Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Introduction: The Boat People

"2016, the Mediterranean is a mass grave," Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). 

This calendar year has already been marked by serious refugee crisis all over the world. Large scale movement of people from different countries of Asia and the middle East, the knee-jerk reactions of most governments, the sympathy of some populations, the Pope's naming the displaced people "god's children", the linking of terrorism with migration in popular imagination, and the increasing awareness that one needs to view all migration as forced migration, 
Within this scenario, especially with respect to the Rohingyas and refugees from Syria, the boat, both as a metaphor for going from one country to another, and a a material facilitator of the same. From Aylan Kurdi's death by drowning, to the refusal to let the Rohingya boats dock, and the reported death of  400 Somali refugees trying to reach Europe by boat, this special issue of refugee watch online seeks to look at historical instances of large scale displacement via boat as well as the current crises. 


This issue also includes two field work based reports on urbanisation in Nepal and the Indian city, Guwahati, as well as a report on women uprooted by river erosion in Bengal. 

Samata Biswas (bsamata@gmail.com). 

Boat People: Uniting Syria and Vietnam

Snehashish Mitra (biltu0717@gmail.com) is a research assistant at Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. 


As Aylan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian boy of Kurdis ethnic background lied lifeless on a sea beach of Turkey, it depicted the desperation of over 4 million Syrian refugees. The image circulated round the globe prompted international response over the issue of rehabilitating the Syrian refugee. The crisis also evoked a similar trajectory of events in another part of the world in a different time involving the ‘Vietnamese Boat People’. As Thuan Le Elston, a member of the editorial board of the daily USA TODAY of Vietnamese background opines, it might be necessary to take a look back at the case to Vietnamese Boat People to find a reasonable solution for the Syrian refugee crisis.
When the Americans lost the Vietnam War there were many citizens of Vietnam, especially in South Vietnam who did not wish to stay in Vietnam. Those with influence were airlifted out by the Americans but many had to make do with crowding onto leaky boats and making the journey from Vietnam to the gulf of Thailand. Nearly 800,000 Vietnamese fled by boat, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In doing so they unwittingly wrote themselves into modern pirate history. The Vietnamese populace who tried to flee Vietnam over boat is termed as ‘Vietnamese Boat People’; they seemed to encapsulate all the suffering Vietnam had suffered from1965 to 1975. Despite the end of the Vietnam War, tragedy for the people of Vietnam continued into 1978-79. The term ‘Boat People’ not only applies to the refugees who fled Vietnam but also to the people of Cambodia and Laos who did the same but tend to come under the same umbrella term. The term ‘Vietnamese Boat People’ tends to be associated with only those in the former South who fled the new Communist government established in post-war Vietnam. The exodus was the biggest in peacetime the world had seen. The boat people chose to face the adversities of the sea and the pirates rather than live under communist regime with the genuine prospect of attending reeducation camps and face persecution. About 10% of the boat people died without ever reaching shore, from pirate attacks, drowning or starvation. Those who survived, overwhelmed Vietnam’s neighbors as well as Western nations where the refugees wanted to resettle. 

Empire Strikes Back: The Tragic Journey of Komagata Maru

Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty (srchakraborty@gmail.com) is an eminent historian and a retired professor of History of Presidency College, Kolkata. 

The Journey
    Baba Gurdit Singh, a successful Sikh businessman, decided to help the poor Sikh and other Indian migrants in East and South East Asia to migrate to Canada hopefully for a better life. He chartered the ship Komagata Maru at Hong Kong and the ship reached Vancouver in British Columbia on 23 May, 1914 with 376 passengers on board. The Canadian immigration authorities allowed only 22 passengers to disembark on the ground that other passengers did not fulfill the requirements of continuous journey for landing under Canadian law. The ship with all its passengers was detained in the Vancouver Harbour for two months till 23 July without adequate food and water and was ultimately obliged to return literally at gun point when a Canadian navy cruiser was brought with its guns exposed to the Burrard Inlet. Gurdit had to negotiate his return and was allowed to store provisions for the return journey. The ship left Vancouver on 23 July and while it stopped at Yokohama and Kobe in Japan and in Singapore, the passengers were not allowed to land. The British authorities eventually decided that the ship should go to Calcutta. On 26 September the ship was stopped by the authorities at Kulpi where Donald, the Disrict Magistrate of 24 Paraganas, Slocock of the Criminal Intelligence Office, Government of India and Humphreys, the Deputy Commissioner of a Punjab district boarded the ship. They were accompanied by police constables and officers from the Punjab. They searched the ship and the passengers for arms and seditious literature. The search did not yield anything and on 29 September the ship came to the industrial town of Budge Budge about 27 km from Calcutta.
 Sir Frederick Halliday, the commissioner of Police, Calcutta personally led a group of British and Indian officers and asked the passengers to disembark at once and proceed to the special train waiting at the nearby Budge Budge railway station to take them to Punjab. Gurdit, with whom they were negotiating, felt suspicious of the move and refused. Gurdit tried to reason with the officials saying that they had the sacred Guru Granth Sahib with them which they would install at the Gurdwara in Howrah and then would seek an interview with the Governor. The passengers refused to leave the ship without Gurdit.
 Eventually they came down with Gurdit carrying the Granth Sahib on his head. The passengers formed a procession, marched towards the station and sat down near the level crossing. A formal warning citing a new ordinance was read out by Donald and everyone was asked to board the special train.  Gurdit reiterated that he and the passengers needed to go to Calcutta for urgent work. It would be sacrilegious, he asserted, to take the sacred book in the train. The situation became increasingly confrontational and the British authorities appealed to Calcutta for troops. Between 3 and 4 p.m. the passengers stood up, crossed the level crossing and started marching towards Calcutta with the Granth Sahib being carried in front of them. The police followed them, while Halliday and Donald made phone calls to Calcutta for reinforcements. Eastwood, a superintendent of the Reserve police started from Calcutta around 4 pm with 30 European sergeants and constables. About 150 Royal Fusiliers were also dispatched to Budge Budge in cars. The procession was stopped about 6 or 7 km from Budge Budge by Eastwood and his forces till the Royal Fusiliers arrived. With them came the Chief Secretary of Bengal Cummins and Duke, claiming to represent the Governor. They asked Gurdit to go back to Budge Budge and continue their conversation. On their return the passengers, on being asked to go back to the ship for the night, refused and sat down near the railway station. The Punjab police stayed on the right side of the passengers and the Europeans were positioned on the other side.  The passengers gathered round the Sacred Book which was placed on a portable platform. Halliday walked towards the level crossing and suddenly a few shots were heard. Donald asked Gurdit to come up and talk to him, but Gurdit remained where he was. Eastwood plunged into the crowd and was allegedly knocked down to the ground by some Sikhs. At that moment the firing had begun. Halliday later said that he had seen 30 or 40 Sikhs firing but, as Johnston notes, the impression was not shared by some of his own officers. ‘Some of the shots came from the four police sergeants ,now engulfed by the crowd, and discharging their revolvers at such close quarters that one man, Badal Singh, was hit six times’. As the passengers now surged forward, the Calcutta and Punjab forces retaliated. The Royal Fusiliers entered the scene late, but the Commanding Officer, Capt. Moore secured Halliday’s permission to order fire. Most of the passengers now found shelter in a nearby ditch, or in the fields and some even jumped into the river. By 8 pm it was quiet again.[1]

Rohingyas: The Newest 'Boat People' of Asia

Sucharita Sengupta (sucharitaseng@gmail.com) works as a research assistant at Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. 

While Europe is facing its worst migration crisis since the Balkan wars in the 90s, closer home in Asia, it is the Rohingyas of Myanmar who have been subjected to an even worse fate. Their protracted refugeehood both in Myanmar and Bangladesh, coupled with the fact that they are stateless has compelled them to take to the sea in precarious journeys. While it was Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body brought ashore in Turkey that shook the entire world to wake up to the magnitude of the ongoing migration crisis in Europe, it were the images of a ship full of migrants- the Rohingyas and Bangladeshis- in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, in May 2015, that shocked the entire world, revealing the migratory and livelihooid crisis of the Rohingyas.
In this short write up, I intend to examine the migration of the Rohingyas in high seas through an exploration of the term ‘boat people’. Following massive persecution in Myanmar, the Rohingyas have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, from the 1970s, to seek asylum. Since then, they have been living mostly in the Cox’s Bazaar area of Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts in two camps, whose residents are not allowed to interact with the local population. After a new government came to power in Bangladesh in January 2009, followed by fresh violence in Myanmar in 2012, it has adopted strict measures to stop the inflow. While this mixed and massive flow of population should forge connection between various actors across nation states, particularly between the migrants and the host communities, it is in fact instrumental to the loss of an identity and fundamentally disconnects and uproots a whole people from their nation.

Hill of Contentions: Guwahati's Story

Snehashish Mitra (biltu0717@gmail.com) works as a research assistant at Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. 



Guwahati, in the state of Assam is the largest city of Northeast India, which provides gateway to other part of the region. In the last decade, the urbanization pattern of Guwahati has challenged the dominant notion of northeast India being a peripheral and marginal region. The city is growing in every possible direction, with real estate being the major engine. The possibility of opening up of trade with the other Southeast Asian countries has made Guwahati an attractive destination for investments. Along with capital, there is also an influx of labour, which in turn has led to a struggle over the environmental resources of Guwahati.  Guwahati is ecologically gifted as it is situated on the banks of river Brahmaputra and has 18 hills within the city limits. Despite so, Guwahati faces several environmental issues annually like that of artificial flood, landslide, human animal conflict etc. which takes toll on an average of 10 human lives per year.
The blame for such issues is mainly pelted on the hill settlements inhabited by migrants from different parts of Assam.  The high living cost in the plain areas inhabited by the gentrified class and lack of planning for the migrant population, has made the settlements on the hills inevitable. Such spaces in the urban sphere have become a bone of contention between the settlers and the state as some of the hills fall under the reserve forest category. Several grass root level organizations has come forward in support of the land ownership of the settlers.  In contrast with this scenario, realtors are developing the hills in other part of the city which are being offered at a high market price for the gentry. Intrusion of environmental spaces by human activities has led to frequent leopard attacks in the human inhabited areas. While the state authorities had taken up eviction initiative with marginal success, it certainly doesn’t offer a long term solution keeping in the mind the livelihood of poor migrants and the fragile environment of Guwahati. The resistance of the settlers on the hills perhaps emancipates from the fact that they have been forced to leave the rural hinterland of Assam or neighbouring states due to the redundancy of the traditional livelihood opportunities along with impacts of socio-environmental issues in the militarised frontier of northeast India. The mismanagement of natural resources like forests, water bodies by the state and adverse effects of climate change (erratic rainfall patters for example) have left occupations like dairy farming (mainly practiced, rather were practiced by the Nepali community) and fishing on rivers/ water bodies (mainstay of the scheduled caste communities, locally known as namasudras) redundant due to  decreasing yields. Natural calamities like annual floods displace a considerable number of people. Developmental projects like Lower Subansiri Dam have also displaced people from Mising community (Mising is an ethnic tribal community residing in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh).  Alongside such factors, northeast India has been a region intermittently in the grasp of militancy and conflict which has also caused major displacements and people have been spending considerable amount of time in refugee camps. Such factors or combination of them stems the need to migrate to a place which offers a comparatively peaceful atmosphere and provides with livelihood opportunities with somewhat assured remuneration. As Guwahati is by far the largest city of the region, it turns out to be the first choice of such rural to urban migration.


Urbanization: Constructing the city and lives of the people


Anish Bhandari (abhandari@soscbaha.org) works at the Centre for the Study of Labor and Mobility (CESLAM) at Social Science Baha, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Those who have probably known Kathmandu for a long time can see that it has changed its structure over the years like every other rapidly urbanizing city. The eighteenth SAARC summit hosted in Kathmandu and the government's road expansion project in recent years has transformed the gaze of the capital city of Nepal. One can see the construction workers with their helmets, jackets and tools working along the road sides everywhere in the city. It is also clearly visible that Kathmandu is slowly expanding to the peripheral hills which has difficult landscapes with forests and national parks. This expansion is due to the booming urbanization in the country and across the region. According to the 2011 Census Report, the urban population constitutes 17% (4,523,820) of the total population and Kathmandu alone accommodates a total of 1,744,240 people.
The fact that Kathmandu accommodates more people than its capacity in terms of the resources such as drinking water and electricity proves that the thriving urbanization is responsible for changing the structure of the capital city. The road expansion project and housing apartments building construction are the large scale constructions going on in Kathmandu. Also, the Melamchi Drinking Water pipes installation and solar lights installation along the city roads are speeding. The proposal of the government to construct the flyovers in Airport-Kalanki section and overhead bridge in New Baneshwor junction are also in the pipeline. However, these large scale construction projects are proposed without proper research and planning[i].Folks across the county come to Kathmandu not only because of their aspirations for better economic opportunities and access to basic services such as health and education but also because of the central administrative structure of the government that requires people to come to Kathmandu for multiple reasons such as visa procurement or final departure from the only international airport of the country. No wonder Kathmandu is one of the rapidly urbanizing cities in South Asia because it not only accommodates the permanent dwellers but transient migrants as well. Urban development, therefore, is an important indicator of change.

Gender, Displacement and Resistance in South Asia: The Case of Women Uprooted by River Erosion in West Bengal and Bangladesh

Sreya Sen - Doctoral Fellow, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies
University of Calcutta, India. This paper was presented at a workshop on Gender, Development, Resistance at the University of Lapland, Finland in June 2015. 


Recurrent river erosion on the banks of south western Bangladesh, such as in Khulna since early 2000. has led to massive displacement of the local population. Simultaneously, the slow but steady erosion of the Ganges River in the district of Malda in West Bengal, India has caused the people residing in these areas to lose their homes. This article draws upon archival sources of data, namely national and state government reports on policy and planning, district human development reports, reports generated by non-governmental organizations (local and International) working in the river erosion affected areas of Malda and Khulna and clippings from national and sub national dailies, to examine the impact of river erosion induced displacement on the lives of women residing here. It also attempts to see the ways in which these women have emerged as forces of resistance to the phenomenon of displacement instead of being mere victims of the process.

The problem of displacement caused by river erosion became extremely acute in the early years of the 21st century owing to the advent of development projects, prompting state authorities in both areas to take note of the severity of the problem. The construction of the Farakka Barrage in West Bengal for instance, has aggravated saline intrusion in both Khulna and Malda, leading to a rise in river erosion. The early part of the new millennium was also a time when International and domestic provisions for the protection of the IDP’s were widened in both India and Bangladesh in addition to the fundamental rights available for the protection of such persons in both countries. This was when Bangladesh became a signatory of the United Nations Convention of Human Rights (UNHCR) and thus bound to abide by their mandate. It became a member of the UNHCR in 2002, and consequently became bound to abide by its mandate as well as to take on board the Guiding Principles relating to IDP’s. In India, the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy whose draft was prepared in 1998 by the then Ministry of Rural Development, became an official policy in 2007. Additionally, India being a member of the EXCOM of the UNHCR was also bound by its mandate to look into the well being of IDP’s in the country.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Introduction: Refugee Children


Images of drowned Syrian child, Aylan, brought unusually closer home to many of us, the vast magnitude of displaced people and the completely contingent manner in which they try to make new lives, seek shelter and care for family. And of course, the fact that governments were keen to keep displaced people out. Aylan, 3 years old, was trying to reach the Greek island of Koch, having already been displaced from three different places- when the 15 foot long, ramshackle boat he was travelling in, capsized. Alongside Aylan, his 5 year old brother and mother were also killed, leaving the father as the sole surviving member of the family. Media interest in the image and he family revealed all too familiar stories of a people, torn by strife trying to eke out peaceful living without any assistance whatsoever from governments or states.

Interesting was the response of The Times of India, which desisted from pusblishing Aylan’s photo on its front page for the first couple of days, and did so only after the image was circulated innumerable times on social media. The image on the front page carried with it the rejoinder that the TOI had been reluctant to publish the image, apprehensive of the shock and discomfort it must cause its readers. Of course, the complete arbitrariness of the displacement of the group of people left at lurch by Syria and European nations alike, represented by this drowned child, barely found mention. But TOI’s publication of the image pointed to the potential of the image to mobilise public sentiment across the globe and perhaps to also prompt state action.

Call for Papers: Refugee Watch Online. Special Issue: The Boat People

Refugee Watch Online is a widely read, critically acclaimed bi-monthly web journal (published at www.refugeewatchonline.blogspot.in). It is a sister concern to the international journal Refugee Watch, both published from Calcutta Research Group (www.mcrg.ac.in).

From the boatload of Rohingyas denied entry to the capsized boat that led to the death of Aylan Kurdi and international outrage, the boat people have been on our minds. The boat does not merely signify movement, but has historically been the means through which slaves, indentured labourers and other dispossessed were transported. Historically and in the contemporary period, the boat people emerge as a powerful metaphor for dispossession, forced migration and statelessness. The boat people, invoked as a symbol, congeals within itself almost all of the major tropes and concerns relevant to forced migration studies.
Refugee Watch Online (RWO) seeks 700-1000 words long research articles, news reports, perspectives and views on the boat people for its November- December 2015 issue. Other relevant submissions are also solicited.  Articles need to be in MSWord format, references clearly indicated within text or in endnotes.

We also welcome reviews of relevant books, films and other cultural products. Reviews should be of approximately 1000 words in length, and carry detailed information regarding the artefact reviewed.  Photographs and other media, topical to the interests of RWO can also be sent for publication.

From the June 2015 issue, RWO has been containing a special section on narratives, either in the first or in the third person. Narratives of the displaced, forced migrants are actively solicited to both enable their voices to reach a wider public, and to keep research grounded.
RWO also carries call for papers for books, journals, conferences, seminars and workshops.

Please send your submissions (by 15th November 2015) and direct your queries to refugeewatchonline@gmail.com. The peer review process and editorial decision making can take up to three weeks.


Children at the West Bengal Border: A State of Justice between Bangladesh and India


Chandni Basu

Chandni Basu is a doctoral researcher at Institute for Sociology, Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Germany. Her current research problematises notions and practices of child protection as operative within the purview of the juvenile justice system in India. In this, constructions of childhood/deviance within the institutional space is revoked to provide a post-colonial critique of a pervasive global childhoods project. She can be reached at tochandni@gmail.com.

Instances of apprehension of children from Bangladesh within the juvenile justice system in India provide yet another scope to look into the border dynamics between Bangladesh and India. The significance of the international border in terms of close socio-historical, cultural connections in the region along with the nature of a border formation brings forth issues of identity, in terms of home-homeland and belonging. The presence of children at the border amplifies these aspects as it ushers notions of juvenile justice and child protection within the domain of border dynamics. This article highlights an interrogation of these notions. It is based on ‘field visits’, to various juvenile justice boards, child welfare committees and state institutional homes for apprehended children in West Bengal, India. These were carried on in-between 2011-12.

My interactions with NGO personnel and officials within the juvenile justice system brought forth the reality of apprehended children from Bangladesh, who constitutes the largest section of children-in-conflict with law at state institutional homes in West Bengal. This scenario urges one to pose the following interrogations: - How does the dynamic of an international border, between Bangladesh and India, in terms of inter-state relations and close socio-historical and cultural ties impact the presence of apprehended children from Bangladesh at the state institutional homes in West Bengal? And how does their presence bear upon ideas of home-homeland and belonging in conjunction with the operationalisation of juvenile justice and child protection within the Indian juvenile justice system?

The status of children from Bangladesh within the Indian juvenile justice system is marked mostly on the basis of a gendered segregation. This results in girls being termed as victims of human trafficking while boys are apprehended and taken as children-in-conflict with law under the Indian Foreigner’s Act, 1946. In the state narrative of borders, they are therefore deemed to be undesirable outsiders of illegal immigration. The economy and ethos of their presence within the state institutional homes however subverts such connotation, almost in contradiction to the dominant state narrative of borders. Their identity as outsiders is deemed to be less significant within the institutional space. They are taken to be harmless and trustworthy and their actions of border crossing as minor acts of apprehension, especially in comparison to more serious crimes like rape and murder by their local counterparts within the institutional perils. This entails a character of liminality to the presence of children from Bangladesh within the state institutional homes in West Bengal, in resonance to the liminality of borders.

Children in Prisons

Sucharita Sengupta

Sucharita Sengupta works at MCRG. Her current research focuses on Rohingyas. She can be reached at sucharita@mcrg.ac.in.

A report of UNHCR talks about the kind of neglect rendered to refugee children or children who are forcibly displaced and are in need of asylum. Compelled to leave their homeland, these children are more than often subjected to violence, abuse, sexual exploitation and worst, trafficking[1]. In the present time when Europe is witnessing its worst phase of massive migration of people since the world war two, again the vulnerability of children in particular, struck the whole world when the image of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi, a drowned Syrian toddler’s body was found ashore in Turkey. Aylan’s brother Galib also died on the same boat while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos[2]. In Asia, the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 had witnessed such massive migration of people which continued through the decades of 50s and 60s and saw a sharp rise post 1971, with the creation of Bangladesh. This piece is written on the basis of my field work in various correctional homes in West Bengal between October-December 2014 and talks about children, particularly young girls, who are either compelled to leave Bangladesh or are illegally trafficked to West Bengal, India, through the porous borders in promise of job or marriage or a better life.

There are two dimensions of problems that are faced by these children. The first is the problem of illegal trafficking. The second is when they just accompany their parents, completely unaware of the consequences and find themselves either behind bars for illegal immigration or in brothels. According to a report[3], girls from Bangladesh are largely trafficked for sex work and most of them are aged below 18. For instance, Champa hailing from Faridpur, Bangladeah, was sold to a brothel in Orissa by traffickers when she was just a child of 12. Since then she has lived in India. Now she is eighteen and while returning to her home in Bangladesh, she was caught by the police and taken to jail custody under the passport act for using a fake passport. I met Champa in the Alipore Correctional Home for Women. The most popular trafficking route employed by traffickers is Dhaka-Mumbai-Karachi-Dubai. Way back in 2004, the report says, around 200-400 women and children were trafficked to India each month totaling to approximate 10,000-15,000 annually. This number has increased to an alarming figure now. Securitization of the border through passport and visa was introduced in 1949 and 1952 respectively. The more the eastern part of the border has been securitized, the more it has given rise to incidents of violence and illegality like smuggling and trafficking of women and children across the border.

Rohingya Children in a Kolkata Shelter Home: A History of Discrimination and Dreams for a New Beginning

Madhura Chakraborty

Madhura Chakraborty works at Calcutta Research Group. She has been working on migrant labourers since 2011. She can be reached at madhura@mcrg.ac.in.

The last bout of mass scale genocidal violence was unleashed against the Rohingyas in Arakan in 2012. Around the same time the government of Bangladesh took a firm stand to not let in any more refugees. In an interview with Barnaby Phillips of Al Jazeera on 27th July 2012, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina repeatedly asserts that it is not the country’s problem to deal with the Rohingyas and she cannot intervene because it is unwise to meddle in the internal affairs of another country. She also says that the international community should insist on Myanmar taking back the Rohingyas and not point an accusing finger at Bangladesh. Responding to accusations that the fleeing Rohingyas are forced back by the Bangladeshi border guards she responds that the guards have responded in a humanitarian way and offered money , medicine and food the Rohingyas and the ‘persuaded’ them to go back. As a result, increasingly, the Rohingyas are forced to seek shelter elsewhere. A large number of them take to the seas in hope for a better future in Southeast Asian countries whereas increasingly bigger groups take the land route and are coming into India. At present they are scattered all over in Jammu, Delhi, Mewat, JAipur, Hyderabad and the jails of West Bengal. Further, UNHCR finds them unique among all the refugee groups in India for their mobility making it difficult to track them and get them registered for the Refugee Status Determination process.


Sanlaap, an NGO working with trafficked women and children based in West Bengal, reports that Rohingya children started coming into their shelter homes in large numbers since 2012 and at one point they were providing shelter to over 40 children, most of them girls. The girls come to Sanlaap through the state Child Welfare Committee. Usually large groups of Rohingya, being smuggled across the borders are captured and sent to Correctional Homes under the Foreigners Act of India. Men, women and children are separated and the children end up in shelter homes. Sanlaap conducted a study in the Rohingya settlements in Jammu and Delhi as more and more relatives came to the shelter from settlements in these two states, claiming the children as their wards. Their reports from the settlements talk about a different kind of insecurity for the Rohingya, particularly the children going back from the shelter to be reunited with their families--the unsanitary condition of the camps, along with the lack of access to basic health care, sanitation, clean water besides education and means of employment, means that the children face malnourishment, all kinds of physical unsafety and, especially the girls are prone to early marriage and in some cases trafficking.

Punitive Policies: Australia’s Engagement with Asylum

Sana Yasmin Chaudhry.

Sana Yasmin Chaudhry of University College of London can be reached at sana.chaudhry.12@ucl.ac.uk.

Australia’s engagement with international humanitarianism is continually undermined by mean-spirited national policies toward asylum seekers. This took a turn under Hawke-Keating in 1992 when delayed legal access and court amendments of the Migration Acts severely impeded the assimilation of Cambodian asylum seekers (Manne 2013: 19). Since then, callous policies have continued despite Australia’s open programme of accepting refugees during World War II, at a time when political leaders espoused multiculturalism as a bedrock policy for the nation. However during the 1990s, appeals to xenophobia were proving to be politically profitable, therefore punitive policies were introduced for all those who arrived without proper documentation (Kipnis 2004: 262).

Today, “those seeking asylum who make it to Australia are sent to detention centres where conditions are harsh and access to legal aid and the media is strictly limited, if not curtailed completely” (Mares 2002). What is more, these detention centres are geographically located in “marginal spaces where social ‘unmentionables’ and dangerous wastes are located and removed from mainstream society” (McLoughlin and Warin 2003) thus stripping asylum seekers of their rights to a strong network of social capital. Furthermore, Howard’s creation of a ‘temporary safe haven’ VISAs means those asylum seekers continue to live in limbo, constantly fearing forcible repatriation. This temporary status “legalizes the ambiguity through which asylum applicants are positioned outside the nation-state” (Mountz et al 2002: 340), consequently leading to further marginalisation.

International Workshop on Gender, Development, Resistance at University of Lapland: A Report

Shreya Sen

Shreya Sen is a Doctoral Fellow at University of Calcutta. She participated in the workshop. She can be reached at shreya69@gmail.com

The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland recently organized an International workshop on Gender, Development, Resistance between the 7th and 8th of June 2015, bringing together activists, practitioners and academics dedicated to the research, analysis and discussion of upcoming issues in these areas of study. The workshop was a follow up of the Ninth Feminist Research Conference on ‘Sex and Capital” sponsored by ATGENDER, a European organization for gender documentation and research, which also took place at the University of Lapland, from 3rd to 6th June 2015. Altogether, there were 21 papers presented at the workshop over eight panels and over a span of two days, with a keynote lecture by Dr. Paula Banerjee of the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Calcutta and a concluding talk by workshop host and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Lapland, Dr. Tiina Seppala.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Paula Banerjee (University of Calcutta) explained how the development paradigm favored by much of the post colonial world has resulted in massive displacement, since the cost of development is not borne equally by all sections of society. The most vulnerable of the population such as the indigenous people, minorities etc. she argued, bear the cost of development while the more endowed enjoy the fruits of development. After providing an overview of women’s resistance to dams, mining and other development projects in Northeastern India and in the Indian states of Orissa and West Bengal, Dr Banerjee concluded that women occupied a significant portion of the resisting population owing to a concern for their children and future generations, their training in Satyagraha and their longstanding struggle against state, patriarchy and capital.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A ‘Catch-22’ Situation: Enclave Dwellers in Dilemma Over Land Rights

Statesman News Service
Siliguri, 22 June
Though Trinamul Congress leaders, including Cooch Behar district president Rabindranath Ghosh, met people in Bangladeshi enclaves in the Indian part and conveyed chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s greetings to them, many people, who have farmlands there but live in Indian part, are in a fix over land rights after the Land Boundary Agreement.

The matter came to light after some leaders of some organizations, including the BJP and the RSS, started interacting  with the people of those enclaves. It may be noted that RSS leaders accompanied by some members of the Kuchlibari Sangram Samiti were studying the situation of Bangladeshi enclaves and people’s happiness level there.

Some people, who have farmlands in Bangladeshi enclaves but now live in Indian territory after having acquired Indian voter identity cards, have sought suggestions on the problem they are now facing or may face  during the actual execution of the enclave exchange plan. An advisor to the Kuchlibari Sangram Samiti, Sadhan Kumar Paul, was taken aback after learning of the problems of the enclave dwellers and he failed give them proper suggestions, as, according  to him, it is completely a legal matter related to the transfer of land between India and

Bangladesh. “Bangladeshi enclave residents, who have start- ed living in the Indian part with valid papers but cultivate their farm- lands in Bangladesh for livelihood are in a dilem- ma,” said Mr Paul. “They have come to know (though we are all in the dark about it) that during the process of enclave exchange, the enclave land will  be decl- ared vest land and the government will  finally settle all matters related to land,” he said, adding, “They fear that they would be deprived of their land rights during the

LBA execution because they did  not  appear before the joint team of inspection in 2011 too.”

Notably, a man, who has a plot  of farmland in Baapokhri, a Bangladeshi enclave, but now lives in India, did  not meet the India-Bangladesh joint survey team because he wanted to enjoy Indian citizenship and use the land in Bangladeshi enclave for his livelihood. “There are several people, who are seeking suggestions from us as well  as the district administrative officials,” Mr Pual said.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Call for Papers: Refugee Watch Online


 Refugee Watch Online is a widely read, critically acclaimed bi-monthly web journal (published at www.refugeewatchonline.blogspot.in). It is a sister concern to the international journal Refugee Watch, both published from Calcutta Research Group (www.mcrg.ac.in).
Refugee Watch Online (RWO) seeks 700-1000 words long research articles, news reports, perspectives and views on issues related to forced migration, displacement, human rights’ violation, and other relevant matters regarding contemporary politics and society. Articles need to be in MSWord format, references clearly indicated within text or in endnotes.
We also welcome reviews of relevant books, films and other cultural products. Reviews should be of approximately 1000 words in length, and carry detailed information regarding the artefact reviewed. Summaries of longer news items published elsewhere are also solicited (with due permissions and acknowledgements procured by the author).  Photographs and other media, topical to the interests of RWO can also be sent for publication.
From the June 2015 issue, RWO is going to contain a special section on narratives, either in the first or in the third person. Narratives of the disposed, forced migrants are actively solicited to both enable their voices to reach a wider public, and to keep research grounded.
RWO also carries call for papers for books, journals, conferences, seminars and workshops.
Please send your submissions and direct your queries to refugeewatchonline@gmail.com. The peer review process and editorial decision making can take up to three weeks.


Xenophobia in South Africa: A Report.


Madhura Chakraborty, Calcutta Research Group. She has been working on migrant labourers since 2011.  

Since 1994--the end of the Apartheid in South Africa--millions of migrants, particularly from neighbouring poorer African countries have been coming to the country to seek work and in hope of a better life. The deadly attacks across urban centres in South Africa against migrants, primarily of African origins but also from South Asian countries, that occurred in early 2015 started in Durban and then spread to parts of Johannesburg. These xenophobic attacks, according to Al Jazeera[i] are a result of the rising unemployment rates in South Africa where labour migrants are seen as a contributory cause. According projections by the ILO[ii] the country ranks as the eighth worst in terms of high unemployment rates. The attacks allegedly started after a comment by the Zulu King, Goodwill Zelithini who apparently asked the migrants to ‘pack their bags and leave’[iii] which he later denied having made. In Johannesburg text messages circulating via the social networks warmed foreigners to heed the Zulu King’s call to leave South Africa[iv].

Businesses by migrants were attacked, looted and vandalised leading to many migrants fleeing their homes. The Star, a leading daily from South Africa reports that violent mobs even turned on journalists in some cases in Johannesburg. Thousands of migrants fled their homes and took up shelter in camps and shops owned by the migrants remained closed. The Star quotes Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega as saying the violence against foreign migrants was a criminal activity. The Star[v] quotes President Zuma who blamed criminality as opposed to xenophobia:

 “I don’t think we should use the simple word because it is easy to use excessively. It gives a wrong impression that South Africans are xenophobic. We are not,” said Zuma.

In the meanwhile as of 26 April the government operated camp in Johannesburg[vi] to shelter the displaced migrants were shut down. The camp which started with only four hundred displaced people on 16 April saw the residents’ numbers swell to over a thousand. The municipality officials presiding over camp management were assured of there being no danger in going back to the communities before closing the camp. In Durban hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants are still in camps even as the government pushes to close the camps[vii].

Meanwhile the police along with the South African Defence Force started a massive stop and search programme in Johannesburg to arrest undocumented migrants in which at least fifty were arrested as of 28 April[viii]. Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, Gauteng police spokesperson, was quoted as saying:
It was a stop-and-search operation... It was a normal, crime-prevention operation.
Al Jazeera dubs the operation as one trying to end ‘anti-immigration unrest’.
As a direct result of the violence against migrants, diplomatic relations with some neighbouring countries have worsened. Nigeria decided to take back the envoys from Pretoria[ix] while both Zimbabwe and Malawi governments arranged transportation for their citizens from South Africa and Mozambique along with the other nations joined in publicly condemning these attacks.
In South Africa itself thousands marched in anti xenophobic rallies in both Durban and Johannesburg. Ranabir Samaddar, the Director of Calcutta Research Group, who was visiting Johannesburg at the time, was interviewed on Power FM 98.7.  He was quoted raising the question: “You have to ask yourself can any country do without migrant workers?”
This remains a crucial question in today’s world of tightening border controls and securitization where the ‘other’ is often working-class, labour migrants who are blamed for all ills of the host country.





[i] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2015/05/xenophobia-south-africa-150501090636029.html
[iii]http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2015/05/xenophobia-south-africa-150501090636029.html
[iv] http://www.iol.co.za/the-star/xenophobia-panic-grips-joburg-cbd-1.1845814#.VUm44NKqqko
[v] http://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/most-south-africans-not-xenophobic-zuma-1.1849088#.VUnAbtKqqkp
[vi] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/south-africa-winds-relief-camp-foreign-nationals-150426031806430.html
[vii] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2015/05/uncertainty-clouds-fate-africa-camp-inmates-150503051536849.html
[viii] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2015/04/foreigners-targeted-massive-police-raid-africa-150427200301574.html
[ix] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2015/04/clone.of.south-africa-criticises-nigeria-recalling.html

Trafficked and Jailed: The story of Saukina

Sucharita Sengupta, Calcutta Research Group. The narrative she sent to Refugee Watch Online is based on interviews conducted at various prisons in West Bengal as part of her work on the Bengal-Bangladesh Borderland, especially on Bangladeshi women who have been incarcerated in various prisons of West Bengal, India. [She can be reached at sucharita@mcrg.ac.in or sucharitaseng@gmail.com]



Her name is Saukina Begum[1] and she hails from Gopalganj district of Bangladesh. I met her in Alipore Correctional Home for Women, in Kolkata. Dressed shabbily and looking extremely nervous she asked “Are you a lawyer? Can you please help me in my case so that I get released? I did not know I would land up in prison after coming to India”. It took me some time to calm her and explain that the purpose of my visit was to give an ear to her and others who have similarly crossed the Bengal-Bangladesh Border to migrate from Bangladesh to India and have eventually got incarcerated in charge of crossing the border illegally, without having valid documents. With tears in her eyes and a trembling voice Saukina narrated her journey from home to India.

Belonging to a family of four brothers and two sisters with her father being the only earning member of the family, Saukina was used to hardships from a very tender age. Her father Siraj Mollah was a poor farmer in Gopalganj. She was regularly beaten up and tortured by her stepmother till she fled one day. “A kind owner of a garments factory saved me and gave me shelter in his home in Dhaka, where I started working as a domestic aid. Gradually I learnt stitching and work of embroidery and soon got a job in the shop of her owner. There I met Sabuj Miyan, who used to regularly visit the shop. He was very nice to me and soon we became good friends. He also was a frequent visitor to India and told me about his flourishing business of garments there. He used to sell clothes made in Bangladesh in India. One day he took me to his home and asked me whether I would marry him and settle with him in Mumbai, India. He also told me that in India I would be paid double for the work that I was doing here. It was a very tempting offer for me. We got married; I left my work in Dhaka and started with him for India having no clue about the formalities needed to cross the border. I thought Sabuj would know everything since he was a regular there and thus made the gravest mistake of my life. We crossed the Benapole border through Bongaon. Once in India, we boarded a train towards Mumbai…” (she can‘t recall from which station) and it was there when for the first time she became suspicious of the place where she was being taken to. I asked her the reason – “…I can’t explain but I just guessed that something was not quite right. It was 12 at night and we were joined by some more girls and two Indian men in the train. From their conversations I realized that we were being taken to a brothel in Mumbai. I was shocked and terrified. I also came to know that Sabuj had lied to me all along. He never had any business of garments and he already has a wife and two children in Mumbai. I do not know what his real business is but from their conversations understood that he regularly brings girls from Bangladesh to India and sell them to brothels. I started yelling and crying but could not find a way to escape. Help arrived in the form of police when the whole group was caught and arrested in one of the stations. I told them everything but still have been booked under the 14(a) Foreigners act. Sabuj through his influences got himself released after shelling out Rs 50,000 as bail fee but my case still remains pending. I do not know when I would be released from here. However, I do feel it was a blessing that I was caught by the police before I was sold off to a brothel. Here I still have hopes of freedom but I do not know what I would do even if I get released. Sabuj and his friends are very angry on me because I have exposed them to the police and have talked about them in Court. I have also told in Court that Sabuj is my husband and he has brought me here. Now they have threatened me of dire consequences…” her voice trails off.

Saukina was caught on 13 April 2013 and her case was tried in Basirhat Police Station. During the time of this interview she had already spent a year and almost seven months in jail but till now her charge sheet was due because her case partners were not making their appearances in the court. Case partners are the persons with whom Saukina was caught by the police. The norm is all persons caught together should be produced together in court for trial and even if one person from the group does not appear on the day when they have been summoned for trial, the case loses its merit and gets deferred. What happens often in cases like Saukina‘s is that the middle men or traffickers easily get themselves released either by paying hefty amounts or through connections, and once they are out of the police custody they generally return back to Bangladesh or go under cover deliberately, making themselves untraceable. Cases therefore remain pending causing many women like Saukina to languish relentlessly in prisons. ‘Freedom’ for them remains just as a word- as a notion and forever elusive- devoid of any meaning.





[1] The interview was taken on 14 November 2014

“My players are now construction workers”: Narratives from Jindal Steel Works, West Bengal


Suman Nath, Haldia Government College. This article was part of his ongoing fieldwork in Paschim Medinipur, where he enquires about the links between local governance and large scale political changes.



Fig 1: Wooden plank used to cross the newly constructed fence.

Until recently, Jindal Steel Works (JSW) project, in Salboni, West Bengal was commonly believed to be a successful case of land acquisition without major unrest even at a time when land related movements were at their peak in Singur. The amount of land acquired is about 4562 acres of which only about 500 acres is taken from the villagers and the rest is part of an existing animal farm and vested land. With lack of irrigation and fertile land the compensation seemed lucrative which is Rs.600,000 per acre of which 50 percent is given in cash and rest as share to the company and one job per family. A daunting delay in implementation of the project because of problems with coal block allocation and transportation of water, in December 2014 JSW declares to give back 294 acres of land to the villagers[i]. This initiative is dubbed by the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as “a pro-farmer move on the part of the industry group.”[ii]
This article, part of my ethnographic work in twelve villages surrounding the proposed project area, reflects on the loss of vital livelihood supports of the people surrounding the project area and resultant forced migration.

The Villages and the vested land:

Among 12 villages, five are inhabited by the Santals and the rest are multiethnic: occupied by castes like Mahato, Teli, Bagal, tribes like Santals and also a few Muslims. These are located approximately 10 - 15 km away from the National Highway 60, approachable through the farm road--- the name suggesting previously existing animal farm. Each of the villages depend heavily on forest and domestic animals – a dependence which has been supported by now obsolete animal farm and now acquired vested land. The multi caste villages perform agriculture and people from both these and tribal villages work as casual labour to neighbouring Medinipur town.

Fig. 2: Tree roots soon to be used as fuel.
When I started my fieldwork back in 2008, only a few pillars were installed marking the boundaries of the project area without halting free access to the acquired land which was moderately forested. Major resources which have been supporting their livelihoods since time immemorial include fuel wood, fodder, food, and medicines. The vested land also provided a space for the people to do open defecation. With Joint Forest Management initiatives some of the villagers also invested in production of cashew nuts from cashew trees in the forest. Over the years they have looked after those trees only to see them chopped down. In several villages Jaher Than, the sacred grove – essential aspect of Santal spirituality had to be removed which entailed not only emotional burden over the villagers but also a huge cost in performing the ritual. Post 2010, the construction of a wall covering a circumference of approximately 40 km began. JSW chopped down all the trees, levelled the land blocking the natural flow of water from Western side to the eastern side on which farming depended. Without the forest, people continue to dig up tree roots in order to meet their fuel needs. People sold off livestock because the grazing land fell within the project area and could not be accessed any longer.


Fig. 3: Reconstructed Jaher Than.

Where does the money go?

“When I had money as the compensation, my elder son started a business venture, my younger son demanded a motorbike. I had to pay some amount to my son-in-law. My wife wanted an expensive television. My neighbourhood friend needed a loan... the rest I have invested in a scheme with high return and as it appears I have been cheated...” [Reported by one of the older villagers after getting the compensation money]
From 2008 onwards it became difficult to talk to the villagers because of the visits by the ‘investment advisors’. These investment advisors could pursue most of the villagers who got compensation to invest in a variety of schemes starting from mutual fund to chit fund. By 2013 I could locate most of the motorbikes bought are no longer running because of the lack of money to buy the fuel. I could not identify a single villager generating durable asset. By 2013 a committee supported by the All India Trinamool Congress demanding quicker commencement of the project started rallying. One of the local leaders reflects in 2013:
“...some of us are given some preliminary training with a promise of job. We are taken to visit other plants by JSW to have a feel what this place will be soon. Now that we have lost all our money and assets, we need the factory to start as soon as possible...”

The compulsive migration:

With diminishing livelihood supports villagers started to migrate from the end of 2013. The first to move out was a group of young men to Karnataka not only to work as construction worker but also to keep in touch with JSW Karnataka. Today most of the families have at least one migrant labour. In absence of these youngsters the sports activities in the villages have also taken a beating. One of the local coaches who enthusiastically formed a football team in A. B. R. Kherwal Gaota Club reports “JSW steel plant has taken away more than our traditional forest dependent lives. It has destroyed relationships, raised walls between the villages, making near places distant... more painfully they have dismantled our team. My players are now construction workers who will never return...” [recorded in December 2014].



[i] http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/sajjan-jindal-to-return-salboni-locals-their-land-114121500792_1.html
[ii] http://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/jsw-to-return-land-to-farmers/article6694228.ece