Thursday, August 31, 2006

South Asian Experiences of the Right to Return

Paula Banerjee and Ranabir Samaddar

Refugees enjoy very few rights but one of the most intrinsic rights for a refugee is the right to return. Although much debated internationally the right to return is most clearly enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under its provisions on the right to freedom of movement (Article 12.4) which says that No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. But this right has often proved to be a chimera. This paper will explore South Asian experiences of displaced peoples right to return. On the basis of three case studies the paper will portray that from its inception South Asian states have denied displaced people the right to return.In fact it has acquired nation form on the basis of such denials.
Perhaps the first group of people whose right to return was denied by a South Asian state were the Indian emigrants who travelled abroad in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to work as plantation labourers. All through the nationalist period the fate of these labourers in their country of domicile was a rallying point for Indian leaders to portray the dark side of foreign rule. There was constant reiteration that they state was responsible for all the people who were born in India. Yet during the legislative assembly debates in 1944 the leaders came to a consensus that these émigrés rightfully belonged to their country of domicile and not in India. Unlike nationalists during the colonial period, the leaders of the post-colonial State formation project no longer looked forward to the return of the emigrants who were slowly being considered as foreigners.
South Asian independence was accompanied by a blood bath.The partition of India and Pakistan resulted in two million deaths and about 15 million people were displaced. Most of the refugees were lucky enough to get domicile and often citizenship in their country of domicile. Yet problem arose over the issue of return. In peoples memory their Desh (country) was where they were born. But once displaced they did not have the right to return even when they so desired. South Asian states passed legislations whereby property of the displaced were confiscated by the state and treated as enemy property. So the home that they wanted to go back to remained only in their own imagination.
One often hears the argument that because partition refugees have got an alternate citizenship they have lost the right to return. In South Asia there are however, other groups of refugees who remain as stateless people and yet they are denied the right to return. This paper will discuss two such groups of refugees: the Chakmas (Jumma people) and the Bhutanese. The Chakmas form part of the great Tibeto-Burman language family. The jungles of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are home to several such Tibeto-Burman tribes, among whom Chakmas and Marmas are the largest and they are collectively called the Jumma people. The 1935 Government of India Act defined the hills as a “Totally Excluded Area”, taking it out of Bengal’s control. The first political blow suffered by the Chakmas was when their territory was placed within East Pakistan although they wanted to remain within India. During the 1971 war for Bangladesh’s liberation, the CHT population backed the Mukti Bahini against the Pakistani army. The following year, Manobendra Larma, who had been elected to the national parliament from the Hill Tracts, called on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with a delegation in order to place Chakma concerns on the new nation’s political agenda. As it became clear that Shiekh Mujibur and the new establishment he represented were in no mood to listen, Mr Larma set up the Jana Sanghata Samiti as a political group, and later, its armed wing, the Shanti Bahini. The Jumma people have been consistently displaced from the CHT by the machinations of first the East Pakistan government and then the Bangladesh state. In 1964 when the Kaptai Dam was built over 30,000 development refugees cane to the Lushai and Cachar Hills in India because the East Pakistani government refused to pay them any compensation. Later in the 1970s and 80s the CHT became the site for enormous violence and the Bangladeshi government began its draconian policies to contain any protest whereby over 80,000 Jumma people were displaced. Repatriation talks between the Bangladesh authorities, the Indian Government and the Chakma leadership have continued over the past many years and an accord was signed in 1997 but yet the Chakmas could not return. Those who returned found their land taken by Bengali settelers and so they could not be resettled and many became refugee for another time. The present Bangladesh government is ambivalent about its attitude to Chakma refugees and so many, who are remaining in India have no hope of going back.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Bhutanese government introduced a series of repressive citizenship laws and “Bhutanization” policies that focused on the political, economic, and cultural exclusion of ethnic Nepalese living in southern Bhutan. The Citizenship Acts of 1977 and 1985 included several provisions permitting the revocation of citizenship. The government began enforcing the 1985 Act in a discriminatory manner through a 1988 census, resulting in the mass denationalization of thousands of Bhutanese of Nepali origin in violation of international human rights law. In the early 1990s, the Bhutanese government crushed resistance by ethnic Nepalese and others who protested against the policies through large public demonstrations and called for a multi-party democratic system. The government closed schools and suspended health services in southern Bhutan. Members of the Bhutanese police and army imprisoned, raped, and tortured many of those who were directly, indirectly, or incorrectly presumed to be associated with the demonstrations. Government forces also destroyed houses and forced many ethnic Nepalese off of their lands. International NGOs began operations to aid the Bhutanese refugees, and in 1991, the government of Nepal and UNHCR established refugee camps. By mid-1994, approximately eighty-six thousand refugees resided in the camps. Since then many of these people have been agitating so that the international refugee regime recognise their right to return. Only recently the Government of Bhutan and the Government of Nepal have agreed to discuss the repatriation of some refugees but their terms of reference are such that it will deny the right to return to the overwhelming majority.
The paper will discuss these cases and try to analyse what makes the right to return a chimera. It will bring in this context the need for a political study of places and communities in violent South Asia. Such a study will show the gap between how we live and what we idealise, the gap that is a paradox, produced by the most extra ordinary juxtaposition of nationalising polities by fictive ethnicities, a homogenous citizenship, and the claims to pluralism, democracy, and accommodation. Which then is South Asia’s political history? How is this history predicated by aliens, half-citizens, exiles, refuge, temporary shelters where citizens pass away their lives, illegal immigrants, - in short, the non-state persons who are beyond the pale of citizenship rights, and who are not even the proper subjects of the international law on non-state persons? The focus in any discussion on the right to return of citizens expelled has to be thus on the need to move away from the classical theories of sovereignty, democracy, State, and citizenship, and take the exile, the alien, the displaced (both internally and trans-border), and the half-citizen as the central figure of the politics in South Asia, the figure who is with us like the eternally accompanying shadow, so normalised that we forget its existence which we have taken for granted. In this physical milieu of expulsion, de-enfranchisement, and nationalisation, the right to return is at once the most crucial question and the most hallucinatory claim.
The main question simply will be: Can we realise this right in the present state system? What can be the juridical rules of a right to return that nullifies the right to expel? And what can be the possible politics where accommodation can take the place of marginalizing places, names, communities, bodies, and existences? In a situation where expulsion of peoples is the norm rather than being an exception, where the pure space of exception has got to be de-naturalised, that is to say be returned to its status of being an exception, what can be the politics of an exile?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Is the Right to Return a Symbolic Right?

Shreyashi Chaudhuri

The term Right to return reflects a belief that members of an ethnic or national group have a right to immigration and naturalization into the country that they, the country, or both consider to be that group's homeland, without prior personal citizenship in that country. This belief is sometimes reflected in special consideration in a country's immigration laws which facilitate or encourage the reunion of a diaspora or dispersed ethnic population.
The phrase right to return has several dimensions. The right to return seems to be very elementary and simple. But when the specific context and specific groups are considered it becomes important to think whether this right to return is applicable or should be applicable. The question of right to return in Sri Lanka and in many countries evolves from the perspective of national security and economic burden. Till the 1960s the uprooted people from East Pakistan dreamt that one day they would go back. But they cold never do so and their vulnerability remained. Therefore along with the right to return unless and until the security of life is ensured the right to return cannot b exercised. Once a group of people is displaced from a place the place does not remain unoccupied. This also restricts the right to return. Seroius problems can arise when internally displaced persons are compelled to return to unsafe areas or to areas where they do not wish to reside. Sudan offers an example: the government has forcibly moved the displaced from Khartoum to outlying areas where they are neither part of the urban community nor in their own natural setting. In Peru the government provides assistance only to those internally displaced persons who return to their original homes. In Sri Lanka assistance has been used to induce returns, but to its credit the government has adopted guidelines against physical coercion.
The provision of protection upon return also requires special attention. They may find their homes, land and personal property taken by others and no functioning judicial system to resolve disputes. Another problem returnees may face are land mines. In Mozambique these have killed more than 10,000 displaced persons over the course of the return and resettlement program. The Guiding Principles prohibit the deployment of land mines owing to the danger they pose to internally displaced and other civilians both during hostilities and after their conclusion.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Literary Reflections of Migration in Assamese Literature Particularly in Reference to late Umakanta Sarma

Pritima Sharma

The growth of indigeneous population suffered a very serious and violent setback in the early part of the 19th century when three Burmese invasions of Assam took a heavy toll of Assamese life .Assamese population was completely massacred by the invading Burmese forces . The last being in the third decade of the 19th century . Practically the land of Assam became a graveyard of Assamese population . As a result a great famine in 1825 occured and in 1826 on the basis of Yandaboo Treaty Assam was taken over by the Britishers . That a major chunk of agricultural and residential land lying vacant was itself a source of attraction for the advent of outsiders particularly neighbouring East Bengal Muslim communities from the region of Myamansingh. Since then the migration continued to remain unabated till today . The then Bengal sent over half migrant to Assam . Some from Chotanagpur ,Bhagalpur etc. A great majority of population were garden coolies or agricultural labour who crossed the agricultural land .
In the Gazetteer of Bengal and Northeast India edited by Gait and Ellen the following information is sound . The whole of increase since 1991 was due to immigration for the number of persons born and enumerated . Since then the growth of immigrant population has changed the democratic pattern of Assam’s population .
In Assamese literature this issue of migration forms an important theme among most of the novels . Among the novelist , Late Umakanta Sarma has elaborately delineated this theme in most of his novels .This paper looks into the novels of Umakanta Sarma where migration forms the core issue .
TheMythical ‘Bharanda’ of the ‘Panchatantra’ is the bird with two heads and a single body. Once one head found a luscious fruit and ate it up alone without sharing it with the other head. In the quarrel that ensued, the other head, out of spite, ate a poison fruit which killed the bird itself. This mythical allegory is used by novelist Umakanta Sarma to depict ground reality of present Assam in his novel ‘Bharanda pakhir jak’, 1992 (Flocks of Bharanda birds). The delicate relationship and the grounds of conflict between Bodos and Assamese constitute the theme of this magnificient novel . Then follows another novel Megar Sa ( the shadow of floating clouds ) which dealt with the lives of the poor and the marginalized who are displaced .
In “Ejak Manuh and Ekhan Aranya ”(A group of people and a forest ) in 1986 reflects a massive opus on the beginning of the tea plantations with bonded labourer in the colonial age . Labourers are the main protagonist in this work and the novel is truly their story . The ethnic conflict and the loss of cherished communal values reflect in his minor works . Kajolir Rog ( ailments of kajoli) his last novel is based on migration of hard working Maimanshingia peasants from East Bengal to Assam and the resultant problems .This novel gives a strong social message and showed how migration has changed the democratic pattern of Assam’s population .