Livelihood Solutions for Refugees

Pradeep Kumar Panda

World Refugee Day falls on 20 June. The day was created in the year 2000 by a special United Nations General Assembly Resolution. The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

A refugee, generally speaking, is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely. Such a person may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status by the contracting state or the UNHCR if they formally make a claim for asylum. As of 2015, total refugee population is 21.3 million.

The estimated population of refugees in India is approximately 36,000 of which about 19,000 are residing in New Delhi (UNHCR). They are from all nationalities including Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cameroon, China, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Maldives, Myanmar – Chin, Myanmar – Rohingya, Pakistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Yemen. Continue reading “Livelihood Solutions for Refugees”

Through my Lens: Field Notes from a Trip to Nagaland in May 2017

Sucharita Sengupta

[As a part of my research on Conflict and Social Governance in North East India (Principal researcher Prof. Paula Banerjee), I went to Nagaland for 10 days between May 1 and May 10, 2017.[i] This field report, written immediately after coming back from Nagaland is based on interviews and informal conversations conducted in Dimapur and Kohima.]

It was 7pm on a Monday, when I came out of the office of Morung Express, a well circulated daily of Nagaland, after interacting with one of their journalists, Aheli Moitra. Morung Express has provided a platform to scholars and activists involved in the new protest movements within the state. It was the first day of my field visit and also the first time when fear gripped me. Completely immersed in darkness, the road ahead was deserted, with no transport in sight. Aheli was unperturbed and helped me get an auto, which charged almost double to commute back to the hotel. Answering my protests to the increased fare, the driver said in Hindi, if translated which means, “It’s not safe here madam in the evenings, and you won’t find transport to take you back, so I am charging you double”. “Why”? I asked. “Things are much better now, so why do you say it’s still unsafe”? “Madam, there is no guarantee and the people here (read Nagas) always target the outsiders like us”. The auto driver, Shambhu, was a resident of Bihar. I reflected back to my conversation with Aheli on the same evening, some time back. Aheli is a Bengali by birth, and has been raised in various parts of India, which prompted me to ask, where does she situate herself in the state? Does she feel safe being an ‘outsider’ there? Her answer was, “Of course. More than I would in Bengal. There are no problems in Nagaland, especially regarding the safety of women. There is not a single problem that I have faced in my last three years in the state. I am happy with my work here. Only at times I crave to go back to the proper city life as everything is so quiet here”. From my experience of touring Nagaland in the next ten days, I had to agree with Aheli. I was helped by every stranger I met and interacted with, although a nagging discomfort of working on a subject that rarely evokes empathy remained through out the field work. Continue reading “Through my Lens: Field Notes from a Trip to Nagaland in May 2017”

‘Ekrupata Namkaran’ and the Nepali speaking people in South Asia: The problem and challenges of finding an appropriate collective representational nomenclature

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty

[Note from the author: The backdrop of the discussion in this article is the native Nepali speaking people in India and their quest to cartographically chart their emic self-defined identity in a map called Gorkhaland in and around Darjeeling in the directional construct ‘North Bengal’ located in the Indian state of West Bengal. As a geopolitical space Darjeeling has reflected immense tensions amidst the phased calm and phased uncalm in the form of demand for Chuttei Rajya (separate state) of Gorkhaland. The Chiyasi ko Andolan (1986 Movement) and the current imbroglio  (stretched from 2007 to 2017) though showing signs of peculiarities and particularities in terms of the movement, styles of leadership, political agency ,participations etc., continues to showcase commonalities, connections, and continuations in the indelible question of identity of the people and its place. Chuttei Rajya (separate state) of Gorkhaland is projected as the panacea for all prevailing problems of its people ranging from being stateless, neglected, misconstrued and misrepresented (as Durwans, Security guards etc), branded as ‘foreigners’ (confused to be from Nepal), called ‘Chinky’ (confused to be from North East India) etc. Though a popular tourist destination, globally known for ‘Darjeeling Tea’, idyllic backdrop of many Bollywood movies (and feeding into the romanticised visual social imaginaries of the South Asia) the region continues to be geographically misconstrued. The simple question ‘where is Darjeeling?’ can uncork startling responses and confusions: few presuming it to be in Assam (a clear confusion because of the ‘Tea’ factor); while others considering it to be a part of Nepal and trying to use Nepalese Rupee; and still others focusing on the historical connections with Sikkim etc. Another difficult question ‘Whom does Darjeeling belong to (territorially, politically, culturally, socially)?’ evokes vexed responses: while the Chuttei Rajya narrative claims its deep seated autonomy enmeshed in cultural, social, linguistic differences; those against ‘Bangavanga’ (division of West Bengal) claim Darjeeling to be the ‘crown’ of the state of ‘Sonar Bangla’. These responses do little to quench the thirst and curiosity of the questioner. I am of the view that if Darjeeling could speak for itself (like the Bollywood song sung by the late Mahendra Kapoor ‘Ye Mati Sabhi Ki Kahani Kahegi’ (Lyrics: Bharat Vyas. Music: Ramachandra. Soundtrack in V. Shantaram, dir. (1959). Navrang. India) the response might unleash startling rethinking, positional shifts and realignments. The current imbroglio in the ‘hills’ needs to be understood silhouetted on these seemingly disparate issues and problems.]

The evolution of martial race[i]– ‘Bir[ii] Gorkha’ (the brave invincible Gurkha)[iii] in South Asia and India in particular is embossed and engraved deeply into the history of the Raj (the British colonial government that ruled India in various forms over two centuries) and the Raj making. The ever changing borders, frontiers and spaces of the Raj witnessed the flow of a multitude of people/races/ethnicities/religions etc.[iv] The ‘traditional’[v] territorial spaces were traversed, turned inside out, made malleable to the demands and visions of the Raj. This meant that communities/people were coming to an interface more strongly at a faster pace amidst the wave of multidimensional change in transports, administration- security (artillery, war craft, defence, military intervention etc.) just to name a few. This also meant that communities/people were slowly yet surely by want/choice, force/coercion becoming categorized as ‘citizens’, ‘subjects’, ‘denizens’, ‘enemies’, ‘foreigners’, ‘interlopers’ and the like. The colonial census projects, studies of administrators doubling as anthropologists, surveyors, the missionaries and the numerous retinue of experts (white/European/American) and informant natives (the elites, the traditional privileged sections, mostly men) resulted in the creation/ construction of stereotypes and social imaginaries of communities/people in South Asia. Continue reading “‘Ekrupata Namkaran’ and the Nepali speaking people in South Asia: The problem and challenges of finding an appropriate collective representational nomenclature”

“The Guests”: Tibetan Muslims in Eastern Himalayas

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty

Following the Dalai Lama’s apposite use of the term ‘Guest’[1] for himself and the larger ‘Tibetan’s in Exile’ in India whom he represents, I would attempt to unravel the position of the Tibetan Muslims in the Eastern Himalayan settings of Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Tibetan Muslims (Bhote Muslims/Bhutia Muslims), a micro-migrant group[2] of the Tibetan exiles in India, migrated alongside their Buddhist counterparts during the early sixties of twentieth century. Tibetan Muslims over the years have settled up North in Srinagar, and Gangtok, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong in the Eastern Himalayas.

The Tibetan Muslim community as a part of the larger ‘Tibetan in Exile’ have walked a tight rope first, in order to furnish evidence of their loyalty to the larger encapsulating Buddhist Tibetan identity and distancing themselves from the more controversial symbols of their religiously informed cultural identity. Such a strategy has enabled the Tibetan Muslims to elbow other Muslim groups (Bihari, Bengali, Kashmiri etc.) in Darjeeling and claim proximity to the exclusivist ‘Paharey Identity’ (‘Hill Identity’ akin to the hegemonic ‘Gorkhey Identity[3]) in hill towns of Eastern Himalayas. Second, in order to gain proximity to the Indian state they cling to their ‘Kashmiri-Ladaki Muslim’ lineage and flaunt the necessary symbols of their associated religious identity. These are much in congruence to the understanding how people as communities negotiate themselves into becoming ‘citizens’ in parts and degrees, and critics have typecast this in the hills of Darjeeling-Kalimpong-Gangtok as the “Chameleonizing tactics of ‘guest’ that is the Tibetan Muslims”.[4] Continue reading ““The Guests”: Tibetan Muslims in Eastern Himalayas”

Report: Panel discussion and book release by CRG and RLS

Priya Singh and Sucharita Sengupta

Panel Discussion on Rohingya and Syrian Refugees by Calcutta Research Group, on 6 April 2017, supported by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS).

No other time was more apt perhaps than this to interrogate India’s refugee policies along with an appraisal of the contemporary global regime of care and protection for migrant communities. Civil war in Syria has been one of the worst humanitarian crises in the recent decade challenging Europe’s migration policy. Incessant deaths in the Mediterranean, in border detention camps, plight of fleeing refugees, women and trafficked victims- be it Syrians in Europe or Rohingyas in South Asia- for war, state violence, religious persecution, flood and so on, have amounted to an inordinate number of 60 million refugees worldwide. Perceptions resulting into worst manifestations of human rights violations have on the one hand drawn empathy, but on the other have unfurled xenophobia, attempting to curb migration in general. The recent policies of the U.S government concerning economic migration are indicative of this trend. India too is witnessing myriad forms of discrimination. From racial attack on Nigerian students in the capital to establishing detention centres in order to detect migrants in Assam and now identifying Rohingya refugees in Jammu in order to deport them back to Myanmar, thus evokes concerns for scholars and practitioners working on issues of human rights, gender, justice and refugees. These concerns culminated into a roundtable discussion by CRG on India’s migration policy; practice and release of the special issue of Refugee Watch Journal (A CRG Publication) on Syrian Refugees. The idea was to drive home the point that while the migration crisis in Europe has resulted into a number of regional initiatives and sensitisation of international media, the same has hardly ensued in case of the Rohingyas, world’s largest persecuted stales community in Asia. Therefore, there is a need to present the contemporary crisis of the global south as well along with the European scenario. While panelists of the round table discussion shared their experiences on the Asian scenario, the specialty of this issue of Refugee Watch is that it has articles based on extensive field research of the European scenario, especially Syrian refugees living as stateless people across the Middle East. The three panelists were Professor Ranabir Samaddar, Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, CRG; Professor Paula Banerjee, Director, CRG and Dean of Arts, Calcutta University; Professor Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, Vice Chancellor, Rabindra Bharati University. The Panel discussion was chaired by Professor Samita Sen, Director, School of Women’s Studies and Dean, Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies, Law and Management, Jadavpur University. Continue reading “Report: Panel discussion and book release by CRG and RLS”

The Labour of the Refugee Economies

Ranabir Samaddar

Most writings on refugee economy or the immigrant economy refer to changes in the immigrant labour absorption policies of the Western governments. These writings reflect on the economic activities of the refugees and other victims of forced migration. Refugees are seen as economic actors in the market. But we do not get a full picture of why capitalism in late twentieth or early twenty first century needs these refugee or immigrant economic actors. The idea we get is that refugees and other victims of forced migration want to be economically viable, relevant to the host economies, and are economically relevant, but they are discriminated against. These writings showcase refugees’ attempts to survive meaningfully in camps, cities, and other settlements, in ethnically homogenous or mixed settings, and the ways they prove useful to market, big business, and organised trade. Several studies along this line tell us of the success stories of migrants’ economic activities. The message is: the refugee or the migrant as an economic actor has arrived, do not neglect the refugee, do not dismiss the refugee as an economic actor. Yet the organic link between the immigrant as an economic actor and the global capitalist economy seems to escape the analysis in these writings.

Continue reading “The Labour of the Refugee Economies”

Male Out-Migration and Empowerment of Women Left Behind in Indian Sunderbans

Sourodeep Bose, Shatabdi Saha, Rupak Goswami.

Farming in the Sundarbans region is typically rainfed, constrained by hostile and challenged ecosystems, and is characterized by low input use and poor crop productivity. The male farmers, due to fragmented land holding and frequent crop failure (as a result ofbiophysical constraints, and extreme climatic events), are compelled to migrate to different districts of West Bengal, to other states, or even to other countries to sustain their livelihoods. Their female counterparts are ‘left-behind’ in the villages and perform a wide array of works, both domestic and farm-related. Domination, deprivation and discrimination, along with lack of recognition and remuneration for tremendous workload are common for these left-behind women in a patriarchal society. But, this expansion of gender role may slowly and consistently lead to autonomy of marginal women in this marginal land. A conclusive assertion, however, asks for scholastic empirical engagement.

This short excerpt is taken from research conducted as part of a master’s dissertation work in the field of rural development. The study is placed within the context of ‘migration left behind nexus’ literature (Toyota et al. 2007), which focuses on the life experiences and well-being of the women living at the origin during their husband’s absence. The aim of the project is to understand the effect of male out-migration on the lives of left-behind women in selected areas of Indian Sunderbans.  The existing literature under the ‘migration-left-behind nexus’ is more engaged with transnational migration (Sarkar and Islam, 2014) and very few of them explicitly deal with circular and recursivemigration, a common feature in many developing nations, owing to the seasonal nature of their farming. Moreover, attempt to understand the impact of male outmigration within the framework of women empowerment has been largely absent (Sinha et al., 2012).

Continue reading “Male Out-Migration and Empowerment of Women Left Behind in Indian Sunderbans”

‘When you realise no one cares’: A narrative from Nauru

Somdatta Chakraborty

Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru, is an island country in Micronesia in the Central Pacific and the smallest republic in the world. Formerly known as Pleasant Island, it was once a British colony which has however long passed under the aegis of the Australian government and in recent years run into controversy as a site for the “offshore processing” of people who seek asylum and protection. Since 2013, Australia has sent all asylum-seekers arriving by boat into detention on Nauru, Papua New Guinea or Manus Island, and denied them resettlement in Australia despite an outcry from rights groups. In fact innumerable countries, the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented such instances of illegal detention. Unfortunately, as per recent statistics, more than 77% of the population forcibly sent to Nauru by the Australian government consists of refugees who are not allowed to leave the island. In the critically acclaimed They Cannot take the Sky, Michael Green, Andre Dao, Angelica Neville, Dana Affleck and Sienna Merope as editors have courageously and painstakingly documented the first-person narratives of the people detained as they reveal not only their extraordinary journeys and their daily struggles but also their reflections on love, death, hope and injustice, thus breaking the culture of silence and suppression that surrounds them from the moment they are taken to the island. A creation of the Behind the Wire publication stable, which incidentally is an award winning oral history organization, They Cannot take the Sky carries forward the tenor of exploring and documenting the truth in incidents of illegal detention in the aforementioned islands. Below are my impressions of reading an extract from the book, the narrative of a child called Benjamin. Continue reading “‘When you realise no one cares’: A narrative from Nauru”

Simshar: A Portrayal of Perspectives

Adrija Maitra

Simshar, a Maltese drama film which released on the 27th of April, 2014 showcases two parallel plotlines occurring simultaneously, which are brought closer with the common theme of the mortal hazards of international migration. This film is not only a debut of the director, Rebecca Cremona, but the first Maltese film to be made. On one hand, we see a Maltese fisherman named Simon (Lofti Abdelli) and his family, to whom the ship ‘Simshar’ belongs. On the other hand, we see a Turkish vessel with African migrants on board, travelling to Italy. Mark Misfud plays Alex, a medic on the Turkish vessel, whose interactions with Makeda (Laura Kpegli) shapes the way he views their current predicament. The film throws light on a personal story of a fisherman’s family, in the backdrop of several others who are in a situation to face the same fate, anytime. As is mentioned in the opening of the film, it is indeed inspired by true events. Continue reading “Simshar: A Portrayal of Perspectives”

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