant of the Great Game and yet it is at the same time a postcolonial political construction.  According to the Indian view, the Sino-Indian border ran along the main crest of the Himalayas. The southern slopes of its ridges, including the independent kingdom of Nepal and the protectorates of Sikkim and Bhutan, constituted the Indian side. In the west, the boundary started from the Karakoram Pass along the watershed between the Shyok and the Yarkand, ran through the Oara Tag Pass, ascended on the Kuen Lun mountains, left the main crest along 800 21' east, and descended in a south westerly direction.[8] According to the Chinese, in the middle and the east their territory extended to the southern side of the Himalayan ridges.  In the west, Chinese territory included an area of about 15,000 square miles from Lahul, the Spiti area, the Shepki pass, the Nilang, Jhadang, and Barahoti areas, while in the east it covered the whole of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) covering about 35,000 square miles. As for NEFA, though the Chinese did not accept the McMahon Line, the precise extent of their claim was never made clear. The Chinese refused to accept that the line was in any way legal.[9]


There are some geographical problems with the Indian claims, but the political problems seem to be more serious.[10]  The western fringes of the British Empire, Aksai Chin, Kashmir and the northern borders of British India were territories that became bones of contention among three contenders - the British, the Russians and the Chinese.[11]  China was the weakest of the three contenders, extremely insecure about British and Russian designs on its frontiers. The Chinese were also traditionally the most interested in creating territorial markers and the contested area was not just a colony for them. The British were apprehensive of Russia's new colonial interests on the western fringes of their empire. The more they doubted the impregnability of the Herat, Farah, Kandhar and Bolan routes, the more intransigent became their policies towards the North-West frontiers. By the time Captain Gromchevsky reached Hunza through a small route between the Pamirs and Xinjiang, as Mortimer Durand commented, the Great Game had already begun.[12]  Then onwards, aggressive designs of retaining a large empire kept all the players in a scramble for more land and creation of buffers beyond boundaries.  And the Great Game continued until the Great War changed the politics of territoriality.


Partition brought border questions back to the centre stage of South Asian politics.  Apparently partition left the Sino-Indian borders untouched, but it created new identities bringing in its wake new principles of nationalizing the peripheries that would leave their mark on all the borders of South Asia.  China, from a weak third of the 1890s, emerged as a strong first in the regional power structure by the late 1940s, with a traumatic memory of encroachments on its national frontiers; and the mighty British India was severely weakened by partition. Serious disagreements with India, however, did not surface until the late 1950s. This does not mean that the Chinese were reconciled to their borders.


Official Chinese maps after 1949 continued to ignore the boundaries of the Simla Convention. The international border with India in the eastern sector was shown as lying at the Himalayan foothills. In the western sector, there were wide differences between Chinese and Indian border demarcations. China claimed a huge portion of land both in the eastern and Indian border demarcations.  China claimed a huge portion of land both in the eastern and western sectors - around 32,000 square miles and 10,000 to 14,000 square miles respectively - which India considered her own; in the central sector, the Chinese claim ran into a few hundred square miles.  During discussions preceding the 1945 Agreement between India and China, neither side raised the frontier question nor did the Agreement specifically refer to the Sino-Indian frontier.[13]  That the Chinese were serious about their border claims became apparent the same year when they protested against what they termed as the intrusion of Indian troops beyond Niti Pass into Wu-ze.  Even after repeated requests from the Indian Government, they did not change their maps nor did they accept the boundaries given by the British. The Indians did not seriously question Chinese actions even after they abrogated the Tibet-Nepal treaty in 1956.[14]


In 1957, India first heard on Chinese Radio that China had built a road connecting Sinkiang and Tibet. Seeing the road demarcated on a Chinese map, questions were raised in India and the Indian Government sent two search parties to find out the details.  One party was taken prisoner by the Chinese and the other returned. Indians protested against the Chinese construction of a road that ran through Indian territory. In spite of these objections, China continued to advance in Ladakh and built more roads. In 1958, negotiations between India and China over border issues collapsed amid mutual recriminations.  In 1959, the Chinese claimed the disputed territory.  The controversy culminated in the 1962 Sino-Indian border war. India came close to fighting another war with China after 1965.  Then in 1987, once again the border dispute came to the fore - this time the crisis began over the question of control of Sumdorong Chu in the Thagla Ridge.


Border Politics


How did a region located 17,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level acquire such significance in 1962?  If the region had such strategic merit then why did the Indian leadership wait until the late 1950s to bring it within its political agenda? Perhaps the answer lies in the changing perception of borders in the 1950s and 1960s.  During the euphoric post-Independence Nehru era, India bolstered by its own "giantism", considered itself a world power.[15]  India was confident of withstanding external pressures from the Super Powers in shaping its own foreign policy.  In fact, Super Power rivalry led Nehru to conclude that India's position was secure as:


It may be that some covet her, but the master desire will be to prevent any other possessing India ... If any power was incautious enough to make the attempt, all others will combine to trounce the intruder. The mutual rivalry would in itself be the surest guarantee against all attacks on India.[16]


However, India could not remain blind to the fact that it was flanked by a hostile Pakistan and an uncertain China. It sought to neutralize regional insecurities by acquiring the garb of a world power.  Such a state of affairs called for political flexibility in the region, so that the borders could remain flexible. Nehru's whole thinking and strategy at the regional level was to seek political solutions to conflict situations.  "For him there was no alternative for a country like his own which, in his view, should have the ambition of playing an important role in the international system".[17] This is clearly reflected in all his actions at the regional level.


India's decision to take the Kashmir question to the United Nations illustrates its approach to the Indo-Pakistani conflict. Further, Indian openness to dialogue with Pakistan over strategic issues is also a case in point. In contrast, the Chinese "trespass" in Bara Hoti in 1954 evoked no stronger reaction than a note to the Chinese Embassy.  The following year when there was intrusion in the Dam-Zan area, the "Indian Foreign Office sent a mild note of protest saying that the unauthorized presence of Chinese soldiers ...amounted to trespass".[18]  Even as late as 1956, Nehru instructed the Uttar Pradesh government not to adopt an aggressive attitude towards China for disagreements between the two countries were being settled in conferences and "there was no major border issue".[19]  One notices a similar attitude and approach with regard to the Tibet question.  On Chinese actions in Tibet, India maintained benevolent neutrality. One reviewer has described India's attitude vis-a-vis China as the "doctrine of defence by friendship".[20]  Coupled with this were Indian efforts to assume leadership of the newly independent Asian and African countries with the vision of developing the Nonaligned Movement. Even the Super Powers believed that Nehru was the leader of the Asian and African countries.  Thus the United States first sounded India for an alliance and moved towards Pakistan only after it was made clear that India was unavailable.  In 1953, Nixon advised the National Security Council to bolster Pakistan in an effort to neutralize Indian leadership of the Asian and African "block".[21]  Nehru's involvement in the Korean peace process further enhanced this leadership role.


In the 1950s India's hopes of becoming a world power faced serious challenges.  The increasing interest of Super Powers in South Asia and their "more intimate consultations" with other South Asian powers, deepening economic crisis in India, and finally the emergence of China as a great power led to recognition of the fact that India at best could be a regional power. In the post-Bandung era, India realized that its self-avowed leadership of the Nonaligned Movement would not go unchallenged.  The Indian leadership then began to look inwards towards the region. This led to a reconsideration of the Indian political, military and strategic situation, and a concomitant interest in good fences.  With this heightened interest in borders Indian leadership responded to the increasing assertion of Chinese military presence on the border.  As in the nineteenth century, a border game began as a result of regional insecurity, but unlike in the nineteenth century, India was on the defensive as far as its northern frontiers were concerned.  The increased number of border patrols and the constitution of a special board to complete the building of roads in these areas reflected growing interest in safe borders.  The Indian leadership felt that India had to acquire regional hegemony to deal with China.  The situation was further complicated by western propaganda that India had to compete with China "for the leadership of the East, for the respect of all Asia".[22]  The realization that India's goal of national security could not be met effectively through only political means led to a reorientation of Indian policies towards its neighbours in the end 1950s.  An important outcome of this policy reorientation was the Indian occupation of Goa by force.  It was a bold signal that on territorial questions India would no longer be flexible.


Indian preoccupation with its borders was reflected in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha debates of the period.  From 1959 onwards Nehru constantly reasserted in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha that India was not open to any discussion regarding its borders and that the borders had become a problem.[23]  Indian leadership became intransigent not only about Sino-Indian borders but also about Indo-Pakistani borders.  There were indications that Ayub Khan was eager to reach a settlement with India on the border issue in the East Pakistan sector that Nehru disregarded.  Evidence of this changed attitude towards borders was that instead of treating exchanges with the Chinese Government as confidential, the Indian leadership decided to place the entire correspondence before Parliament. The White Papers I-III also gave ample testimony to this changed Indian attitude.  Primier Zhou's letter of 17 December 1959 carried an offer to the effect that both sides should meet and discuss the boundary question.[24]  Nehru showed total unwillingness to negotiate the boundary in its entirely.  His attitude is summed up by his official biographer as "a willingness to talk but an unwillingness to negotiate on the major question of the boundary as a whole, a strengthening of the Indian position in the border areas".[25]  It was not just the Chinese attitude then that had made the border a problem.


Indian military leaders knew that India was in no position to defend its borders against the Chinese.  General Thimayya had publicly indicated two months before the outbreak of Sino-Indian hostilities that he could not, even as a soldier, envisage India taking on China in an open conflict on its own.[26]  General P.N. Thapar too had "categorically pointed out to the Government the inability of India's forces to take on the Chinese and the inadvisability of such a step in NEFA and the possible repercussions in Ladakh, but Krishna Menon ignored what Thapar said". General B.M. Kaul had also advised against fighting the Chinese either in the Dhola or the Thagla region.[27]  That the Indian army was pessimistic about the situation is also clear from such other sources as John Kenneth Galbraith's secret memorandum to the US Secretary of State.[28] But the Indian political leadership decided that India's "traditional boundary" and its vital strategic interests were at stake and, therefore, needed to be defended.  The results of the war of 1962 are well known.  India suffered a severe strategic defeat and could do nothing to stop the Chinese onslaught.  Coming as a terrible jolt, this military humiliation acted as a catalyst and generated a new mood for evaluating India's concept of national security.  Such an evaluation further enhanced the importance of an impregnable border if India wished to retain its regional hegemony; and in that sense the 1962 defeat made Indian leadership even more inflexible. From then onwards, the, issue of borders became a significant input in shaping India's foreign policy within the region.


Throughout 1963, most of the Lok Sabha debates on foreign policy centred on the border issue.  Naturally there were clarion calls to "intensify our defensive preparations to resist any further threat to our territorial integrity", which was hardly surprising.[29]  What was surprising, however, was the extent to which the leadership was prepared to go for defence preparedness.  In a confidential letter addressed to the Prime Minister, which T.T. Krishnamachari clearly stated was "intended purely for you [Nehru] to read and to be killed thereafter", he discussed plan to keep sixteen divisions ready on the borders at all times and urged the Prime Minister not to slacken defence preparedness because of the Chinese ceasefire.[30]  The priority that Nehru attached to the letter was apparent in that he answered it the same day.  In his reply, Nehru wrote,


China, I think, is going to be our foe or adversary for a considerable time to come...we should…concentrate on strengthening our defence position. I think there is not much likelihood of China attacking us militarily...Even so...we have to strengthen ourselves to meet the Chinese menance.[31]


These letters, if nothing else, are markers of the pervasiveness of the national security lobby and the extent to which border disputes would dominate the government's policies in the 1960s and 1970s.  It was argued that the only way to exercise a strong centralized control over the borders was by increasing India's military clout in the region.  This was highlighted by the then Indian Defence Minister, Y.B. Chavan.  During his address to the Lok Sabha on 9 September 1963, Chavan declared,


There has not only been appreciable increase in the total quantum of Chinese forces in Tibet, all along our Northern borders, but the build [up] of these forces is concentrated at strategic points closer to our borders than they have ever done before...Although leaders of Pakistan are well aware that our defensive preparations are meant to safeguard security against the threat from our Northern borders they are carrying on baseless propaganda that these defensive preparations are a threat to the security of Pakistan.  We have also learnt recently about certain deployment of Pakistani troops on Assam and East Pakistani border... In the current climate of hostility and tension...we take necessary measures for defence [of] our territorial integrity against any aggressive threat...The first programme of our defence preparedness is, one of expansion of our Armed Forces.[32]


The unresolved border disputes of the nineteenth century thus continued well into the present century and thereby initiated the political milieu of the South Asian region. In our times, the continuing insecurities over the borders led to the increasing importance and ultimate institutionalization of the role of the national security lobby. The innocuous Defence Committee changed into the Emergency Committee in 1962 and eventually became the Political Affairs Committee with the expanded task of looking after both internal and external security matters. India adjusted itself to "continuous tension along the border."[33] Henceforth, any border dispute was to be incessantly contested. Even the Colombo Proposals, which Nehru accepted as equitable, did not go unchallenged.[34]


The Pakistani entente cordiale with China heightened India's sense of insecurity about its borders and made its posture even more rigid.  Kashmir became non-negotiable.[35]  Even within India, there were criticisms about this changed Indian attitude.  Jai Prakash Narayan's speeches are typical of such criticism.  He criticized this change in Indian attitude towards Kashmir in the late 1950s as well as the so-called "legal integration" of Kashmir that began in the wake of the border disputes.[36]  India was prepared to discuss the Kashmir issue even in 1962-63, but by 1965 India shifted to the stand that Kashmir could not even be on the agenda.  In a discussion with Andrei Gromyko, the foreign minister of Soviet Union, the then Indian Finance Minister stated, "We have always held the view that Kashmir is not a matter for discussion except in regard to aggression committed by Pakistan."[37]


India's war with Pakistan may have been the result, at least to some extent, of this Indian rigidity over the border question. Even a seemingly undisputed stretch of land between Sind and Kutch that formed the international boundary between India and Pakistan was severely contested.  India and Pakistan had differing views about the location of that boundary through the Great Rann of Kutch.  It was agreed that the boundary extended from the mouth of Sir Creek in the west to the eastern terminus at the tri-junction of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Hyderabad.  Further, they agreed that the western sector had been defined along Sir Creek to latitude 23o 58' north and then eastward to its intersection with meridian 68o 41' east.  This segment of the boundary was disputed.  India maintained that it was a proper boundary and that it was only necessary to draw the boundary between the northern terminus of this extension and the eastern tri-junction.  Indian authorities proposed that the northern edge of the Rann - which is a salt-impregnated alluvial tract - would be a convenient and direct boundary.  Pakistan recommended a boundary that connected the meridian with the eastern tri-junction via the middle of the Rann.  The two countries were completely unwilling and unable to resolve the dispute and it was settled only by arbitration in 1968 much to their mutual dissatisfaction.[38]  That was one of the last settlements of border disputes by arbitration, since from 1965 onward, Indian attitude towards third party mediation became extremely negative.


The connection between the Great Game and border disputes of the 1960s is borne out by the Sino-Pakistani entente.  In October 1967, China and Pakistan signed an unpublished agreement to open the ancient silk route by building an all weather road over 500 miles from Xinjiang to Gilgit and Hunza in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.  The road ran through the Mintaka Pass and the Khunjerab Pass, from where another Chinese road led to Lhasa in Tibet.  India perceived this activity as a threat to its security and an infringement of its legal borders.  It lodged a strong protest against the Chinese actions.  Despite this, the road was formally inaugurated in 1971.[39]  The unresolved Great Game thus, left the field open for smaller games.  But these smaller games had logic of their own.  Regional hegemonic compulsions reactivated the border issue that fostered national insecurities resulting in the growing importance of national security lobbies in the region. These lobbies could justify their existence and substance so long as the borders remained unstable. Thus there emerged vested interest groups who saw to it that border disputes were kept alive and borders remained in a constant state of flux.


There was another effect of this militarization of borders and India's northeastern border is a case in point.  This region is linked to India by a narrow 70 km stretch between Bhutan and Bangladesh and shares an uninterrupted border of over 37,000 km with Bhutan, China and Bangladesh.  The majority of the population here belongs to Mongoloid groups with strong linkages with China, South and South East Asia.  The border is porous with a long history of movements and exchanges between people, cultures, beliefs, ideas, and customs.  Conviction about the sanctity of the border is weaker here than elsewhere.  Such shared ecology, geography, and culture have given rise to linkages between tribes and communities on both sides of the border.[40]  In fact, many of these tribes feel they have more in common with each other than with the nation-state of which they form a distant appendage.  There is a growing feeling among the inhabitants that the entire Far Eastern Himalayas is peopled by marginalized communities that are peripheral groups, far away from the levers of Central Government.  These areas have a long history of neglect by the rest of the country. Their demands for autonomy and independence can be traced back to the time of India's Independence. Enough evidence exists on the meaningful ties that most of the ethnic groups have established with neighbouring countries such as China, Burma, and what was then the East Pakistan.  The corporatist ideology of nation-states as articulated by the ruling elites failed either to counter the endemic in the development of the centre/periphery syndrome. To counter insurgency movements in the region, ruling elites made the borders even more rigid. Here again, border disputes became an excuse for the national security lobby to militarize the entire region so that the area could become manageable. This is especially difficult in the Indian context as the colonial process created largely artificial borders in the region.  Same ethnic groups inhabit both sides of the border with close cultural affinities. This has not only created porous borders but has also given rise to conflicting claims of control over bordering regions.  Such militarization merely destabilized the area even further and ensured that the disputes continue to fester.


The irony of the Sino-Indian border dispute of 1962 is that it was born out of political compulsions that disregarded military clout leading to its complete domination of regional politics.  In South Asia, regional politics had to address the issue of borders because unstable borders created their own politics.  There was no clear regional arbiter who could dictate borders and so it had to be negotiated at every step.  Once in the agenda, borders began to dominate the politics of the entire region. The situation continued until the early 1970s when India decisively emerged as the regional hegemon in South Asia. From 1969 onwards China became engrossed in another border issue - the Sino-Soviet border along the Ussuri River.  India endorsed the Soviet position as a way out to resolve differences over the interpretation of the Sino-Soviet border.  India also signed a treaty with the Soviet Union.  China's rapprochement with the United States on the basis of the principle "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" changed the political and strategic co-relation of forces not only in the region but also in the entire world. The Chinese and Indian nuclear programmes further altered the situation.  The politics of borders continued, but in a different format, so different that it has to be recounted in another essay.




The above analysis argues that Sino-Indian relations did not create border problems.  On the contrary the existence of the Aksai Chin and the McMahon lines constructed Sino-Indian relations. Whether India gave asylum to the Dalai Lama or not, the compulsions of the borders drew India and China inexorably into the vortex of a crisis.  Chinese leadership understood that long before Indian leadership could.  Nehru tried to wish away the border problem, but he could not do so.


The Great Game had created the situation that India and China faced later.  However, the position from which they confronted it was completely different from that which their predecessors had faced.  During the Great Game, the actors scrambled for more land, but during the smaller games of the 1950s and 1960s, they tried to defend the border that they considered "historically" given. But any border, either in the nineteenth century or even today is an deliberate political and psychological construct.  Otherwise how can one justify the incessant contests over either the Siachen glacier where the border dispute caused the sacrifice of about 300 men during 1996 or the Durand Line because as geographical borders they are both unfeasible and untenable?  Even the northern terrains where the war of 1962 was fought are not easily accessible from either the Chinese or the Indian side.  And yet, it has had enormous influence on the politics of the region.


Rigid borders in South Asia are geographically not viable, and so any policy of total demarcation is very difficult to implement.  A change in the political situation carries within it a potential for change of the border situation and vice versa.  The borders are active agents of politics in South Asia and the way the British demarcated and constructed borders, mostly on the diplomatic table, has kept the issue fraught with potential conflict.  Today we speak of Sino-Indian rapprochement, a thaw that has taken place since the late 1980s.  Regarding the Sino-Indian talks of 1991, it was stated, "bilateral talks became possible at all because the two sides put border dispute on hold".[41]  Instead of saying that the border issue has been put on hold, it is no longer crucial for regional stability and cooperation.  Borders once again constructed the relation, but this time by their absence as a problem.  This does not mean that borders have become non-issues in South Asian politics today.  The politics of border is visible in other forms and in other kinds of relations, and the people within the region negotiate it everyday.


Published in International Studies, Volume 35, No 2, 1998, pp.

[1].         Lord Curzon, Frontiers: The Romanes Lectures (Oxford, 1907).

[2].         Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, The Myth of Independence (London, 1969), p. 11.

[3].         A.L. Kennedy, Salisbury 1830-1903: Portrait of a Statesman (London, 1953), p. 224.

[4].         J.R.V. Prescott, Political Frontiers and Boundaries (London, 1987), p. 227.

[5].         C.C. Davies, The Problem of the Northwest Frontier 1890-1908 (Cambridge, 1932), p. 179.

[6].         A. Lamb, The China-India Border (Oxford, 1964).

[7].         I am grateful to Professor Ranabir Samaddar for drawing my attention to this issue.

[8].         "China", Annual Reports, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India, New Delhi, 1959-60.

[9].         "China", Annual Repots, MEA, 1962-63.

[10].        Indian claims were based on the principle of "natural boundaries".  Further the McMahon Line does not consistently follow primary, secondary or tertiary watersheds, or the crests where they form wathersheds.  "It is thus difficult to avoid the conclusion that the alignment of the McMahon Line was result of a series of ad hoc decisions", Prescott, n. 4, p. 111.

[11].        Dorothy Woodman.  Himalayan Frontiers: A Political Review of British, Chinese, Indian and Russian Rivalries (London, 1969), pp. 71-2.

[12].        Mahnaz Z., Ispohani, Roads and Rivals: The Politics of Access in the Boderlands of Asia (London, 1989), pp. 151-3.

[13].        Subimal Dutt, With Nehru in the Foreign Office (Calcutta, 1977), p. 113.

[14].        S. Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography (Delhi, 1989), p. 475.

[15].        The term "giantism" is used in the same sense as John K. Lewis has used it in his article.  "Some Consequences of Giantism: The Case of India".  World Politics, April 1992.

[16].        Quoted in B. Prasad, "An Overview", International Studies, vol. 17, nos 3-4, 1978, p. 863.

[17].        Harish Kapur, India's Foreign Policy 1947-92: Shadows and Substance (New Delhi, 1994), p. 23.

[18].        Dutt, n. 13, p. 115.

[19].        S. Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, vol. III (Delhi, 1984), p. 39.

[20].        Michael Edward, Nehru: A Political Biography (London, 1973), p. 270.

[21].        Eisenhower Papers, Whitman Files, NSC Series, Meeting # 176, December 1953, Dwight David Eisenhower Library.

[22].        J.F. Kennedy, "India and China", Pre-Presidential Papers, Speech Files, 1953-1960, John F. Kennedy Library (JFKL).

[23].        Lok Sabha Debates, Second Series, vols. xxxii-xxxix. Rajya Sabha Debates, vols. xxiv-xxv.

[24].        White Paper, III, pp. 52-7.

[25].        Gopal, n. 19, p. 128.

[26].        Kanpur, n. 17, p. 25.     

[27].        General B.M. Kaul, Oral interview with A.K. Gupta, 13 January 1972, Transcript, pp. 146-7, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

[28].        John Kenneth Galbraith to McGeorge Bundy, 22 March 1962, Department of State Papers, National Security File 106, JFKL.

[29].        Lok Sabha Debates, Fifth Session, vol. XIX, column 682.

[30].        T.T. Krishnamachari to Nehru, 16 December 1962.  TTK Papers, No. 121/MEDC/62, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML).

[31].        Nehru to Krishnamachari, 16 December 1962.  TTK Papers, No.2249-PMH/62, NMML.

[32].        Y.B. Chavan, Lok Sabha Debates, Fifth Series, vol. xx, columns 5087-90; in his plans for expansion he talks of six divisions and not sixteen as Krishnammachari did and which were probably meant to be secret.

[33].        Gopal, n. 19, p. 236.

[34].        Lakshmi N. Menon, Oral Interview Transcript, 20 April 1971, pp. 11-12.  Nehru, Selected Speeches, vol. V (New Delhi, 1968), pp. 177-99.

[35].        Nehru, Selected Speeches, n. 34, p. 196.

[36].        J.P. Narayan to S. Radhakrishnan, 25 December 1965, JPN Papers, Subject File 241, cited in ibid., p. 583.

[37].        "Record of Finance Minister's meeting with Mr. A.A. Gromyko, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 16th November 1965 from 12 noon to 1 p.m." TTK Papers, Subject File 43. NMML.

[38].        Prescott, n. 4, pp. 60-1.

[39].        Surjit Mansing, India's Search for Power: Indira Gandhi's Foreign Policy, 1966-1982 (New Delhi, 1984), p. 202.

[40].        On 15 August 1947, many of the tribes did not know to which side of the border they belonged.  The Boundary Commissions, at times, further complicated the situation.  For example, the Chittagong Hill Tracts People's Association (CHTPA) petitioned the Bengal Boundary Commission, chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, that since the CHTs were inhabited largely by non-Muslims they should remain within India.  But on 17 August, Radcliffe awarded the CHTs to Pakistan since they were inaccessible from India.  Two days later, the CHTPA resolved not to abide by the award and hoisted the Indian flat. The Pakistani army dealt with the protest but the problem has not yet been solved.

[41].        The Hindustan Times (New Delhi), 17 December 1991.



Women Across Borders in Kashmir - The Continuum of Violence

Asha Hans


In recent years, an inquiry into the place of women in the nationalist discourse of a Partitioned India has emerged (Menon and Bhasin; Butalia; Aiyar).  This partial filling-in of a vacuum in Indian history has been an important step in our understanding of women's history in the subcontinent.  More specifically, both Menon and Bhasin, and Butalia, who spoke to women who crossed borders from the newly-formed state of Pakistan to India during Partition in 1947, have brought to light memories long suppressed.  These memories needed to be revealed so that the language of the nationalist discourse would not continue to be exclusive and misleading where women's national identity is concerned.  As this discourse is not static and is linked to a political language that is ever changing, their excellent work enables us to understand both the continuity and the present discourse in India.1 I would like to use this backdrop of history to understand women's position in the border areas of India relating to the Kashmir conflict.


In recent feminist interpretations of Partition and women on the borders, Kashmir has found little space.  Butalia, confines herself to the Punjabi odyssey while Menon and Bhasin make only one mention in regard to Azad Kashmir.  One cannot blame them, as Kashmir has long been one of the intricate questions confronting history, which has defied every attempt at resolution.  The latest conflict in 1999 is a part of the history of turbulence in the state.2  


Understanding women's position in the history of Kashmir


Fours wars have been fought between Indian and Pakistan (1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999) where Kashmir has been a significant even if not a direct causal factor.  In the process Kashmir has been dismembered into three parts, and borders shifted.  Today the northern part is known as Azad Kashmir and is under Pakistani control, the southern part, the State of Jammu and Kashmir, is under Indian control, and the eastern in China.  In each change and conflict the civilians have suffered, yet the written histories only document the national hostilities and negotiations and bargains between states (Gupta, 1966; Jha; Schofield) Male-centered narratives have no place for feminist action and evaluation.  This absence of a feminist viewpoint is not surprising.  Women's exclusion from historical chronicling is universal.  Combined with a male construction of female roles, it has made the task of a feminist historiography difficult.


Recounting the yester-years


Among the well-known female rulers in India is Queen Didda of Kashmir.  The following passage is reflective of the current male-oriented historical analyses.  Dhar, chronicling Kashmiri history, writes:


In 950, Khemgupta ascended the throne of Kashmir, a man of mediocre ability who married pricess Didda.  Queen Didda was the de-facto ruler of the state, as she was very dominating and exercised immense influence over her husband.  In 980 AD Didda ascended the throne after the death of her husband.  Before her, two other queens had ruled Kashmir namely Yashovati and Sugandha.  Didda was a very unscrupulous and wilful lady and led a very informal life.  But in spite of these drawbacks, she was an able ruler, who firmly ruled the valley.  She died in 1003 AD [emphasis added]. (19)


In the documenting of ruler's in Kashmir's history, women are mentioned only in this one paragraph.   Dhar notes two other female rulers besides Didda, but no narrative of their lives exists.  Above all, in Dhar's analysis, Didda's immorality precedes her ability as a ruler.  Women's power here is not perceived as power.  Furthermore, universal sexual ethics are not applicable to women.  Didda’s sexuality is a barrier to her finding a place in history equal to male sovereigns of the period.


Nationalist interests have perceived women as objects to be controlled.  Nevertheless, we have to recognize that different historical understandings have produced different constructions of female roles.  Dhar implies that Queen Didda transgressed the role circumscribed to females and, therefore, presents her as a target of contempt and ridicule.  As the historiography of pre-independence years in India from a feminist point of view has yet to be explored, for a more authentic rendering, older histories would need to be examined.  This exercise is essential for understanding not only the past but, also for understanding our identity (Sen).3  The exclusion of women from these shared memories of history influences women’s place in the current nationalist discourse.


Partition and shifting identities

During Partition, Kashmiri women suffered along with other women of a Partitioned India.  Menon and Bhasin explain this with a story from Azad Kashmir.  In October 1947, tribal intruders who forced all Hindus to leave invaded Muzzafarabad (now across the border from India and the capital of Pakistani-occupied Azad (free) Kashmir.  The medical assistant distributed poison to all the women who feared sexual assault at the hands of the invaders.  Many women took the poison and died.  The rest jumped over a bridge into the river.  Those who did not take their own lives were raped.  When a woman chose to commit suicide, often her husband and/or brother helped her.  If they were not able to strangle her, they threw her into the river (52).  Menon and Bhasin’s story from Azad Kashmir is one of the many covered-up stories of mass rapes, sucides, abductions, sales, and honour killings.  Most are of women who have become refugees twice over, once in 1947-48 and then again in 1990.  During Partition, the women were considered sexual objects and of no use to the Qwam (the nation) if they lost their purity.  Their purity had to be protected even if it meant death.  The Partition drew a red bloodline of violence in women’s lives.  Women’s vulnerability relegated her to a lower place in this Qwam.


[During Partition, the women were considered sexual objects and of no use of the Qwam (the nation) if they lost their purity.  Their purity had to be protected even if it meant death]


The history of wars and negotiations after independence relating to Kashmir, therefore, make no mention of women.  Women were invisible factors in the negotiations that took place between India and Pakistan either on a bilateral or at the international level.  Women were only given a critical place in the political mosaic of Kashmiri history, which was documented after 1989, when the current state of conflict started.  As in all conflicts, even here, it is women’s sexuality that has taken centre stage, whether from the angle of the state security forces or the mujahideen (a guerrilla group, whose members believe themselves to be the true defenders of Islam and wage a war to please God).


To understand the post-Partition phase, it is important to understand the ethnic composition of the state.  Jammu and Kashmir, the constituent part of Kashmir, which is Indian, is not Muslim as is generally indicated.  The State is currently divided into four largely loose religious groups and sub-groups.  The majority of the Buddhists are confined to Leh and Ladhak, Hindus to Jammu, Shia Muslims to Kargil, and Sunni Muslims to the Valley.  The history of these ethnic divisions and subdivisions is long.  Kashmir was a Hindu state from the second millennium BC.  Part of it converted to Buddhism in the third century BC.  A resurgent Shiavite Hinduism ended Buddhism in Kashmir as it did in other parts of India.


Central Asian incursions introduced Islam.  Islam changed in the twelfth century as it began to be related to the Sufi school of Persia (modern-day Iran).  In the Valley, the 700-year-old kashmiriat-tradition blended Sufi Islam’s egalitarian spirit with a more liberal Hinduism.  An easy relationship existed between Buddhists, Muslims, and the Hindus.  The Mughal rulers 400 years ago did not replace this culture with the practice of a strict Islam as they had done in other parts of India.  Therefore, it remained a liberal Islam different from the proselytizing of fundamentalist Islam (Kumar 21).  It gave relatively greater freedom to Muslim women, as triple talaq (an Islamic practice which gives Muslim men the right to divorce a wife in the form of three repudiations used by saying the word talaq  three times to formalize a divorce) and the practice of four wives were not adopted.  Widow remarriage has been common.  Today, the non-violence and secular ideals of kashmiriat  have been  destroyed in Kashmir and replaced with a newly-imported Islamic order which has no place for Hinduism or Buddism, and which has a strictly circumscribed code of conduct for women.


“My green valley has turned khaki”

The present Kashmir problem started on January 19, 1990.  Half-a-million Hindu families were displaced after loudspeakers broadcasting from mosques asked them to leave the Valley within three days or face dire consequences.  The majority of the Hindus in the Sunni-dominated valley were forced to live in camps in non-Muslim areas of the state and in other parts of the country.  Women left all that is familiar had secure to adapt to a new life of uncertainty.  There is no safety even in other areas of Kashmir, outside the Valley, as conflict has entered Kashmiri lives in every part of the state.  Women, wherever they are, remain targets of militancy and state controlled force (Bhatay et al.).


Since 1990s the violence and its consequent effects on the lives of Kashmiri women are comparable to those women have experienced in any other global conflict situation.  Conflict, displacement, and the new and fundamentalist character of Islam have changed not only social but also physical structures.  The Line of Control (LoC), a boundary dividing Kashmir, and agreed to by both India and Pakistan by the Simla Agree ment of 1972, has again become a centre of conflict creating a new Hindu-Islam divide.  The Valley is, thus, demanding freedom from the state of India.  Hindus who lived in peace with their neighbours since the second millennium BC have been forced to vacate the Valley.  This shifting of the LOC, though physical, has created new boundaries in women’s lives.  A Kashmiri-Hindu woman, displaced by the conflict, questions the “freedom” – a freedom in which women pay the cost by being restricted to play a role of the outsider or spectator – as well as her own and her community’s position in this search for a new national identity.


Azadi (Freedom) 1989-1995

What nation

Does not have a dream

Like that?

History is a nightmare

From which we cannot wake:

We cannot arise.


I have heard a house to house

Searches for young men with beautiful

Hair who hide frightful weapons

In their sister’s hope chests.


To the women who love them

They tell nothing except that

One day Azadi will arrive

At everyone’s doorstep.

Life will become prettier, more

Honourable, more pious.


Who are these men?

I would like to ask you.

I would like to know

Why theirdream of Azadi

Excludes me (and my people).


-          Pandit, June 30, 1999


Hindu women find themselves completely excluded from this quest for a new Kashmiri national identity.  This search for freedom is only perceived in the context of Islamic vs. non-Islamic positioning.  As Hindu women are extraneous to this search we are compelled to confine ourselves in this article to women restrained by Islamic boundaries.


In the late 1980s, clerics coming from outside Kashmir pushed strict Islamic schools for children, the wearing of veils for girls and women, undermining the liberal Sufi ethos.  The veil is a new phenomena introduced by the strict codes of Islam and imposed by the new Islamic leaders with links to Pakistan and Iran (Marquand). Women’s lives have been inevitably affected, as they are perceived to be the representatives and emissaries of culture.  The politics of culture and the presence of Border Security as well as the Armed Forces have had had a profound effect on the lives of women in Kashmir.  For example, Kunaan Poshpora in Kupwara, near the border, has come to be known as the “raped village.”  On the night of February 22-23, 1991, over 30 women and children were supposed to have been gang-raped by the soldiers of the Fifth Rajputana Rifles.  This village, like many other villages, has lost its  honour.  All its women remain unmarried and are shunned by the community (recounted during a visit in 1882).


Present-day Kashmiri nationalism traces it origins to the political-cultural interventions of Islam.  Those excluded from the search for a “new” Kashmiri identity try to negotiate with the Indian State to counter the strategies of their rejection from mainstream Kashmiri politics.  This maneuvering for ending the politics of exclusion has not worked.  The state is unable to support their pleas or even prevent the further dismembering of its own body.  Pandit, in her poems, poignantly chastizes the policy-makers for the plight of the Kashmiri diaspora:


            Kings and king-makers play dice,

            Bet on their moder, not the wife.

-          Pandit, May 30, 1998


In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Draupadi, the common wife of the Pandavas, was lost in a game of dice in a political battle for a kingdom.  When Duryodhan, the Kaurav price, ordered her stripping in public, she was saved by divine intervention in the form of Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu. The "betting" was then on the wife and, in the Hindu social order; it remains so toady.  In any nationalist debate it is the "mother" as nation whose honour has to be protected and during Partition it was a major strategy employed by the state.4 This strategy, however, did not work as Partition has dismembered the "mother" (Bose, 1998; 51).  This cry of a patriarchal system, signifying the preservation of the purity of the national order at all costs, returns at the heightening of tensions between the two nations but remains as unsuccessful now as it was then.


In her work, Pandit reveals a significant shift as she perceives the rulers and policy-makers of a modern India staking their "mother" in a battle.  The enemy is not responsible for the dismembering; the rulers themselves have created the shifting borders.  The "mother's" purity and sacred identity becomes a victim of state intertia and the moral corruption of the public sphere.  What Pandit does not see, however, is that "womanhood" in her poems is all inclusive as neither mother nor wife escapes the violence of the state.  All women, including the "mother" figure, find themselves caught within a continuum of violence.  This change takes place in the political strategic field and, therefore, has political connotations.


To date, there has been little scope for academic work in the politics of violence.  The curtain around Kashmir is dense and very little information escapes except what the state, or the militants, desire.  What is indisputable is that the onset of violence a decade ago in Kashmir has engulfed the entire community of Kashmiri women.


Two rare studies provide insight into women's situation in Kashmir today (Women's Initiative; Kashmir University).  In the first, the Women's Centre of Bombay University spoke to women in Kashmir in 1994 and the consequent report highlighted the abuse of women during conflict (Women's Initiative).  The report documented large-scale rape and other forms of gender-specific violence that took place over the years as a result of the conflict.  Consequently, the mosques, traditional centres of male power and dominance, have become centres of women's collective (Women's Initiative).  Women have sought assistance from a fundamentalist Islam, an exploitative agency, to create solidarity.  This step takes them within the cloisters of conservatism where they have had to sacrifice the limited freedom they enjoyed under Sufism in order to protect themselves from violence.


The canons of the new Islamic order demand the continuation of progeny.  Injunctions of the new regime require that remarriage of widows continue.  It is common, even for widows who already have children, to remarry and leave their children with their former husband's family (Women's Initiative).  The militants positing family planning as un-Islamic have threatened doctors who practise in the field of reproductive and child health (RCH) care.  Abortion is not allowed even in cases when the pregnancy has occurred as a result of rape by security forces.


Women though questioning the ban, cannot act against the militants, but do question their different positions towards sterilization and rape.  While sterilization is considered as un-Islamic and banned, no such action is taken as far as rape is concerned.  Resentment exists particularly in areas where the militants are trained in Pakistan - where reproductive health services including famility planning is allowed - while the trained militants in Kashmir refuse RCH services to their own women (Bhatia).  Women's health has, thus, become a major casualty of the conflict (Women's Initiative).


Contextualizing women's position in the Kargil conflict


The Kashmir crisis is a complex issue that has defied solutions over the past 50 years.  This complexity is clearly discernible in the approximately 100 kilometers of the disputed border areas covering the Kargil, Drass, and Batalik sectors on the Line of Control, which form the nucleus of the latest conflict.  Like Kashmir in general, the Kargil region in which the conflict initiated does not have a homogenous ethic composition.  There are five ethnic communities: the Balti, Ladhaki, Zanzkari, Purki, and Dard Shin.  In Drass the people are mainly of the Dard stock, an Aryan race believed to have originally migrated to the high valleys of the Western Himalayas from the Central Asian steppes.  The speak Shina which, unlike the Tibetan-originated Ladakhi dialects spoken elsewhere in Ladakh region, belongs to the Indo-European linguistic family.  One of the "Minaros" (or Brokpas), tribal inhabitants said to be descended from the army of Alexander of Macedonia, is an endogamous tribe that continues to practice its own ancient rites and rituals.


In 1948, during the post-Partition conflict, Kargil and Drass were captured by Pakistan, but were regained by Indian forces (Misra).  As Pakistan retained the surrounding area between 1948 to 1965, the Kargil area was specifically targeted by Pakistani artillery fire from the overlooking peaks.  In 1965, Indian forces gained control of the hills aroung Kargil, but these were returned to Pakistan as part of the Tashkent peace process brokered by the former Soviet Union.  The firing on Kargil continued and in 1971, the hills overlooking Kargil were taken from Pakistan peace came to the region for a short time with the demarcation of the LoC in 1972 between the two countries.  As militancy in the Sunni-dominated Valley increased, and Shi'ite Kargil did not support the militants, and Pakistani forces resorted to increased shelling (Akbar).  Civilian casualties in Kargil over the years have resulted in the relocation of numerous people to Buddhist-dominated Leh (Akbar).  Ethnic conflict has increased in this peaceful region as Buddhists resent this encroachment on their cultural and territorial homogeneity (Hindu).


In February 1999, India initiated a new diplomatic process to end the conflict with Pakistan.5  The peace process did not last long, as in May 1999, while the diplomatic initiative was still underway, hundreds of new posts had been set up by armed raiders on the Indian side of the LOC.  The borders are porous and it has been easy for armed combatants to cross them.  The issue is complicated as the intruders are a combination of mercenaries, Afghan and Pakistani Mujahideen as well as Pakistani army regulars.6 Kargil was not a civil insurgency but a bi-lateral conflict.  The border war intensified on May 26th, 1999, when a full-fledged Indian army action took its place on the LOC.  By the third day, India had deployed more troops to the Kargil region bringing the total to an estimated 30,000.  India launched air strikes in Kashmir for the first time in twenty years.  By July 11, 1999, a pullout was agreed upon and there was a subsequent reduction in the level of intensity in the conflict, although, it did not end.


The multiethnic and multinational composition of the border represents a unique political identity not shared by the rest of the state.  Villages lie on both sides of the LOC.  Here it is culture that mediates relations within the borders and outside them.  For instance, a confusing situation exists in a village called Hundermann.  Situated directly on the LOC, it is sometimes in Pakistan and sometimes in India.  In 1948 it was part of Pakistan.  In 1971, the Pakistanis destroyed the village and the Indian army occupied it, and overnight the villagers became Indians ("A Village Between Two Nations").  Since then, the people of Hundermann have had to live with intermittent shelling.  The physical violence of bombing and the multi-psychological situational pressures, make the life of women in this village and many others in Kargil constantly traumatic.


As the war-like situation never actually ceases, violence in the lives of these people is a continuous oppressive component that decreases and increases at will.  When the conflict intensifies, the boundaries of the LoC are extended to include all women who come into contact with it - the women living on the LoC, those crossing it, and those distanced by physical space but located in the centre by virtue of their very identity.  The LoC transforms these women's lives during heightened tension by the use of different systems of control.  Control is exerted through the use of language and over women's movements, and therefore there identities and sometimes their economies are affected.  For the women who live on these borders, as well as the women who have never seen the LOC because of its physical distance but are nevertheless tied to it, the LOC embodies an all-pervasive identity, which they can neither denounce nor adopt.

The war has affected women's lives in these villages profoundly, as their location on the borders has enclosed them in different nationalisms at different stages of their lives.  Conflict creates in the life of all these women a new language of nationalism, which acts as a control mechanism.  Their autonomies and agencies are both objectified in the larger national cause.  Fortunately not all women associated with the LOC are completely subsumed by the male ideological order.  Some manage to discover windows left open where they can pursue avenues of empowerment and personal or group autonomy.


Female combatants from across the border and a reception by houris


The Line of Control, in a feminist context, provides not only the demarcating of a political boundary but it also engenders a language of its own.  This language uses women's bodies in the nationalist dialogue.  For instance, in the Tuloling assault in the Drass Sector, three-storied bunkers were found with the bodies of four women who had been armed, same as the men.  An Indian army captain who found the bodies, interviewed by the media, was asked what women were doing at this high altitude.  He replied: "Well, probably to look after their personal adam (administration), he said with a wink" (Sawant).  Who were these four women?  Insurgents, mercenaries, or women recruited by the Pakistani armed forces?  What was their role in the Kargil conflict?  The answers may never come.  Indian soldiers in some posts have spotted women as well as found the bodies of women killed during air strikes.  Some have suggested that the Afghan mercenaries have brought in women (Akbar).  There is no proof that this information is true and the women's identity remains hazy.7


What is relevant here is the male adversary's perception of their roles.  The female crossing of borders symbolizes the violation of not only political but also social and cultural boundaries.  The adversary's construction of the insurgent woman's identity is being called into question.


The female representation of the enemy becomes a symbol of the body politic.  These women kept faith with the male martyrs and opted for death rather than capture.  Their reconstructed identity, however, transforms the female warrior into a powerless sexual object, denying her full status as fighter/soldier.  As, there is no one to uphold her community honour, the language pursued in the cultural context acquires violence and the "line of control" becomes a line of violence - an attempt to violate their bodies through this control.  It is certain that women in nationalist struggles do not achieve the status of their male counterparts.  Whoever these women holding rifles are, the response of their male adversaries is to attack them through the undermining of their national "honour."


When male combatants cross borders they provoke a different response, even as adversaries.  For instance, another view presented of women's role in this conflict is that of houri - women sent by the God's to tempt mortals.  Pakistani soldiers are seen as being tempted by tantalizing, nubile nymphets waiting for them on the Indian side of the border, promising them entry to God's own "dancing hall."  By all accounts, as an Indian newspaper correspondent suggests, our forces are firmly set on the path to a glorious victory, matched by the boundless ignominy of the Pakis who have been foolish enough to believe that the barren Kargil hills are crawling with houris.  It is a tribute to the Indian soldiers that they did not mow down the fleeing enemy - that is not the style of this side of the line that divides Hindu civilization from Islamic barbarism (Gupta 1999).


The difference evident in the two examples presented above lies in the construction of "theirs" and "ours."  "Theirs" are sexual objects - whether as houris of a sexual fantasy or insurgents that administer to men's sexual gratification - while "ours," by default, are not.  Women are seen as objects of sexual fantasy or mundane providers of sexual favours.  Through the women, the purity and cultural inferiority of the other nation is attacked.


Controlling the "identity": displacement and the violence of conflict


With resurgence of the conflict each time, victims of Partition settled on many parts of the border are faced with displacement and fear of being uprooted once again.  Control over mobility of populations is an inevitable part of war.  In this context, people living on the Line of Control have lived under the shadow of the guns since Partition and, with each conflict, have shifted to safer places.  The Partition and the new boundaries have meant an extended violence, which has become a routine and inescapable part of daily life.  In the Kargil conflict the number of persons rendered homeless are somewhere in the region of 2,78,601 and the majority who have moved are women and children (Government of India).  The displaced are from Kargil, Drass, Batalik, and the border areas of Punjab and west Jammu and Kashmir.  Kargil has a very low-density population and, even if the conflict is in Kashmir, most of the displaced are from the Punjab sector of the border.


The displaced in Kashmir have resettled in places such as Kupwar, Uri, Gurez in Kashmir and Pura, Akhnoor, Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu and Pallanwala.  Most women and children have left their homes to find safer places on their own.  In neighbouring Himachal Pradesh in the Chham region more people have joined the exodus for safety (Hindu).  The most unsettled are the people on the Punjab border.  Inspector General (border) of Punjab Police, J.P. Birdi, estimates that over a quarter-of-a-million people left their homes on the Punjab border.  The numbers given out by the Indian Government and Birdi are different, as here as in most refugee situations, due to incessant movement enumeration is difficult.  It was noted by Birdi that, the worst affected areas are the Khem Karan and Khalra sectors. Most of the people from these sectors have moved to Taran Taran, Amritsar, and other places.  People living in these sectors suffered heavily in the 1965 and 1971 conflicts because they had to vacate their lands and homes in a hurry which were looted when the fell into enemy hands.  This time around they were prepared and the women and children moved to distant and safer places (Birdi).  Often, in these areas the man will stay back to look after his house and fields.  Since Partition, the violence associated with displacement has not diminished.  While the majority of women in this region have been forced to move in with friends and family during the war. On the LOC where there are army operations the women face complete dislocation and exclusion.


In Kargil, Drass, and Batalik it has not only been the shelling from the Pakistani side which has forced people to leave their homes, but also the occupation of villages by the Indian army which has temporarily inducted men into the army while shifting women and children to "safe places."  For reasons of "security" women and children of villages on the LOC have been loaded into small trucks and "relocated to safer areas."  As the army moves into the village, the men are inducted as temporary workers in the armed forces specifically to carry heavy guns up into the mountains.  The women already removed to "safer" places are moved again, this time to unknown places.  The men are not told where the women are, and at the end of their forced servitude in the army, the men move from village to village searching for their once-united families.

Toko, a small village with a population of about a little over hundred and about 500 meters from the Srinagar-Leh road towards the Line of Control in Kashmir, is a ghost town as the Indo-Pak artillery exchanges have caused large-scale migration (Shreedharan).   Many women and children have been relocated to Somat.  The village of Chaukyal, is another village from where people have been moved to "safter areas."  Gagangeer, on the Srinagar-Leh road, has been host to an increasing number of displaced (Indian Express).  All the displaced in Gagangeer are from Pandrass, a village near Drass and ethnically close to Baltistan.  Families live in tin sheds provided by the government each measuring 1800 square feet and each housing approximately 20 families (Bose 1999).  The 400 displaced, mostly women and children, live without adequate cooking facilities and clothing.  As the army trucks, which brought them here, were too small and too few to carry their belongings, they arrived without clothing, bedding, or cooking utensils.  The government provided only some rice and cooking oil.  With temperatures falling below five degrees Celsius, the coming winter threatens their very survival.


In Kargil, Drass, and Batalik the state has been responsible for the dislocation of the family life of its citizens as well as the loss of honour of the male.  Men lose not only their homes but also their rights as citizen as they are forced to become unpaid slaves in the army.  This loss of autonomy as a head of family, in the eyes of their communities, is a loss of honour.  Simultaneously, by keeping the women in their families out, these men have also lost control over their homes and personal lives.  For the women, it is a dispossession of their ownership of goods and the autonomy they exercised within their own homes. Unlike other women on the border, the women on the LOC have been removed not only from their homes, but also from their family and communities, and find themselves without any support.  The women of Kargil live in a vacuum with no links to anyone else in the country.  Unwanted, unheard, and disregarded they are excluded from the nationalist undertakings, and their nationalism always remains suspect.


Though unheard and isolated by the state, many women have however managed to support themselves and their children in the unknown places where they have been relocated.  They learn to network with local communities in an attempt to solidarity.  They master the art of negotiating with local bureaucracies, and in a very short time, strive to position themselves within the mainstream.


Widows of freedom and the iconization of social displacement


The LOC controls all women who encounter it - the women on the borders, those who have crossed over, and those whose husbands are stationed there as soldiers.  War treats all women alike whether they are of suspect nationalities or not.  This war in India eulogized only the wives and mothers of "martyrs."  This group has been used by the state to create war hysteria and gain sanction and sympathy for its war-like actions.  The symbolism of honour and the war widow as victim, projected by the state, challenges the autonomy of the war widow and sends her back to a privatized existence within the family.


At the funeral of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, his widow Alka, clutching her fidgety child, presented a perfect picture of bereavement and sacrifice.  The government promised her a house, pension, and compensation.  This was the beginning of a process where the state manipulated the image of the war widow as sacrificing herself at the altar of the nation.  The colonization of women's bodies for exploitation is a historical tradition and women are at the mercy of the subjugator and their supporters.  In this case, it is the dominant authority of the state that exploits them, assisted by the community, which carries out its directives.  The imperatives of colonialism require that these women be iconized as widows of freedom.  Their bodies, in the process, are used to further the cause of the nation.  As most of the men who died were between the ages of 19 to 35 (Akbar), war widows are usually young and find themselves manipulated by both the state and their families.


A soldier's death leaves behind a windfall and a divided family.  At stake are a compensation of usually 2-3,000 rupees (about US $ 75 – large sum when spend in Indian currency), a job, a gas agency, and a plot of land provided by the state.  The money meant for the widow rarely reaches her.  Most women have to hand over the money to other men in the family for safekeeping and proper use.  Some have been brutally beaten for not agreeing to the demands of a dead husband’s family.  This matter is further complicated by the fact that, for most part, widows in the villages are illiterate.  They are not aware of the financial assistance that is owed to them.  They are not aware of the financial assistance that is owed to them.  They do not know where to go, nor do they know how to complete any necessary forms.  Some husbands’ ’families have even been known to force a widow not to sign the official papers so that she does not get the money, as it will provide her freedom to marry someone else.  In many cases where there are male relations, force is used to marry her off to them, so that the money remains within the family (Patnaik).  The lump sum paid out at the time of a husband’s death and the monthly pension belongs to the soldier’s widow, but widows are too often victimized, blackmailed, and exploited, their attempts at empowerment are threatened as they remain dependent on their husbands’ families.


As money is collected by the state from public contributions in the name of the war widows, political parties are not left behind, making promises that “we will look after our own.”  The media recounts earlier stories of war widows to feed temporary war hysteria.  Soon these stories of Kargil war widows will be buried in oblivion like Major Batra’s wife whose husband died in the 1971 conflict.  A park and a road were named after Major Batra, but his widows today is homeless.  Another 1971 war widow, Indra Sood’s gas agency in Agra was revoked.  Mohini Giri, former Chairperson of the National Commission for Women found a war widow crying outside a private school as the child born after husband’s death was denied admission (Sarkar).  In Bihar, a flat and land promised to war widow Balamdina Ekka, as well as land to another widow, Jeera Devi, are yet to materialize (Prasad).  Only 20 per cent of widows actually benefit as a result of bureaucratic obstructions (Akbar).  The war widows of 1971 have lived with years of financial uncertainty, social ostracism, and daily needs that remain unmet.  They know the nation has a short memory.


The war widow becomes the longest suffering casualty of war.8 The systemic banishment of these women to the outskirts of society begins from their own homes.  Upon widowhood, tradition demands that the woman’s mangalsutra (a gold and black bead chain worn as a sign of marriage) be removed.  Her bangles are broken, her bindi  (red dot on forehead signifying auspiciousness) is wiped off, and she is obliged to dress in white.  She remains in white dress, a symbol of purity, for the rest of her life.  She is inauspicious, barred from wearing coloured clothes and ornaments.  To be a true “Indian woman” one must be a Sati Savitri, a mythical character whose husband died but was pulled back from hands of Yama, the God of death, by her love and dedication, thus saving her from widowhood.  Savitri is the epitome of a sacrificing womanhood and not Sati (self-immolation) as usually represented.  Savitri is willing to sacrifice herself (by going with Yama).  To escape this public shame of widowhood, a woman must die before her husband.


The state, and sometimes the society, temporarily suspends this tradition of inauspiciousness, especially during war, by allowing a widow to remarry.  However, despite the newly defined national identity of Indian womanhood, the patriarchal order remains entrenched.  A war hero’s death bequeaths his widow with deprivation and societal discrimination.  A 15-year-old widow, Ranjita, the wife of Jyoti Kumar, cries for the death of a husband she barely knew.  Her marriage is the result of a marriage conducted during a one-day leave granted to the soldier.  The marriage is unconsummated as her husband was summoned away by a call of duty.  She cries not for her husband, but for her fate – a widow trapped in a hostile environment.  She will have to spend a lifetime suppressing her sexuality.  It will be a life robbed of any vestige of self-esteem under the guise of sympathy (Giri and Khanna).


Some attempt to challenge the Hindu constructions of widowhood, which bars their participation from social life, has been made. There are a few stories of empowerment and acceptance, where a mother of a slain son accepts her daughter-in-law as a daughter and treats her as a son (Akbar).  In a patriarchal society this is an achievement of the highest order that a daughter-in-law can hope for, and that a mother-in-law can bestow.  In Punjab, the custom of marrying a dead husband’s younger brother still exists, and this makes it easy to control the widows.  As women try to break these barriers, excuses are made that the objective is to protect their honour, which becomes tainted especially when they are living in a joint family with other males.  Usually, however, these marriages ensure that compensation stays within the family.  Twenty-two-year-old Sunita, pregnant and barely widowed for 15 days, is expected to marry her 18-year-old brother-in-law.  She wants to find a job and look after her child.  Her mother-in-law disapproves and feels that if she uses force, Sunita may call in the Panchayat (local elected leadership), creating a rift in the family structure (Iyer).  The potential empowerment of women is seen as a threatening force that will break the traditional forms of control.


The widows therefore, become similar to the women living on the LOC and those crossing it victims of conflict.


Conclusion: women across borders and the nationalist discourse

I began with the nationalist discourse of a partitioned India, situating Kashmir in the context of the borders and boundaries in peoples lives created by the state.  Considering that nationalism has a language of its own, and that this language is gendered, one can assume that it is reconstructed with each change in the political structures.  To uncover the journey of nationalist discourse in Kashmir, it is important to question of nationalist discourse is the sum total of a people’s perceptions, views, and concepts, or is it something more?  Does it include women?


We realize that the nationalist discourse in Kashmir today cannot be discussed in a homogenous setting of territorial space and gender.  Women across contested borders are in zone of a nowhere land.  In this vacuum, the production of gender in the discourses and practices of nationalism, as elsewhere, constructs women as subordinate to men (Maunaguru).  The answer to Enloe’s questions of whether nationalism has sprung from a “masculinized memory” (3) is affirmative.  In the history of the Kashmiri “nation,” it is the men who have constructed not only the ideology of freedom but also women’s space (and place) within it.


Women remain on the sidelines, dominated by men, whether in exile, or as widows, or as women living on the LOC.  Since 1947, nothing has changed in terms of Kashmiri women’s rights, responsibilities, and equality, frozen in a time warp at the borders of two nations.  The widow of Kargil symbolizes the dignity, the sacrifice of the nation, and the hourie of attaining the non-achievable.  The widow’s place in the nationalist discourse is related to the government’s use of methods to retain ascendancy of power, and remaining within the cultural strategy of the party.


Women’s most significant attributes have been seen as signifiers of ethnic differences and in the reconstruction of the Kashmiri ethnic national category.  Veena Das’s questioning of the commitment to cultural rights which leads to empowering the community against the state, but in which the individual is totally engulfed by the community, applies to Kashmiri women.  The nationalist discourse acquires great significance in the shifting of identities and of cultures.The women in the Kargil war are currently positioned between the state and community, their identities merged in one or the other as necessitated.  The Kargil conflict has confirmed the pattern of Kashmir in general where what counts are class, caste, and ethnicity, but what cuts across all these factors is the marginalization of women in Kashmiri politics.


In the Kargil conflict, the Kashmiri narrative of nationalism has little meaning, as the historical origins of the two are different. Where do the women of Kargil stand in this widespread narrative of violence for the achievement of a Kashmiri nation?  We find that they neither fit into the Hindustan, land of the Hindus, Pakistan of the Sunni Muslims, or Ladhak of the Tibetan Buddhists.  Ideologically closer to Iran (Khomeini’s) of the Shia Muslims, they are nevertheless physically distanced from them.10 Linking their nationalism with Iran fulfils Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation belonging to “a kinship” or religion rather than an ideology (5), but one is tempted to ask whether the hanging of Khomeini’s photographs in their houses does not contradict this understanding of nationalism.  Only in assuming that adherence to Khomeini’s thoughts is not ideology but religion, can one understand Khomeinism as a religious cult that fulfils these people’s needs for a barrier against Sunni nationalism on the other side of the border, where the jihad is not only against the Hindu or Buddhist, but also the Shia. I would argue that perhaps it would be better to understand them, as Perry Anderson has perceived them – that theirs is a nationalism, which is yet not born, because it has not been opposed.  Presently we can assume that this nationalist space is filled by the nations on both sides of the border, which are the “other” and, therefore, incompatible with their feelings of nationalism.  Khomeini, thus, fills the space until they discover their own identity.


Ultimately the rise of religious or cultural nationalism is a cause of concern for women but unsettled borders question the very belonging of women. To borrow from Menon and Bhasin’s observation, the first can be explained in terms of a tendency to impose an idealized notion of womanhood.  Their second observation of women across borders is much more complicated as it is related to women’s identity in a volatile situation of continuing wars and violence.  Women’s emergence as full-fledged citizens of any country is countered by their very being on a border that is not acknowledged and a genered-national boundary in which they are not provided a space.


For women living on the LOC, attaining a national identity is not easy.  For instance, in 1971, most of the village women and children afraid of the war moved deeper into Pakistani and Indian territories.  Zebunissa, from a small village on the LOC, was originally from Pakistan and married to an Indian.  Borders did not mean anything to her.  Her perception of nationhood has been mediated by kinship relationships.  An outsider from across the border, she has lived under the shadow for fear.  At rist is her body, which the Border Security Force can occupy at any time.  A Shia in a Sunni-dominated country, she is also at risk in her former homeland of Pakistan.  Do women on borders share in nationalism/national projects?  Zebunissa has no answer.  For her, nationalism is gendered and she has a role to play only if the male order of the state and the socie4ty allow her to.  Border areas have little room for parliamentary democracy.  Zebunissa, a Pakistani national, is today an India.  What is her nationality?  She has no passport, and her name is not in the voting list.


Women across borders have a difficult role to play.  The duality of women’s role can be assessed from the Pakistani side, which constructed them as freedom fighters, and from the Indian side, which interprets their role as objects of sexuality.  A woman of Kargil, steeped in poverty and a Shia Islam, replies that nationalism for her means stability in her life.  It means keeping the mullahs away from her domain.  It means freedom to education and health services.  It means that nationalism is mundane and steeped in the everyday life.


Published in Canadian Women's Studies 19 (4), Winter 2000




1. I would use the nationalist discourse in Kashmir as part of an India discourse going by Sumantra Bose’s description that the conflict in Kashmir is not of a Muslim-majority state against a predominantly Hindu state, but of a people against the brutally coercive power of the state as a whole (1998: 144).  From a feminist perspective, where women are at the receiving end of state-controlled and militant induced crime, this paradigm is useful.

2.       The complexity of Kashmir’s history has been documented mostly from a political angle.  The best book written to date is by Sisir Gupta who provides a detailed analysis of the post-Partition phase in an objective manner.  Later writings have included Jha: Puri; and Bose (1996) who have tried to provide unbiased views but the Indian perspective is more detailed.  Schofield provides a Pakistani perspective.  Hasan (1993); Hasan (1997); and Rai, in gereral have analyzed Partition extremely well.  There is some reference to abduction and sale of Kashmiri women by the raiders of 1948, in Menon’s history on the integration of Indian states (cited in Misra).

2.  Amartya Sen argues that in India, the limits of national identity can be compared with the identities associated with first, the more restricted boundaries of community and groups within a nation, and second, the more inclusive coverage of broader categories.  The latter, for instance, could be an Asian or even that belonging to the human race.  Some identities, he argues, can go beyond the nation, and yet within the nation define a part of it.  For instance, the identity of a woman as a Muslim, which is clearly not confined to the limits of a nation, and yet exists within a nation (such as India), will be a correspondingly circumscribed identity (such as being an Indian woman, or an Indian Muslim) (10-11).

3. The Partition had little legitimacy in the eyes of the majority Hindu state.  The dismemberment of the body of “Mother India” was an attack at its honour.  The Indian war cry as projected by the soldier remains Dharti ma ki kasam (Hindi: I swear in the name of the mother earth) for Madre watan (Urdu: mother nation).  The Hindus state becomes significant today as the ruling party, the BJP, has been very closely linked ideologically to the RSS, a rightwing Hindu nationalist party which has refused to accept the Partition and the orgins of an Islamic state carved out of Indian territory.

4. The Prime Minister of India with a large group of officials drove across the border in a bus into Pakistan to meet Nawaz Sharif and his colleagues.  This diplomatic initiative, after nuclear testing by both states, was seen as the beginning of a peace initiative.

5.  The two major groups are Lashkar-e-Toyeba made up of non-Kashmiri Sunnis, and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen which is composed mainly of Afghans, Pakistanis, and even some Arabs.

6. There are some other views as provided by army sources that these women are porters forced to bring in weapons and other essential items because, unlike men, they would face less of a threat from Indian armed forces then men.

7. A World of Widows by Margaret Owen provides an incisive analysis of the status of widows of South Asia. 

8. I take the nationalist discourse here as Kaviraj refers it – an intellectual process through which the conception of an India (read Kashmiri) nation is gradually formed and the discourse that forms it is in favour of it and gives it historical shape (301).

9. Khomeini in 1980 ordered Hijab (curtain) Law and ordered women working in the state sector to veil.  In Kargil, the women always covered their heads but the veil was never in practice.  The Mullahs took up Khomeini’s diktat though their power to implement the law was limited.




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Birdi, J.P. Online,

Bose,, Sugata. “Nation as Mother: Representations and Contestations of ‘India’ in Bengali Literature and Culture.” Nationalism, Democracy and Development. Eds. Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal. (Delhi, 1998), 50-75.

Bose, Sumantra, “Hindu Nationalism and the Crisis of Indian State.” Nationalism, democracy and Development. Eds. Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal. (Delhi, 1998), 104-164.

Bose, Sumantra, The Challenge in Kashmir: Democracy, Self Determination and a Just Peace (Delhi and London, 1996).

 Bose, Tapan K. “The Other Face of War.”, Himal July 12,1999.

Butalia, Urvashi,. The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (New Delhi, 1998)

Das, Veena. Critical Events: An anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India. (Delhi, 1995)

Dhar, L.N. “An Outline of the History of Kashmir.” Kashmir – The Crown of India. Kanyakumari Vivekananda Kendra, 1984, 1-28.

Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases. (Berkeley, 1969)

Giri, V. Mohan and Meera Khanna. “Prisoners for Life: The Sorry Plight of War Widows.” Times of India 21 July, 1999: 14.

Gupta, Kanchan. Online.

Gupta, S. Kashmir: A Study in India-Pakistan Relations. (New Delhi, 1966)

Hasan, Mushirul. Legacy of a Divided Nation: India’s Muslims Since Independence. (Delhi, 1997)

Hasan, M. India’s Partition: Process, Strategy and Mobilization. (Delhi, 1993)

Hindu. 27 June 1999.

Indian Express. 5 June 1999.

Iyer, Nandini R. Chinks in the Armour.” The Sunday Statesman 11 July, 1999: 2

Jha, Prem Shankar. Kashmir, 1947: Rival Versions of History. (Delhi, 1996)

Kashmir University. “National Seminar on Gender and Discrimination in Kashmir Valley.” Srinagar: Dept. of Sociology, Kashmir University, August 2-4, 1997.

Kaviraj, S. “On the Structure of Nationalist Discourse.” State and Nation in the Context of Social Change. Ed. T.V. Satyamurthy.Vol.1. (Delhi, 1994)

Kumar, Virendra. Rape of the Mountains. Kargil (The Untold Story). (New Delhi, 1999)

Maunaguru, Sitralega “Gendering Tamil Nationalism: The Construction of ‘Woman’ in Projects of Protests and Contol.” Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka. Eds. Pradeep Jeganathan and Qadri Ismail, Colombo: Social Scientists Association, 1995.

Marquand, Robert. “Kashmiris, Forgotton in Conflict.” Christian Science Monitor September 6, 1999.

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

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Owen, Margaret. A World of Widows. (London, 1996.)Pandit, Lalita. “Sukeshi Has a Dream and Other Poems of Kashmir.” June 10, 1999. (Unpublished)

Pandit, Lalita. Sukeshi Has a Dream and Other Poems of Kashmir. May 30, 1998 (Unpublished)

Patnaik, Elisa. “Martys Kin Locked in Family Battle.” Asian AgeI September 4, 1999: 1, 11.

Prasad, M. “In Bihar, Widows of 1971 War Still Wait for Compensation.” Indian Express. 28 June 1999: 5.

Puri, B. Kashmir, Towards Insurgency. (Delhi, 1993)

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Sarkar, Bishkha De. “The Answer is Blowing in the Wind.” The Telegraph. 25 July 1999: 19.

Sawant, Gaurav C. “Three Storey Bunders and Armed Women.” Indian Express 15 June 1999.

Schofield, Victora. Kashmir in the Crossfire (London, 1996)

Sen, Amartya. “On Interpreting India’s Past.” Nationalism, Democracy and Development. Eds. Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal (Delhi, 1998): 10-35.

Shreedharan, Chindu. Online. www.rediff22diary.htm

Women’s Initiative. Kashmiri Auroton ka Bayan: Khaki ban gain hain sabz vadhiayan. (Bombay, 1994)



Nationalities, Ethnic Processes and Violence in India’s Northeast

Monirul Hussain


The Northeast is a generic term, which includes seven Indian states, that is, Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. These seven states are also commonly called 'Seven Sisters'. Except for the former princely states of Manipur and Tripura, all other states were parts of British colonial Assam. The political map of Northeast/Assam transformed very significantly during the post-colonial period. In this process of transformation - the post-colonial Indian state, nationalism and ethnicity played very decisive role. It affected all the communities and propelled modification in the structure, identity, self-definition and the definition of the 'Other'. Admittedly, the nationality question and in a wider sense the ethnic question is very complex in India's Northeast. We have tried to comprehend this question elsewhere in more details.1 The Northeast is a very distinctive geopolitical entity in India having an area of 255083 square kilometers with more than 31million population as per the Census of India 1991. The Northeast accounts for 7.7 per cent of India's total area and 3.73 per cent India's vast population. The objective of this paper is to report the national and ethnic question and its resultant conflicts in India's Northeast in general and Assam in particular. Though the objective looks simple, the reporting is unlikely to be so as the phenomena involved here are very complex, wide, heterogeneous, uneven, subtle and sensitive.


Geographically speaking, this region has both hills and valleys. The hill areas cover nearly 70 percent and the plains cover the remaining 30 per cent of the total area of Northeast. Apart from hills, Assam has two valleys - the Brahmaputra and the Barak. These two valleys are divided by the Barail rang of hills in which two of Assam's remaining hill districts (Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills) are located. Manipur has a small valley called the Imphal valley. The remaining areas of the entire Northeast are covered by hills. The peculiar topography of Northeast has been favourable for various insurgent outfits that have been fighting for secession from the Indian Union. Needless to say the valleys are densely populated and the hills are sparsely populated. Whereas in the hills, the indigenous tribal people are in majority and in the valleys the non-tribal population is in majority. Out of seven states of the region, four states are predominantly tribal and the remaining three states too have substantial scheduled tribe population. Arunachal Pradesh has more tribal population than it has been shown in the census data if we include the non-indigenous tribal groups particularly the Chakmas and the Hajongs who have been living there since 1964. In fact tribal population in Assam is much higher than it has been shown because non indigenous tribal people such as like the Santhals, Orans and Mundas etc. living in Assam have not been 'Scheduled' in Assam unlike West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh etc. Besides, quite a few 'Other Backward Classes' are demanding for scheduling of their community into 'official' tribal category. In addition to tribals, the Ahom, Koch-Rajbongshis and Chutiyas etc. belong to South Asia, the culture complex of the entire region has significant elements of South-East Asian region. Distinctively, like South East Asia, the large majority of population of Northeast racially belongs to the Mongoloid groups. A perceptive journalist observes vividly:


The girls of Imphal in Manipur who ride cycles and scooters, resemble their Thai and Lao counterparts. They could easily be placed either in Bangkok or Vietnam. The seductively swaying Manipuri dances are similar to the gentle rhythms of the Khmers and Laotians as well as the Thais and Indonesians. The distinctive shawls of Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram each colourful strand proclaiming a tribe, a lifestyle and identity, share a commonality with communities across the borders of Mynmar and Thailand.2


It would be pertinent to point out that society in Northeast is fundamentally a multi-religious and its religious composition is relatively different from the rest of India. In terms of religion, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland are Christian majority states wherein most of the tribals have been Christianized. However, in tribal majority Arunachal Pradesh, most of the inhabitants follow their traditional tribal religion and others follow either Tibetan or Mynmarese variety of Buddhism. Though in Assam majority of the people belong to Hinduism of two different sects (Shaktas and Vaisnavas), here the caste is practised in a very loose form. Manipur and Tripura are also Hindu majority states with a substantial Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and other population. Assam has a substantial Muslim population i.e. 28 per cent of the total population of the state. In terms of percentage of Muslim population among the Indian states, Assam stands only next to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, the linguistic composition of Northeast is also very complex and different from the mainland India. Apart from three non-tribal scheduled languages such as, the Asamiya, Bengali and Manipuri, the people of Northeast use more than 200 languages and dialects.


Contrast to valley's settled agriculture, the dominant mode of agriculture in the hills is jhum - the slash-and-burn method of agriculture. In the wake of penetration of capitalist mode of production in agriculture since early seventies, many parts of India experienced the 'Green Revolution' but the hills of Northeast are still trapped viciously in the primitive mode of agricultural production. The slash-and-burn method even cannot generate the bare minimal subsistence level of the community involved in such practice. Even the areas where settled agriculture is dominant, for example, the Brahmaputra valley, its agricultural production is far below the demand of the valley. It is estimated that Assam has to pay Rs.1000 crores annually to import food grains. All this demonstrates the precariousness of agricultural production in Northeast and its weak position in India's growing agricultural economy.


During the post-colonial period some regions/states in India have developed very rapidly for example Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Western Uttar Pradesh and the Capital Region of Delhi. Here, we must note that the entire Northeast has remained economically backward even by Indian standard with severe unevenness among seven states and various communities living therein. It virtually lacks industries to boost its economy. Besides, the region has remained demographically the fastest growing and most heterogeneous in India, culturally diverse, politically very sensitive and volatile, socially highly plural and located away from the mainland India in its northeast. Obviously, its location has its own strategic importance. This region is surrounded by China, Mynmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh. No region in India other than the Northeast is surrounded by four foreign countries. The Northeast is connected with the mainland India through a narrow corridor between southeast of Nepal and south of Bhutan and north of Bangladesh.


We conceptualize the Northeast as a periphery within a larger periphery (India) in the global context. The Northeast suffers from being both far from the centre and decisively dependent on it. Consequently, this region's integration with the post-colonial Indian nation-state has remained problematic. Several aberrations have already strained the process of integration with India. It has been questioned and at times challenged from the below against the dominant discourse of national integration. The popular consciousness and culture of Northeast today posits significantly away from India's cowbelt/Aryavarta/Akhand Bharat.


Historically speaking, substantial parts of this region, particularly its hill areas, were neither a part of pre-colonial Assam nor of pre-colonial India. Even the Brahmaputra valley stood at the periphery of the Indian economy and polity till the British colonized it. The colonial incorporation of the Northeast took place much later than the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Significantly, the British took much more time, stretching from the second quarter of the 19th century to the end of it, to complete the region's colonization process. While pre-colonial (Ahom) Assam was annexed in 1826, its neighbouring Bengal had been annexed as early as 1763. The colonial rulers had to wait until 1873 to bring the Garo tribal population under their control, while the annexation of the Naga hills was completed only in 1889.


Similarly, though the British rulers established their control over the Mizos, then known as Lushais, between 1871-89, they could form the Lushai Hills district only in 1898. Amlendu Guha3 has rightly pointed out that "The boundaries of the British power in North East India were in fact always moving, always in flux right up to its last days in India". Neverthless, the British province that came to be known as Assam took shape more or less by 1873.


It is pertinent to point out that the pre-colonial society in Assam was fundamentally semi-tribal and semi-feudal in nature, with a mix of more than one classical mode of production. It generated a very limited surplus and obviously had a very limited market. Although an oppressive system - even by Mughal standards - with its resultant backwardness, it must be admitted that its economy was largely self-sufficient, enabling it to maintain its distance from India. This, together with its geographical factors, help us in explaining the perpetuation of Ahom rule for as long as 600 years, beginning from 1228 and ending in 1826, when it was annexed by the British. The Asamiyas as a nation or nationality did not emerge in pre-colonial Assam. However, it should be noted that the Asamiya language and literature developed substantially in a myriad-tongued society. Even the ruling Ahom clan gave up its Tai/Thai language and accepted Asamiya, as did the Hindus and the Muslims who came from northern India/Bengal. The art of writing was known in Assam since the 6th century AD and the present Asamiya script had taken shape by the 12th century AD. The development of the Asamiya language and literature and performing arts, particularly with the emergence of Vaisnavism, and the resistance by the people of Assam, irrespective of religion and race, against the Mughal, substantially contributed in cementing the unity and stability of the Asamiyas as a pre-national collectivity in pre-colonial Assam.


The colonization gradually broke the isolation of Assam by linking it with the colonial capitalist world economy, a break that was historically very significant for Assam and the Asamiyas. Initially, Assam was made a new division of Bengal. However, in 1874, it became a new province of British India. Very significantly, this new province included the thickly populated Sylhet region, which historically and ethnically belonged to Bengal. This arangement ended only with the partitioning of the country in 1947, when Sylhet opted to join East Pakistan. The creation of the new province was obviously designed to weaken both the Asamiyas and the Bengalis and to pave the way for Asamiya-Bengali competition and conflict under the colonial aegis. Nearly at the hill areas of the Northeast with their innumerable tribal groups, as well as the Cachar areas, became part of colonial Assam, in addition to what was traditionally Asamiya homeland which the Asamiyas had been sharing with many autochthon tribals like the Bodos, Mishings, Rabhas, Lalungs and Deuris, as well as other Mongoloid groups like the Morans, Motaks, Ahoms, Borahis and Chutiyas. Though the province was named Assam, it was in fact "an amalgam of Asamiya-speaking, Bengali-speaking and myriad-tongued hill tribal areas in which Asamiya was claimed the mothertongue of less than a quarter and Bengali of more than 40 per cent of population".4


The size of pre-colonial Assam swelled significantly in colonial Assam wherein the Asamiyas became a minority and the second largest group after the Bengalis. However, they remained demographically strong in Assam proper i.e., the Brahmaputra valley. The drastic changes in its territory, the new political situation and colonial economy opened the floodgates of social and demographic transformation of the hitherto stagnant and unchanging Assam with serious social implications.

We know that nations are products of historical development covering long periods of time beginning with the decline of feudalism and the emergence of capitalism. In the Indian context, however, neither the decline of feudalism nor the emergence of capitalism from within played a decisive role in the rise of Indian nationalism Rather, it was the penetration of British colonialism and the response of the Indian people to this colonialism/imperialism that gave birth to Indian nationalism. Although the process of nationality formation among the Asamiyas under the colonial situation started late in the Indian sub-continental context, it would be improper to isolate it from the operative trend of general Indian nationalism. In India, since the beginning of the 19th century,


Nationalism has been developing at two levels - one all India on the basis of pan-Indian homogeneities and an anti-imperialism shared in common; and another regional (Bengaliu, Marathi, Asamiya, etc.) on the basis of regional cultural homogeneities. From the very outset, the two nationalisms are found interwined and dovetailed. Traditionally, an average Indian identifies himself with both the nationalisms except in some peripheral areas (e.g., Nagaland and Mizoram) untouched by the railways and by the Indian national movement.5


In fact, in the context of the Northeast, the Asamiyas were the first group to integrate with the rest of India economically, politically, culturally and emotionally. Guha6 has rightly pointed out that like an average Indian, an Asamiya, too, is simultaneously aware of both his regional and Indian identities.

By Asamiya we very specifically mean the people who have accepted the Asamiya language as their mother tongue. Needless to say, the term also includes neo-Asamiyas such as Na-Asamiya Muslims, assimilated autochthon tribals of the Brahmaputra valley and the black tribals who have accepted the Asamiya language and nationality. We would also like to clarify why we are calling the Asamiyas a nationality and not a nation. Though it is very difficult to strictly separate nationality from a nation, even then, we have preferred to call Asamiya a nationality mainly because it has not grown fully and it is still growing. Besides, it is relatively small in size compared to major nations like the Bengalis, the Marathis, the Tamils of the multi-national Indian society.


Both the trends - the pan-Indian nationalism and the regional nationalism are largely secular in content and spirit. In Northeast, the Asamiyas are the largest national group with a state of their own, the second being the Bengalis living in the region. However, after Independence, in the absence of an all powerful 'colonialism' regional nationalism has sharpened - a Tamil became more Tamil, an Asamiya became more Asamiya, though in the context of post-colonial nation-state he remained an Indian at the same time. Besides certain subaltern groups at the margin of the Indian society and history, for example the various tribal groups of Northeast experienced ethnic nationalism during the post-colonial period. This in other words may be called nationalism of national minorities of India. When we talk of ethnicity here in this paper we are in fact referring specifically to the ethnicity of tribal groups living in North-East/Assam.


Colonial transformation


Though Assam had a rich tradition of Buranjis (chronicles) since the arrival of the Ahoms in 1228 AD, the pre-colonial aristocracy had neither the knowledge nor experience of keeping written and formal administrative and land records. As a consequence, it did not fit into the new system based on the colonial bureaucratic principles of maintaining written and formal records of administration, justice and land revenue, etc. Besides, western education became a pre-condition for obtaining jobs in the new colonial administration. The colonial state had no intention of educating/training the Asamiyas so soon after colonization. This led to a decline of the pre-colonial Asamiyas in colonial Assam. This also explains the colonial rationale of importing Bengali babu to man colonial bureaucracy.


We have already noted that the British had colonized Bengal much earlier than Assam. As a result, a new, western educated middle class emerged from among the high caste Bengali Hindus, and consolidated its position in the Bengal Presidency.7 It was thus possible for the colonial rulers to avoid investment in western education in Assam, and avail instead of the services of the already surplus, educated-unemployed persons from Bengal Presidency.8 In the absence of an indigenous Asamiya middle class for a long period of time, the Bengalis virtually monopolized nearly all the jobs in the colonial administration. In addition, many more Bengalis came to Assam as lawyers, teachers, private doctors, shopkeepers, jewellers, traders, tailors and so on. Not surprisingly, they became very conspicuous in the colonial administration and emerging urban centres of Assam.


Besides the Bengalis, the Nepalis also came to Assam as part of the colonial army.9  Many Biharis came in as labourers. In the absence of an indigenous business caste or class, the migrant Marwaris filled up the vacuum in business, trade and banking. Apart from Sylhet, Assam is a naturally rich though thinly populated province. The colonial rulers therefore openly encouraged massive migration of various groups into Assam in order to augment their land revenue by bringing more land under cultivation and habitation. In order to avoid the dual oppression of colonialism and feudalism in East Bengal, many poor peasants migrated to the Brahmaputra valley. Again, in the absence of a local labour force, the colonial state patronized and created conditions for massive migration of tribal population, mainly from the Jharkhand areas, to meet the growing demands of cheap labour for the British-owned tea plantations in Assam. In order words, the colonial situation propelled massive migration into Assam and, in the process, changed its demographic structure radically. The colonial state provoked and patronized the Asamiya-non-Asamiya conflict in colonial Assam though colonialism itself created the conditions of massive migration to Assam. It did not allow the Asamiya nationality to grow and hindered the assimilation process of various groups. It encouraged national hostility and exclusiveness in Assam.


By and large, education was badly neglected in colonial Assam. The response to western education among the Asamiyas was crippled by the colonial suppression of the Asamiya language from 1837 to 1874. It took more than a decade to reintroduce Asamiya as the language of school and courts in the Brahmaputra valley. The colonial suppression of Asamiya in its own homeland and its replacement by another language of a neighbouring province, Bengali, created the conditions for reactionary conflict between the speakers of the two sister languages. Thus, while the suppression of Asamiya to a large extent delayed the popular urge for western education, the existence of an already large number of educated unemployed in Bengal meant that the colonial rulers could well afford to ignore the expansion of education in Assam.


The first and the second high schools in Assam were started in as late as 1835 and 1841 respectively. Bengal got its first university (of Calcutta) in 1857, but Assam had to wait for a university until after the collapse of colonial rule: the first university (Guwahati) of Assam was officially started only in 1948. Even the first college of the Brahmaputra valley was established only at the beginning of the 20th century. All these factors point to the belated development of education in Assam and its relative educational backwardness compared to Bengal.


However despite such colonial constraints, a new Calcutta-oriented Asamiya middle class gradually emerged in the late 19th century. Obviously, it was a weak and very small middle class located in the colonial hinterland. This incipient Asamiya middle class composed of high castes like Brahmins, Kayasthas, Kalitas and a few Asamiya Muslims, took special interest in developing the Asamiya language and literature. Gradually, the language became an important and perhaps the most sensitive symbol of the Asamiya middle class and nationality.


The colonial situation imposed on the Asamiya middle class stiff competition from the migrant Bengali middle class. Initially, this class responded by collaborating with the colonial rulers. However, with the emergence and consolidation of the national movement for freedom, the growing popularity of the Congress party and the consolidation of the Asamiya middle class in the 20th century, a large section of this class could gradually outgrow its collaborative role. This Assam Association, which was the first valley-wide political organization, helped mould the Asamiya national consciousness. And with the merger of the Assam Association with the Indian National Congress in 1920, the Asamiya middle class in particular and the Asamiya masses in general became part of the pan-Indian nationalism with a distinct regional identity. However, a section of the Muslim middle class was attracted towards the Muslim League. They formed the provincial government for five times within a period of seven years 1938-45). This contributed significantly in the growth of anti-Muslim feeling among the Asamiya Hindu middle class. Significantly, many middle class Muslims such as Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (who became the fifth President of India) and Maulana Tyabullah. were among the top ranking Congress leaders.10 The colonial Assam witnessed both secular and communal political mobilizations.


Compared to the Brahmaputra valley, the hill areas of present-day states as Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, became part of colonial India much later. By and large, the colonial state maintained a policy of status quo and isolation for the tribal people of the Northeast virtually insulating them from the plainsmen and the national movement for freedom. The enforcement of an 'Inner Line' system in 1873 in most of the hill areas reflected their policy. In addition, the Government of India Act of 1935 made most of the hill areas of the Northeast 'excluded areas', wherein provincial legislature had no jurisdiction. A.C. Bhagabati 11 pertinently pointed out that the  '...tribal communities of this region thus remained virtually isolated from social and political developments taking place elsewhere in the country. There was little scope for the hill tribal people's participation in the electoral processes which commenced elsewhere well before independence.' However, we must note that though the colonial state took an apparently non-interfering line, its ally, the Christian missions, penetrated the hill tribal population and succeeded in converting a good number of them to Christianity. It is the missionaries who introduced them to modern medicine and western education.


However, the situation in the Brahmaputra valley was different. The tribal people of the plains like the Bodos, Rabhas, Sonowals, Lalungs, Mishings and Deuris were well integrated with both pan-Indian as well as Asamiya nationalism. They, too, participated in the freedom movement. Significantly, most of the plains were Hinduised long before Assam was colonised. We have noted earlier that racially, the majority of the people of Assam belonged to various Mongoloid groups. The Ahoms, Koch-Rajbongshis, Chutiyas, Morans, Motaks, Borahis, etcetera, who came from Mongoloid stock, integrated well with the Asamiya nationality and pan-Indian nationalism.


So did the high caste, minority Hindus - Asamiya Brahmins, Grahabipras, Kayasthas, Kalitas and Keots - and other low caste Asamiyas and Asamiya Muslims comprising the Syeds, Goria, Moria and Julahas. However, two large migrant groups - the black tribals engaged as plantation labour and the oppressed Muslim peasants who came from East Bengal - were not well integrated with the Asamiya nationality in colonial Assam. By the time India attained independence, the Asamiyas were the most advanced nationality in the Northeast and among the Asamiyas, the high castes were the most advanced group in an economically backward, multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-class and multi-lingual regional society.


Post Colonial Transformation


India attained independence and British colonialism collapsed in the subcontinent in 1947. However, the neo-colonial/imperial hegemony continued through its control over the oil and tea industries. As a result of independence and partition, Assam lost its Muslim and Bengali dominated and thickly populated Sylhet district to East Pakistan. This substantially reduced the number and percentage of both Muslims and Bangalis in post-colonial Assam.  However, the predominantly Bengali speaking Cachar district in Barak Valley remained with Assam. Except for NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh), Manipur and Tripura, the entire hill region of the Northeast remained with Assam, in addition to Assam proper, i.e., the Brahmaputra valley.


Independence and partition thus made the Asamiyas numerically and politically stronger in post-colonial Assam. For the first time, they became the single largest group in Assam. The Bengalis declined and gradually lost their dominance. The Muslims, who were enthusiastically involved in Muslim League's divisive politics in Assam, also lost their political relevance. The tribal groups, both in the hill and the plains, remained largely backward, as did all other non-caste Mongoloid groups like the Ahoms, Koch-Rajbongshis, Chutiyas, Morans, Motaks and Borahis. In such a situation, the Asamiya middle class composed mainly of Asamiya high caste Hindus consolidated their position. They started dominating state politics, exercising their hegemony over the Asamiyas, the neo-Asamiyas and non-Asamiya groups in post-colonial Assam. The exertion of this hegemony, and the response to it of various groups, together with the nature of socio-economic and cultural development, very significantly determined the nationality and ethnic question in the hills and plains of Assam during the post-colonial period.


The nature of the political system and the composition of the ruling class were transformed after independence. It is therefore necessary to understand the nature and composition of the Indian ruling class and its role in resolving and accentuating the nationality question. The Indian ruling classes are composed of the bourgeoisie and landlords. Obviously, the big Indian bourgeoisie plays the most dominant role in the coalition of these two classes. Recently, Rudra 12 has argued very forcefully that the intelligentsia too has become a partner of the Indian ruling class. In a country like India with federal structure, there are also state-level depositories of power.13 The ruling class in India obviously operates at two levels - the all-India and the state/regional levels. Though the ruling class at the state level is a part of the Indian ruling class, at times it tries to assert its limited autonomy/identity at the state/regional level in order to wrest some concessions to ensure its survival, growth and power.


Assam, too, has its state-level ruling class. The Asamiya ruling class has been playing a very significant role in determining and influencing the national question in the Northeast together with the Indian ruling class. Obviously the Asamiya ruling class includes a very small and weak Asamiya bourgeoisie composed of a few tea-planters, owners of powerful regional presses, transport operators, contractors, professionals, the middle class and the rural gentry. The majority of them belong to Asamiya high caste groups. They plunder the state in their private interest and exert their hegemony over the entire regional society. It is true that the Asamiya ruling class in not bourgeois in a clearly productive sense, but it inclines towards it ideologically and culturally.


Without a clear role in production and in a weaker position vis-a-vis the Indian ruling class, it is forced by the objective situation to enforce its hegemony through its control over the government apparatus in the state. Because of its caste and class limitations, the Asamiya ruling class has always been very reluctant to share power and benefits even with other oppressed sections of the same nationality, leave alone non-Asamiyas. It has been fairly successful in projecting its own class interest as the interest of the Asamiya nationality or of the people of Assam. It has also been able to pass off its own identity crisis as the crisis of the Asamiya nationality or of Assam as a whole.


In order to exploit its natural resources and markets more profitably, the Indian ruling class needs an ally in Assam and for this it is prepared to grant some concession to the Asamiya ruling class. This class in its turn neither led nor participated in any movement for Assam's economic development. However, this class very enthusiastically participated and led the Assam movement 1979-85.14 Because of its class interest and very sectarian approach, it even failed to reach the goals of the movement. Like other ruling class movements, this movement also encouraged national exclusiveness and hostility, oppression, violence and riots forcing the common Asamiyas, Na-Asamiyas and non-Asamiyas living in Assam to suffer immensely. This movement created conditions for the emergence of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) - an insurgent outfit to challenge the integration of Assam with India.


Despite this, the horizon of the Asamiya nationality expanded significantly after independence. Notwithstanding the massive migration during the colonial and post-colonial period, the Asamiyas have not lost their identity. Significantly, most of the oppressed migrant groups, particularly the black tribals, Santhals, Mundas, Orans, etc. who work mainly as tea-plantation labour, and the migrant East Bengal peasants have identified themselves with the Asamiya nationality. Although they have already adopted Asamiya as their mother tongue, they naturally need more time in order to become fully Asamiyased. However, we must point out that the new generation is more Asamiyaised than the earlier generation. The process of Asamiyaisation is thus likely to become more consolidated in the coming years.


Over the years, the Asamiyas have grown faster than any other group in Assam, maintaining their numerical dominance in the state. This shows the historical capacity of the Asamiya nationality to absorb and accept migrant groups into its fold. The Asamiya language too, has firmly consolidated its position. It is both the official language of the state, and the medium of instruction upto graduate level (together with English) in Assam's two universities. It is also the most popular and advanced language backed by a rich literature.


However, the fact remains that a substantial number of people belonging to several groups are yet to merge fully with the Asamiya nationality. In fact, some of the groups who have already been assimilated are now seriously trying to revive their old identity because of their oppressed status and hatred against the Asamiya ruling class. While, at the present stage of political development, the black tribals and the Na-Asamiya Muslims have by and large accepted their own oppressed status and the dominant status of the Asamiya high caste ruling class, the autochothon tribals of Assam are not prepared to do so. This is one of the reasons behind the forceful emergence of tribal movements in Assam immediately after the institutionalisation of the Assam movement of 1985.


Tribals of Brahmaputra valley after independence


We have noted earlier that the plains' tribal populations have been sharing their traditional homeland - the Brahmaputra valley - with the Asamiyas. It is therefore almost impossible to isolate the rich tribal elements from the composite Asamiya society, culture and nationality. According to the last census, the scheduled tribes constituted 13 per cent of the total population of Assam. The Bodos, Mishings, Sonowals, Ravas and Tiwas demographically occupy the first, second, third, fourth and fifth positions respectively. Needless to say, the tribal people were the first natives of Assam's plains and hills. Unlike the hill tribal people, the plains' tribal people own land individually, not communally. They could not make any significant progress in colonial Assam. And while they did make some progress during the post-colonial period, other groups progressed even further, thereby increasing the social distance between them and the plains' tribal population.


In addition, the Asamiya ruling class has successfully kept the plains' tribal people from acquiring even the limited benefits that have accrued to the hill tribal ones. The Indian constitution provides the hill tribal population some autonomy in managing their own society through the provision of the sixth schedule. This was not, however, extended to the plains' tribal population. It would be worthwhile to state that the tribal people are perpetually experiencing the problem of land alienation, poverty, indebtedness, severe unemployment, economic exploitation, and cultural and political oppression. At the time of independence, the plains' tribal dominated areas were classified as 'tribal blocks' and 'tribal belts', ostensibly to protect the tribal population from the penetration of non-tribal population into their areas. The Asamiya ruling class, which was responsible for these schemes, made a mockery of them by allowing non-tribal people to purchase land and property in tribal areas.


In colonial Assam, the tribal dialects/languages remained neglected. During the post-colonial period, however, with the growing consciousness of their identity among the plains' tribal population and the support they have received from the progressive and democratic sections of the non-tribal population, some attention has recently been paid to the development of their dialects/languages. For instance, the Bodos have developed their language in the Devnagri script and it is now the medium of the instruction up to the secondary level in Bodo-dominated areas. The Mishings have adopted the Roman script and it is now the medium of instruction up to the secondary level in Bodo-dominated areas. The Mishings have adopted the Roman script for developing their language that, from 1986, has been the medium of instruction at the primary level in Mishing-dominitated areas. The Deuris, the Tiwas and the Ravas have adopted the Asamiya script for developing their respective languages. It should be pointed out that all these tribes not only stand at uneven levels among themselves in terms of social economic and political development, they also stand unevenly in terms of their assimilation with and exclusion from the Asamiyas. For example, the Sonowal and the Meches of Upper Assam have completely assimilated and identified with the Asamiyas.


In the absence of a well-developed/developing language of their own, the plains' tribal people accepted Asamiya voluntarily as the medium of instruction/education. As a consequence, they were regarded as sub-nationalities within the composite Asamiya nationality. However, the official imposition of the Asamiya language in 1960 had resulted in a severe backlash from the tribals both in the hills and plains. In addition, from the late 60s onward, the plains' tribals became more conscious and articulate about their ethnic identity, using it to gain political power and overcome their socio-economic backwardness and oppression. The problems regarding their right to traditional land, their language and script, identity, culture, economic development, discrimination, exploitation and, more significantly, their demand for political autonomy are yet to be resolved to their satisfaction.


Hill tribal population after independence


By the time India entered the post-colonial phase, a very small but distinguishable group of educated tribal elites emerged among the Nagas, Mizos and Khasis as a result of their exposure to Christianity and western education, largely under the aegis of the Christian missions. This small group acted as motivators of social and political change in their respective societies. They were exceedingly conscious of their distinct ethnic identity, which they vociferously articulated in order to fulfill their political aspirations under the changed situation. They were also acutely conscious of their oppressed status in the Asamiya ruling class-dominated Assam as an integral part of India. Some of them even felt that India should grant them sovereignty and recognize them as friends rather than a part of India. It was this feeling, fuelled by their incomplete integration with India that led to the rise of insurgency in the Naga hills during early '50s and in the Lushai (Mizo) hills during the mid-60s.

Despite severe state oppression on the one hand, and a liberal policy of appeasing and corrupting the tribal elites on the other, insurgency and secessionist tendencies have not died down fully even today. By the time one group comes over-ground, another group goes under. Earlier, one was used to hearing about Naga and Mizo insurgency. Now, several other groups have emerged - the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA), the Peoples' Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the United Liberation Front (of Meiteis), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), the Tripura Volunteer Force (TNV) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). These organizations do not only represent the frustration of the youth of various ethnic groups; they also represent the failure of the post-colonial Indian state to resolve the nationality/ethnic question in the Northeast.


In order to meet the aspirations of the hill trials, the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution granted them some autonomy in the form of Autonomous District Council in addition to other protective measures. Accordingly, the major hill tribal groups - Nagas, Mizos, Khasis, Jaintias, Garos, Karbis and Dimasa-Kacharis - got limited autonomy regarding internal matters. However, it was gradually realized that the autonomy granted to them through the statutory provisions was not adequate enough under the Asamiya-dominated state legislature and government. The intransigent language policy of the state government alienated the hill tribal people from the Asamiyas.


It was under such a situation that the question of Assam's reorganization came up. Eventually, the Naga Hills district became Nagaland in 1963, the United Khasi and Jaintia hill and Garo Hills districts together became Meghalaya, an autonomous state within the state of Assam15 which was later elevated to a full-fledged state in 1972. The Lushai Hills became Mizoram, a union territory that later achieved full statehood. Only the Karbi and the Dimasa-Kachari dominated Karbi-Anglong and the North Cachar hill districts decided to stay with Assam. Now, even in these two hill districts, the tribals are agitating for an autonomous state within the state of Assam (for details see ibid). What is important to note is that the separation of hill tribals was largely guided by their hatred of the Asamiya ruling class and their incomplete/weak integration with India along with a consciousness of their identity that sharpened very significantly during the post-colonial phase.


The Mizos have got Mizoram, the Nagas have got Nagaland and the Khasi-Jaintias and the Garos have together got Meghalaya in their traditional homeland. The dominant majority of these tribals are Christians. However, the nature of ethnic coalition in these tribal states differs significantly. Nagaland is fundamentally a state of about a dozen tribal groups with a pan-Naga identity. The same is true of the Mizos in Mizoram. However, it was a political coalition between the Khasi-Jayantias and the Garos who was responsible for the formation of the state of Meghalaya. It is appropriate to point out here that many Naga groups are living outside Nagaland, i.e. in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Burma. Similarly, there are demands for a unification of ethnically contiguous parts of India, Burma and Bangladesh to create a "Greater Mizoram".


In the same way, there are Khasi and Garo inhabited areas in Assam and Bangladesh. Manipur has a large hill tribal population besides the Meities. There are serious problems of adjustment.


Ethnic conflict and violence: the present situation


Our discussion on the nationality and ethnic process will remain incomplete if we fail to situate the link between these processes and with the emergence of political violence. Sharpening of nationality and ethnic identity has manifested in the emergence of violence. Besides, the state too played a crucial role in creating conditions for violence. Over the years political violence has virtually come to occupy the centre-stage from its fringe. Needless to say violence has been a part of social transformation in Northeast. Both sociology and history point to the fact that traditional and modern societies are less vulnerable to violence and instability than a society in rapid transition like Northeast.


The Nagas were the first to revolt against their integration with the post-colonial nation-state in India. The Indian state too responded violently against a small ethnic group when there were scopes for dialogue. A section of Mizos took up arms in 1966 and state too responded with its arms. The Mizo insurgency ended in 1986 after an accord with the government of India. This was the only successful political accord signed by the leadership of an ethnic-insugent movement and the government of India. But surprisingly, when dominant Mizos gave up arms a minority ethnic group the Hmars took up arms in order to press for their ethnic demands. Today, Mizoram is the only state in the Northeast where a peaceful situation exists.


The Naga insurgency still continues with periodic lull notwithstanding the creation of Nagaland as a state for the Nagas in 1963. The area of operation of Naga insurgents has widened significantly despite security operations. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) today operates far beyond Nagaland. Besides, it trains the other insurgent groups of the Northeast - the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the Bodo Security Force (Bd.SF), Peoples Liberation Army etc. It has been able to form an apex body to coordinate the activities of various insurgent groups. The insurgents in Nagaland are virtually running parallel government there. And, now they have started a parallel administration in Assam's North Cachar Hill district too.


In Manipur today, the ethnic situation is very grim. Conflict exists between the Meities and non-Meities. Recently Hindu-Muslim conflicts also surfaced. The perennial Naga-Kuki conflicts have resulted in killing thousands. Besides insurgenc and inter and intra-tribal conflicts, the society in Manipur is threatened by dreaded AIDS. The spread of AIDS in Manipur has its roots in the nexus between insurgents and the drug peddlers.


In Tripura too situation is far from normal. The tribal insurgents have been fighting against the migrant/refugee Bengalis. The violence against the migrants has been continuing in Tripura since the beginning of massacre of Mandai in 1980. The Left Front government in the state tried seriously to end the conflict and provided some autonomy to the indigenous tribal population. However, the Congress government made mess of it by using the insurgency against the Left forces. Again now, the Left Front government is in power and the present Chief Minister of the state is an indigenous tribal. Tripura is an example where the migrants and refugees of East Pakistan i.e. the Bangali Hindus became the majority in the aftermath of partition and the indigenous tribal population became the minority in their traditional homeland.


Meghalaya attained statehood through a remarkably peaceful political movement with a stable coalition of three major tribes, that is, the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos. Now the society in Meghalaya is not in peace - the tribal people are now becoming increasingly restive though the tribals run the state government. There exists strong resentment against the Hindu Bengalis who have permanently settled down in Khasi Hills/Shillong. Most of the Bengalis of Shillong came from East Bengal/East Pakistan as migrants/refugees.16 Even here, some of tribal youths have taken up arms for insurgency and violence against the migrants.


In Arunachal Pradesh the situation is peaceful but there exists a serious threat to peace and order. An ethnic movement led by the All Arunachal Pradesh Student's Union (ASPSU) has been demanding the expulsion of Chakma, Hajong and Tibetan refugees/stateless people from the soil of Arunachal Pradesh. The Tibetans came with the Dalai Lama when he fled Tibet to India through Arunachal Pradesh (then NEFA). The Chakmas and the Hajongs numbering 66000 came to India during the mid sixties in the wake of India-Pakistan war of 1965. The government of India settled them in NEFA when it was in deep slumber. With NEFA's transformation into Arunachal Pradesh and growth of ethnicity among the indigenous tribals the Chakmas and the Hajongs who are in fact tribal people of non-indigenous origin became the persona-non-grata in the state.17 


In Assam the situation is much more complex today. During the entire post-colonial period Assam has been experiencing a series of unending social and political movements and its resultant violence repeatedly. Apodictically, the society in Assam has transformed into a notoriously violent one without any tangible sign of abnegation. This has not happened very abruptly - it has a long history of growth and maturity. Apart from the communal violence in the wake of India's partition, particularly in districts of lower Assam, society again experienced violences during the two important movements based on the linguistic and cultural identity of the Asamiyas in 1960 and 1972. Further, since the beginning of Assam Movement  (1979-85), Assam has been churned in the cauldron of communal, ethnic and state violence. Some instances of them are the North Kamrup pogrom18 of 1980 in which a large number of people belonging to the linguistic and religious minorities were massacred.  Similar massacres took place again in 1983 at Chaulkhowa Chapori and Silapathar in 1983. The infamous Nellie massacre of 1983 witnessed the killing of more than 5000 people mostly women and children belonging to a religious minority community. This massacre exposed very brilliantly the nature and hidden goals of the Assam Movement. Everyone in Assam thought that peace had a chance in the aftermath of the Assam movement. But it was not to be. Peace in Assam was disturbed by two subsequent movements i.e. ULFA movement for an independent Assam and the Bodo movement for Bodoland. Both these movements led to killing and counter killings. And this continues unabated.


In early 1993, an accord was signed between the government and the leadership of the Bodo movement, which granted some autonomy to the Bodos in the form of an interim Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC). But lack of a clear-cut boundary and presence of a significant non-Bodos in the proposed BAC areas created a problem. In order to cleanse the proposed Bodoland areas from the non-Bodos, selective massacres started from 1994. The Bodo militants organized systematic massacres of Na-Asamiya Muslim peasants in Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta districts in 1994.19 In Barpeta district alone about 1000 people were killed, thousands injured and about 60 villages burnt down to ashes. The Barpeta massacre gained limelight mainly because the militants not only killed the innocents in their homes, fields, forests and villages, they even did not spare those who took shelter at the Banhbari relief camp run by the state. Like earlier massacres in Assam, none was punished for such crimes against humanity.


The Bodo militants were again involved in violence, this time against another very oppressed group - the Santhals of Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon districts in May and June 1996 in which about 4000 people have been killed and 2 lakhs rendered homeless. Till the writing of this paper about 1.5 lakhs people were still in the relief camp scared to go back to their home without adequate security. It seems the killing was fundamentally to cleanse the Bodoland area from the non-Bodos. However, unlike the Barpeta massacre, here the Bodo militants equipped with sophisticated arms had to encounter a stiff resistance from the Santhals equipped with their traditional bows and arrows.


During the last two months the ULFA has increased its violent activities and the army in turn has started counter insurgency operations in Upper Assam. The insurgents have also threatened some distinguished Asamiya intellectuals, who neither support their demand for secession nor their violent methods. A young journalist sympathetic to the cause of ULFA was gunned down in broad daylight in Guwahati by a member of Surrendered ULFA (known as SULFA). ULFA's death list included an army officer who was killed at the doorsteps of Assam's famous Kamakhya temple and an IPS Officer of Tinsukia district along with his several bodyguards, an ex-Minister of Hiteswar Saikia's government with his seven Asamiya security guards and two other police Sub-Inspectors. The army in turn gunned down two and the police gunned down one SULFA member in the course of their operations. The situation in Assam is very fluid and grim even if we do not include the routine extortions, kidnappings and threats to life and property.


It seems the post-colonial state in India has not been successful in resolving the nationality and ethnic question of Northeast India and its resultant conflict and violence. The state violence too has affected the ordinary masses. The insurgents become more ruthless once they experience state violence. Anthony Giddens20 has rightly observed "Although the governments oppose the activities of terrorists within their own border, they none the less often encourage guerrilla movements using identical tactics in other regions of the world." This also applies to the South Asian countries. Each country of the region, if involved, should introspect very seriously against aiding and abetting the insurgents across the border. The same moral standard should be applied to both the insurgents from inside and outside the border. The insurgent should also realize that importing secession from a neighbouring country is a historical impossibility.


Out of a very grim situation comes a ray of hope - hope from India's vibrant democracy and results of the last general elections (1996). The new union government has committed itself to solve the problem of Northeast through dialogue. Both parties the state and the insurgent groups, should accept that disputes can be settled only through dialogue. If they keep the plight of the common people in mind and respect for basic humanism - they can solve the problem of any conflict or violence.


One of the causes of ethnic conflict in Northeast is migration. It is impossible to stop migration but it is definitely possible to control it very significantly. The other major cause is desire for economic development of the region. Most insurgents and their supporters in Northeast view their own society or motherland as a colony of Delhi/India. They want to "de-colonize" their society and their dream of de-colonization situates them against the mighty Indian state. Peace package or amnesty aiming at rehabilitating the insurgents/ex-insurgents without removing the present structural conditions that generate conflict and violence in the Northeast can at best give a very temporary respite. Both short term and long term strategy is needed to overcome the impasse and to minimize the conflict and violence. The long-term strategy in the days of globalization/liberalization is going to be very arduous in the wake of the retreat of state in India. The state must address itself to the questions raised by national and ethnic movements of the Northeast. The Indian state should not retreat from its responsibility towards the Northeast. We are sure the alienated people of the Northeast will respond positively if some positive initiative comes from the state. This is the time for the Indian state to come closer to the people of Northeast and try to understand them from below rather than from Delhi or from market situation.


Published in the Indian Journal of Secularism, Volume 1, No 2, July-September 1997.

Notes and References


1  Monirul Hussain, "Refugees In The Face of Emerging Ethnicity in North East India", Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1995.

2   Sanjay Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist: Tales of War and Peace from Indian Northeast (Delhi, 1994).

3   Amalendu Guha, Planter Raj to Swaraj: Freedom Struggle and Electoral Politics in Assam (New Delhi, 1977).

4   ----, "Little Nationalism Turned Chauvinist: Assam's Anti-foreigners Upsurge", Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XV: 41, 42, 43 and 44, 1980.

5   Ibid.

6   Ibid.

7  B. Misra, The Indian Middle Classes: Their Growth in Modern Times (New Delhi, 1961); also see J.H. Broomfield, Elite Conflicts in A Plural Society (California, 1968).

8   Guha, op.cit, 1977.

9  Monirul Hussain, "Nepalis in Assam and Asamiya Nationality Question", Mainstream, Vol. XXXVII: 29, 1989.

10 ---, The Assam Movement: Class, Ideology and Identity (Delhi, 1993).

11 A.C. Bhagabati, Tribal Transformation in Assam and North-East India: An Appraisal of Emerging Ideological Dimensions (Calcutta, 1988).

12 Ashok Rudra, "Emergence of Intelligentsia As A Ruling Class in India", Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXIV: 3, 21, January1989.

13  Ibid.

14  Hussain, The Assam Movement.

15 Monirul Hussain, "Tribal Movement for Autonomous State in Assam", Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXI: 32, 1987.

16  Hussain, op.cit, 1995.

17  Ibid.

18  Hussain, op.cit, 1993.

19  Hussain, op.cit, 1995.

20  Anthony Giddens, Sociological Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge, 1989).



Mohajirs, the Refugees by Choice

Nayan Bose


Mohajirs: the rise......


Defined by the Census of Pakistan, 1951, "A Mohajir is a person who has moved into Pakistan as a result of Partition or for fear of disturbances connected therewith". Those who were lucky to survive the massacres of the partition, streamed into the Punjab and Sindh. In an unprecedented population movement, eight million people migrated to West Pakistan.

East Punjabis were allowed to settle in West Punjab. The language and culture of these refugees, these Mohajirs was identical to that of the indigenous population. The refugees settled in the urban areas as well as the rural areas. Ironically, these were the people who had suffered the terror of Partition, these were the people who best fitted the definition of "Mohajir", yet these are the people who are seldom, if at all, are referred to as such. The government of Punjab made it easier for the refugees to settle. The people had a shared history of violence, shared culture, music, food and spoke a common language. Very quickly, they became and were accepted, in every sense of the word, as Pakistani.

The term Mohajir politically refers to those who came from the rest of India and chose to settle in Sindh. They include the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan. They were the Muslim elite from the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), they were the people who fought the ideological battles for the creation of a separate Muslim state in the Indian heartland. They brought with them the culture of the nawabi courts, also their language, Urdu. They came to their created ‘homeland’ with cultural linkages from the past. Assimilation with the local Sindhi population was and remains a distant after thought. Mohajirs were well educated, were already in finance and business and therefore had little problem in establishing themselves in the new country. Out of 12 industrial houses in the early years following Partition, seven belonged to Mohajirs. Observers have noted that the
transfer of populations had a profound impact on the class structure of west Pakistan as with the exception of some migrants from East Punjab those from other parts of India were predominantly urban and literate. They included the traders, primarily from Gujarat and Bombay, who subsequently constituted the industrial class of Pakistan for two decades.

Politically, the leadership of Pakistan was Mohajir dominated. Urdu became the state language of Pakistan, giving Mohajirs a definite edge for jobs in the public and private sectors. There was no reason for the Mohajirs to give up a lifestyle, culture and a language that they had transported across the border. The Mohajir elite dominated the bureaucracy, business and politics till the coup of Ayub Khan in 1958. Better qualified, better educated and well trained they were cream of business and the civil services. Ideologically, they differed from the indigenous population of Pakistan. The movement for Pakistan though initially founded by nawabs and landlords was quickly taken over by the urban professional classes who organised the Muslim League on democratic lines. Consequently, as Burke has noted in The Continuing Search for Nationhood (1991), following the creation of Pakistan the refugees who had come from the cities of north and central India began to work for some of form of a representative political system. There were other differences too - Mohajirs were secular and desired to have a clear separation between religion and the state, now that the Muslim state had been created. Economically, though Pakistan was largely an agricultural economy, refugees who had come from urban areas had little interest in using public funds in agriculture.

.......... And Fall


With the death of Jinnah and the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan soon after the creation of Pakistan, politics became chaotic. With Ayub Khan and his policies began the decline of Mohajir elite power. At the cost of Mohajirs, other refugees, particularly those in Punjab were resettled. His Basic Democracy scheme, which was a system of local government, encouraged the free flow of people within West Pakistan. Pathans gained hugely as they now moved south, to Karachi for employment. The transport industry in Karachi was and remains completely Pathan dominated. Civil servants were sacked, coincidentally almost all of whom were Mohajir. The Punjabi presence began to increase in the bureaucracy, at the cost of Mohajirs. Finally, the transfer of the capital of the country from Karachi, which was the Mohajir stronghold to a site near Rawalpindi (later to be known as Islamabad) further undermined Mohajir importance and power. But it was left to Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, the "son of Sindh" to hammer the nails into the coffin. In the early 70’s the Language Bill of Sindh gave Sindhi the same importance as Urdu and the restructuring of the Quota System introduced the controversial rural vs. urban division only for the province of Sindh effectively allowing Mohajirs to compete for just 7.6% of all nationalised jobs. These two measures acted as external catalysts to the process of a renewed political identity formation for the Mohajirs. Bhutto’s nationalisation of industry and finance had a devastating affect on the Mohajir community. There was a huge purge of the bureaucracy, again a large majority of those sacked were Mohajir. General Zia’s time was controversial. Some say that the military turned a blind eye to the rise of the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) at a time when most political activity was frowned upon. But in the established power structures such as the civil bureaucracy the share of the Mohajirs further shrank. Military rule meant increased Punjabi domination of the army. The Mohajirs withdrew, as it were, to urban Sindh for the defence of what they saw as their core interests.


The following table by Dr. Mohammad Waseem charts the decline of Mohajir power in post independence Pakistan. Published on May 8, 1990 in Dawn it gives a fairly accurate summary of the arguments presented above.


Relative Change in Community Influence: 1947-1990

(Community power ranked on a scale of A, B, C, O from highest to lowest, respectively.)






















Sindhis/ Pakhtuns/ Bengalis
























































































































Mohajirs have never had a presence in the armed forces of Pakistan. Their power in the bureaucracy is now a far second to that of the Punjabis. In business, once an undisputed Mohajir stronghold, they have been relegated behind Punjabis. Without doubt, Mohajirs have been subject to systematic discrimination. Yet, while all this is relevant to this discussion on the decline of a community that had pioneered Pakistan, these do not explain the rise of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a party which represents most lower and middle class Mohajirs.

Politically, the Mohajir community is represented for better or for worse, by Altaf Hussain and the MQM. Though the MQM is hardly supported by the elite among Mohajirs, it remains the only access to power for the majority of Mohajirs, the change in name (from Mohajir to Muttahida) notwithstanding. To its credit, the MQM has steered clear of religious fundamentalism and has remained a strong supporter of women’s rights. The organisation prides itself on its working class origins. Altaf Hussain remains an idealist who began fighting for the recognition of the Mohajirs as a legitimate fifth nationality within Pakistan with due rights and representation and who now vows to dismantle the oppressive feudal system thereby uplifting the masses of Pakistan, riding on a middle-class support base.

Mass mobilisation: The Mohajir Quami Movement


In the elections of 1993, once again the MQM won 27 seats in the provincial assembly, reaffirming its stature as the third largest party in Pakistan after the Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) and the Muslim League (ML). The Mohajir Quami Movement, which sprang into life in 1984, had started as an entirely middle/working class movement, with very little to do with the elite. Most of its funding came from the working classes, though large Mohajir business houses are known to have been persuaded into making generous "voluntary" donations. The MQM is, in some ways a unique phenomena: class based, urban, young, well knit and able to mobilise very quickly. Its network in Karachi is vast and well entrenched. The MQM is more than just a political party. Observers have noted its influence in connected organizations, such as labour unions, student organization, women’s organization and welfare organizations. Verkaaik has noted that most MQM workers and members live in MQM areas that facilitate access to services the state does not or cannot supply such as primary schools and financial support for widows. The MQM also has the largest percentage of educated membership among the national parties of Pakistan barring the Jamaat-i-Islami, which is not surprising considering that the Mohajirs are among the most highly educated peoples in Pakistan.

Myths surround the origins of the MQM. Its sudden appearance on Karachi politics has left commentators guessing. Created in 1984, it captured 46.5% of the seats in the Karachi Municipal Corporation, in the local elections of 1987. Some subscribe to the theory that Zia deliberately propped up the MQM to counter the PPP led Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in rural Sindh. Allegations that the MQM was started and funded and encouraged by the military and ISI while other political movements were brutally suppressed abound. Expectedly, Tariq Meer, the joint chief organizer of the MQM (UK & Europe) dismissed these allegations in an interview with the author, "Ridiculous. If the military or anybody could create a party, things would be very different…How can Zia make Altaf Hussain a public leader?" He further said in response to a question that it had been repeatedly said in accusation that India was sponsoring the MQM, "anybody who talks about democracy in Pakistan is labelled an agent of India".

The origins of the MQM lie in its roots. Mohajirs have myths. There is the myth of a common identity based on a perceived sense of systematic discrimination; the myth that they are the creators of Pakistan and are therefore more Pakistani than the Sindhis and others. There is also the myth that all those who crossed the borders in 1947 suffered great personal loss and sacrifice for the new country. A common identity had been forged with a common language. Urdu had forged a common link and Urdu was the passport to the civil services, and financial power. It has also been argued that the Muslim League had its intellectual growth in the dusty towns of Uttar Pradesh, Aligarh, Meerut, and others. Also that the Mohajirs had made great personal sacrifices to come to Pakistan, though this holds true probably more for those who had migrated to Punjab. It was a much more peaceful transition for those who came to Sindh. But myths forge an identity. The Mohajirs have created theirs, overcoming linguistic and cultural differences.

The politicisation of Mohajirs


The Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto era was central to the intellectual foundations of Mohajir nationalism as during his time administrative procedures that compartmentalised Sindh and Pakistan society were established, and regional cultures such as that of the Sindhis were promoted. The Language Bill, the Quota System and the nationalization of industry and financial institutions played an important role in politicising the Mohajir identity. Bhutto came to power in 1971 at a particularly challenging point in Pakistan’s history. The Eastern half of the country seceded to form Bangladesh. Till 1971, power sharing in Pakistan primarily referred to that between the Eastern and Western wings. The Quota System was first introduced in the 1950’s in deference to Bengali demands. The Bhutto period had to contend with power-sharing with the provinces that remained in Pakistan: Punjab, Baluchistan, the NWFP and Sindh. Conflicting demands in West Pakistan earlier suppressed, now found a voice. The Quota System of 1973, much reviled by Mohajirs, was a response to changing political reality. Based on population ratios, the designated quota for federal government employment is as follows:


The quota system in public sector employment

Area of Domicile






Rural Sindh


Urban Sindh


Northern Areas/FATA




Azad Kashmir





Source: Government of Pakistan, Establishment Division, memo no. F8/9/72 (TRV) 31 August, 1973. Islamabad

The Mohajirs took exception to the rural-urban divide exclusively for Sindh. It institutionalized the marginalization of Mohajirs. Bhutto played to the gallery, appeasing his constituency, that of rural Sindh. Tariq Meer speaks not only for Mohajirs, but for any thinking person on this issue: “If the quota system was such a wonderful thing for the rural population of Pakistan, then it should have been introduced everywhere. Why has it been only in Sindh? Don’t other people in Pakistan have the same problems vis-a-vis urban vs. rural? The rural populations of Punjab, Baluchistan and NWFP are as illiterate, as backward and as oppressed as in Sindh.” Second, its been argued that the populations of Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur were underestimated at the time, so as to reduce the quota percentage. This system was intended to be in place for 10 years, but successive governments have voted for its continuity: the most recent vote to extend this by a two-third majority was held in July 1999. Opposed only by the MQM in the National Assembly, the Quota System is now in place till 2013.

The Language Bill introduced in 1972, elevated Sindhi to the status of official language for the province, equating it with Urdu. Considering how important Urdu is for the Mohajir population culturally in addition to linguistically, it was not surprising that the introduction of this Bill created large-scale rioting. It was Bhutto’s populist nationalisation of large-scale manufacturing industry and financial institutions which not only brought the growth rate down to 3%, the lowest in Pakistan’s history, but more importantly, immensely raised the level of Mohajir political awareness. Privately owned commercial banks and insurance companies were brought under government control. Since most of these were Mohajir owned, the result was debilitating. Overnight, fifty percent of the workers were now Punjabi - the Mohajirs who formerly dominated these institutions could now form just 7.6% of the work-force.The overall effect of nationalization filtered down from the elite to the working classes, and this where the mass base for a disfranchised, educated but unemployed community began to take shape. Even private educational institutions were nationalized, thus reducing access for Mohajirs to a system of networking and patronage.

In addition to Bhutto’s policies, external factors such as the Gulf boom of the late 1970s added fuel to the fire. Pakistanis flocked to the Middle East for employment - a large number of these were Mohajirs. Remittances from there to their middle-class/lower middle class families created new socio-economic groups. Afghan war refugees, who numbered close to 3.5 million, settled largely in the NWFP and Baluchistan, but had a staggering effect on the ethnic mix of Karachi. It encouraged further Pathan migration down south. It was in such an atmosphere that the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO) was formed in the campus of Karachi University, in 1978. Altaf Hussain gave this powerful emotion a concrete political identity.

The Zia years undid some of the nationalization of industry but these were seldom returned to their original Mohajir owners. And the bureaucracy, a critical ally for Zia, stood to gain. During Zia’s time, the military-bureaucracy network dominated civil society in Pakistan. A large number of civil and military bureaucrats, mostly Pathans or Panjabis, amassed personal fortunes through the spoils of the Afghan war. Needless to emphasize, the Mohajir community, elite or working class, stood nowhere in the line of beneficiaries. The MQM focussed equally on economic and political issues. Its slogans on access to employment attracted the working classes. Its accent on economic factors drawing on its obvious ethnic appeal galvanized the movement. It took Karachi by storm. Soon the MQM was seen as a highly powerful and effective political force, led by Altaf Hussain who demanded that the Mohajirs should be recognized as the fifth nationality of Pakistan and that they should be allotted a 20 percent quota at the Centre and between 50 percent and 60 percent in Sindh. Tensions between Pathans and Mohajirs increased partly due to a constant struggle for scarce resources and for control of Karachi. The first large-scale riot between the two ethnic groups took place in 1986. This in turn consolidated the need for the Mohajirs to have a political party to represent their interests: the MQM grew in defiance of oppression. The party swept the Local Bodies elections of 1987 in Karachi and Hyderabad.

The growth of the MQM as the Mohajir Quami Movement can be divided into three phases. The early phase (1984-1988) saw the rapid rise of the party to political hegemony. The middle phase (1988-1990) saw a short-lived coalition with the PPP in Sindh followed by violent partying of ways. Short of an absolute majority the PPP entered into an agreement with the MQM, which lasted one year. Ire against Sindhis grew, Pathan disenchantment temporarily fell to the side-lines. The MQM established its presence in the other urban centres: Hyderabad and Sukkur. This was not without cost. For example, about 250 Mohajirs were killed in a Hyderabad bomb blast in Sept 1988 allegedly by the Jiye Sindh Progressive Party, a pro-Sindhi organisation. The final phase (1990-1995) saw the MQM enter into an alliance with Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League both at the Federal level and in Sindh, as it emerged again as the third largest political force in Pakistan in the 1990 elections. This phase saw the beginnings of a shift in ideology: the MQM moved away from its ethnic platform to a more economic, class-based platform. In the early 1990’s a small faction broke away, known as the Haqiqi faction which claimed to believe in the original ideology of the MQM. The MQM was now split into the MQM (A), the Altaf faction, and the MQM(H). Many commentators confirm, including the Amnesty International that successive federal governments and the military in order to weaken the MQM (A) supported the MQM (H). Violent clashes, now between the MQM (A) and MQM (H), in addition to earlier ethnic tensions continued. On the 19 June 1992, the army was called in to quell the chronic violence in Karachi, which was fast becoming another Beirut. It was also during this phase that Altaf Hussain, fled Pakistan in fear of his life. He left Karachi in 1992, for London and has not returned since.


Evolution of the MQM: Now, Muttahida (1997 -)

The MQM (A) officially changed to Muttahida Quami Movement, in July 1997. Ideologically, the shift to its homegrown philosophy of ‘Realism and Pragmatism” had begun in the early 1990s. In its words as conveyed in its web-site (, the MQM is working toward establishing a pragmatic social and political order that provides sanctity of life and property for people of all social strata. It provides ample opportunities to the members of the disadvantaged class to better their lives without taking anything away from the advantaged class. Further, the MQM believes in creating an economic system that makes all national resources available to all citizens of Pakistan, purely on the basis of merit and hard work, without any regard to race, religion, gender, language or other basis of discrimination.

The vision of the MQM has thus broadened from a primarily ethnic focus to a social reform agenda. There are however, no clear cut policies, no set goals except an overall change of the prevailing system and greater economic benefits to all the lower/working classes. Unlike before, there is no defined constituency for MQM workers to target, unless, of course, the target is the entire middle class. Physically Karachi and Sindh remain synonymous with the MQM. However the willingness of the MQM to form coalitions with those they decry rhetorically shows that access to power is a central concern for the MQM. The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) is here to stay. In the 1997 elections it emerged as an important power broker once again, as the third largest political force in the country. Its agenda has moved much beyond Karachi, Sindh and ethnic politics: it now talks of transforming feudal culture, of an equal distribution of resources, of the improvement of the conditions of the downtrodden masses of Pakistan, who according to rhetoric are 98% of the population. Its immediate target is the rising middle class of Pakistan, and if it is to succeed in its ambitions, it must tap this resource. However given its record of violence and its now remote control through long distance leadership, the MQM may be unequal to the task.

The challenge of the MQM now lies in delivering its message of social reform to a less recipient target group, many of whom still equate Muttahida with Mohajir. For the Mohajir community the past five decades have seen a shift in the balance of power. The first ten years after independence, elite Mohajirs ruled Pakistan. Forty years later, elite interests have given way to a mass-based grassroots movements, struggling to make a real impact in a country where any democratic political activity has become increasingly difficult. How much of an impact will they have on governance, how much of a representation will they have in the real corridors of power, and when will these “chosen” refugees be completely accepted and represented in all strata of society remains unclear.



Displacing People Nation Marches Ahead in Sri Lanka

Bandita Sijapati


The claim for national space


Movement of people from one place to another resulting largely because of religious and racial intolerance and violence is a phenomenon rooted in our history. Refugees, forced migrants and other categories of uprooted people, have been forced into exile and deported by authorities in an endeavor to ensure conformity and religious or cultural homogeneity. The ethnic conflict between the majoritarian Sinhala state and the minority Tamils and consequently the mass displacement of people is primarily rooted in the historic nature and structure of the state and its formation. It is for this reason that the state in Sri Lanka has become the main body of contention in ethnic conflict between not only the Sinhala and the Tamils but also the Muslims. Therefore, any resolution to the conflict should be based on a profound change of the state system.

The island of Sri Lanka is populated by many communities with the Sinhala constituting the major ethnic group. Imparted with this demographic profile, the history of conflict in Sri Lanka in essence is the history of evolution of consciousness among the majority community, the Sinhala, which defined the Sri Lankan society as Sinhala-Buddhist, thus renouncing its multi-ethnic character. Social and economic inequality was squarely on the agenda for post-colonial nation building of the Sri Lankan electoral politics and there was a gradual but a clear alienation of minorities from the state system. First, in 1949, nearly a million Tamils of Indian origin who worked in the tea plantations were denied the citizenship of the new state and eventually disenfranchised. A major turning point in this process of Sinhala consolidation of state power was in 1956 when ‘Sinhala only’ was made the official language and in ‘twenty-four hours.’

This policy tremendously disadvantaged not only the Tamils and Muslims but also the Burghers, the descendants of European settlers or their offspring of mixed marriages. Furthermore, a watershed in the ‘Sinhalization’ of the state came in May 1972 when a republican constitution was upheld by Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike who had come to power in 1970, avowing to eliminate the ‘shackles of colonial subjection’. This was to be attained by bolstering Sinhala Buddhist cultural forms, which conferred constitutional provisions and symbolic primacy to the Buddhist religion and Sinhala language and obliged the state to protect and foster these cultural forms.

Another major contributory factor associated with the discrimination against minorities was the economic policy. Beginning in 1956, economic policies of the governments moved towards a command economic structure. Furthermore, the Marxist-Maoists youth led Janatha Vimukthi Permuna (JVP) insurrection of 1971 was read by the country’s political elites as both a reminder and warning of the consequences of economic inequalities still to be addressed. Thus, by 1975, around sixty-five percent of the economy was directly in the state sector. While the power holders of the state continued an archaic patron-client policy in allocating jobs, resources, government loans, contracts and export-import licenses, anyone who was outside the confines was disadvantaged. The Tamil minorities experienced a major burden because while the Tamil businessmen retained a substantial portion of primary accumulation of capital, their further progress was however impeded because of the lack of state power or power sharing with the Sinhala polity.

It is nevertheless important to note here that the dichotomous description of the conflict as the Sinhala-Tamil conflict comes easily, with the implication that the parties to the conflict are a monolithic Sinhala group and a Tamil ethnic group. The Sinhalas, who now make up 74 percent of island’s population had, in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, self-consciously divided and defined themselves as either Low Country Sinhalas or Kandyan Sinhalas. But after the 1930s, despite the boundaries emanating from its political geography, the Sinhala-speaking people of the island moved toward consolidating their identity while the plural identities of the Tamil have been far more openly articulated so as to capitalize on the divisions within the Tamil groups by the state. On the one hand, faced with the threat of a Tamil separatist movement, the state, in whose interest it is to emphasize that there is no single Tamil interest and therefore cannot be a single state, does like to highlight the differences among Tamils. On the other hand, the state, at various times and to various degrees, fuels the more general Sinhala sentiment that holds all Tamils (including the Tamils of South India) to constitute the monolithic ‘Other’ against whom the Sinhala people, along with the Sinhala state, can define its identity.

Despite recent attempts on the part of the island’s Tamils at consolidating their own identity in the face of the consolidation of Sinhala identity, there remains one relatively deep dividing line that runs through the Tamil community. On one hand there are Tamils who have been variously referred to as "Ceylon," "Sri Lankan" or "Indigenous" who constitute the main force asserting their nationalism against that of the Sinhala. On the hand, there are Tamil-speakers whose ancestors came to the island from South India in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries mostly to labor on the island’s coffee and (subsequently) tea plantations. According to the 1981 census, this group made up 5.6 percent of the population while at its peak (1946 and 1953 censuses) this group constituted approximately 12 percent of the island’s population and thus outnumbered the Sri Lankan Tamils at that time. At the same time, the mostly Tamil-speaking Muslims have since the mid-fifties, conspicuously resisted their being unequivocally identified as Tamils. While in the earlier years, the ideologues of Tamil militancy claimed their quest for Eelam was on behalf of all Tamil speakers, including Muslims, the Muslims nevertheless inevitably became caught between the increasingly polarized Sinhala and Tamil communities, triggering a wave of Tamil-Muslim clashes.

War and humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka Today, Sri Lanka spends more than four percent (Rs. 39 billion in 1995) of its Gross Domestic Product on the continuing war with Tamil separatists. This level of military expenditure as a share of current government revenue has been treated as fairly high compared with other developing countries. However, the need to contain the gradual increase in terrorist activities and to safeguard its national boundaries has in turn compelled the Sri Lankan government to increase the defense expenditure in its annual budget. Figure 3 shows the level of defense expenditure in real terms from 1965 to 1994. These data were obtained by deflating current military expenditure data by GDP deflator (1990=100). It is thus clear that the level of military expenditure has remained close to Rs 20 billion in the late 80s and early 90s which, is fifteen percent of the aggregate annual budget of the country.

Furthermore if we examine the data for the last thirty-five years, it is evident that internal conflicts were mainly responsible for determining the level of military expenditure. Figure 4 shows the annual growth rate of real military expenditure for five-year periods. The highest growth rate of military expenditure is recorded for the period 1970-74, which reflects the national problems associated during the JVP uprisings in the South. Furthermore, the Indian involvement in Sri Lanka with the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force and consequently the lessening of military responsibility for the Sri Lankan forces is reflected in the reduction in expenditure during the 1985-89 period.

While the continuing increase in military expenditure draws resources away from other sectors, the decreasing revenue share further aggravates the government’s budgetary problems. The deteriorating economic situation in affected area will cause a fall in government revenue by the loss of productive activities such as agriculture, fishing, and tourism. Difficulty in collecting taxes is another problem. Apart from the loss of revenue, Sri Lanka has suffered deterioration in most of its social services like education and health facilities.

In addition, one of the direct consequences of the conflict and military operations is environmental degradation. At the turn of the century, 70 percent of the island was covered by natural forest but by 1981 this had decreased to about 20 percent. This gradual and systematic destruction of natural resources is particularly evident in the north and east. The war has contributed significantly to deforestation in the form of clearing of large strips of land, appropriation of forest and agricultural land for installations and building of defense structures. It is estimated that over one million trees have been destroyed for the construction of bunkers. Furthermore, displaced people living in welfare centers have been responsible for the deforestation in local areas where they use trees as fuelwood for their own basic needs as well as a source of income. Environmental degradation has also been exacerbated by the lack of maintenance of basic water supplies resulting in salinization of agricultural land, erosion of topsoil due to deforestation, lack of access to deep water fishing, drying up and contamination of drinking water wells, all of which has rendered it difficult for people in Sri Lanka to continue with their traditional livelihoods.

War and displacement Over the course of 20 years of war, a new border has emerged with the displacement of peoples where refugee camps and military camps tend to draw new boundaries simultaneously across the island in terms of occupied territories, which are divided for the purpose of security. The areas occupied by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) are usually the towns and the main roads while the LTTE roam the interiors. The area where the SLA has access is designated as "cleared" areas and those where LTTE moves freely are referred to as "uncleared" areas.

An important military objective is to strictly restrict mobility of people and goods between the cleared and uncleared areas in order to isolate the "uncleared" areas from the rest of the country. Laws of military permits governs the movement of people as well as the prohibition of items such as medicines, bandages, more than specified amounts of food items, fuel such as kerosene, petrol and diesel, fertilizers, books, etc. Furthermore, majorities of the internally displaced people are clustered along the border area between the north and the Sinhala-dominated south or between the uncleared and cleared areas. Furthermore, there are also the military rules, which restrict economic activities such as fishing and farming and hence come to govern local residents’ lives in occupied territories. Presently, Vavuniya functions as the gateway to the North.

In addition, during the 20 years of war the number of displaced at any one time has exceeded one million (Figure 5 for major phases of displacement in Sri Lanka). Multiple displacements are also a common phenomena where a majority of people have experienced events which have caused them to move on average three to four times. While it is easier to identify displaced people who live in centers such as transit camps, temporary relief centers, open welfare centers, restricted welfare centers, a majority of the internally displaced persons tend to be scattered, diffused, moving often, living with friends and relatives, in abandoned buildings, in the forest, etc.These people tend to be more vulnerable than those in open welfare centers since those in welfare centers generally receive food rations. Nevertheless, the displaced people who do not livein welfare centers tend to be less vulnerable than those living in restricted areas since they are freer to move in search of employment and other income-generating opportunities.

As identified earlier, people living in areas that border conflict zones form another group that can be difficult to identify due to the fluidity of boundaries drawn simultaneously by refugee camps and military camps. People living in these border villages tend to be economically affected and are forced to rely more heavily on local natural resources to meet their basic needs but face a greater risk to their personal security. These people often do not have access to basic services such as education and health services since these areas since these areas are isolated and unsafe given their proximity of these areas to uncleared areas and military bases.

Situational analysis in various regions Vanni


The region of Vanni comprising of Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar and North Vavuniya, in addition to being affected by the displacement of its own people has also played a major role in receiving the displaced people from other districts. The Vanni was the reception area of the large part of the population that got displaced after the intense battle (or Eelam War III) fought in 1995 to control Jaffna after the intermittent annulment of 1995 negotiations by the LTTE. Because of these series of operations 650,000 people living in the Jaffna peninsula became displaced. Of these, more than 350,000 fled to the Vanni districts. In an already besieged community, which is primarily, forestland plagued with scarcity of water, food production, the rising demands from the increase in the size of the population has put severe strains in the Vanni.

The problem is further exacerbated by drought, impoverishment, and the ban on agriculture inputs, severe restrictions on fishing and deep sea fishing, restrictions on medicines and other basic supplies, all of which has impelled the refugee population to rely on government for the provision of food. These provisions are in turn dependent on very controversial approval of food convoys into Vanni. As a result, certain areas in Vanni have experienced major price increases with the almost complete closure of the region and influx of people into selected centers. After enduring such severe calamity for a year, a majority of the refugees have returned to Jaffna at the end of 1996 though conditions in Jaffna was incapable of permitting resettlement in the proper sense. Furthermore, the fresh operations of the Sri Lankan Army, which began in May 1997 to open a road from Vavuniya to Jaffna bisecting the region, has lead to a another watermark, probably the longest and the bloodiest conflict in the history of Sri Lanka. This operation triggered thousands of refugees to flee within the Vanni districts. Moreover, since January 1997, approximately 200,000 people have moved out of the Vanni’s however the numbers of displaced continue to swell in the Vanni districts. Since then Vanni military operations are still ongoing and it is probable, those associated plights as stipulated above, will continue to be present.


The island of Mannar and Vankalai, part of the mainland, were brought under government control in 1991. However, resettlement and rehabilitation have been severely curbed due to the prevalence of security threats in the surrounding areas. Security restrictions and pass systems continue to restrict the movement of people, basic goods and materials, and consequently economic recovery. While people are gradually returning to their original places of residence, it is quite apparent that they have suffered heavy losses (fishing boats, draught animals, livestock, farm implements and houses), which is hindering them from restarting any kind of economic activities. As a result, prices for food and essential items have remained high, farmers are still not able to farm on a large scale due to the shortage of kerosene, fertilizer and other inputs, malnutrition and other health problems are also prevalent due to the scarcity of medical staffs and essential drugs.


The protracted conflict has evidently ravaged the land and its population in the Jaffna peninsula. Twelve years of LTTE occupation, the continued militarization of the peninsula after the government took control of Jaffna town and its environs in 1995, has severely restricted rehabilitation and resettlement attempts in the region. As a key area in the conflict, more than 600,000 people, often experiencing multiple displacements, were forced to leave their homes during the conflict while more than 40 percent remain to be displaced or are refugees. Even though resettlement grants were paid to most families upon return, the provision for housing assistance has been very limited and often controversial. Only about 2,500 families have been selected for the Rs. 25,000 grant, which is distributed in stages. The threat of counter-insurgence further impedes rehabilitation efforts as the civil administration is still weak and is overshadowed by military presence.

Furthermore, the unstable security situation places severe restrictions on movements of people thus curtailing them from earning income and rebuilding their livelihoods. Restrictions on food supply to local markets has resulted in high prices of food items, agricultural inputs, rendering it impossible for people to carry on their livelihoods. Agricultural production also suffers from lack of access to fertile land in the peninsula due to military presence and environmental degradation caused by military operations as mentioned earlier. A demographic shift has also taken place in Jaffna where the upper and middle classes have abandoned the peninsula including the productive workforce between the age group of 18 to 40 years. Furthermore, there are serious concerns in the peninsula concerning violence against women and the extra legal activities of the security forces, particularly "disappearances."

Eastern Areas


Two strategic factors distinguish the armed conflict in the eastern areas from the rest of the country. First, while the defeat of the LTTE in Jaffna and other areas in the north has given the impression that the LTTE’s force is now weakened, they nevertheless continue to be strong and effective in the east and control most of the territory north of Trincomalee to the south of Batticaloa. Second, while the eastern areas have about equal proportions of Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims, the region continues to be extremely volatile with several communal conflicts between the LTTE, Tamil civilians and the Muslim community particularly in Batticaloa.

After the 1983 ethnic violence, about 49,000 people were displaced and 29,000 houses destroyed. Most of the displaced families were housed in welfare centers around Trincomalee, although went to India. The government and UNHCR started the process of resettlement after the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987 however these efforts were disrupted by the ethnic violence between the Tamils and Muslims in 1990. As a result, more than 52,000 people were displaced and 47,000 houses were destroyed. While resettlement efforts have resumed, it is however, a slow process because of security constraints—the military are barricaded every couple of kilometers along the road to Batticaloa while the LTTE roam freely in the countryside. Civilians continue to suffer from bombing and shelling and are often caught in crossfire in an event of direct confrontation. Military personnel as well as the militants also subject the civilians to frequent round-ups, security checks, harassment, and extortions. As a result, many families continue to live in uncertainty and fear of attacks, which prevent them from resuming their normal economic activities. The problems in the eastern regions is further heightened because of the geographical constraints of the area resulting in increasing isolation from the rest of the country leading to further decline and impoverishment.


The district of Puttalam has experienced waves of massive displacement since the beginning of the armed conflict. In 1990, 75,000 Muslims were forcibly evicted from the district of Mannar, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mussali, Manthai-Naanathan and Vavuniya, and were quickly accommodated in Puttalam. Approximately nine years later Puttalam District has a displaced population of 44,612 people residing in 113 centers and 21,212 residing outside welfare centers with family and friends. While most of these people have originally been displaced from Mannar, they however have few prospects of returning to their homes in Mannar given the ongoing security threats there.

As in many other districts, which have been at the receiving end of the displaced populations, Puttalam lacks adequate infrastructure, which can accommodate the influx of people, and hence the displaced people often live in abysmal conditions due to the lack of economic opportunities. Most of these remain as marginal groups trying to supplement their income by working as casual laborers and fishermen. However, in addition to the burden of maintaining their daily survival, there is also a hatred and resentment that has emerged from the host community against those that are displaced. The displaced population has often been denounced for the undercut wage rates and further weakening of the almost devastated fishing industry.

Furthermore, provided that most of these displaced people are Muslims, traditional norms and values are also creating further burden on these displaced groups of people especially amongst the Muslim women. Women are mostly seen as symbols of cultural continuity while men consider themselves as custodians of culture. As a result, community institutions that profess to protect women are in reality controlling women’s autonomy and mobility and in the process, high rates of school drop-outs and 60-70% of early marriages are found to be increasing within the displaced people’s communities.

Vulnerable Groups


While by the very nature of their predicament, internally displaced persons are rendered vulnerable, a number of subgroups such as widows without family members, widows, children, the disabled, male youth, the elderly, families who have lost a member, and young women of marriageable age, can be identified as being more susceptible irrespective of their status as displaced persons. It has also been estimated that 75 percent of the Internally Displaced Persons in Sri Lanka are women and children. Their vulnerability is related to their living situation, which influences a number of factors, including access to coping strategies, assistance and supplementary foods as well as their security situation.

Approximately 900,000 children in the north and east of Sri Lanka are directly affected by the current conflict. An estimated 380,000 children have been displaced, many of them repeatedly and currently up to 250,000 children remain displaced. In many areas, health services and schools have been severely disrupted due to the conflict. Thousands of children have lost one or both parents, either as casualties during the war or due to lack of proper health facilities as experienced during displacement. Many internally displaced children have witnessed acts of violence and have encountered fear and uncertainty while growing up in conflict situation founded on ethnic antipathy and extreme militarism. Landmines and unexploded grenades have claimed the lives of several civilians the majority of whom are children. Girls and women have been physically and psychologically abused in the form of rape, domestic violence, child abuse all of which have become more pervasive. Many children have also become active participants in conflict as combatants. It has been reported that young men and children are at risk of recruitment by opposition factions. In some cases, people are even forced to participate in LTTE training sessions if they were to obtain food rations in uncleared areas.

The ongoing years of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka also has had social and economic impacts on women which has led to an increase in the number of female-headed households. In addition, violence against women has taken the form of assassinations, disappearances, and torture. Few women have been reported to be killed while others have been detained and tortured, raped in custody, or disappeared. Victims of rape by military personnel have consequently faced social ostracization vis-à-vis traditional cultural norms. Some young women have been "militarized" by enlistment in the Eelam Tiger cadres in a syndrome of glorification of violence and have been often sacrificed as suicide bombers and "martyrs."

Women widowed by the conflict have also lost family assets such as land through the negative attitudes of kinsfolk and officials and they have had no access to free legal aid to secure their rights. Widows who belong largely to the age group 20-40 years have been vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence at the hands of men in the community as well as by officials.

The psychological effects of torture, disappearances of spouses and children, family disruption, and reduction to destitution have created trauma and psychosomatic disorders with hardly any access to counseling services or to assistance in developing appropriate coping mechanisms. Despite state rehabilitation program of assistance to displaced families particularly women, sanitary and health conditions have been substandard due to limited resources and sometimes because of mismanagement. As a result, women face constraints in childcare and in the education of their children, and lack of access to economically productive activities. While there are no reliable estimates of women affected by violence, it is however clear that women in affected families are meeting endless challenges and constraints with courage but have inadequate support with respect to material and even basic needs, legal aid, and psychological counseling.

Politics and constraints of government assistance to the IDPs


There exists a significant political maneuvering of the internal conflict and refugee crisis in Sri Lanka between the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE, both of whom have used these crises for their own political advantage. While the state has used denial of emergency aid and assistance to the people as a political weapon to force people to surrender, the LTTE has used these crises to expose the government, to harden attitudes against the state and to increase recruitment.

In some sense, the government of Sri Lanka has taken an active stance in providing humanitarian relief to those affected by conflict even though the service has been minimal. Relief is extended not only to displaced people in "cleared" areas but also in areas that are under the control of the LTTE. Displaced people residing in transit camps receive cooked meals, dry rations, and other necessities. It has been estimated that the some 680,000 people affected by the internal strife, 500,000 of whom are internally displaced, receive government’s distribution of free dry rations. The current government’s food ration amounts to Rs. 1,260 per family of five per month. While this amount most often is insufficient for a family of five, the amount becomes very problematic for families with more than five members.

In addition to the insufficiency question, the humanitarian food assistance provided by the government is a controversial amongst the security forces, politicians, opposition groups, and bureaucrats. This is because the issue of food assistance has significantly been politicized in Sri Lanka. There is a general perception that ‘the population will on our side if we give them food’. As a result all the various parties opts to be viewed as the protector of the basic food needs of the people. As such, food is often used as an incentive to keep people in one place and to attract people away from uncleared areas that are not under government control. Furthermore, in areas that have been reoccupied by the government from the LTTE, resettlement efforts have been initiated. Displaced persons who are selected for resettlement in their original places of residence, or for relocation when the situation does not permit resettlement for security reasons are entitled to an assistance scheme which includes grants for the construction of shelter, purchase of household items, and set up of some income-generating activities, and amounts to Rs. 39,000. Once this amount is issued, the provision of free rations is terminated and given that the total amount of the resettlement scheme is minimal, people often prefer the security of the free dry rations.

Budgetary constraints and transportation problems are often recognized by government representatives as the root cause of the failure of the entitlement programs. People who have requested and are eligible for food rations, resettlement allowances, or other compensation packages often receive them late or only receive a partial payment. Furthermore, even though the government has issued other assistance packages such as compensation for affected persons as a result of death and/ or injuries, compensation for damaged property; marriage prosperity allowances, educational prosperity allowances and vocational training, people are often unaware about these entitlements or do not know whom to contact for these.

To complicate these matters even further, there exists a virtual censorship where humanitarian agencies, peace activists, and journalists are restricted from going to certain areas without government approval. As a result, it has been hard to assess and be knowledgeable about the ground-level reality in most areas in Sri Lanka and provide assistance to the victims. While both the parties, the government and the LTTE, denounce each other for the failure to a peaceful settlement, hostilities have been evoked as the government sanctioned the controversial ‘peace through war’ strategy.

Subsequently from mid-1995, efforts to dissolve the LTTE have become a key objective of government policy while endeavoring to compel the return of a negotiated peace process. Parallel to the prevailing military option the government has pushed for constitutional amendments through the devolution of power to meet Tamil aspirations for self-government in the north and east. However, 20 years of conflict, has polarized the polity in Sri Lanka and society to the extent that notwithstanding aspirations from both parties to hold a dialogue, the war persists.



Module B


Refugee Women and the Fundamental Inadequacies in Institutional Responses in South Asia[1]

Paula Banerjee

Over one percent of the total world populations today consists of refugees.  More than eighty percent of that number are made up of women and their dependent children.  An overwhelming majority of these women come from the developing world.  South Asia is the fourth largest refugee-producing region in the world.  Again, a majority of these refugees are made up of women.  “Refugee women and children form 76 percent of the total refugee population in Pakistan, 79 percent in India, 73 percent in Bangladesh and 87 per cent in Nepal.”[2] The sheer number of women among the refugee population portrays that it is a gendered issue.  On the basis of examples taken from different refugee experiences in South Asia this paper argues that both displacement and asylum is a gendered experience.  At least in the context of South Asia it results from and is related to the marginalisation of women by the South Asian states.  These states at best patronise women and at worse infantilise, disenfranchise and de-politicise them. It is in the person of a refugee that women’s marginality reaches its climactic height.  By refusing to create a South Asian refugee regime states in South Asia continue their castigation of non-conforming women to the status of political non-subjects.


Etienne Balibar has argued that the fissures in the “modern political community” emerge from the “practical and ideological sexism as a structure of interior exclusion of women generalized to the whole society,” which leads to the “universalization of sexual difference.”[3] Thus, modern states that are built on gender difference develop a precarious relation with its women.  Women became both subjects of the state as well as its other.  In pluralistic societies such as those found in South Asia “the modern projects of national independence, state building, and economic development have had distinctive gender implications and outcomes.”[4] The nation building projects in South Asia has led to the creation of a homogenised identity of citizenship.  State machineries seek to create a “unified” and “national” citizenry that accepts the central role of the existing elite. This is done through privileging majoritarian, male and monolithic cultural values that deny the space to difference.  Such a denial has often led to the segregation of minorities, on the basis of caste, religion and gender from the collective we.  I argue that one way of marginalising women from body politic is done by targeting them and displacing them in times of state verses community conflict.  As a refugee a woman loses her individuality, subjectivity, citizenship and her ability to make political choices.  As political non-subjects refugee women emerge as the symbol of difference between us/citizens and its other/refugees/non-citizens.  Refugee women become the material for the symbolic construction of the nation’s boundaries.  By taking some select examples from South Asia this paper addresses such theoretical assumptions.  Here the category of refugee women will include women who have crossed international borders and those who are internally displaced and are potential refugees.[5]  I will discuss their experiences of displacement and analyse how as dislocated subjects they negotiate spaces to retrieve agency in the face of institutional apathy.     


State Formation and the Question of Abducted Women

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.[6] 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.


The two states of India and Pakistan embarked on a massive Central Recovery Project during which some 30,000 women were recovered by their respective states.  Some incidents relating to these abducted women exemplify the politics of gender during partition. Even when the two countries could decide on little else they decided that the abducted women must be restored to their families.  Problems arose over the process and progress of recovery.  An Abducted Persons bill was brought in the Indian Parliament.  Boys below the age of 16 and women of all ages were brought under this bill which gave unlimited power to police officers regarding abducted persons.  If a police officer detained any women under this bill they could not be questioned in any court of law.  Although numerous amendments were proposed in the House the bill passed unchanged on 19 December, 1949.[7]


According to Rameshwari Nehru, adviser to GOI, Ministry of Rehabilitation, many abducted women showed extreme unwillingness to leave their “captors.”[8] Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin in their recent book on partition observes that women were:


abducted as Hindus, converted and married as Muslims, recovered as Hindus but required to relinquish their children because they were born of Muslim fathers, and disowned as ‘unpure’ and ineligible for marriage within their erstwhile family and community, their identities were in a continuous state of construction and reconstruction, making of them…‘permanent refugees’.[9]

These women were forcibly repatriated though refused rehabilitation by their families.  How did India and Pakistan achieve such commonality of interest regarding abducted women?


Many explanations are given for this forcible repatriation of women.  Menon and Bhasin point out how national honour was bound to women’s bodies.  According to Jan Jindy Pettman repatriation was made a nationalist project because women’s bodies became markers of male honour.  As usual women’s bodies became “part of other people’s agendas.”[10] Both countries made claims of moral superiority over the other based on their ability to protect/control female bodies.  This control was essential for the self-definition of the male identity that was in a state of crisis.


Abducted women were not considered as legal entities with political and constitutional rights.  All choices were denied to them and while the state patronised them verbally by portraying their “need” for protection it also infantilised them by giving decision making power to their guardians who were defined by the male pronoun “he”.  By insisting that the abducted women could not represent themselves and had to be represented, the State marginalised them from the decision making process and made them non-participants.  Even today the refugee women do not represent themselves.  They are represented by officials.  For the abducted 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.  Even after fifty-three years, state politics in South Asia regarding women in general and refugee women in particular remain essentially similar to the partition days.   


Untold Tales of Dislocation: An Exercise in Nation Building

Following the Partition 30 lakh refugees entered West Bengal by 1960.  In the 1970s the state witnessed another massive exodus from East Pakistan during the formation of Bangladesh.  Some ten million refugees fled to India.  Although the GOI received the refugees but it also made it clear that the refuge would be temporary.  The refugee camps along the border were called ‘transit relief camps’.  Over fifty percent of refugees from East Pakistan/Bangladesh consisted of women.[11]  In case of these refugees the treatment was slightly better than that meted out to the abducted women of former years.  Many women’s organisations came up to help these women such as the Nari Seva Sangha and Ananda Ashram.  During the first phase of refugee influx from the East the West Bengal Government established five sponsored colleges with stipulation that 75 percent of the students must be from refugee families.  Four of these were co-educational colleges and only one; the Sarojini Naidu College for Women in DumDum was women’s college.  During the second phase the GOI had applied and got a huge loan from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).  The number of women refugees increased because of fear of sexual persecution of women.  Rape had already been recognised as an instrument of war. 


During the first phase many women were sent to camps in Titagarh, Kartickpur, Ranaghat, Bansberia and Bhadrakali.  But there was only one institution named Uday Villa that was responsible for the rehabilitation of single women.[12]  There were however many women who did not find space in these camps.  They were forced to seek refuge in Kashi or Brindaban.[13]  Subhoranjan Dasgupta interviewd many such displaced women in Brindaban of whom Ila Bandyopadhyay was one.  She came to Brindaban in 1947 and has lived there since.  Even during the second phase of migration many women were forced to settle in Brindaban. Chapalasundari Dhar, a child widow came over to India from Noakhali when the riots started in late sixties.  She did not find a safe habitat in Calcutta so she was pushed to Brindaban.[14] 


Even 29 years after the creation of Bangladesh there are 2910 Bengali women struggling to survive in Brindaban.  One of them is Gopika Saha who came to India during the second wave from Bangladesh.  She tried to make a living in Calcutta but after her husband died, without any kind of institutional support she was forced to go and live in Brindaban.[15]  Most women who are now living in Brindaban have had little or no institutional support.  They earn their livelihood often by begging.  These women are both hapless and helpless.  Many of them have been sexually abused during the riots in East Pakistan.  They were unwanted in their country of birth and were displaced due to persistent fear of further abuse.  According to some estimates over 200,000 Bengali women were raped in Bangladesh between 1971 to 1972.[16]  Even when they came to India, the state run institutions found their position precarious.  The Indian State could not push them back because it was trying to portray the “issue at stake was a humanitarian one.”[17]  Neither could they rehabilitate them within the majoritarian community, as they were not considered respectable enough.


Women refugees from East Pakistan/Bangladesh portray that institutional responses varied with individuals.  If women were considered respectable and therefore useful for the nationalising and state building project they were accommodated within the majoritarian community.  Otherwise they were further displaced and forced to live their lives outside the community.  They remained permanent refugees living in the margins of society.  As women are seen as “the most dangerous bearers of moral decay,” their rehabilitation becomes even more precarious.[18]  Any threat to their character is looked upon a threat to the nation.  This entails increased control of women.  Since displacement may mean erosion of familial control the state assumes the guardianship of women.  One way of controlling women whose protection becomes problematic is by reducing them to the status of a political non-subject by permanently relegating them to the periphery.   This is what has happened to Bangladeshi women living in Brindaban.  Yet even in the peripheral state they challenge patriarchal modes by living together in “Amar Bari” as single women, rising above their sufferings and despair and participating in the discourse by happily narrating their experiences.


A Failed Nationalizing Project: Sri Lankan Women

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 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.  Like the second wave of refugees from East Pakistan/Bangladesh India stressed that the Sri Lankan refugee would have to go “home”.  However unlike the refugees from the East the Sri Lankans were called “refugees” rather than “evacuees”.  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 remain ambiguous.[19] The precarious nature of their status became clearer in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.  NGOs access to the camps, refugee’s freedom of movement and access to education and informal occupations were all curtailed.  


On January 6, 1992 the Indian and the Sri Lankan governments signed a bilateral agreement to begin refugee repatriation on 20 January.  Soon the programme was suspended when UNHCR raised doubts about their safety once they return.[20]  In July 1992 the GOI signed an agreement with the UNHCR and allowed the agency a token presence in Madras.  By April 1993 refugee camps were reduced from 237 to 132 in Tamil Nadu and 1 in Orissa.[21] Representatives of UNHCR were allowed to be in the transit area and could speak to returning refugees.  Before conflict was resumed in 1995 some 55,000 refugees were repatriated from India to Sri Lanka.  


After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination the politicians began to shun the refugees.[22]  As most of these were women they were initially considered harmless but with the number of female suicide bombers swelling there was a marked change in GOI’s attitude to women refugees.[23]  What the government of India failed to acknowledge was that the number of female bombers swelled after the IPKF operations, due to a demographic imbalance.[24]  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.  On such case that caught the public eye was that of a young girl called Sivitha.  She was smuggled to the Gulf with thirty other women.  Her employer “took sadistic pleasure in thrashing her.”  Twice she fell into a coma.  Unable to bear this she sought refugee in the Sri Lankan embassy.  She was sent back to Sri Lanka, into the war torn area of Vavuniya.  She tried to get back to India to her parents but failed.  Ultimately she committed suicide.[25] 


Even when the situation is not so extreme it is still traumatic for young women.  In Indian camps refugee families are given a dole of Rs.150 a month, which is often stopped arbitrarily.  Women are discouraged from taking up employment outside the camps.  During multiple displacements women who have never coped with such situations before are often at a loss for necessary papers.  When separated from male members of their family they are vulnerable to sexual abuse.  The camps are not conducive for the personal safety of women as they enjoy no privacy.  But what is more worrying is that without any institutional support women become particularly vulnerable to human traffickers. These people aided by network of criminals force women into prostitution.  Millions of rupees change hands in this trade and more lives get wrecked every day.[26] Yet even in these miserable conditions many of the widows living in camps wear the pottu.[27]         


Women from the North and Northeast Sri Lanka are worst affected by the political conflict.  Many of them who are unable to cross international border swell the ranks of the internally displaced.  Even in such camps women are responsible for holding together fragmented families.  Today roughly one-third of all households in Sri Lanka are headed by women and the numbers increase many fold in the camps for internally displaced.  In Alles Garden Camp in Trincomalee majority of women IDP’s are widows.[28]  Although 89 percent women in Sri Lanka are literate, due to two decades of armed conflict women from North and East have lower levels of education with one in every four being illiterate.   A report based on a research carried out at Mannar district portray that among 190,000 IDPs women often find it impossible to generate enough income for buying food for the whole family.  In Illupakkadavai, all 36 heads of female headed households stated that they rely on dry rations for approximately 90 percent for their nutritional needs and that the children of women headed households are most vulnerable to exploitation.  In Sri Lanka suicide rates for women have doubled in the last two decades.[29]  


A failed nationalising project in Sri Lanka has encouraged the government to segregate women who are considered threatening.  They are displaced from their homes and ghettoed in camps.  Most are then displaced from one camp to another, which discourages them from establishing any kind of social or political networks.  Their involvement in any kind of political activities, even if peaceful, is considered as threatening.  Many of these women are displaced and pushed beyond the borders.  Countries in which they seek asylum often equally consider them as threatening.  As for Sri Lankan Tamil women in India, Rajiv Gandhi’s death convinced the State that these women are of little use for India’s nationalising and nation building project.  From asylum seekers they were reduced to the status of hostages who were so dangerous that they had to be segregated.  Thus when agents of human trafficking arrived the State turned a blind eye.  This was one way of phasing out women who were considered problematic. No matter how the state try to homogenise these women as “victim” they assume agency through small acts of defiance such as wearing the pottu even when widowed, refusing to be repatriated or coming back to India after repatriation and holding on to jobs outside the camp.


Of State (lessness) And Other: Women from Myanmar

Since Independence, Burma has been torn apart by civil wars between the central government and the various opposing ethnic groups.  Such ethnic rivalries were in part a legacy of the divide and rule policy of the occupying British government and in part the policy of discrimination practised by the ruling elite.  Political instability in Burma, later renamed as Myanmar, led to the military coup of 1962.  Since then a ruthless military junta rules the country.  This junta has suppressed any dissent from either the ethnic groups or pro-democracy movements leading to massive desertion and displacements. There are many ethnic minorities that have suffered discrimination under successive Burmese governments, and massive persecution by the present Burmese regime.


Following the brutal crack down of 1988 by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), against democratic movements in Burma refugees came to Mizoram in large numbers.  Here we will discuss conditions of two different groups of refugees from Myanmar: the Chins and the Rohingyas.  Refugee camps were set up in Champai and Saiha districts of Mizoram to accommodate these Chin refugees by the Mizoram Government. However, these camps were closed down in 1994/95 when the Indo-Myanmar border trade talks began. One of the main reasons for closing down the camps was the request of the Burmese government which believed that the Chin National Front (CNF) which is fighting for the independence of Chin State, was operating from these camps. Since then the Chin refugees have been scattered all over Mizoram and forced to find work for their survival. Government of India followed largely a hands-off policy regarding the Chin refugees. It has so far allowed the Mizoram government a free hand to deal with the situation. In September 1994 and in June 1995, when the ongoing anti-foreigner movement in Mizoram targeted the Chins, and statements were made by local politicians that all foreigners including the Chins would be pushed back, a large number of Chin refugees came to Delhi and requested UNHCR for protection and help.   However, the refugees got very little help from UNHCR and large numbers of these were pushed back, contrary to the priciples of non-refoulement.  As in any displaced population more than fifty percent of the Chins who came to India were women.[30] Many of these women took up jobs in local schools.  Yet when the pushback came even they were not spared.


One such woman is a Chin whose father was a Christian pastor. She said she was arrested in Burma in 1993 after she spoke against the Government within earshot of an army officer. She said the officer beat and raped her.  She fled to India but last year returned to Burma. The abuse that she faced was not ground enough to give her refugee status in India.  She was never tried under the Foreigners Act and was merely pushed back.  On going back she continued her political activity when she heard that the military was after her she fled to Guam. When she arrived, she tested positive for tuberculosis in a skin test. Because she was pregnant, officials were afraid to take an X-ray. Instead, they kept her in isolation. But when the church group toured the prison and found the woman, they were alarmed by the effect of months of isolation. The Reverend Jerry Elmore, pastor of the University Baptist Church, offered to sponsor the woman himself so she could be released from custody to his care.[31]  The situation of this woman is not exceptional.  Such cases are happening in increasing frequency.  Young women who are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment are being abused by the police and then pushed back.[32]  The women are not given the status of refugees as sexual abuse is never ground for such a status. 


The situation of the Rohingya women is even worse than the Chins.  These women are Muslims and are considered “resident foreigners,” even in their homeland.  Their subordinate status within their own community discourage them from procuring education or working outside their homes.  The State authorities and the army habitually sexually abuse them.  Sayeeda, an 18-year-old Rohingya girl, who has had some education was of the opinion that the state machinery used rape as a way to push women out of Myanmar.[33]  Forced relocation especially without compensation is also used to push women out of Myanmar.[34]  These women are first taken to Bangladesh. But after the UNHCR repatriation programme started in Bangladesh new arrivals were no longer admitted to UNHCR camps. They were often pushed across the borders to India and then to Pakistan.  The Rohingya population in Pakistan is mostly concentrated in the suburbs of Karachi, including Korangi, Orangi and Landhi.  Rohingya settlements are named after their place of origin, such as “Arakanabad”, “Burmi colony”, “Arakan Colony” etc.  All these settlements receive regular visits from law-enforcement agencies extorting money from their undocumented inhabitants.  The Government of Pakistan has largely ignored the issue of trafficking of Rohingya women.  Besides the risk of being sold Rohingya women become victims of slavery through debt bondage.” Because of their undocumented status, Rohingya women constantly face arrest and imprisonment.”[35]


The Chin and the Rohingya women epitomise the plight of stateless women in South Asia.  Unwanted in their homeland the women are victims of gender based crimes such as rape which are hardly ever considered as grounds for refuge.  In a foreign country without any supporting documents these women are disenfranchised and depoliticised.  They are unable to protest against sexual crimes for want of a legal status.  The abuse that had pushed them across international border in the first place often seems to follow them in their new settlements.  If they successfully repatriate to their birthplace they are still in a state on not belonging.  In patriarchal systems women are constantly reduced to the status of non-subject.  Crimes that are perpetrated particularly against women are often trivialised.  Thus fear for loss of life can become ground for asylum or refugee status; fear of rape is not.  Yet women from Myanmar brace both these fears and repeatedly cross borders and participate in the protest movements in their effort to lead their lives in their own terms.


Of Dislocated Nation: Afghan Women in South Asia

Afghanistan is a landlocked country strategically located between the CIS states in the north, China in northeast, Pakistan in the east and south and Iran in the west.  Sitting on the crossroads between four regions with such diverse histories, the people of Afghanistan draw their heritage from all of these regions.  Pushtoons are the largest group of people in Afghanistan comprising about 54 percent of the total population, followed by the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen.  Pashtu and Dari are the official languages but there are over thirty unofficial languages.  In this multi-lingual, multi-cultural state probably the only one common factor that the people share is Islam. Yet Islam has many different strands, which may divide as much as it can unite.


In 1978 there was a coup popularly known as the Saur revolution.  This coup brought the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) to power followed by massive Soviet intrusion in Afghan affairs.  From that time on there is a constant flow of Afghan refugees to South Asia.  Maximum number of Afghan refugees settled in Pakistan as Pakistan was ideologically opposed to the Soviet Union and gave asylum to Islamic and pro-western refugees.  However, from the time Soviet Union started drawing back the mujahideen’s gained power. Yet even they could not give a viable government and their failure paved the way for Taliban, a fanatically right-wing group, deeply committed to the Sunni sect of Islam, with “a great capacity for discipline, for austerity, military decisiveness, and where necessary, high levels of violence.”[36]  Most of Afghanistan is still under Taliban control and the flow of refugees to South Asia continues unabated.  During the period of Soviet intrusion in Afghanistan over US $ 1 billion was channeled to Pakistan for the welfare of the refugees.  However, like other South Asian countries Pakistan’s Afghan policy was based purely on administrative practice.  The precarious nature of refugee protection became evident when in 1993 after the Soviet withdrawal Pakistan closed its borders to refugees on the grounds that they were no longer fleeing foreign intervention but were dissident Afghans. Beginning in late January 2000 the situation became worse when Pakistani security personnel began arresting Afghan nationals and putting them into trucks, which travel to the nearby border town of Torkham. The Afghans are then sent back to their country.[37]  The situation for all refugees became tough and particularly so for women. They are discriminated against by their own families as well as by the State.


An Amnesty International report entitled “Women in Afghanistan: A Human Rights Catastrophe – 1995” stated that Afghan women were attacked, molested, raped and killed by warring factions and had to bribe people at various check posts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan while fleeing.  Rape of war widows is common, 30 percent of prostitutes in NWFP are Afghan and Afghan refugee women in Pakistan “see no future for themselves.”[38] The plight of the Afghan women is particularly severe when they have opted to live in the camps after 1995.  A case in point is the situation of the inmates of the Kot Chandana camp.  At one time Kot Chandana had as many as 180,000 people living there but today there are only 33,000.  Over 60 percent of these are women.  Today the Pakistan government refuses to spend any money for the up keep of refugees living in the camp.  Even in the camp purdah is strictly observed much to the detriment of women headed households.  The plights of the widows are so severe that they prefer to remarry their husband’s brothers or cousins rather than staying single.  Most men in the camps have at least two wives.  Even in education girls face discrimination.  About 1558 girls are enrolled in primary schools and 860 boys. Yet there is only one middle school that is only for boys.  The termination of government aid means that once the girls pass class five they are confined to their homes.  Even in health care boys are given precedence.[39]  Higher education among girls is therefore not encouraged and self-sufficiency for most of them is a distant dream.


In Pakistani camps urban Afghan women opposed to Taliban and their discriminatory policies are often attacked.[40] Elsewhere such women face other kinds of problems.  Those Afghan women who get Residential Permit in India are not allowed the right to work.  The lack of work opportunities adds to the dislocation of these women.  There is the case of one Afghan refugee woman, who was one of the first women to work in the construction industry in Afghanistan.  She was a member of PDPA and mobilised thousands of women to engage in the public sphere.  But as a refugee she had to give up her public activism.  Lack of job opportunities and steady flow of income “have rendered her desolate and forced her to contemplate suicide.”[41] For these women physical dislocation has been transformed into emotional dislocation so that they are forced to live in a state of constant displacement.  Even in this state of dislocation they repeatedly tell any one who wishes to lend their ear of their intention to participate in the movement for peace.


 Institutional Responses or Lack of It…

 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.[42]  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.[43]  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.  Why this lack? 


According to one observer South Asian attitude to women has been guided by “mystified notions of chastity.”[44] This has led to the acceptance that women in South Asia belong to their communities.  Indian and Pakistani attitude during the nascent stage of State building institutionalised this through their treatment of abducted women.   It was agreed that in a state of dislocation women could lose the power to represent themselves.  This was essential as dislocation meant that traditional control on women was eroded.  Male centric states then assumed the prerogative of control.  Women were often put under not just cultural but political control.  They were restricted by representations and practices that homogenise and degrade them by transforming them into non-autonomous and dependent social category of “victim”. They as victims have no political voice. Their individual identity is subsumed within the identity of their communities. Therefore when women are displaced in large numbers the focus shift from them as a person to their communities.  But methods of displacing women are often gender centric.  Abuses are based on their individual gender roles.  Thus when states try displacing communities like the Burmese vis a vis the Rohingyas they use rape as an instrument for displacement.  Yet when a large number of Rohingya women are pushed out and when other states respond institutionally the gender dimension is often overlooked.  Not merely South Asian states but also international actors often overlook the gender dimension of this problem.


As for international actors UNHCR is acquiring some importance in the region for their efforts regarding refugees and internally displaced.   There are around 20,000 refugees who are protected by UNHCR in India, of whom a majority are Afghans.[45]  There are over eighty six thousand Sri Lankan refugees and sixty thousand internally displaced that concern UNHCR.[46] The UNHCR has a guideline for the protection of women refugees but it is left to the discretion of countries to follow these recommendations.[47] In patriarchal states where policies are weighted against women, if these guidelines are left to the discretion of the government then it does not succeed in its purpose.  Further, the programmes of these institutions such as UNHCR are built on certain practices.  Similar to state practices the practices of international organisations such as the UNHCR also delegate woman to the status of victim, which is a disenfranchising phenomenon.  The women have little or no say on policies that govern their lives and bodies even in camps run by the UNHCR. Albeit the UNHCR concern itself with the protection of these women but they do not work towards their agency.  This is not to suspect intention of UNHCR but many of their policies such as the policy of repatriation can work against women who have acquired agency over their own person.  Decisions regarding their relocation also assumes that refugees/women cannot have any say in it.  Even refugee subsistence allowance does not empower women but rather work towards their homogenisation as victim.  The Afghan urban women in India are denied agency by the UNHCR when they are not allowed to hold jobs.  The Sri Lankan women refugees are denied agency when they are forced to use passes to get in and out of their camps.  The practices that govern the daily lives of women in these camps also relegate them to the status of dependents.  Then they are degraded in governmental and non-governmental reports and discourses as miserable victims.               


In this paper five cases of women as dislocated subjects has been selected with a purpose.  The abducted women portray how exercises of state building have used the incidents of abduction to give a male face to the citizenry.  Women in Brindaban portray that States assume the right to decide which groups of women refugees are acceptable on the basis of their gender roles within their communities.  The Sri Lankan case reflects on how bilateral relations affect attitude to refugees and how that affects women.  It also portrays how specific incidents are made occasions for exerting greater control on women whose sexuality is perceived as a threatening.  Thus after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by a female human bomb all NGOs were stopped from working in the refugees camps.  Women inmates of these camps were heavily dependent on these NGOs as most often they were their only links with the civil society. It was from around the same time that the maid running business assumed notorious proportions.  The Sri Lankan case also reflects how the media privileges a certain image of women (in this case young women with guns on their shoulders) which justifies the asylum giving communities apathy regarding questions of security of refugee women. Women from Myanmar portray the ramifications of statelessness.  In situations of statelessness women are more vulnerable to gender related onslaughts.  Yet their gender related vulnerabilities are never considered ground for refugee status.  The Chin women portray that control/protection notwithstanding the States of South Asia can ignore well established international norms regarding non-refoulement.  The situations of Afghan refugees portray that even international agencies such as the UN and UNHCR can ignore gender dimension of the problem.  Thus during budget crunches it is the schools for women which are hardest hit.  Even international agencies such as the UN Gender Mission can contribute to depoliticising women.  A case in point is Angela King’s mission to Peshawar and Islamabad.  When Afghan women requested the UN through Ms. King that they should try to mobilise educated Afghan women in peace-making, Ms. King reportedly asked them to apply for UN jobs instead.  After the meeting the women felt “confused, insulted, hurt, angry and substantially ignored.”  But they noted bitterly “this is not an unusual situation – neither within our societies, nor within the UN agencies”.[48]  Thus the gender bias found in state policies regarding women’s dislocation might also be reflected in the attitude taken by international agencies. 


Taken individually the cases above reflect on specific characteristics of women’s depoliticisation due to dislocation.  But taken cumulatively it portrays that the overwhelming presence of women among the refugee populations is not an accident of history. It is a way by which states have made women political non-subjects.  By making women permanent refugee, living a savage life in camps, it is easy to homogenise them, ignore their identity, individuality and subjectivity.  By reducing refugee women to the status of mere victims in our own narratives we accept the homogenisation of women and their depoliticisation.  We legitimise a space where states can make certain groups of people political non-subjects.  A legal refugee regime may work as a necessary corrective and dissuade states from ignoring the gender dimension of the problem.


Marginal Women

It should be recognised that even in their marginality refugee women are never merely victims.  Bolan Gangopadhyay’s essay on women refugees from East Pakistan portrays how women exert agency even in situations of marginality.[49]  It has been recognised that the women refugees from East Pakistan/Bangladesh have altered the work pattern of women in Bengal and changed the definition of what constitutes a bhadramahila.[50]  Women have often used their marginality to retrieve agency.  The Women of Vitasta in Kashmir is a case in point.  Afghan women in Pakistan have for long agitated for their voices to be heard in peacemaking.  Dislocation is a debilitating experience no doubt but many exceptional women have transformed it into an empowering one.  They have assumed newer roles as head of households.  Such experiences have increased their confidence, though at times it may have contributed to their trauma. I have met a number of women in camps in Sri Lanka who have used dislocation as an empowering incident.  They have happily assumed the role of breadwinners.  When these women take refuge in a different country they assume agency even at the face of opposition from asylum giving states because in a new area they are able to transcend patriarchal control. Sometimes repatriation can seem problematic because these women are then forced back within the control of traditional patriarchy.  However we cannot get into a lengthy discussion on this matter here. 


A State centric narrative on the situation of refugee women leads to their trivialisation as mere victims.  It shifts attention from the argument that State policy often results in the creation of refugees.  State policy is not ungendered.  It results from a political effort to homogenise citizenship.  The ruling elites decide who belong and who does not.  Rape, sexual assault and other gendered crimes are perpetrated against women to dislocate the civil society (which in conflict situation is formed largely of women) of the other in moments of conflict.  Crimes against women are then trivialised as a natural result of conflict.  Therefore death or a serious threat to liberty becomes a reason for asylum but rape or vulnerability to human trafficking does not.  Such a value judgement makes it even more difficult for women to seek asylum. This is a way of marginalising crimes against women and then marginalising the woman and making her a political non-subject just as in Hitler’s Germany where the Jews were first feminised and then reduced to the status of political non-subjects. To retrieve women’s experiences from such marginalisations it is essential to recognise the individual voices of refugee women in any narrative of displacement.  Narrative based on responses of South Asian states cannot do so because governmental discourse reduce women to the status of victim and then justify their experiences as marginal and hence unimportant. Only by retrieving refugee women’s own voices and not dismissing their individual experiences as anecdotal can we centre the marginal.                   

[1] The author carried out part of this research in her capacity as the WISCOMP Scholar of Peace fellow for 2000-2001.

[2] Syed Sikander Mehdi, “Chronicles of Sufferings.” Refugee Watch, Nos. 10 & 11 (July, 2000) pp. 33-34.

[3] Etienne Balibar, Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx, translated by James Swenson (New York: 1994) pp. 57-58.

[4] Valentine M. Moghadam, “Gender, National Identity and Citizenship,” Hagar: International Social Science Review, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2000) p. 42.

[5] I have not included women who cross border motivated by economic concerns.  I recognise the arbitrary nature and the inherent difficulties of doing such an exercise because in South Asia political, social and economic reasons for flight are often intertwined.

[6] For a scholarly account of gender in the politics of partition refer to Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition (Delhi: 1998) and Urvashi Bhutalia, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (Delhi: 1998).

[7] Paula Banerjee, “Refugee Repatriation: A Politics of Gender,” Refugee Watch No 1 (January, 1998) pp. 8-9.

[8] Rameshwari Nehru Papers,  Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), Delhi.

[9] Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, “Abducted women, the State and questions of Honour,” Gender Relations Project Paper 1 (Canberra: 1993) p. 13.

[10] Jan Jindy Pettman, “Boundary Politics: Women, Nationalism and Danger,” in New Frontiers in Women’s Studies: Knowledge, Identity and Nationalism, Mary Maynard and June Purvis, eds. (London: 1996) p. 194.

[11] Statistics on Bangladeshi refugees is not easily available.  Sukumari Chowdhury suggested the percentage to the author in September, 1996, in Calcutta.

[12] Bolan Gangopadhyay, “Reintegrating the Displaced, Refracturing the Domestic: A Report on the Experiences at Uday Vila,” Refugees in West Bengal: Institutional Practices and Contested Identities, Pradip Bose, ed. (Kolkata: 2000) p. 100.

[13] Institutions such as Shesh Kiron in Varanasi and Amar Bari in Brindaban house women refugees from Bangladesh.

[14] Interviews taken by Subhoronjon Dasgupta. Excerpts of the interview published in “Widows of Brindaban: Memories of Partition,” Refugee Watch, Nos. 10 & 11 (July, 2000) pp. 44-45.

[15] ibid

[16] Derek Summerfield, “The, Social, Cultural and Political Dimensions of Contemporary War,” Medicine, Conflict and Survival, Vol. 13 (1997) p.7.

[17] Irene Khan, “The Refugee Problem: A South Asian Perspective,” Peace Studies Reader, 1 (Forthcoming, Sage, 2001).  The paper was presented in Maulana Azad Institute of Asian Studies in 1997. 

[18] D. Kandiyoti, ed. Women, Islam and the State (London: 1991) p. 8.

[19] Nirmala Chandrahasan, “A Precarious Refuge: A Study of the Reception of Tamil Asylum Seekers in Europe, North America and India,” Harvard Human Rights Yearbook, Vol. 2 (1989) pp. 55-96.

[20] B.S. Chimni, “The Legal Condition of Refugees in India,” Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4 (1994) p. 385.

[21] Asha Hans, “Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in India,” Refuge, Vol. 13, No. 3 (1993) p. 30.

[22] C. Amalraj, “Sri Lanka: The One-eyed Hope,” The New Leader (1-15 June, 1995) p. 19.

[23] About 23 female suicide bombers died by March 1998. Source: Yerimalai Report.

[24] Joke Schrijvers, “Constructing Womanhood, Tamilness and The Refugee,” in Selvy Thiruchandran ed., Woman, Narration and Nation: Collective Images and Multiple Identities (New Delhi: 1999) p. 179.

[25] “The Maid Running Madness,” South Asia Refugee Information, Vol. 3 (September, 1996) p. 1.  Also see “A Journey Without End: Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in India,” Refugee Watch, No. 2 (April, 1998) pp. 9-11.

[26] “Refugee – The Human Cargo,” South Asia Refugee Information, Vol. 5 (December, 1997) pp. 5-6.

[27] Dharini Rajasingham-Senanayake analyses why pottu is a mark of challenge when widows wear it as traditionally it is a mark of married women in “Post Victimisation: Cultural Transformation and Women’s Empowerment in War and Displacement,” Selvy Thiruchandran ed., Woman, Narration and Nation: Collective Images and Multiple Identities (New Delhi: 1999) pp. 136-151.

[28] The author visited Alles Garden Camp Trincomalee on 24th and 25th January, 2001.

[29] Paula Banerjee, “Agonies and Ironies of War,” Refugee Watch, No. 2 (April, 1998) p. 21.

[30] Paula Banerjee, “Chin Refugees in Mizoram,” Refugee Watch, No. 13 (March, 2001, Forthcoming).

[31]“Hundreds of destitute Burmese asylum-seekers marooned on Guam” South China Morning Post, 6 February 2001. Source: Europe Intelligence Wire.

[32] H.V. Stanley, “Chin Refugees in India,” Refugee Watch, No. 13 (March, 2001, Forthcoming).

[33] Interview with the author on 20 September, 1998, in Dhaka.

[34] “Trafficked from Hell to Hadis,” Report by Images Asia (November 1999).

[35] Soma Ghosal, “Stateless and Opressed from Burma: Rohingya Women,” Refugee Watch, Nos. 10 & 11 (July, 2000) p. 15.

[36] J.N. Dixit, An Afghan Diary: Zahir Shah to Taliban, (New Delhi: 2000) p. 495.

[37]“Pakistan gets tough with refugees” , Inter Press Service via News Edge Corporation, 5 February 2001,

[38] Quoted in Syed Sikander Mehdi, “Chronicles of Sufferings – Refugee Women of South Asia,” Refugee Watch Nos. 10 & 11 (July, 2000) p. 35.

[39] Atta ur Rehman Sheikh, “Women Refugees Of Kot Chandana,” Refugee Watch, No. 12 (December, 2000) pp. 39-40.

[40] Syed Sikander Mehdi, “Chronicles of Sufferings – Refugee Women of South Asia,” Refugee Watch Nos. 10 & 11 (July, 2000) p. 35.

[41] Mekondjo Kaapande and Sherene Fenn, “Dislocated Subjects: The Story of Refugee Women,” Refugee Nos. Watch 10 & 11 (July, 2000) p. 28.

[42] See National Human Rights Commission vs. Union of India (1996: 1 SCC 295); Also Khudiram Chakma vs. Union of India (1994: Supplementary 1 SCC 614).

[43]  Interview with Yashoda in Sithamparapuram camp, Vavuniya, 22 April 1996.                 

[44] Samir Das, “Ethnic Assertion and Women’s Question in Northeastern-India,” A.K. Jana, ed., Indian Politics at the Crossroads (New Delhi: 1998) p.177.

[45] J.H.Hre Mang, Report on the Chin Refugees in Mizoram State in India (New Delhi: 2000) p. 10.

[46] Figures taken from UNHCR reports at the end of 1998.

[47] UNHCR, “Guidelines for Protection of Refugee Women,” EC/SCP/67, Geneva, July 1991, para 53/ Ia.

[48] Cassandra Balchin, “United Against the UN: The UN Gender Mission Attitude Towards Afghan Women Refugees Within its Own Rank is Glaringly Hypocritical,” Newsline (April, 1998) p. 95.

[49] Bolan Gangopadhyay, “Reintegrating the Displaced, Refracturing the Domestic: A Report on the Experiences at Uday Vila,” Refugees in West Bengal: Institutional Practices and Contested Identities, Pradip Bose, ed. (Kolkata: 2000) pp. 98-105.

[50] Manju Chattopadhyay, “Refugee Women of Bengal,” Refugee Watch Nos. 10 & 11 (July, 2000) pp.45 and 47.



Dislocating Women and Making the Nation

Amnesty International, Press Release, News Service No: 197, November 1, 2002

More than eighty percent of the world refugees is made up of women and their dependent children. An overwhelming majority of these women come from the developing world. South Asia is the fourth largest refugee-producing region in the world. Again, a majority of these refugees are made up of women. “Refugee women and children form 76 percent of the total refugee population in Pakistan, 79 percent in India, 73 percent in Bangladesh and 87 per cent in Nepal” (Syed Sikander Mehdi, “Chronicles of Sufferings.” Refugee Watch, Nos. 10 & 11 July, 2000, pp. 33-34.).The sheer number of women among the refugee population portrays that it is a gendered issue. On the basis of examples taken from different refugee experiences in South Asia this paper argues that both displacement and asylum is a gendered experience. At least in the context of South Asia it results from and is related to the marginalisation of women by the South Asian states. These states at best patronise women and at worse infantilise, disenfranchise and de-politicise them. It is in the person of a refugee that women’s marginality reaches its climactic height. By refusing to create a South Asian refugee regime states in South Asia continue their castigation of non-conforming women to the status of political non-subjects.

State Formation and the Question of Abducted Women

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.

The two states of India and Pakistan embarked on a massive Central Recovery Project during which some 30,000 women were recovered by their respective states. Some incidents relating to these abducted women exemplify the politics of gender during partition. Even when the two countries could decide on little else they decided that the abducted women must be restored to their families. Problems arose over the process and progress of recovery. An Abducted Persons bill was brought in the Indian Parliament. Boys below the age of 16 and women of all ages were brought under this bill which gave unlimited power to police officers regarding abducted persons. If a police officer detained any women under this bill they could not be questioned in any court of law. Although numerous amendments were proposed in the House the bill passed unchanged on 19 December 1949.


Abducted women were not considered as legal entities with political and constitutional rights. All choices were denied to them and while the state patronised them verbally by portraying their “need” for protection it also infantilised them by giving decision making power to their guardians who were defined by the male pronoun “he”. By insisting that the abducted women could not represent themselves and had to be represented, the State marginalised them from the decision making process and made them non-participants. Even today the refugee women do not represent themselves. For the abducted 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.


A Failed Nationalising Project: Sri Lankan Women

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 nationalising project. By 1989 there were about 160,000 refugees from Sri Lanka to India, again largely women with their dependants. Initially the State Government provided these refugees with shelter and rations, but still many of them preferred to live outside the camps. Like the second wave of refugees from East Pakistan/Bangladesh India stressed that the Sri Lankan refugee would have to go “home”. However unlike the refugees from the East the Sri Lankans were called “refugees” rather than “evacuees”. 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 remain ambiguous (Nirmala Chandrahasan, “A Precarious Refuge: A Study of the Reception of Tamil Asylum Seekers in Europe, North America and India,” Harvard Human Rights Yearbook, Vol. 2, 1989, pp. 55-96). The precarious nature of their status became clearer in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. NGOs access to the camps, refugee’s freedom of movement and access to education and informal occupations were all curtailed.

On January 6, 1992 the Indian and the Sri Lankan governments signed a bilateral agreement to begin refugee repatriation on 20 January. Soon the programme was suspended when UNHCR raised doubts about their safety once they return (B.S. Chimni, “The Legal Condition of Refugees in India,” Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4, 1994, p. 385.). In July 1992 the GOI signed an agreement with the UNHCR and allowed the agency a token presence in Madras. By April 1993 refugee camps were reduced from 237 to 132 in Tamil Nadu and 1 in Orissa. Representatives of UNHCR were allowed to be in the transit area and could speak to returning refugees. Before conflict was resumed in 1995 some 55,000 refugees were repatriated from India to Sri Lanka and again a majority of them were women. Thus when problems ensued once again these repatriated women faced it even without the support of their families.

After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination the politicians began to shun the refugees (C. Amalraj, “Sri Lanka: The One-eyed Hope,” The New Leader, 1-15 June, 1995, p. 19.). As most of these were women they were initially considered harmless but with the number of female suicide bombers swelling there was a marked change in GOI’s attitude to women refugees (About 23 female suicide bombers died by March 1998. Source: Yerimalai Report.). What the government of India failed to acknowledge was that the number of female bombers swelled after the IPKF operations, due to a demographic imbalance (Joke Schrijvers, “Constructing Womanhood, Tamilness and The Refugee,” in Selvy Thiruchandran ed., Woman, Narration and Nation: Collective Images and Multiple Identities, New Delhi, 1999, p. 179.). 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. On such case that caught the public eye was that of a young girl called Sivitha. She was smuggled to the Gulf with thirty other women. Her employer “took sadistic pleasure in thrashing her.” Twice she fell into a coma. Unable to bear this she sought refugee in the Sri Lankan embassy. She was sent back to Sri Lanka, into the war torn area of Vavuniya. She tried to get back to India to her parents but failed. Ultimately she committed suicide (“The Maid Running Madness,” South Asia Refugee Information, Vol. 3 ,September, 1996, p. 1. Also see “A Journey Without End: Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in India,” Refugee Watch, No. 2, April, 1998, pp. 9-11.).

Even when the situation is not so extreme it is still traumatic for young women. Women are discouraged from taking up employment outside the camps. During multiple displacements women who have never coped with such situations before are often at a loss for necessary papers. When separated from male members of their family they are vulnerable to sexual abuse. The camps are not conducive for the personal safety of women as they enjoy no privacy. But what is more worrying is that without any institutional support women become particularly vulnerable to human traffickers. These people aided by network of criminals force women into prostitution. Millions of rupees change hands in this trade and more lives get wrecked every day.

Of State(lessness) And Other: Women from Myanmar

Since Independence, Burma has been torn apart by civil wars between the central government and the various opposing ethnic groups. Such ethnic rivalries were in part a legacy of the divide and rule policy of the occupying British government and in part the policy of discrimination practised by the ruling elite. Political instability in Burma, later renamed as Myanmar, led to the military coup of 1962. Since then a ruthless military junta rules the country. This junta has suppressed any dissent from either the ethnic groups or pro-democracy movements leading to massive desertion and displacements. There are many ethnic minorities that have suffered discrimination under successive Burmese governments, and massive persecution by the present Burmese regime.
Following the brutal crack down of 1988 by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), against democratic movements in Burma refugees came to Mizoram in large numbers.Here we will discuss conditions of two different groups of refugees from Myanmar: the Chins and the Rohingyas. Refugee camps were set up in Champai and Saiha districts of Mizoram to accommodate these Chin refugees by the Mizoram Government. However, these camps were closed down in 1994/95 when the Indo-Myanmar border trade talks began. One of the main reasons for closing down the camps was the request of the Burmese government which believed that the Chin National Front (CNF) which is fighting for the independence of Chin State, was operating from these camps. Since then the Chin refugees have been scattered all over Mizoram and forced to find work for their survival. Government of India followed largely a hands-off policy regarding the Chin refugees. It has so far allowed the Mizoram government a free hand to deal with the situation. In September 1994 and in June 1995, when the ongoing anti-foreigner movement in Mizoram targeted the Chins, and statements were made by local politicians that all foreigners including the Chins would be pushed back, a large number of Chin refugees came to Delhi and requested UNHCR for protection and help. However, the refugees got very little help from UNHCR and large numbers of these were pushed back, contrary to the principles of non-refoulement. As in any displaced population more than fifty percent of the Chins who came to India were women. Many of these women took up jobs in local schools. Yet when the pushback came even they were not spared.

One such woman is a Chin whose father was a Christian pastor. She said she was arrested in Burma in 1993 after she spoke against the Government within earshot of an army officer. She said the officer beat and raped her. She fled to India but last year returned to Burma. The abuse that she faced was not ground enough to give her refugee status in India. She was never tried under the Foreigners Act and was merely pushed back. On going back she continued her political activity when she heard that the military was after her she fled to Guam. When she arrived, she tested positive for tuberculosis in a skin test. Because she was pregnant, officials were afraid to take an X-ray. Instead, they kept her in isolation. But when the church group toured the prison and found the woman, they were alarmed by the effect of months of isolation. The Reverend Jerry Elmore, pastor of the University Baptist Church, offered to sponsor the woman himself so she could be released from custody to his care (“Hundreds of destitute Burmese asylum-seekers marooned on Guam” South China Morning Post, 6 February 2001. Source: Europe Intelligence Wire). The situation of this woman is not exceptional. Such cases are happening in increasing frequency. Young women who are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment are being abused by the police and then pushed back. The women are not given the status of refugees as sexual abuse is never ground for such a status.

The situation of the Rohingya women is even worse than the Chins. These women are Muslims and are considered “resident foreigners,” even in their homeland. Their subordinate status within their own community discourage them from procuring education or working outside their homes. The State authorities and the army habitually sexually abuse them. Sayeeda, an 18-year-old Rohingya girl, who has had some education was of the opinion that the state machinery used rape as a way to push women out of Myanmar (Interview with the author on 20 September, 1998, in Dhaka.). Forced relocation especially without compensation is also used to push women out of Myanmar (“Trafficked from Hell to Hadis,” Report by Images Asia, November 1999). These women are first taken to Bangladesh. But after the UNHCR repatriation programme started in Bangladesh new arrivals were no longer admitted to UNHCR camps. They were often pushed across the borders to India and then to Pakistan. The Rohingya population in Pakistan is mostly concentrated in the suburbs of Karachi, including Korangi, Orangi and Landhi. All these settlements receive regular visits from law-enforcement agencies extorting money from their undocumented inhabitants. The Government of Pakistan has largely ignored the issue of trafficking of Rohingya women. Besides the risk of being sold Rohingya women become victims of slavery through debt bondage.” Because of their undocumented status, Rohingya women constantly face arrest and imprisonment” (Soma Ghosal, “Stateless and Opressed from Burma: Rohingya Women,” Refugee Watch, Nos. 10 & 11 (July, 2000) p. 15.).

The Chin and the Rohingya women epitomise the plight of stateless women in South Asia. Unwanted in their homeland the women are victims of gender-based crimes such as rape, which are hardly ever considered as grounds for refuge. In a foreign country without any supporting documents these women are disenfranchised and depoliticised.They are unable to protest against sexual crimes for want of a legal status. The abuse that had pushed them across international border in the first place often seems to follow them in their new settlements. If they successfully repatriate to their birthplace they are still in a state of not belonging. In patriarchal systems women are constantly reduced to the status of non-subject. Crimes that are perpetrated particularly against women are often trivialised. Thus fear for loss of life can become ground for asylum or refugee status; fear of rape is not.

Institutional Responses or Lack of It…

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 (See National Human Rights Commission vs. Union of India (1996: 1 SCC 295); Also Khudiram Chakma vs. Union of India (1994: Supplementary 1 SCC 614).Yet all these orders are ad hoc 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 (Interview with Yashoda in Sithamparapuram camp, Vavuniya, 22 April 1996.). 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. Why this lack?

According to one observer South Asian attitude to women has been guided by “mystified notions of chastity" (Samir Das, “Ethnic Assertion and Women’s Question in Northeastern-India,” A.K. Jana, ed., Indian Politics at the Crossroads (New Delhi: 1998) p.177.). This has led to the acceptance that women in South Asia belong to their communities. Indian and Pakistani attitude during the nascent stage of State building institutionalised this through their treatment of abducted women. It was agreed that in a state of dislocation women could lose the power to represent themselves. This was essential as dislocation meant that traditional control on women was eroded. Male centric states then assumed the prerogative of control. Women were often put under not just cultural but political control. They were restricted by representations and practices that homogenise and degrade them by transforming them into non-autonomous and dependent social category of “victim”. They as victims have no political voice. Their individual identity is subsumed within the identity of their communities. Therefore when women are displaced in large numbers the focus shift from them as a person to their communities. But methods of displacing women are often gender centric. Abuses are based on their individual gender roles.Thus when states try displacing communities like the Burmese viœ-a-viœ the Rohingyas they use rape as an instrument for displacement. Yet when a large number of Rohingya women are pushed out and when other states respond institutionally the gender dimension is often overlooked. Not merely South Asian states but also international actors often overlook the gender dimension of this problem.

As for international actors UNHCR is acquiring some importance in the region for their efforts regarding refugees and internally displaced. The UNHCR has a guideline for the protection of women refugees but it is left to the discretion of countries to follow these recommendations (UNHCR, “Guidelines for Protection of Refugee Women,” EC/SCP/67, Geneva, July 1991, para 53/ Ia.). In patriarchal states where policies are weighted against women, if these guidelines are left to the discretion of the government then it does not succeed in its purpose. Further, the programmes of these institutions such as UNHCR are built on certain practices. Similar to state practices the practices of international organisations such as the UNHCR also delegate woman to the status of victim, which is a di senfranchising phenomenon. The women have little or no say on policies that govern their lives and bodies even in camps run by the UNHCR. Albeit the UNHCR concern itself with the protection of these women but they do not work towards their agency. This is not to suspect intention of UNHCR but many of their policies such as the policy of repatriation can work against women who have acquired agency over their own person. Decisions regarding their relocation also assumes that refugees/women cannot have any say in it. Even refugee subsistence allowance does not empower women but rather work towards their homogenisation as victim. The Afghan urban women in India are denied agency by the UNHCR when they are not allowed to hold jobs. The Sri Lankan women refugees are denied agency when they are forced to use passes to get in and out of their camps. The practices that govern the daily lives of women in these camps also relegate them to the status of dependants. Then they are degraded in governmental and non-governmental reports and discourses as miserable victims.

The situations of Afghan refugees portray that even international agencies such as the UN can ignore gender dimension of the problem. It has been observed that even UN Gender Missions can contribute to depoliticising women. A case in point is Angela King’s mission to Peshawar and Islamabad. When Afghan women requested the UN through Ms. King that they should try to mobilise educated Afghan women in peace-making, Ms. King reportedly asked them to apply for UN jobs instead. After the meeting the women felt “confused, insulted, hurt, angry and substantially ignored.” But they noted bitterly “this is not an unusual situation – neither within our societies, nor within the UN agencies" (Cassandra Balchin, “United Against the UN: The UN Gender Mission Attitude Towards Afghan Women Refugees Within its Own Rank is Glaringly Hypocritical,” Newsline, April, 1998, p. 95.). Thus the gender bias found in state policies regarding women’s dislocation might also be reflected in the attitude taken by international agencies.

A State/state-like institution centric narrative on the situation of refugee women leads to their trivialisation as mere victims. It shifts attention from the argument that State policy often results in the creation of refugees. State policy is not ungendered. To retrieve women’s experiences from such marginalisations it is essential to recognise the individual voices of refugee women in any narrative of displacement. Narrative based on responses of South Asian states cannot do so because governmental discourse reduce women to the status of victim and then justify their experiences as marginal and hence unimportant. Only by retrieving refugee women’s own voices and not dismissing their individual experiences as anecdotal can we centre the marginal. (Paula Banerjee)

Sri Lanka: Amnesty International urges the government to stop torture
Amnesty International today wrote to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremasinghe, urging him to implement key recommendations made by the Committee against Torture (CAT) after the results of their confidential inquiry into allegations of a systematic practice of torture in Sri Lanka were presented to the United Nations General Assembly.

We have had a long-standing concern about torture, including rape, reported both in the context of the armed conflict and routine police investigations,” Amnesty International wrote in the letter. Amnesty International urged a thorough and impartial review of the role of the police, magistrates and doctors in relation to the prevention and investigation of torture. The organisation also called for the setting up of an investigative body fully independent of the police with the necessary powers and expertise required to open criminal investigations wherever there is a reasonable ground to believe torture has been committed.

”No perpetrators of torture have so far been convicted in a criminal court, despite the reported filing of some cases,” Amnesty International added. The organization appreciates that some measures have already been taken, including the instructions sent to the Inspector General of Police to all police units that under no circumstances should torture be permitted, and the setting up of the “Prosecution of Torture Perpetrators Unit” in the Attorney General’s Department. However frequent and continuing reports of torture prove the need for the full implementation of the recommendations made by CAT in its recent report, many of which echo recommendations made by Amnesty International in its reports on torture and rape in custody published in June 1999 and January 2002 respectively.

Amnesty International also informed the Prime Minister that it will be seeking clarification from the CAT about its unclear and equivocal findings that “although a disturbing number of cases of torture and ill-treatment .... are taking place, mainly in connection with the armed conflict, its practice is not systematic”. This conclusion appears to be at odds with CAT’s assessment that reports of torture are high, ongoing concerns that instructions to police and security forces not to commit torture are not always obeyed, and investigations into allegations of torture are not satisfactory.



Module F



Ethnic Politics and Land Use : Genesis of Conflicts in India's North-East

Sanjay Barbora, EPW, March 20 2002

Available at  


Ethnicity is an important factor that influences the complex social and political relations in north-eastern India. However, the various struggles for self-determination and events like the unprecedented protests against the extension of the Indo-Naga ceasefire in Manipur and Assam, seem to lend credibility to politically expedient notions that dismiss ethnicity as reactionary, inward looking and ultimately destructive element in democratic politics. Ethnicity is seen as the last bastion for veiled parochialism and insular chauvinism.1  For instance, one has seen the debate over the issue of a ‘greater homeland’ for the Naga peoples coincide with the competing legitimacy of other ethnic groups in the region that lay claims to the ‘territorial integrity’ of their respective homelands. The long-pending deliberations on how ethnic relations between communities develop the language and politics of ‘exclusion’ is overdue. At the core of this development or transformation of ethnic relations lies the fact that certain basic questions, relating to socio-political rights of the indigenous peoples, have not been resolved in the north-east. With the transformation of ethnic relations and development of further conflicts, it has been easier to defer the fundamental contradictions that have come about as a result of the existing policies of the state in dealing with ethnic groups, in the seven states in the region. This paper attempts to relate the ethnic politics of the region, to a growing importance of land relations and land use, by focusing on the changes of land use patterns and social control over land in a portion of North Cachar Hills.2  The paper is based on fieldwork and secondary data collected in NC Hills district, mostly amongst the Dimasa. The attempt is not to bolster or add credence to the claims of one (ethnic) group against others in the district. Instead, by focusing on the internal and external changes one hopes to arrive at the manner in which certain processes have affected social relations within the larger Dimasa community and by extension, between the Dimasa and other ethnic groups in the region. More importantly, one hopes to apportion responsibility where it is due. Official and administrative policies need not be the only factor that generates impoverishment and ethnic conflict. Subjective factors, such as years of communal distrust or contested histories may also add to this conflict. Yet, it is at the level of administrative and official policy that one finds a greater lack of debate and accountability. This is a condition that needs to be rectified at the earliest.


North Cachar Hills district was formed in 1971. Prior to that, in 1951 it formed an integral part of an autonomous Hills districts (of Assam) known as United Mikir and North Cachar Hills. This district was formed after ‘taking out’ the Mikir Hills from Nowgong (Nagaon) and North Cachar from Cachar districts respectively [Danda 1997:88]. According to statistical information obtained from the Census of India 1971 there exists only one town and 503 villages in the district of NC Hills. Of the 503 villages, 281 had primary schools; 17 had middle schools, while only four villages had high schools. The whole district had 11 health dispensaries, five health centres and one hospital. None of the villages had maternity, child care and family planning centres. The communication system was poorly developed with eight metalled roads, 474 gravel roads and 13 post offices in the whole district. The district had a total scheduled tribe population of 52,583 [Census of India 1971]. Relative little had changed in most areas (except population figures) by the time the results of the 1991 Census were declared. The total population in NC Hills had risen to 1,50,801 by the time the 1991 Census results were declared. Of these, 1,16,316 were situated in the rural areas. The number of high school graduates in the active workforce also showed a decline [Census of India 1991]. More than half the population was classified under the ‘illiterate’ category with 1,620 urban and 750 rural graduates. The lack of any industrial development also meant that most of the people were shifting cultivators.


Social History of the Dimasa People

As one may guess, the setting described above is almost ideal for generating a debate on the nature of the peoples who inhabit an underdeveloped region such as NC Hills. The Dimasa are by far the most dominant indigenous group in the district. They are by no means the only ethnic group in NC Hills. The region also has a sizeable population of Karbi, Jaintia, Hmar, Kuki, Naga and other indigenous groups classified as scheduled tribes. Amongst the non-tribal population there is a small population of ethnic Assamese people and relatively larger numbers of Nepali, Bihari and Bengali people. Most of the non-tribal people are engaged in petty trade and cultivation although some (non-tribals) are also employed by the Autonomous Council in the small service sector that exists there. When many ethnic groups exist in a contiguous area where resource allocation remains a problem, it is only to be expected that certain myths of origin, or historical claims (of sorts) become an area of contest for social groups. For the Dimasa, the ‘myth of origin’ is also a matter of great pride and it serves to define the community’s cultural identity. It has to be mentioned that this identity itself is something that can best be understood in the ‘normative’ sense, in as much as it refers to what the members of the (Dimasa) society ‘imagine’ to be their shared symbols or codes of cultural communication, that characterises them in contradistinction from other communities in the area [Das 1997:37-57].


The Dimasa belong to the greater Tibeto-Burman linguistic and ethnic community. They are mentioned in the Ahom ‘Buranjis’ (chronicles) at different periods as ‘Cacharis’.3  Historically, the Tibeto-Burman peoples are said to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region [Gait 1926:248]. In the 13th century they held sway over much of the region on the south bank of the Lohit (Brahmaputra) river, including the Dhanseri valley and the Barail ranges. According to oral traditions that have been interpolated with Hinduised traditions, there seem to have been two branches of the Cacharis, the eastern branch living around the present-day area of Sadiya and the southern branch, who had an established centralised system of governance based in Dimapur [Devi 1968:91]. During the first two centuries after the advent of the Tai-Ahom ethnic group from the Shan region in the 13th century, the sporadic conflicts with the Cachari groups in the east resulted in the consolidation of Ahom rule in the areas marked off by the Namdang and Dhanseri rivers. In the early part of the 16th century, wars between the Ahom king – Hsu’hungmung and the Cachari kingdom reached a point where territorial expansion was seen as the only means to consolidate the Ahom kingdom [Devi 1968:96-99]. The Cachari king, ensconced at Dimapur (referred to as ‘Itanagar’ in the Buranjis) had to cede the territories around Marangi to the Ahoms. After this, the Koch general – Csilarai, marched against the Ahoms and after defeating them, he then turned his attention to the Cachari kingdom. This event did much to loosen the stranglehold that the Ahoms seemed to have had on the Cachari kingdom. In the beginning of the 17th century, the Cachari king, Jasa Narayan annexed a part of the Jaintia kingdom. By this time, the Cachari capital had shifted to Maibong. The Jaintia king went to the Ahoms for help and the latter sent in their armies yet again to lay siege to the capital town of Maibong. Shortly afterwards, the Ahoms were compelled to sue for peace with the Cachari king due to the impending threat of war on the western front. Sporadic wars with invading armies from both the west (Mughals) and east (Burmese) dictated a series of treaties between the Ahom and Cachari kingdoms for a larger part of the 17th century. Thereafter, in the early part of the 18th century, under king Hsuk’rungpha (Rudra Sinha) the Ahoms again went to war with the Cachari kingdom and sacked the capital of Maibong [Saikia 1997:101]. Later, in 1750, following pressures of attacks and several incursions by the Jaintias, the Dimasa Cachari kingdom had to shift its capital from Maibong to Khaspur (in Cachar). The British annexed the Dimasa kingdom in 1832 when the last king died. However, his commander-in-chief, Senapati Tularam was allowed to remain in possession of the North Cachar Hills sub-division.4  Upon his death, the British formally annexed North Cachar Hills and added it to Nagaon district in 1854.


These series of incursions and cooperation between two ethnic groups of the region is actually quite important. The Cachari kingdom evokes a sense of temporal validity to claims of territory, despite the fact that the boundaries of the medieval Cachari kingdom were redrawn several times as one can see.


In a region like the north-east, the fortunes of the Cachari kingdom cannot be contested and to a large extent, it is the subject matter of what informs social relations between different ethnic groups. In 1886, a portion of NC Hills was conceded by the British administration and made a part of the Naga Hills [Misra 1990:192]. Between 1880-81 another re-demarcation saw a part of NC Hills being added to Cachar district as a sub-division. Following the transfer of power, one again saw the district become a sub-division of the United Mikir and North Cachar Hills and, as mentioned in the text above, in 1971 the area was formally made a full-fledged district. These vagaries of fortune notwithstanding, it is important to take stock of the political exigencies that fuelled the periodic re-demarcation of the area. Until 1961, the Dimasas were treated as a ‘sub-tribe’ of the greater Kachari (or ‘Cachari’) tribe. In the 1961 Census, they were classified as a separate tribe. Repeated migrations had isolated the community. Despite (or perhaps due to) this, a pan-Dimasa identity was seen emerging during the early part of the 1960s. As early as 1947, a section of the Dimasa elite had joined hands with the other tribal leaders of the region and helped in the formation of the Tribal Council, under H M Haflongbar. This middle class had intimate contact with the traders and contractors coming from the plains and was themselves the suppliers and business partners in ventures with the peoples of the plains. The Tribal Council submitted a memorandum to the Bordoloi Committee and demanded the appointment of a boundary commission to fix the boundaries of NC Hills, so that the Dimasa living in adjoining areas might be brought together under one administrative unit. The council also demanded that only the bonafide inhabitant of the area be permitted to participate in the politics of NC Hills and the laws of the Indian parliament and state legislature could only be applied to the Hills areas with the approval of the Member(s) of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of the area. They also demanded the protection of the cultural life of the tribal populace of the NC Hills area [Datta Ray 1989:41-43].


During the first 20-years of the District Council the Dimasas could not make much headway in the field of cultural assertion and protection. Though this was the expressed desire of the leaders of the community, it failed to translate itself into concrete programmes for the promotion and protection of Dimasa identity and culture. Perhaps an intra-group rivalry arising out of trading interests and resource sharing had a lot to do with this. Several glaring examples that highlight this condition can be cited. For example, though there was a strong demand for the introduction of Dimasa language at the primary school level, the district council could not implement it. Dimasa textbooks for the primary classes were published by the Assam Text Book Production and Publication Board but many of these remained in the godowns of the district council. The budget allocation for cultural affairs often remained unspent and there was little official patronage for the promotion of Dimasa art and culture. The intra-group rivalry notwithstanding, there could have been other factors responsible for this neglect. The first chief executive member of the district council was a non-Dimasa and the executive member in charge of education, was also a non-Dimasa. Hence, while the Dimasa youth of the region demanded the introduction of Dimasa in primary schools in NC Hills, the district council encouraged the replacement of Bengali and the introduction of English in these schools. Consequently, a large number of non-Dimasa tribal job seekers, who knew neither Dimasa nor Bengali, were appointed in these schools [Misra 1990:194]. As a matter of fact, most state-run primary schools at the village level in NC Hills still use Bengali as the medium of instruction, even today. This itself is a source of subterranean tensions.


In order to protect and promote the cultural identity of the community, the ‘Dimasa Jalairaoni Hosom’ was formed in 1972. It demanded the preservation of Dimasa historical monuments and adoption of the Dimasa language in the schools of the area. It was a non-political organisation that had its headquarters in Haflong. Since its inception it demanded the preservation of Dimasa historical monuments and adoption of Dimasa at the primary level in NC Hills. The front also began to engage in oppositional politics when, in 1978 the district council ‘gave’ some new settlements to a few non-tribals. Following this act, the Dimasa Jalairaoni Hosom resolved to move the appropriate authority to stop the settlement of traditional lands by outsiders. In 1979, Dimasa National Organisation was formed. On March 11, 1979 it demanded the proper preservation of the ancient Dimasa relics and monuments. Many important Dimasa leaders were part of the organisation. The membership of the first executive committee shows that Dimasa leaders, both from the plains and hills, were actively engaged in the concerns of the organisation. This organisation attempted to unite all the Dimasa people living in the plains and hills and also in the different states. It tried to provide a common platform to work for a social and cultural unification of the Dimasa. Even ethnic Dimasa delegates from Nagaland pledged to work for this cultural and social unification.


This organisation proved to be some kind of benchmark for other organisations that were to be formed by the Dimasa progressive elite. The trajectory of its concerns and that of organisations that followed it, seem to travel through a well-beaten path. During the early period after their inception the organisations articulate broader cultural concerns of the community. The need to identify with an insurmountable process underlines the articulation of cultural identity itself. These processes range from the lack of control over the medium of instruction in primary schools, to the acute problem of land alienation. Hence, it is not surprising to know that even the armed organisation that seeks to represent Dimasa aspirations – the Dima Halam Daoga, has itself been through the process of transformation from ‘aggressive protection of culture’ to the inevitable position of ‘armed resistance’. At every step, political formations seem to be confronted by a series of hurdles that aid in their transformation to organisations that articulate political positions which force (these) organisations into a critical face off with the state machinery.


Special Provisions, Sixth Schedule and Social Structure

At this point a legitimate question as to why this condition occurs with alarming regularity in the north-east may be asked. The fact that the Constitution of India has special provisions for the tribal people does not explain the reason why conflicts occur, despite the ‘protection’ assured under these provisions. A closer look at the Sixth Schedule that is applicable to the NC Hills region offers a few clues. The structural implementation of the Sixth Schedule is contingent upon the public notification of inclusion/ exclusion of an area inhabited by scheduled tribes, by the governor. While the NC Hills region seems to offer no problem in its being notified thus, one has to consider its complex ethnic composition in order to understand the fact that the Sixth Schedule does not deal with the relations between such groups. Under this set of provisions, it is supposed to be the district council, a corporate body that comprises members of existing tribes within the notified area. It is however the governor who is empowered to make rules that provide for the composition of the council; qualifications for being elected as members of this council; term of office and the procedure and conduct of business of the council, amongst other incidental things. The district councils then have the powers to make laws with respect to the allotment of land, its occupation and use; management of forests; regulation of shifting cultivation; social customs and importantly – the succession of chiefs and headmen. What is significant is the fact that the council does not have the powers to block the acquisition of land (occupied and/or unoccupied) by the government of the state concerned. This fact is important in the light of the fact that ‘outsiders’ are not allowed to buy and sell land in a notified Sixth Schedule area. The council has certain powers to make regulations for the control of trade by non-tribals in the area. Regardless of the fact that these powers exist, one still sees the economy of the region being in the control of people who do not fall under the category of scheduled tribes. Moreover, with regard to the powers to assess and collect land revenue and impose taxes in the area, the council is empowered to collect such taxes that arise out of the entry of goods and services.


With regard to the administration of justice in these areas, the councils are supposed to work in tandem with the village councils and headmen, who in turn derive much of their authority from the council itself. The trial and suits that arise between parties who are classified as members of the scheduled tribes fall within the jurisdiction of the district council and the village courts. The high court (in Guwahati) however exercises the jurisdiction over suits that fall under the ambit of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, except in a few cases, the details of which are vested on the person of the governor. Thus one can see that the extent to which the traditional council can exercise its powers is restricted. A system of checks and balances within the framework of the Sixth Schedule ensures that when the matter of political disputes arise, the powers allocated to the councils prove to be inadequate. This is important to bear in mind because it is not as if these powers are then transferred to the judicial equivalent of the high court, but to the appointed representative of the central government – the governor. More importantly, in the case of changes in the land use and transfer of land, only those cases that arise between persons (or corporate groups) classified as scheduled tribes, can be resolved by the village council. If, for example, a Dimasa person has a problem with the acquisition of her or his land by the government, her or his appeals to the village council would be futile.


At the same time, the district council is empowered to make certain changes in the pattern of land use in the area. This is more than just a discretionary power that has been vested on the council. In effect, it is a power that carries the obligation to change the very livelihoods of the people of the area. The point that these changes are meant for the overall development of the region is a little dubious. There is very little to substantiate the fact that the people themselves have made informed choices regarding the changes. Yet these are changes that the people have had to learn to live with. Needless to add, such a process has had problems of its own. The problems in turn are fuelled by the social and political structures within which the dynamics of change take place, creating a series of real or imagined adversaries [Baruah 2002].


Most villages in the region are small and the inhabitants are largely subsistence farmers. Some villages have primary and secondary schools. Although the district council has the responsibility of running the schools, the long-standing demands of the Dimasa for instruction in their own language, has not yet been fulfilled. The medium of instruction in such schools is most likely to be Bengali. The schools also generate employment for a very small number of people within the village.5  Within a village, authority is centred around the persona of the ‘gaon burha’ (village headman). Amongst the Dimasa, the institution of the village headman is almost hereditary. The villages belong to different clans. Yet, there is a system by which a certain clan is accorded the privilege of being the ‘first clan’ to have cleared the forests. The gaon burha is the final authority on matter related to land and the individual (or group of individuals) first approach him before they select their plots of lands for cultivation. As is the case with areas that are notified to be within the Sixth Schedule, land is the property of the community. This is not surprising given the fact that the basis of social organisation in these areas centres around shifting cultivation. Hence, the issue of a permanent lease is not a rational condition in cases where the individual can move from one place to another, depending on the agricultural demands for the season, with the community. If, however, a person (or group of persons) want permanent ownership they have to first approach the gaon burha, who in turn ‘sanctions’ their application for a ‘patta’ to the council. The council in turn confers ownership rights to the person concerned.


The matter is full of ironic twists. As is evident, the political structure invests a lot of authority on the gaon burha. This is in-keeping with the spirit of ‘preservation of traditional authority’ and the council seems careful not to erode the authority of the headman. For instance, in the village of Lamadisa, the headman is always chosen from amongst the members of the ‘Hafila’ clan. In other villages, the clan origins play the major role in determining who can be the headman. That this structure is susceptible to manipulation for the benefit of a section of the community, is further clarified when one sees the process by which a tea farm was established in Gunjung. The village headman was approached by a member of the ‘Daolagapu’ clan for individual ownership rights to land to start a tea plantation back in the early 1990s. The claimant was a prominent businessman from Haflong whose family originally came from Gunjung village. The headman forwarded his request for land to the council, who in turn granted the claimant the right to possess an individual patta for the land. The exact area however was to be negotiated (in principle) with the villagers and the headman, who is the final authority in such matters. The claimant was then granted permanent ownership rights over roughly 700 acres of land, much of which was actually land that used to be used by the villagers for ‘jhum’ (shifting) cultivation, grazing their livestock and collection of forest products. The ‘deal’ here was that the villagers in the adjoining area (and Gunjung) would be able to reap the benefits of ‘development’ once the tea farm was established. This happened back in the 1993- 1994 and today there is enough tension within the community to suggest that some sort of horizontal cleavage is taking place. For one, growing of tea has only been done on 25 acres of the allotted 700. To most of the villagers this seems like an enormous waste. Moreover, of the forty odd workers who work in the farm, none are locals and all have come from the plains. The work conditions are not very good. Most workers are not willing to stay for long due to the lack of amenities and fear that their relationship with the local villagers might lead to conflict in the near future. Their contacts with local villagers are also severely restricted. However, one was also told that the people of Guliabra were more accommodating than their counterparts in Gunjung. This was because the former were sometimes employed as casual workers for clearing the land in the tea farm, during the lean agricultural season. In any case, the management of the tea farm (represented here by a young non-tribal person) was not in favour of the workers mixing with the local villagers, as the chances for conflict and arrests were very high.


In the past, trouble has cropped up between the Dimasa villagers and some of the workers. The latter allege that they are also threatened by the presence of armed opposition groups in the area. As is expected, the set of players involved in this complex network of social negotiations, play conflicting roles themselves. For instance, although it is an advantage to approach a headman from the same clan, the political composition of the council also comes into play when the final patta is granted. Most political parties, ranging from the Congress(I), to the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) have a stake in the functioning of the district council. The gaon burha too is influenced by his political affiliation. Hence, a change in the composition of members in the council affects the relations on the ground in the village itself. In the case of the tea farm, the gaon burha belonged to the Congress Party and in the early 1990s, the composition of the district council also tilted in favour of the Congress. It is easy to see why the claimant’s request was passed through with relatively little problems being encountered along the way. During the course of time, the composition of the district council tilted away from the Congress, in favour of the ASDC. As a result, it was easier for whatever simmering dissent there might have been in the village, to take a political colour. The people of Gunjung, who were directly affected by the presence of the tea farm, were amongst the first to question the decision of the gaon burha. The argument offered by those who were at odds with the gaon burha’s decision was that while the owner of the farm got to use all the common resources, he himself had done precious little for the villagers. Although this is not the only case of conflict that exists in the area, it still serves to show how localised issues have a larger political context and by extension, a larger socio-economic dimension.


The Development Genie and Its Sponsors

As mentioned earlier, the power to allot, occupy and use land is vested in the district council under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule. As an offshoot of these powers, the council is also obliged to regulate the practice of jhum and other forms of shifting agriculture. It might therefore seem that there is some degree of acquiescence between the tribal people and the authorities, as to how land is going to be used and managed. In truth there is no such process. Most of the local inhabitants of the villages in NC Hills practice shifting cultivation not out of choice alone, but also out of necessity. In the absence of agricultural and/or labour markets of any significance, the Dimasa villagers of the area are forced to continue with this mode of land use. The returns from shifting agriculture are very low and because it requires a comparatively larger area of production, it is often said to be ‘unproductive’. The administration and their allied technocrats endorse this view. A lot of energy is expended by the proponents of agricultural development, to dissuade the farmers from practising this form of cultivation and alternatives are thrown at them almost every season. Despite this, the social life of a vast majority of the Dimasa people (in the NC Hills area) continues to be determined by the agricultural cycles of ‘jhumming’.


It is precisely such practices that the authorities want to alter. However, in doing so, little attention is paid to the issue of sustainability and fall-out of the alternatives. Whether by accident, or by design, community ownership of ‘jhum’ land is seen as the unwanted remnant of a past that is incompatible with any form of rational agricultural development. In most cases, the transition from shifting cultivation to other forms of agricultural regimes comes at a price. The growth of individual ownership rights over land, is almost seen as a pre-requisite. This itself is very problematic. In the first place, it accentuates the gap between agricultural technologies and in fact adds to the notion that ethnic groups like the Dimasa, are being threatened by their ‘backwardness’. Secondly, the council’s policies rarely take into account the ethnic relations on the ground. Even though there is more than enough evidence to suggest that the outcome of the policies will benefit a chosen few and leave many discontents in their wake, the alternatives chosen continue to be pushed forward as part of the overall development strategy. In a sense, the historical sensibilities of the Dimasa are not on the minds of the policy planners. Instead, what comes out as the principle motive is the need to regulate the land use to suit the needs of a select few from within the community. While it is possible to focus attention on the outcomes of direct interventions made in the name of ‘development’ by the council, the role of other players in the changes in land use (and ‘agricultural development’) is somewhat more complicated.


A sizeable amount of funds for agricultural development have been introduced by the Coffee Board, Tea Board and the Rubber Board. In the late 1980s the council encouraged farmers to contact the Coffee Board to see if the land could be used for coffee cultivation. The (Coffee) Board consolidated enough land in and around certain villages to begin commercial cultivation. The villagers pooled in the common land which was then placed under the managerial supervision of an employee of the Coffee Board (usually a non-tribal). For a few years this experiment seemed to be going well. The board supported the farmers by buying the beans at a fixed rate. The beans were then sent to Guwahati from where they were transported to other places for processing. However, not a single factory for processing the beans exists in NC Hills. Nor is there a ready market for the raw product. In the latter part of the 1990s, when the prices (of coffee) fell, the board felt that it could no longer support such ventures and withdrew its support to the farmers. As a result, today there are numerous ‘ghost coffee plantations’ that dot the hills along the road to Haflong. Most managers have since left yet some remain in the hope that board will reopen the plantations when the prices are favourable. The local Dimasa people who participated in this experiment hardly have any back up to be able to pick up the pieces from this economic tragedy. The story would be similar for those who experimented with other plantation crops like rubber and tea.


The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) also began major interventions in the region in the mid-1990s. IFAD has its work cut out in the region. Its interventions range from promoting tea in certain areas, to providing loans to farmers to raise pigs, in others. While IFAD aided interventions seem to incorporate a wide range of agricultural activities, there is an overall sense of déjà vu that seeps into any developmental effort in the region. In other places of the world, IFAD along with other transnational donor agencies, has promoted the concept of ethnodevelopment, as model that may be followed for encouraging ethnic minorities to join the larger global (or national) market. This form of development supposedly takes into account the conditions that lead to alienation and exclusion of ethnic minorities by focusing on the principle of involving the communities in the process of development. Most governments have joined this effort as it seems to be a plausible solution in terms of a qualitative engagement with political issues [Clarke 2001:425-29]. If NC Hills is anything to go by, ethnodevelopment is an experiment that is not doing too well.


IFAD’s programmes are an important indicator of how and where the government (and non-governmental voluntary organisations) plans to focus on, in the endeavour to administer the NC Hills. There is all too much attention being focused on the fact that existing systems of land use are not ‘rational’. Along with that is the fact that the alternatives themselves do not seek to question the basis on which the system is applied, namely – the larger issue of the communities sense of its civil and socio-political destiny – in a situation that deteriorates everyday. Even with the alterations and interventions in the land use and land holding patterns, one has to remember that the average Dimasa village in the region is still devoid of basic amenities. Education facilities in the villages are dismal and while this may be true all over India, rarely has the question of identity been so closely linked to education, livelihood and culture, as with the Dimasa. There is little to suggest that the development initiatives have had much effect on the ground. The weekly markets (‘haats’) – in Gunjung and elsewhere, are almost embarrassing in the functional hierarchy of individuals and their occupations. Most of the traders who sell essential items are non- tribals. The buyers are mostly Dimasa villagers from nearby areas. Prices at the ‘haats’ are exorbitant, but that does not seem to detract the buyers. This is because, for goods that are reasonably priced, the villagers would have to make the arduous trip to centres like Haflong, Maibong and Lanka. The travel costs incurred in such an endeavour are quite significant. None of the agricultural restructuring programmes seem to address this at all. The fact that the markets, in an economy where cash transactions exist alongside with the barter system are almost totally dominated by those who do not engage in primary production, negates the ‘protective’ clauses of the Sixth Schedule.6  In such a situation, the lack of debate amongst the proponents of land restructuring and agricultural development, on the issue of deprivation and creation of new hierarchies amongst members of different ethnic groups, is remarkable. In reality the questions that arise as a result of this process, are often raised as those coming from a position of siege. The proponents of ethnodevelopment and other assorted models of livelihood- pattern alterations, do not seem to be conscious of this. In such a situation, the manner in which these questions are resolved is also a matter that adds to the complexity of social relations between different ethnic groups. The most important one is taken up for a brief discussion below.


Militarisation: The Geographical and Political Reality

The political space for negotiation of issues related to resource sharing and cultural aspirations in NC Hills has not been anything that would make one proud of democratic tradition within the region. As discussed above, this condition can be partly attributed to the failure of constitutional provisions guaranteed to the ethnic minorities in India. However, militarisation remains the greatest impediment in fostering meaningful ties between different ethnic groups in NC Hills. One uses the term to specifically denote a socio-political condition that is characterised by the propensity to use military force as a substitute for political settlement of concerns of a civil society. It also includes the ‘threat of the use of military power’ [Dreze 2000:1172].


The militarisation of NC Hills may be attributed in part to its geographical location. For the British colonial administrators, it was the strategic location of the Barail Hills that determined their extended stay in the district. The area forms a contiguous part of the Shillong plateau that covers much of Meghalaya and extends to the Naga Hills that finally join a portion of the Arakan Yoma spine that forms India’s boundary with Myannar. If one were to consider the pressing task at hand for the British in their manic 19th century rush to expand the territorial area of colonial production, then the geographical terrain would provide some concrete answers. Colonial investment and enterprise in the 19th century was centred on the regions that fell within the Lohit (Brahmaputra) and Surma valleys. Tea and oil formed the principal products that were extracted from the area. The investments were by no means meagre. Indian Tea Association figures of 1914 state that a nominal capital invested in joint stock companies producing tea in India amounted to a sum of Rs 302.3 million, of which only about Rs 43.1 million were accounted for by companies registered in India. The rest was shown as investments made by ‘sterling’ companies, situated mainly in England [Bagchi 1974:10-30]. Most of the shareholders were settled in India though. They were usually functionaries of the colonial government, or else European businessmen in India. To coax the inflow of foreign capital, the colonial state did everything in its power to create certain conditions that would prove conducive for such investments. They encouraged the acquisition of land in the Lohit valley by formulating the Wasteland Rules in 1838. While the mad rush to grab land and the business of setting up large tea plantations went on in both the valleys, the British took extreme care to protect these interests from possible incursions by ‘wild tribesmen’ from the hills [Reid 1942:100].


The systematic policing of the hills was necessitated in part by the volume of investment in the valleys. The other option would have been the introduction of standing troops in the form of the Imperial army. The latter move might have been a little cumbersome, as it involved the transportation of troops and material from other parts of south Asia to a region that was culturally and geographically distinct. The newly annexed regions were nevertheless subjected to the sustained control by paramilitary forces. What was more important in the case of NC Hills was the manner in which this surveillance took place. It is the ‘strategic importance’ of such a surveillance that is of great interest. Even today, the major road that links the largest, most important urban centre- Haflong, remains the lifeline for the people of the region. The Assam Police Battalion has a huge garrison at Sontilla, a few kilometres before one actually reaches Haflong itself. All along the road, right from the foothills at Diyungbra in the north, through the passes and back down to the Cachar plains in the south, police and military posts form are situated strategically so as to ensure that all traffic movement can be regulated. In addition, there is also a police training centre for the Special Services Branch (SSB) in Haflong. The area is extremely poor and one is hard pressed to consider the probability of criminal activity, that warrants such a police/military presence in an area such as this. It could well be the fact, that despite low levels of capital investment, NC Hills remains a strategic area from a politico-military perspective. This, in itself, creates the foundation for perpetuation of injustice.


In early February 2001, an Assam Police battalion was ambushed on this road by armed members of the Dima Halam Daoga. Nine policemen were said to have been killed. In response to this attack, the police, paramilitary organisations (including the Central Reserve Police Force) and sections of the Assam Regiment stationed at Umrangshu went on a rampage and began conducting evening raids in all villages along the highway. Moreover, people from certain villages were made to perform two days of forced labour that included clearing the jungle along the highway. This disruption of daily life during the beginning of the jhum season was further exacerbated by daily reports of torture, beatings and arbitrary detentions [MASS 2001].


Causes that Generate Conflict

This is merely an example of how the military option is the preferred option in most areas of the north-east. What it does to issues of accountability to rule of law is itself quite devastating. There is very little that the average villager can do to secure justice in instances where the armed forces are involved. This is even more important when one considers the fact there is little that the armed forces are not involved in. In addition the council itself is not empowered to take up such cases for review. All authority actually lies with the local commanders of the police, paramilitary and military forces. Of course, bureaucrats who are the ubiquitous presence in any such situation, are also important in considering the mode of justice to be meted out after such events. In the final instance, such a synchronised process of surveillance and control by the state agencies, only help to reinforce the feeling that the community itself is being threatened by external forces. Added to this is the fact that the administrative structure itself is unable to address the insidious process of the fast growing disparities amongst the ethnic groups (both internally and externally) in the region. More than anything else, it is this that lends weight to voices within the community that seek to define their engagement with political issues, as a series of insurmountable oppositions from the outside. The changes in land use are but one instance that show how ethnic relations and politics affect one another. The state apparatus, that includes the autonomous council administrative structure, has actually been less than imaginative in diffusing ethnic tensions in the NC Hills region. If the recent dissent on the issue of the ceasefire extension amongst the Dimasa people of the region are anything to go by, then a serious revaluation of the development strategies adopted thus far, as well as, the process of militarisation, needs to be addressed simultaneously.


Political theorists over the years have sought a clear distinction between the nature and role of the state and that of the civil society. The state as represented by those in government and the civil society as composed by the governed. It has, however been found that in a democracy, though the nature of the two groups and their roles may be different, their characteristics and aspirations are largely the same and even interactive. Since the state, under a strict compliance with the rule of law and essential principles of democracy derives largely from the civil society.Thus, those in government execute the collective aspirations of the civil society, having derived their authority and legitimacy from it; while the civil society in turn, aside from willingly offering its loyalty, also plays very active roles in the governance of the state by ensuring that the state is held responsible and accountable to it at all time [CLO 1998].


The soul of the civil society amongst ethnic groups in NC Hills, lies in its ability to organise for a collective purpose and at any point in time capable of determining its fate. But like it has been variously argued, militarisation itself implies the systematic dissolution of the civil society and its reconstruction in the image of the military, and correspondingly, the fostering upon the population, the ideology and culture of the military. Under the military, the civil society in NC Hills and the north-east as a whole, has been inflicted with immense chaos, inertia, mass apathy, frustration and helplessness, mental and physical fatigue and alienation, not only from the state but also from itself. These conditions cannot be considered conducive for the development of any form of democratic politics. While the restructuring of land use and land relations may offer a limited relief, with the promise of development, the fact that they are often divorced from existing civil and political realities, negates the essence of their interventions.


Moving Ahead

To sum up the issue, in north-east India, ethnicity is not just a matter of articulating a variant of ‘identity politics’. It is true that notions of identity are not static and undergo changes every now and then. The presence of ‘Autonomous District Councils’ may lead one to think that the best possible way to regulate conflict is to ensure that provisions of the Sixth Schedule are applied uniformly to tribal areas. Such a view is self-defeating in the light of severe shortcomings within the ‘ethnic homeland’ framework itself. Be it the Sixth Schedule, or other constitutional variants like Article 371a (in the state of Nagaland), one has to take into consideration the reality of political manoeuvring that goes into the process. This manoeuvring forms a ‘structural predisposition’ (on the part of the state apparatus) that has at least five important elements. In the first place, the protection that is assured to the indigenous tribes actually have their intellectual and ethical roots in the administrative policies of the colonial British state. Secondly, the demand for some form of protection from the process of slow and all-pervasive impoverishment, is as real as the feeling of threat amongst the indigenous peoples. Thirdly, given the available political discourse, the possibilities for solutions to this impoverishment are themselves limited by the fact that the solutions are often meant to ‘manage’ the possibility of conflict. Fourthly, this ‘management’ usually results in the state apparatus appropriating more power, including the threat of violence by its armed wing. Lastly, while it may seem that the state is giving in to populist demands of the indigenous peoples, the continuing instances of impoverishment-related conflicts, suggests that its efforts are directed more towards containing insurgency, rather than resolving economic and social inequalities in a democratic manner.


Given such a structural predisposition on the part of the policy-makers, it is difficult to envisage how ethnic relations can be resolved by means other than the militaristic mobilisation of different ethnic groups. Still, the need for resolving these conflicts are felt by all sections of society in the region. Non-militaristic solutions, to conflicts arising out of sharing of resources and hardening of ethnic identities, have come from non-state actors working at the grass roots.7  The state apparatus, that includes the autonomous council administrative structure, has actually been less than imaginative in diffusing ethnic tensions in the NC Hills region. If the recent dissent on the issue of the ceasefire extension amongst the Dimasa people of the region are anything to go by, then a serious revaluation of the development strategies adopted thus far, as well as, the process of militarisation, needs to be addressed simultaneously. If further conflict between the different ethnic groups within the region is to be avoided, the voices of civil society, in the form of local protest groups, human rights bodies, disenchanted individuals and other political formations need to be taken very seriously by development agencies and the state apparatus. More often than not, these voices articulate fundamental grievances that are civil and political in nature – such as the right to self-determination. Yet, in the haste to muffle these issues, the course of containment that the administration has embarked upon, seems to end in the overall impoverishment of the indigenous people and accentuation of the ethnic tensions amongst them. Only a sustained engagement with the issue, coupled with a heightened public perception of the complexity of ethnic relations within the region, can act as a catalyst for non-militaristic change in the existing system.



[The author wishes to thank Lachit Bordoloi, Sanjib Baruah, Gautam Navlakha, Dolly Kikon and Walter Fernandes for their comments and ideas in formulating the issues outlined in this article. The usual disclaimers apply.]

1 H Srikanth has reiterated this point in his EPW article (Vol XXXV, No 47, November 18-24, 2000). He arrives at this conclusion by treating media reportage and social histories of the region to a somewhat uncritical subjective reading. The flaws with such a method are rather obvious as they do not take into consideration the effects of state policies on the social construction of ethnic identities and adversaries.

2 North Cachar Hills (NC Hills) is one of the two districts of Assam, where the Sixth Schedule rules apply. Interestingly, sections of it have been ‘claimed’ by Naga nationalist organisations as a constituent part of ‘Greater Nagalim’. The district is home to various other ethnic groups, mainly the Dimasa, who articulate an equally strong claim for the district to be included in what it calls ‘Dimaraji’- or ‘Dimasa homeland’.

3 The term ‘Cachari’ (or ‘Kachari’) was used by the Ahom chroniclers to denote a definite group of people on the basis of their cultural and historical otherness. Over time, the usage assumed a pejorative connotation and the renunciation of the term itself could be seen as the assertion of a ‘positive’ identity.

4 Senapati Tularam remains an iconic figure for the Dimasa progressive elite. His village in Gunjung, about 30 kilometres from Haflong, has a school named after him. Interestingly, the Jesuit Mission based in Kohima currently manages the school. The ownership of the land on which the school, hostel, etc, are situated still belong to the villagers of Gunjung although the management have been given the ‘right’ to use this land and its resources for the betterment of the community.
5 The person employed as the teacher in the village school, need not be a local inhabitant of the village. Sometimes, the lack of suitable local candidates necessitates the induction of persons from a different village. A random biography of the local teacher at Lamadisa village shows that even though he was from a different village, he was given land for his homestead and for farming, within the traditional boundaries of Lamadisa itself.

6 Actually, even in the area of primary production there is also the recent phenomenon of non-tribal agriculturalists acquiring long-term leases from Dimasa owners. The lands that non-tribal agriculturalists cultivate are usually in the foothills, near Diyungbra.

7 A few initiatives have been undertaken by community leaders and human rights groups in other parts of the north-east. Most recently, elders of the Lotha community of Wokha district invited human rights groups and individuals from Assam for a ‘people-to-people’ dialogue on micro- and macro-level issues that affect the people adjoining Wokha, on December 31, 2001. Such initiatives are not patronised by politicians and administrators and seem to be purely civil society initiatives. They have helped diffuse a lot of tension amongst different ethnic groups in the area.


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Development Induced Displacement in Pakistan

Atta ur Rehman Sheikh


Following the independence in 1947, the economic development planning in Pakistan, was based on large scale industrialization. Under five year plans, various mega development projects were launched to exploit natural resources. The projects for building large dams at Terbela, and Mnagla were initiated in the early decades of the independence to rise among the industrialized countries of the world. In the later years, Ghazi Brotha and various other medium scale dams were also constructed to regulate water resources.

Although these projects played important role in economic development of the country, at the same time they caused havoc in terms of depletion of natural resources and particularly the displacement of thousands of people from their ancestral homes and habitats. People living on dam sites for centuries were not only physically displaced but they also lost their livelihood. Consequently the displaced populations faced various kinds of impoverishment risks like landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalization, food insecurity, loss of common resources, among others. All power projects launched in Pakistan show similar patterns of displacement and threat to livelihood. Inadequate compensation, delayed resettlements, loss of livelihood marred the future of displaced people. In nearly all dam projects initial assessment of displacement and other affects were grossly under-estimated. The focus had been on the physical resettlement of dislocated people; their livelihood restoration, social development needs and integration within the resettled place were not addressed.

With regards to delayed resettlement, Tarbela Dam Project is the most relevant example where a significant number of families are yet to be resettled. The land given in compensation was not as good in terms of quality as was acquired by the government. Either resettlement was delayed or just could not be done. Cash compensation to the affected people was not adequate either. The dislocation of landless has gone unnoticed in all water related projects. Another pattern that emerges from displacement induced by development projects is the lack of community participation. The uprooted community is seldom consulted in planning or implementing the dam projects. There is no proper mechanism to inform or redress their problems. Even NGOs remain ineffective.

The key issue related to development-induced displacement is the absence of resettlement policy and laws. The government has been using laws promulgated during the colonial period. The laws, particularly the Land Acquisition Act 1894, have been applied to acquire land and resettle uprooted communities but this does not address the modern day problems and needs emerging during dams’ construction or otherwise. Despite modifications and changes in the existing laws, it still lacks a comprehensive treatment.

Major development projects and displacements 

Following are some cases of projects, which reflect the kind and volume of displacements that took place under certain dam projects. Tarbela, Mangla and Kaptai (constructed in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) launched in 60s were major initiatives of the so-called "Decade of Development" by the military ruler President Mohamad Ayub Khan. Following the lapse of more than three decades, their adverse affects can still be felt with reference to the uprooted people of the areas where dams were built. Thousands of people were uprooted and hundreds of villages were submerged. There are still a large number of families who are still waiting for fair compensation and proper re-settlements.

Mangla dam and Kaptai dam belong to the same period. Kaptai dam was constructed in the Chittagong hill tracts. Nearly 100000 people were displaced as a result of the construction of dam. Majority of those displaced belonged to Chakma and Hajong tribes. Nearly 52000 displaced people crossed over to India. They are still not recognized as refugees by the UNHCR. Mangla dam was constructed around the same time, in Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, when Kaptai dam was started. Mangla dam is the world’s third largest earth-filled dam. This was first large dam built as part of the Indus Basin Project following the treaty between India and Pakistan over the dispute over the use of water from the Indus River and its tributaries. More than 50000 people were displaced. The displaced were given very little compensation for the loss of their homes and agricultural land. In these circumstances the displaced families had to move to other areas on their own. There is widespread dissatisfaction over the compensation and resettlement.

Mangla dam and Kaptai dam belong to the same period. Kaptai dam was constructed in the Chittagong hill tracts. Nearly 100000 people were displaced as a result of the construction of dam. Majority of those displaced belonged to Chakma and Hajong tribes. Nearly 52000 displaced people crossed over to India. They are still not recognized as refugees by the UNHCR. Mangla dam was constructed around the same time, in Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, when Kaptai dam was started. Mangla dam is the world’s third largest earth-filled dam. This was first large dam built as part of the Indus Basin Project following the treaty between India and Pakistan over the dispute over the use of water from the Indus River and its tributaries. More than 50000 people were displaced. The displaced were given very little compensation for the loss of their homes and agricultural land. In these circumstances the displaced families had to move to other areas on their own. There is widespread dissatisfaction over the compensation and resettlement. Government had to defer the plan.


Tarbela dam was launched in 1967 with the WB assistance. At the outset it was assessed that 80000 people would be displaced and 100 villages will come under water. But 96000 people had been dislocated and 120 villages submerged. The main occupation of those displaced was agriculture. An organization by the name of Tarbela Dam Resettlement Organization was set up for acquisition of land, disbursement of compensation, evaluation of affected population and their resettlement. The land was acquired under Land Acquisition Act 1894. A comprehensive resettlement programme was adopted but resettlement is not yet complete. After the passing of 30 years still 2000 families are waiting to get their claims settled. 170 families, who were allocated land in other provinces, could never get possession of the land. Following the initiation of Ghazi Barotha Hydroelectricity Project (GBHP), the issue of Tarbela dam displaced families again surfaced. In the wake of pressure from civil society organizations the World Bank has indicated that the loan for the Ghazi Barotha Hydelpower Project is conditioned to the resolution of long awaited settlement of displaced people of Tarbela dam.


Ghazi Barotha Hydropower Project is currently the most important project where a comprehensive resettlement plan has been incorporated in the overall project. 52 villages will be affected by the project. The total population of these communities is estimated at about 2 million. The total persons directly affected are 21,653. They include 1,778 that did not own any land. A project NGO has been set up to address the displacement issues and participation of community in decision making. Guidelines by the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are being strictly followed. But the issue of restoration of the livelihood of the displaced people has gained very inadequate recognition.

Chashma Right Bank Canal (CRBC) is a classic example of water related project. 274 Km long canal began in 1978. Data regarding the stage I and II are not available but at the final stage almost 2000 villagers will have to dislocate. The project was planned 24 years ago, the Government neither informed nor consulted local communities at any stage of the project. Now that the project is about to complete, either the government or the main donor, Asian Development Bank, have no standard resettlement plan for the affectees. The ADB says that the bank had no resettlement policy when the project was approved. In short there have been vital flaws in the project as well as violation of basic human rights such as resettlement, compensation of the lost property, etc. However, following the protests from local and national public organizations, the ADB has appointed a team of consultants to monitor the situation and come up with recommendations for the compensation of affectees. Now it is hoped that the affectees may be able to get some compensation.

The situation regarding the displaced people and resettlement calls for urgent actions on the part of state and non-state institutions. Following issues needs immediate attention:

There is a need to draft a national resettlement policy, as the existing law and policy do not address the concerned issues comprehensively. The Land Acquisition Act 1894 (Act I of 1894) as amended from time to time has been general land acquisition law in Pakistan. The provinces of the country have also framed their laws in line with the said Act and thus these Acts has been amended and updated differently in each province. In 2000 the Military Government announced that a national resettlement policy would be formulated. Although consultations and meetings were held both at governmental and non-governmental level, they have not been able to come up with any policy so far. Apart from physical resettlement, restoration of livelihood, integration of the displaced in the local communities and compensation to the landless and tenants should also be incorporated in the resettlement action policy and plans.


Like issue of refugees, the issue of IDPs has not been given much attention among academia or civil society organizations. This, in spite of the fact that immediately after the independence the biggest problem Pakistan has had to handle was resettlement of refugees from India. Afterwards three million plus Afghans refugees crossed over to Pakistan. And lastly the development induced displaced population. Particularly the issue of IDPs seems to be a quite new area since nothing significant has been done in this field. But in recent years issues related to forced displacement have been taken up by some organizations like Pakistan Network of Rivers, Dams and People, a network of public organizations, NGOs, CBOs and support organizations. The main thrust of the network is to do advocacy on forced displacement and resettlement issue. However, public organizations with displacement and resettlement issue on their charter are very few. Therefore there remains the need for wider awareness on the issue of development induced displacement.

In the absence of law and policy of resettlement in Pakistan, the donors for dam building projects like WB, ADB and other such institutions have tried to solve the issue by establishing project NGOs and providing guidelines for resettlement of uprooted people. Asian Development Bank has put forward clear set of guidelines for acquisition of land; measures to minimize the effects on human settlement. All these steps could not ensure implementation of resettlement process in any single project. Tarbela is one such example where uprooted people have been waiting for resettlement for the last thirty years. Donor organizations have to incorporate strict mode of monitoring in the project and conditioned financial assistance to follow the guidelines laid out in the project document. Lastly such projects should be approved that have minimum effects on human settlement and environment.

Scrutinizing the Land Resettlement Scheme in Bhutan

Jagat Acharya


The resettlement programme in southern Bhutan on the land belonging to the Bhutanese refugees started in 1993. The first resettlement programme was carried out in Samdrupjongkhar district in Bhangtar sub-division in Bakuli block with 58 ex- Royal Bhutan Army families. From 1998 the Royal Government of Bhutan has been encouraging massive resettlement programme in six southern districts. The names of the districts, blocks and villages have been changed following the emergence of the refugee crisis, particularly in the south to make them sound more like names in northern Bhutan.





in southern Bhutan

(Under Sarbhang and Samchi districts)

(Lalai block/Sarbhang district)




Chirang to Tsirang

Lalai (Sarbhang) to Umling

Bistadara to Dumeng




Sarhhang to Sarpang

Suray (Sarhhang) to Jigme Choling




The Royal government of Bhutan, under the guise of rehabilitating landless people, has been closing all possibilities for the return of its evicted citizens by distributing their land while these people are forced to reside in UNHCR camps in eastern Nepal. It is reported that in implementing this scheme the northerners often have to be coerced into settling on land belonging to the refugees. This is quite apparent from the notices appearing from time to time in Kuensel that those who are allocated land are reluctant to come and occupy it.


Kuensel, March 20,1999.

Dzongkhag Administration


DAT/ADM-/98-99­ Announcement


Landless people from other Dzongkhag who got land allotment in Tsirang Dzongkhag under resettlement programme have failed to report despite repeated requests of Dzongkhag. Therefore, Tsirang Dzongkhag administration once again requests them to report immediately as the cultivation season has already set in. Non-compliance shall be viewed very seriously and Dzongkhag administration shall not be held responsible if any complication arises in future on the matter.



Kuensel: March 27,1999

Sarpang Dzongkhag


All the Shi-Sarps (resettlers) of phase one and two from different Dzongkhags should report to their respective areas under Sarpang Dzongkhag within April 1999. Failure to report within the above dateline, this Dzongkhag Administration would consider the lands to have surrendered by the Shi-sarps (resettlers) to the Government. The concerned Dzongkhags are also requested to kindly inform their respective Shi-sarps (resettlers), to report within the above dateline. For convenience of the Dzongkhags the list of Shi-sarps will be faxed to the individual Dzongkhag within the week.



The resettlement programme was undertaken in the following areas:































































During the 76th National Assembly session that was held in August 1998 the Bhutanese government announced that around 1027 households had been rehabilitated. The so-called 'people's representatives' asked the government to speed up the resettlement scheme and possibly to expand it to other southern districts.


As a result of this, today several hundred acres of landed and housing property in the six districts of southern Bhutan belonging to over 100,000 southern Bhutanese refugees is being distributed to northern: Bhutanese families under the resettlement scheme of the Royal Government of Bhutan.


The government authorities undertook this scheme asking the 'landless people' to apply on an application form to the government for the land. When asked by the media it happily acknowledged that the government was distributing 'only those lands’ in Sarbhang, which belonged to people who left Bhutan 'voluntarily'.


It may be noted that this scheme in the south is under constant operation, which was not in practice before the exodus. The resettlement of the northern Bhutanese population in southern Bhutan is being done on lands belonging to Bhutanese refugees who aspire to eventually return from the refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Here the irony is that while the Bhutanese government tries to convince the international community that it is negotiating with the Nepalese government for the return of the refugees, it is distributing the land of the refugees to people from northern Bhutan.


Presently the resettlement scheme is in full swing in the districts of Chirang, Sarbahang and Samchi. However, similar schemes are also underway in two other districts of Samdrupjongkhar and Chhuka.


The blocks from Sarbhang district that were the first to be given away are Lalai, Danabari, Bhur and Gaylegphung. In Lalai block alone more than 300 families from east and central Bhutan are reported to have been resettled. Similarly large landed and housing properties under Lamidara, Kikortang, Tshokana, and Chanuatay blocks under Chirang districts were given away to northern Bhutanese families.


Resettlement in Samchi district started from Ghumaunay and then moved on to neighbouring Nainital and Chengmari blocks. More than 200 families have been reportedly resettled so far since January 1999. The royal government has established a royal Bhutan Army Training Centre in Ghume.unay after the mass exodus of early 1990s.


There were reports in 1998, that the northern Bhutanese families who declined to take the government's offer of free land Were arrested for non­compliance of the order.


The hundreds of acres of agricultural land owned by some 450 families in Dnabari block in Sarbhang district, most of whom are now refugees in eastern Nepal, have been officially given away to more than 300 new families from the north beginning in 1998. The new settlers are known to have been hoarded from north central districts viz. Bumthang and Tongsa and eastern districts of Mongar and Tashigang.


In order to make this programme attractive and acceptable to the families from the north, the government supplied free building materials and financial assistance. The government reopened most of the basic facilities like schools, health centres and other social infrastructures in these areas that had been closed indefinitely in 1990 owing to the problem in the south. The urban areas from where the southern Bhutanese were evicted is now occupied by the bureaucrats and their kins while the land in the rural areas has been distributed to the people from northern Bhutan.


The Bhutanese government must stop the resettlement programme that is being undertaken in southern Bhutan and take back all those families that have already been resettled on the land of the refugees. The bilateral negotiations between the governments of Nepal and Bhutan cannot yield any result if Bhutan continues with the resettlement programme. If such a situation continues then more Bhutanese families will be evicted form the country through indirect harassment from the northerners. There are reports from the southern Bhutanese that their lives in the villages have become more difficult after the resettlement programme because of the difference in culture, language, religion and the harassment and humiliation that they are facing from the resettled families.



Module G


A review essay on the literature on trust : Trust and the Refugee Experience

Pradip Kumar Bose


At the close of this century it is becoming increasingly clear that in the last hundred years we have witnessed the global displacement of people on an unprecedented scale, and concerns about refugees have become inescapable. It is not surprising then that the "refugee problem" is now being addressed from various disciplinary positions and gaining importance on the list international concerns, not simply because of its humanitarian significance but also because of its impact on peace, security and stability. The rising concern has created many battlegrounds, as the refugees are being viewed from the perspectives of development and underdevelopment, conflict and war, colonial and postcolonial policies and geographies, the rise of nation-state as reality and cold war and post-cold war politics.


A major battle ground centers around the definition of "refugee" itself, because the general tendency of the states and international bodies has been to set the refugee status within a strictly defined legal context, seeking to portray the phenomenon of refugee hood as reducible to a legal definition. Much rests upon their interpretation of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of the Refugees. This document and its 1967 Protocol lay down a definition to be applied specifically to individuals, which turns upon the subjective experience of the asylum-seeker's experience of persecution. There is no conception of the collective refugee, notwithstanding that the Convention introduces a notion of persecution, which implies oppression of whole groups on the basis of their "race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion". Wider definitions, including those adopted by the Organization of African Unity, however, incorporate the idea "that "every person" threatened by range of external and internal threats should be offered asylum. But laws based upon the Convention continue to exclude assistance for all involuntarily displaced persons and insist on the principle of "alienage" -- that be granted refugee status. The overall effect of these legal principles, it has been argued, is that the need is defined in terms, which exclude most refugees from less developed countries. As against these narrow definitions, the notion of "forced migration" has been suggested as the only approach, which can encompass the predicament of asylum seekers. Such an idea has long been resisted by the first world nations, keen to differentiate refugees from other categories of migrants. Today differentiation between migrants, "refugees" and others becomes meaningful only for those most determined to perpetuate systems of exclusion.


Recent analyses have also challenged other orthodoxies related to refugee question. One such is the globalist orthodoxy, which depicts a world integrated by capital flows. The statistics shows that vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers belong to third world countries and this development is linked intimately with changes in world economy, which challenges the theory of globalizing world. This also points out that contemporary international refugee law is marginal to the protection of most persons coerced to migrate. It is possible to argue instead, that the coerced movement of millions of people of the third world does describe aspects of "global" process -­but this is not the process described by the theorists of globalization. The refugee phenomenon therefore does not speak of world "order" induced by dissolution of political structures but indicate a systemic disorder rooted in the uneven and partial character of change. Studies have also made clear arbitrary nature of frontiers drawn by colonial powers across ethnic, religious or linguistic unities, where the refugee presence is a confirmation of local identities.


In recent times inter-disciplinary studies have addressed new issues and focused on the refugee experience from the perspectives of anthropological and cultural studies and have opened up a broad range of interpretative strategies to bear on the problem of how one might best understand the conflicting experiences of refugees. One such important study on the issue focus on the resulting worldwide disruption of "trust" as a sentiment, a concept, and an experience (Mistrusting Refugees, edited by E. Valentine Daniel and John Chr. Knudsen, University of California Press, 1995).


It is true, as the editors point out in the Introduction, that from its inception the experience of a refugee puts trust on trial. The refugee mistrusts and is mistrusted. In a deeper sense, one becomes a refugee even before s/he leaves the society and continues to be a refugee even after receiving asylum. The process of the breakdown of trust may range from a breach of faith between ethnic communities in a multiethnic country that was once committed to upholding the; ideal of a multiethnic democratic state as in Sri Lanka to that of inter-personal mistrust. It must be pointed out that by trust authors here do not intend to convey a conscious state of awareness, something akin to belief but rather its opposite, what Pierre Bourdieu calls habitus or what Heideggar called being-in-the-world. By becoming a refugee a person experiences a radical disjunction between his or her familiar way-of­ being in the world and a new reality that not only subverts that way-of-being but also forces one to see the world differently. Such crises of being are invariably accompanied by the erosion of trust.


The capacity to trust is always underwritten by the capacity to tame chance, the capacity that is located within the cultural matrix of the society. In the refugee experience it is this capacity that is eroded, individuals or groups have no option but to flee. This escape from violence has been depicted by some as a crucial feature of refugee experience and this violence has quite rightly been highlighted as emerging from the abuse of power, especially state-centred power. In this volume of anthropological collection the authors have attempted to look at the consequence of abuse of power from another aspect, the collapse of culturally constituted trust.


In this collection of essays anthropologists, literary critics, a psychiatrist, a geographer, a legal scholar, and a philosopher discuss the idea contained in the title of this volume, relating it to their own work among the refugees. In his study of Vietnamese refugees John Knudsen shows how a community, which has little to put its trust in the present and the future, summons an essentialzed (but lost) "culture" to compensate for the absence of a trust-driven cultural life. Discussing Cambodian refugees, Marjorie Muecke shows how "trust" is both gendered and culturally inflected. In a telling indictment of refugee studies she points how these studies have in general failed to appreciate the distinctive experience of women refugees. Stuart Tumer in his essay on torture, refuge and trust laments the fact that in some first world countries refugee organizations offer help only to those who have obtained legal status and enquires, does the sufferer have to be legalized in order for his or her pain to be recognized as such? He further comments that as long as therapeutic work is directed to the individual, ignoring the wider context of community, state, and broader social issues, the likelihood of restoring trust is minimized. In a series of four essays literary critics take up for analysis refugee narratives as depicted in novels, poetry, films and other media. Mary N. Layoun in her analysis of Greek novels finds in refugee narratives, not so much a nostalgia for a past when all was well and a trust-driven story prevailed, but a claim to "having known even better then" that the master story was suspect. Muhammad Siddiq examines the Palestinian narratives in the context of Palestinians becoming a "refugee nation" and observes that, as a result, every Palestinian's individual life became a token of the collective historical experience of the Palestinian people. It is now left to the poet and the novelist to rein scribe through the metaphor of individual lives in Palestinian narratives "national allegories". Michael M. J. Fischer takes up the issue of refugee self-representation, especially in and through the media whenever they have access to it and the way they are represented in the dominant media such as television newscasts. He attempts to investigate the forms of the diaspora refugees become part of, the forms of violence enacted and recounted in the creation of refugees, and the kind of transformation these representations undergo over time.


In a challenging piece Eftihia Voutira and Barbara E. Harrell-Bond question the centrality of the concept of "trust" in refugee studies, they even question the "founding assumption" of the volume that trust is basic to being human. In their essay "In Search of the Locus of Trust: The Social World of the Refugee Camp", they question the unqualified acceptance of "trust" as a methodological tool in the analysis of human social relations, particularly as it relates to the study of refugees. They-ask, "Can we assume that the inability of an individual to trust others is necessarily pathological or leads to pathological consequences?" They point out in the fashion of Durkheim that bond that holds together human societies is not trust per se but trust in a system of normative social relations, values, hierarchies, roles, obligations and so on. In fact societies, which are in the process of rapid change, are found to be more capricious and by implication, the social world of refugees perceived from the standpoint of radical uprootment, must be the most unpredictable and capricious of all. Citing various anthropological sources they point out that relationships that people admit to trust are very much the exception rather than the rule. For a Sierra Leonean the only person a man can really trust is the one person who will not stand to gain by his death. This person is neither his wife nor his children; it is his mother. Many, perhaps most, societies train children to be cautious, even suspicious of others, as a means of survival. E. Valentine Daniel and Yuvraj Thangraj in their piece on Tamil refugee accept that among the Tamils and Singhalese of Sri Lanka to trust is not held up as possessing an unambiguous value and a trusting soul is often viewed as a gullible one.


In fact the whole structure of the humanitarian regime is fraught with competition, suspicion, and mistrust, they say. Probably that is why the aid authorities are so averse to what would appear to be the most efficient method of distributing aid, namely the community itself. It might as well be the case that the western notion of "trust" is capable of only producing mistrust in the end.


Proverbs and tales abound which caution people against trusting too easily. But at this point they make a distinction between this normative, prescriptive level and the cultural domain, and point out that the cultural is not to be equated with the normative.. For them even where "norms" of mistrust are recited, practiced, and perhaps celebrated, they are embedded in the cultural matrix of trust. They view this cultural domain, where trust is located as a deep structure, which is for the most part unconscious.


Crucially the question that arises out of this debate is that if mistrust is a part of cultural value in many societies what should be the measure of mistrust's magnitude in the experience of a refugee?


On a different level questions arise about the refugee-centric approach of researchers, which has led to the neglect of an important dimension of the political economy of aid, namely, the impact of refugee aid programs on the "poorer" host populations. The same refugee-centric approach has produced a tendency to be concerned primarily with the "anthropology of repair" and need to interfere, rather than placing the problem on a wider situational context. It seems there is a need to come out of the usual monolithic approach in refugee studies that tends to focus exclusively on the category "refugee". As the study of Voutira and Harrell-Bond has shown, the social world of refugees and their helpers in camps simply challenges the notion that the encounter between refugees and their helpers has potential for the restoration of trust in any simple sense. In examining the relations between actors, situations, and established humanitarian practices; they have shown that there is no locus for nurturing "trust" and that the whole structure of the humanitarian regime is predicated on the exercise of a type of authority, which is itself maintained and legitimized by the absence of trust between the givers and the recipients.


In fact the whole structure of the humanitarian regime is fraught with competition, suspicion, and mistrust, they say. Probably that is why the aid authorities are so averse to what would appear to be the most efficient method of distributing aid, namely the community itself. It might as well be the case that the western notion of "trust" is capable of only producing mistrust in the end.


Development, Displacement and International Ethics

Peter Penz


Displacement and International Ethics

People displaced by the actions of other people can be deemed, prima facie at least, to have been wronged. Development refugees, i.e. those displaced by development projects, policies and processes, have been harmed or coerced by the actions of others. This applies also to those environmental refugees who have been displaced by anthropogenic environmental processes. What is morally owed to the potential and actual victims of such displacement? This question will be addressed first, in order to then move on to focus on a further question: What are the moral obligations of foreign participants in the development process when the displacement of people is a possible or actual result of such development?


This latter question will be addressed within the field of tension between an ethic of state sovereignty and cosmopolitan ethics. The former treats states as morally fundamental and sees international ethics as moral relations between states. Beitz has referred to this perspective as 'the morality of states' Charles R. Beitz, Political Theory and lnternational Relations, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1979, pp. 63-66. and Janna Thompson as 'just interaction theory'.[i] and Janna Thompson as 'just interaction theory'.[ii] Cosmopolitan ethics, on the other hand, is based on seeing humanity as part of one global society and states as institutions that mayor may not be conducive to the good governance of this global society. In other words, the ethics of sovereignty treats the state system as the framework for articulating an appropriate international ethic, while cosmopolitanism views international ethics as conceptually prior to the state system and as a basis for evaluating the state system and its propensities. In this paper, I will argue for the cosmopolitan approach to determining the moral obligations of foreign participants in the development process.


Development Refugees, Environmental Refugees, and the CHT Case

Before turning to the question of international obligations, it is useful to first briefly clarify ethical obligations within states regarding displacement induced by development and environmental degradation. This task will be contained by limiting it to the obligations of states to their citizens in this policy domain. This will be sufficient for the ensuing discussion about international ethics.


Displacement here refers to forced migration. It occurs in at least two distinguishable forms. Direct displacement consists of evictions. Thus, direct development refugees are people removed for the construction of dams and their reservoirs and other infrastructure projects, such as ports, roads and irrigation canals, by slum clearance and urban redevelopment, and, in forests, for conservation or logging purposes. Indirect displacement by development, on the other hand, is displacement that is mediated by processes not directly under the control of decision-makers, such as market processes and environmental degradation resulting from different, interacting development activities. If people move because they have been impoverished by the market-mediated or environmental consequences of development decisions, we can refer to them as indirect development refugees.


Environmental refugees are those displaced by environmental degradation. To the extent that such degradation is the result of one particular economic activity, such as the displacement of river fishers displaced by the pollution of an upstream tannery, it can be taken to be direct displacement. On the other hand, if the displacement occurs as a result of a more interactive pattern of development, the resulting environmental refugees represent indirect displacement. Environmental displacement is thus a form of development-induced displacement that cuts across the distinction between direct and indirect displacement.


An example that illustrates development-induced displacement, including its environmental form, is the region of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. It is a hilly area in the southeast of the country with thin tropical soil and generally low fertility. It has been inhabited by ethnically distinct hill peoples who have since the introduction of development experienced displacement by a number of different, but interacting processes. One has been a big hydroelectric dam that displaced about 100,000 hill people. In response to guerrilla activity that this displacement induced, the area was militarized and Bengali settlers, deemed more loyal to the government and in need of land, were moved by the military onto land left fallow in the shifting agriculture that has been practiced on this region's hillsides. Apart from the civil war that this set off, it involved a loss of land and. livelihood for the hill people. At the same time, intensification of cultivation, including by the hill people, who have experienced substantial natural population growth and have also been left with less land, has led to soil depletion and erosion and some displacement for that reason. The Chakma, Mrong, Marma and other hill peoples have thus experienced a multi-dimensional syndrome of displacement due to a variety of interacting causes.[iii]


Displacement is morally objectionable in the first instance because it involves coercion. This is evident in the case of direct displacement. In the case of indirect displacement, the element of coercion is not always straightforward. If one views forced and voluntary migration as mutually exclusive categories, then it is easy to view much of migration that is induced by development or environmental degradation as voluntary, since much of the time there is a considerable element of choice as to whether to move or to put up with deteriorating conditions. What is misleading here is to view coercion and choice as mutually exclusive. Even when threatened by death, individuals still have the choice to defy that threat. Thus, members of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a movement that opposes the construction of the big Narmada dams in India, have announced that they will refuse to move and will accept being drowned when the waters rise. Nevertheless, we would accept that coercion is involved here on the part of those undertaking the dam projects. This can be 'understood, not as a complete removal of choice, but as a contraction of choice. Thus a person can be deemed to be coerced when her or his range of options that are significant to the person are restricted. Choice is not eliminated, but merely restricted.


Displacement is also objectionable to the extent that such forced migration typically makes people worse off. They are often inadequately compensated for what they lose; they often have to move to areas more poorly endowed; and they often are unfamiliar with the new environment and the skills it requires and therefore lose in terms of making a living.[iv]


Some might respond with the claim that displacement has been ubiquitous in the process of industrialization and economic growth, that it is unavoidable, that it is better than immobility or that it serves the public interest. Others, on the other hand, treat all displacement as morally unacceptable. The question is whether displacement can, under certain conditions, be justified.


Applied Ethics and its Methodology

The process of justification, applied as it is to the concrete issue of development and displacement, raises the question of the methodology of applied ethics. Essentially three methodological approaches can be found in applied ethics. 

  1. The first is the theoretically committed approach of deriving practical judgments and prescriptions from a particular normative theory, to which a foundational commitment has been made. Thus, the theoretical starting point of a utilitarian will be different from that of a Rawlsian social-contract theorist. One difficulty here is that disagreements about normative theories are typically much greater than about practical judgments and prescriptions emanating from competing theories. Much contestation is thus liable to be devoted to the theoretical foundations, even though the underlying differences may not create much difference at the level of policy evaluation. A second difficulty, at least for applied ethics that is to be useful to non-philosophers and policy makers, is that, outside of philosophical discourse, ethical judgments tend to be made with reference to concrete issues rather than in a theoreticC1l form and non-philosophers therefore tend to be handicapped in assessing theories and tend to be excluded from the discussion.

  2. The opposite methodological approach in applied ethics is to respond to practicC11 problems in an entirety contextual, or situational, manner without reference to theories, implicitly relying on moral intuitions. These intuitions may be either those of the practical ethicist or they may be those of the culture, sub-culture or community in which the practical problems arise. In the personal version it is not clear how argumentation is to proceed and what are appropriate criteria for resolving disagreements; this approach is always in danger of sliding into arbitrariness or never rising above it. In the communitarian version of this approach, the criterion is conformity with community values. The difficulty here is that there may be no real agreement within communities. This is even more likely when many communities are involved (e.g. not only dam displaced communities, but potential beneficiaries of rural electrification or irrigation) and when communities are stratified (e.g. by wealth, caste, or gender). Even when there is substantial agreement about community values, there is always the danger that they reflect patterns of domination within the community and the effective silencing of the disadvantaged (or their internalization of the rationalization of their underprivileged position, e.g. accepting the lesser worth attributed to them). While it is important to bring community values to light, analysis cannot be limited to them. Jamieson has referred to approaches (a) and (b) as, respectively, the "dominant conception of moral theory" and the approach of the 'anti-theorists'.[v]

  3. That brings us to the third methodological approach, a middle level analysis. It focuses on generalizable principles, but does not commit itself to a particular normative theory. [vi]Instead of removing value disputes to the level of theory and attempting to resolve them there (as in approach [a]), it addresses them within the concrete issues, in this case that of development induced and environmental displacement. On the other hand, it is important to articulate the general principles at work in the ethical analysis and not to leave them operating at a level which is not explicit and where inconsistencies and controversial implications may remain out of sight (which the strictly contextual approach [b] is prone to). These features make this middle-level analysis attractive. It can be employed in a dialectical fashion, by engaging different theoretical perspectives in a 'dialogue' with each other to arrive at a more sophisticated mixed position.

Displacement, the State, and Moral Justification

In accordance with the methodology proposed, the question of the justification of displacement will be explored in terms of three normative perspectives, (a) the public-interest perspective of utilitarianism, (b) the self-determination perspective of libertarianism and the more communal version of it held by some communitarians, and (c) the equal-sharing perspective of egalitarianism. (Finer distinctions within these perspectives will not be pursued here.)  

  1. The public-interest perspective of utilitarianism is readily represented by cost-benefit analysis.[vii] The question here is simply whether the benefits of development outweigh the costs of its side effects, including displacement. The distribution of benefits and costs in itself is not a concern in this perspective. Whether those displaced are compensated or not is not part of this particular moral calculus. Nor is whether it is the relatively affluent that benefit and the poor that bear the sacrifices. 

  2. The self-determination perspective of libertarianism, on the other hand, treats freedom and choice as central. From this perspective displacement is necessarily immoral. This applies also to communal self-determination, since displacement involves the coercive removal or forced migration for whole communities. This certainly seems like a promising antidote to heavy-handed and business-privileging development from the top. However, it completely ignores broader public-interest considerations, such as enhanced productivity resulting from the electricity i1l1d irrigation that dams, for example, provide. It is, of course, possible to convert opposition to consent by those required to move by offering them sufficient compensation to move voluntarily, so that they are, ultimately, not displaced (not forced to move). However, this creates an incentive for those required to move to try and capture some of .the benefits from the project by demanding much higher compensation than is needed to merely not be worse off and could make the project too costly to finance. This approach also involves a rather restrictive notion of freedom, in that it ignores that choice can be expanded by development. Amartya Sen's notion of capacities complicates the issue, but draws attention to both the choice-expanding and-restricting aspects of development.[viii]  Finally, from the next (egalitarian) perspective, this approach does not ensure a just distribution of benefits and can even stand in the way of redistribution, such as land reform, that would serve social justice.

  3. The equal-sharing perspective of egalitarianism focuses on the distribution of costs and benefits from development as well as on inequalities prior to particular development projects or policies. From this perspective, development should serve to reduce inequalities. Thus, development-induced displacement could conceivably reduce inequalities if it primarily benefits the poor and puts the burdens on the better off. Considerations of horizontal equity among the better off would, however, limit or complicate such a process. Even more crucial is horizontal equity among the poor in that development can benefit some disadvantaged groups, e.g. by electrifying poor villages, while harming others, e.g. by displacing them. Compensation is one way of dealing with this; having those displaced share in the benefits of development, beyond mere compensation, is another. One major concern about the egalitarian approach is the maintenance of economic incentives. This can be accommodated by qualifying the egalitarian approach by a maximum distribution approach, i.e. Rawls' difference principle of maximizing the conditions of the worst off. This represents a move away from the pure version of egalitarianism.

These three perspectives can be brought together by according each of them a role in a more comprehensive approach to the ethics of development-induced displacement, including displacement by development-induced environmental deterioration. Thus, the requirements of self-determination should be recognized as important by providing substantial community control over environmental decision-making and by dealing with the required resettlement of populations through negotiations and roughly consensual consent, but not as an unqualified right to veto development projects and policies with displacement consequences. The latter may be justified by public interest and distributive-justice considerations. In that case, however, certain conditions would need to be met: compensating those displaced, minimizing displacement in the selection of development options, and giving priority to poverty alleviation in determining development strategies.


Sovereigntism and International Responsibilities

The discussion so far has been of development in a national context. Development in Third-World countries, however, is typically no longer strictly a national project; it involves foreign actors. It usually did so even before the current era of globalization, when development was indeed seen as essentiality a national project.[ix] This brings us to the central question of this paper, namely what the moral obligations of foreign participants in the development process are, when their participation is in processes that displace people.


One cluster of positions that provide answers to this question is that of statist ethics. Statist ethics involve two levels or stages of moral consideration. One is that of intra-state ethics, as discussed in the previous section. The other is that of inter-state ethics. Within this perspective, citizens of one country do not stand in a direct 'moral relationship to citizens of another country Rather, they have moral rights and obligations in relation to their own state and their state then stands in a moral relationship with the other state, which in turn stands in a moral relationship to its own citizens. The state is the pivotal mediator between foreign actors and the state'9 citizens. Whatever moral obligations the citizens of one country may have to the citizens of another country arise from the moral relationship between their respective states. For that reason I refer to it as statist ethics.


Within this general orientation to international ethics, the predominant position is that of sovereigntism. By sovereigntism I mean the moral nationale underlying the state system that has prevailed in Europe since the Thirty Years War in the 17th century and that has been globalized through decolonization in the latter half of the 20th century. It gives moral primacy in international relations to the principle of state sovereignty. That means respect for the supreme authority of other states within their own territories and thus non-intervention among states. It does not rule out participation by foreign agencies in the economy and development of a particular country. It simply means that such participation has to be under the authority of the host state. In other words, foreign business, governmental aid agencies and non-governmental organizations have to operate within the laws and directives of the host government.


Does this mean that observing the laws and directives of the host state is the only moral obligation of foreign patricians? Sovereigntists can answer this question in two quite different ways: (i) One answer is that the home society or polity may impose additional moral requirements regarding dealings with foreigners and that these have to be observed as a result of membership in the home society or polity. For example, if the laws of the host country concerning pollution are lax, there may be legal or moral obligations to observe the home restraints on toxic pollution abroad as much as at home. (ii) A second answer may be that to carry domestic restraints from the home country to the host country is an imposition of values from outside the country and thus interferes with state authority or with the politico-cultural autonomy of the host country, whose trade-offs between living standards and environmental standards may be different. I will distinguish between these two positions by treating position (i) as the national sovereigntist position, under which actors in a foreign country have obligations to their national home states, beyond their obligation to obey the authority of the host state, while position (ii) can be referred to as territorial sovereigntism, in that the authority of the home state ends when nationals leave the territory and enter that of another state. National sovereigntism sees sovereignty satisfied when the sovereign state gives its consent to the activities within its territory, while territorial sovereigntism emphasizes that consent may be given under conditions of pressure on the host state, such as the withholding of important capital, and treats this as objectionable.


The problem with national sovereigntism is that it does not recognize the weakness of at least some states in the face of the politico economic power of foreign capital and even of non-governmental organizations, e.g. in countries such as Bangladesh. The problem with territorial sovereigntism, on the other hand, is that it does not recognize that states do not necessarily act in the interests of their own citizens. In fact, both forms of sovereigntism do not acknowledge adequately the need to apply ethical evaluation to how states treat their own citizens. This suggests the possibility that the kind of ethical perspectives that were employed in the intra-national evaluation of national state policy with regard to development-induced displacement be applied across borders, which is what the cosmopolitan approach does.


Considerations in Favour of Cosmopolitanism

The case for the cosmopolitan approach rests not merely on the difficulties of sovereigntism as an ethic, but also on more positive arguments that refer to current and historical developments in the world. These are (a) the increasing economic, social, cultural, and political integration of the world, (b) the nafure and history of state boundaries, and (c) the actual behavior of states.


  1. The increasing integration of national societies through various processes is creating what must be considered to be a rapidly emerging world society. Economic globalization is making families, groups and national and sub-national societies increasingly dependent on economic decisions and developments in other parts of the world. Thus the recent Pacific Asian economic crisis has been greatly affecting by the behavior of foreign capital, including from the North Atlantic region. The globalization of communications has made it possible in affluent countries to see what is going on in poor countries and for those in poor countries to see how those in the rich countries live. Extraordinary global mobility brings affluent tourists to poor countries and immigrants and refugees from poor countries to rich countries. Cities like London, New York and Toronto are becoming extraordinarily cosmopolitan in their ethnic composition. These interdependencies are recognized in th6 growth of international governance or coordination institutions such as the UN, the World Trade Organization and a multitude of agencies dealing with everything from refugees to postal services and airline regulation. These are all hallmarks of a society, even though there may be considerable limits to the extent to which people in one part of the world are concerned about what happens to people in other parts. But this also holds, even though to a lesser extent, for national societies as well. World society may thus be a thinner society than national societies, but it is a society nevertheless.

  2. Even if the identification of people with each other was, in fact, quite weak, the moral significance of state borders is still an issue. State borders have, historically, not been drawn cleanly around ethnic or linguistic groupings, but emerged from wars that transferred territory, possibly because of the natural resources they contained rather than the people, or because the people provided a work force, a tax base and a source of soldiers, all of which could strengthen the state. Territorial states may have successfully used nationalism to forge national societies, but this has often involved the suppression of minority cultures. Territorial states have typically maintained themselves by denying and restricting diversity. This historical element of force in the determination of state borders raises serious questions regarding the moral significance of such borders. The legacy of force is particularly evident in Africa, where colonial borders have been largely maintained into the post­colonial era and where these borders developed on the basis of contestation and agreement between European powers, with little recognition of ethnic territories. Ethnic wars within territorial states indicate the weakness of national solidarity and of the national scope of moral concern and commitment.

  3. The moral rationale for state sovereignty is based, at least in part, on the idea that states protect their respective societies and advance their interests. Yet the actual behavior of states reveals often a predatory stance towards their citizenry or one of neglect. Collaboration by foreigners with such states, either through their own state or through non-state agents such as business or non-governmental organizations, may involve complicity in such irresponsible behavior. This suggests that the consequences of one's actions, which are international in that either the actions take place abroad or the consequences extend across borders, have to be assessed in terms of their impact on individual and groups, not just countries or states.

These considerations point in the direction of a cosmopolitan approach. While a full case will not be offered here, these points will be taken as sufficient to warrant the application of a cosmopolitan approach to the issue of this paper, namely that of the international obligations regarding development-induced and environmental displacement. Within a cosmopolitan framework, the obligations of foreign participants in the development process are to the people being affected and to those institutional agents that act on their behalf, but only in that representative capacity..


Cosmopolitanism and International Responsibilities

In this framework, the considerations sketched out in Section 4 above ("Displacement, the state, and moral justification") apply across borders. In other words, moral concern for the citizens of other countries, such as their well-being, self-determination and equality (among them or with citizens elsewhere), is relevant. There is, however, one crucial difference. In the previous situation the relevant state exercises authority; the discussion was thus conducted essentially in terms of the moral responsibility of the state. In the case of foreign individuals or organizations, whether state or non-state, the relevant agents do not exercise such authority. They operate within the authority sphere or sovereignty of another state.


If the host state is a reliable protector and promoter of the interests of its citizens (and other legitimate residents), then the assignment" of moral responsibility within a cosmopolitan perspective may not be all that different from the sovereigntist perspective. However, a distinction should at this point be made between two kinds of foreign participants in development, in terms of their functions. One is business organizations whose function is to contribute to economic production, including services, generally on the basis of the pursuit of profits for their investors; the other is non-profit development organizations (NGOs) whose purpose is to protect or advance the interests of people in a development context. (Foreign states here can fall on both sides of this distinction: as promoters of their economic interests, such as exports, they fall on the business side; as providers of genuine development assistance, they fall on the non-profit side.)


Given the assumption of moral and competent states, foreign business organizations can reasonably be deemed to simply have the responsibility to obey the laws, regulations and directives of the host state. It is the responsibility of the host state that productive activities and markets operate in a frame where these processes are beneficial and do not harm people in an unjustifiable manner. Thus, when businesses engage in logging, they need not worry about environmental and displacement effects; that is the concern of the state. Business organizations merely observe the constraints imposed on them by the state. There is thus 3 division of moral labour. (It is, of course, possible to adopt a business ethic that goes further in terms of business responsibilities to communities. But these are dependent on the retreat of the state from assuming full responsibility for managing economic processes such that they do not cause unjust harm. It will thus be considered below as part of the limits to the assumption of the fully moral and competent host state.)


For non-profit development organizations, on the other hand, the function is to further the interests of people. Since there are limits to what states can do to harness economic processes to promote the general interest and particularly social justice, non-profit organizations have here an important role to pursue action and innovation beyond state policy. This means that, with respect to development-induced and envirol1mental displacement, to some extent they have to make the kind of broad assessment of the causal connections between development processes and their displacement consequences and of the moral evaluation of the latter that states ought to be making. In other words, their moral responsibilities go considerably beyond observing host-state law.


The assumption of states as fully moral and competent is, however, a particularly artificial one. It is not uncommon for states to fail to ensure that development really does serve the public interest and social justice, that people are appropriately compensated and that policies that minimize displacement are pursued. These failures may be deliberate, as when state policies serve only the interests of an elite, or they may be due to weaknesses of state institutions, such as protection agencies that have insufficient funding, inadequately trained staff, poor management or inadequate authority in relation to state agencies with other mandates, e.g. the development of infrastructure. Much of the time these two causes are intermingled. (This problem applies to some extent to all states, but the states of certain developing countries are particularly subject to it.) This phenomenon extends the moral obligations of foreign participants in development, and particularly those of business organizations.


To assess these, it is important to make a distinction between directly and indirectly caused displacements. Where outright evictions are involved, the consequences of the role of foreign business organizations in development are clear. Even though it may be the actions of local business partners that lead to such evictions, the participation of foreign capital definitely makes such foreign participants responsible because their participation facilitated the displacement. The same applies to displacement d\le to environmental damage where the cause of such damage can be clearly traced to the activities of the relevant business organization. On the other hand, where displacement results from more indirect processes, such as market processes or environmental degradation that is due to a variety of sources, then displacement has to be seen as having a range of causal agents. In that case, the causal connection between any particular business and displacement is too diffuse to reasonably apply moral responsibility. Only the local state can effectively assume responsibility for the overall causal process behind the displacement. However, if the whole pattern of development in a country is seriously exploitative and the participation of foreign business simply helps to maintain or extend it, there is a moral obligation to stay out of the development process entirely. Only if there are good grounds to believe that participation by a foreign business would actually undermine such exploitation or the development pattern that makes it possible would it be justified.


Even where that is not the case, there may be a further moral responsibility for foreign business, specifically with respect to environmental displacement. While a particular displacement process may have multiple causal agents, any particular kind of environmental damage may be attributable to a particular business. In that case, that business is responsible for that damage, even though it may not be held responsible for the displacement because that is due to a broader pattern of environmental deterioration. The particular environmental damage rather than the displacement due to multiple causes is the moral reason for abstaining from such business participation in development.


In the case of non-profit development organizations (and the development assistance agencies of states), the broader pattern of moral obligations continues to hold. It is not sufficient to show that no damage is being done; it is necessary to show that good is being done. It is reasonable to expect that such organizations not only avoid directly caused displacement, but also do not further a more complex process that leads to displacement that overall would be unjustifiable. This is not to say that non-profit organizations should never be involved in such processes. Their role may well be to alleviate displacement that is being generated by such processes. As a matter of fact, that consideration may quite properly lead them to participate even in unjust direct displacement, but as agents that alleviate the deleterious consequences of the evictions, e.g. by improving an otherwise deficient resettlement process. (But in terms of moral strategy, NGOs also need to be careful here. They could end up being used by state agencies not concerned with justice for those being displaced ['oustees' in India] by performing the function that makes the process sufficiently acceptable to funding organizations [e.g. the World Bank] or the electorate.) The basic point here is that, while the function of business organizations is to contribute to economic productivity by engaging in profitable activities so that their moral responsibilities here are confined to the avoidance of harm that can be clearly traced to them, the function of non-profit organizations is to help people benefit from development and they therefore have to assess their contribution to the broader and more complex processes that affect displacement not only directly, but also indirectly.


These considerations then also apply to development assistance provided by foreign states. They have the moral responsibility to ensure that such assistance is used beneficially and therefore have to attach conditions to the provision of such assistance. In this case, because inter-state relations are involved, some of the considerations of the sovereigntist perspective remain relevant. It means that, if one state is to respect another as guardian of its own citizens, then it cannot establish aid conditions that have very detailed requirements concerning how the public interest and social justice within the country of the host state are to be served. Nevertheless, choices have to be made about which countries to give aid to and for which sectors or projects and additional broad stipulations tan be made concerning the design of projects or programs. These all provide scope for exercising moral responsibility by the donor state.



The conclusion then is that, under a cosmopolitan perspective, the existence of fallible states means that considerable moral responsibility concerning development-induced and environmental displacement, beyond that of observing the laws and decisions of host states, falls on foreign participants in development. This responsibility differs for the different kinds of participants, with business organizations having responsibility only for directly caused displacement, non-profit organizations for a broader pattern of effects, and state development-assistance agencies for some restraint as part of respect for state sovereignty, even though the latter is not treated as morally fundamental.



[i] Charles R. Beitz (1979), Political Theory and international Relations, pp. 63-66, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

[ii] Jana Thompson (1992), Justice and World Order: A Philosophical inquiry,p. 78, Rutledge, London.

[iii] Peter Penz (1993), "Colonization of tribal lands in Bangladesh and Indonesia: state rationales, rights to land, and environmental justice", In M.C. Howard (ed), Asia's Environmental Crisis, pp. 37-72, Westview Press, Boulder, CO.

[iv] Christopher McDowell, (ed.) (1996), Understanding impoverishment: Tile Consequences of Development-induced Displacement, Berghahn Books, Providence, RI.

[v] See Dale Jamieson (1991), "Method and moral theory" in Peter Singer (ed), A Companion to Ethics, pp. 477-79, Blackwell, Oxford.

[vi] L. Wayne Sumner (1994), "How to do Applied Ethics", Keynote Address, Annual Conference, Ontario Philosophical Society, York University, 4 November, also Jamieson, pp. 479-80:

[vii] See Peter S. Wenz (1988), Environmental Justice, ch. 10, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY

[viii] Amartya Sen (1992), Inequality Reexamined, ch. 10, State University Oxford.

[ix] For this chronological disiinction, See Philip McMichael (1996), Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective, Pine Forge Press,Thousand Oaks, CA.

In Life, In Death : Power and Rights

Ranabir Samaddar


(Responses to questions on "Human Rights, Humanitarian Assistance and Conflict Transformation

At the WISCOMP workshop on conflict transformation [June 2003])

My purpose here is to present few hypotheses on the theme of the workshop so that we can move towards some kind of thesis on one of the great questions of our time, namely, the arrangement of power and rights ó in life, in death. In this exercise WISCOMP has put on me a framework of a set of questions. In order to respond to the questions, I shall at times make WISCOMPís statement for the workshop my referral point to argue that the interface of human rights and humanitarianism presents a strategic game between life and death, in a circular way game between power and rights ó and what is at stake here is not a choice between human rights and humanitarianism, or an option of combining these two, but nothing less than coping with a paradox of our time, whose solution can come only by settling the great battle in which we all are engaged amidst the conflicts raging around us ó the battle around how we shall look at life and death, by which I mean power over life and power over death, right of life and the right of death. This is at the heart of the overwhelming conflicts around us. WISCOMP says that the purpose of this workshop is not to introduce a grand theory on conflict and its transformation, but rather to sift through the diverse approaches, and highlight the complexities in their application (p. 2). I accept it as an acknowledgement of the need to divest ourselves of the received ideologies of rights and humanitarianism in the study of the conflicts, and see for ourselves what the actual practices of life and death in this context have been ó if I take it that the rights language essentially means our right to life and humanitarian language means our right to save ourselves from death.


What can be learned from the interaction between human rights monitoring, humanitarian assistance and conflict?

Let us begin with the issue of the interaction between human rights monitoring and humanitarian assistance in conflict. While human rights is politics, and humanitarian assistance is, let us say for lack of better words, civic activities, conflict to put aside the issue of its various forms, which I am not saying is not important, is finally war. War is conquest, or the battle to defeat the conquerors, and war we have been told rightly is politics by other means. In order to understand the complexity already apparent we must bid farewell to the theory of sovereignty, which had taught us that sovereignty resided in the states (roughly in equal measure) or those who controlled the states, that sovereignty meant the right to wage war, the right to inflict death on the ultimate offender, and the duty to protect life. All international laws were based on this recognition, laws of war and peace derived from an acknowledgement of this fact and the recognition of the necessity to regulate this situation of equality prone to causing habitual restlessness. But, in this question, we are visualising a situation where this right has been challenged, the right of life and death has been de-anchored from its habitual source, that is sovereignty, and the power of empire has re-defined sovereignty in a way where human rights monitoring and humanitarian assistance no longer remain a matter of right of life and death, but mere functions of power. In such situation, the paradox is: while war goes on you cannot monitor human rights violations, you can do nothing about the fact that war to begin with is the violation of human rights, you cannot decide the way in which you want to provide humanitarian assistance ó in other words, war has re-defined conditions of the right of life and death. The resultant politics is to say the least is the politics of war, by which I mean, politics that continues after the war, continuation of war by other means. Therefore, we have a reversal of situation with the paradigmatic shift I have referred to ó the shift from politics of sovereignty to politics of empire. Human rights and humanitarian assistance were the marks of the politics of sovereignty in two different forms, but both signified the right and power of life and death. Now with the emergence of new empire, return of colonial wars, and the extreme right wing form of globalisation waging resource wars, that right of life and death is outdated. These are now tickets of imperial power, by which I mean that these are its simply functional variables. In these altered conditions when right of life and the right to protect life are governed by power of death, human rights can be monitored and humanitarian assistance given to certain extent ó but all fundamentally governed by the imperial politics, which is war by other means.

I shall give an example to make the point clear. The Iraq war was a decade long war, in which many actors had played the role of aggressor or silent spectator, and was not what is usually written about in the newspapers as a less-than-a month war. These actors included the global media giants, which bayed for blood of the Iraqi people, and even the UN Security Council, which imposed strict economic blockade on the country and disarmed the country completely thereby rendering Iraq defenceless in face of the impending aggression. The January-February 1991 war followed the UN Security Council Resolution 687, which authorized "all necessary means" to obtain unconditional withdrawal of the Iraqi troops from the Kuwaiti soil. The story of the 1991 Gulf War is well known and does not require a repetition here. But we can recall the indiscriminate carnage towards the end of the war when the Iraqi forces were already withdrawing from Kuwait following Moscowís 24 February 1991 peace plan, which Iraq had accepted. On 26 February 1991, as the long Iraqi convoy was moving towards Basra along the Highway 80, the coalition forces launched a combined ground and air offensive and hit both the ends with heavy explosives. The slaughter continued for the next forty hours with petrol tankers and tanks exploding in cascades of red flame and figures of soldiers perishing in them like little ants. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Iraqis of 12 retreating divisions died. The air campaign alone had taken the toll of 32,000 deaths and the total Iraqi casualties added up to 62,000. The coalition forces reportedly dropped a total of 99,000 to 140,000 tons of explosives ó equivalent to five to seven of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima. We do not know what the calculation would show this time. The war in 1991 had also witnessed a near total destruction of Iraqís civilian infrastructure, including electric power stations, irrigation facilities, and water and sewage treatment plants. It was estimated that Iraq needed US $ 22 billion to repair damage to the civilian infrastructure. Then came the burden of war reparation to be paid out of oil for food programme óa UN humanitarian programme to save life in conditions of slow, gradual, and sure death. And all these went on for the next ten years, while shadowy men like Wolfowitz and a dozen or so lobbyists during that period kept on pressing the case for war on Iraq. Where would human rights monitoring begin in this case? Will it monitor the inhuman nature of humanitarian assistance that is conditioned by the appearance of the "New Empire"? Will it probe the margins, the vanishing margin between war (the right of death) and the deployment of humanitarian strategy (the right of life), making it all a matter of power of life and death?

What are the ways in which human rights and humanitarian assistance groups can coordinate their work to enhance the effectiveness of their intervention?

The divide between human rights and humanitarianism, the impossibility of coordination of the two, the reality of their co-existence, and the simulated acts of life and death in this relationship ó is the reality we are talking of here. We must be careful if we want to pose in this way the issue of the relationship. Human rights speak of the rights of the people, humanitarianism speaks of population ó the target to be fed, clothed, sheltered, maintained, and protected. I can immediately see two anomalies here: first, war is a suspension of rights. INTER ARMA SILENT LEDGES ó in the time of war laws are silent. You can say that you may have a right against war, but that means that you have uncoupled the two connected realities ó rights and power in life and death. You may also say that this is a war to establish rights, yet I doubt if you can speak of rights in the time of war. Rights come after the war. That is how people figure in this scenario. On the other hand, you can protect population from the destruction of war as much possible, that is what humanitarian activities are ó acts of mercy, hospitality, and care. These are ethical acts ó the techniques of self in relating to other selves. It is essentially private, that is truly public or non-state. Organisations of care and charity have always worked in human societies, at times encouraged by royalty, emperors, kings, princes, churches, mosques and temples ó but as technologies they had been non-state. Today, in the condition of modernity, these organisations are like states or huge corporations, in their techniques they bring out the exact relation between care and power. In this metamorphosis we can see two things ó one, from humanitarian acts to humanitarianism, which is an ideology (from sentiment to doctrine); and second, care as an arm of power. You can say like Dostoyevsky, we love humanity, but we hate human beingsÖ

The question that therefore I would like you to think is: how can we perched as we are on these two planks of human rights and humanitarian acts turn these to acts of justice, that will not be bound by the closure caused by the self-foundation of law? In other words, if the laws of war are a fallacy (beyond a point), if neither the right of life nor the right to save life can get out of the closure or the aporia, what are the conditions only which can make such intervention possible, can make life the sign of justice, which though linked to power and rights is their dangerous supplement? Can we think of conditions of politics that can anchor the issue of conditions of life to justice?


How should such groups and other intermediaries address the "unintended consequences of their interventions"?

We have to work rigorously to see what the consequences in the past have been. There is no other way to approach the question. Foucault once pointed out that the one of the greatest social security programmes of the modern era was being planned at a time when one of the most terrifying mass murders was being enacted, "The French Revolution gives the signal for the great national wars of our days, involvin