Saturday, November 20, 2010

Contesting Statelessness: Comparative Perspectives of Tibetans and Rohingiyas in India and Bangladesh

by Nasreen Chowdhury,Assistant Professor in Asian University for Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 13 August 2010, Venue: CRG Seminar Room
[Report by Rajat Kanti Sur and Sucharita Sengupta]

Statelessness is a complicated issue and has serious impacts on human rights, liberty, job opportunity, and property rights of individuals who have been uprooted from the state. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, everyone has the right to nationality; no one shall be arbitrarily deprived from this. This has also been reinstated in the 1961 and 1964 convention on statelessness. Statelessness is therefore the denial of the link between individual community and the state. In this lecture she addressed a comparative study of the Tibetans and Rohingyas in India and Bangladesh. She argues that experiences of statelessness in postcolonial states of India and Bangladesh with multiple histories of partition and state-formation posits certain significant questions with particular reference to the need for regional protection mechanism, bi-lateral relations and importance of legal status and identification documents.

The statelessness of Tibetans is different from the Rohingyas. Her discussion geared around three vantage points, in the first section she sketched a brief historical context, in the second, a theoretical framework and finally, a variation between the two groups.

For instance, the Rohingyas are one of the major ethnic communities of the Northern Arakan region of Burma, which borders Bangladesh. With the end of the World War two, they suffered a history of abuse and faced their first exodus in 1962. In 1977, they again faced obstacle due to the new Government. A large number of refugees entered Bangladesh at that point of time. They were repatriated in 1977. But the situation again changed in 1991 &1992, following another exodus. It was during this time that, SLORC assumed power in Bangladesh and the Burmese policy towards the Rohingyas changed drastically. Most of the Burmese Muslim refugees took shelter in Coxbazar area within Bangladesh. They were a minority back then. They were repatriated in 1992. However it was involuntary and forceful repatriation, which ended in 1995.Whoever remained in Coxbajar are refugees but stateless. They are not treated well in terms of mobility, hygiene and live in camps. Around 21,000-30,000 Rohingyas live there and are now known as IDPs

The story of the Tibetan stateless persons is slightly different from the Rohingyas. They entered India in around 1950. They were able 2 gain political recognition which allowed them to be part and parcel of the Indian society. The Indian Government has recognized them as ‘refugees’. They are one of the most successful cases in India, where we have statelessness with a difference. They have made their own establishment, enjoy the freedom to practice religion of their choice and the freedom of speech and expression. They have also established their government on exile, in the Indian soil. The only condition Indian authorities seem to have set down is to do their activities peacefully.

The reason behind the contestation of the two different stories of statelessness is the different historical formation of states. The two basic ideas that deal with the attitude of the states towards the stateless persons in the postcolonial era are: culture and policies of citizenship. Culture of the state is very important regarding this issue. The policy of multiculturalism makes a state more sensitive towards those sentimental issues without denying the territorial integrity of the state.

[To listen to the full lecture text, please go to -]

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