Monday, May 30, 2011

The Students’ Workshop on Borders and Forced Migration

The Calcutta Research Group (CRG) organized a day-long student workshop at Jadavpur University in collaboration with the Centre for Refugee Studies, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University on March 29, 2011. Issues related to forced migration, refugees and statelessness in South Asia (with special reference to India) were discussed in the sessions of the workshop. A special session was devoted to deal with the International legal regimes related to refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Statelessness.

The inaugural session started with the welcome address delivered by Anindya Jyoti Majumdar, Head, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University. As the Chief Guest of the workshop Nilanjana Gupta, Dean, Faculty of Arts delivered the inaugural address. The session ended with a short introduction of CRG by Samir Kumar Das.

The first session started with a special lecture on Colonialism, Resource crisis and Migration by Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty. Chakraborty described how people were forced to migrate due to various reasons like resource crisis, natural disasters and governmental policies. In this context, he spoke about the impact of colonialism on the Indian sub-continent during late 18th - mid 20th century. With the expansion of colonial administration a large part of the population was forced to migrate involuntarily. According to him, the British colonial power became de jure after 1757. Mughal Empire granted diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company. The company had invested in these three provinces and wanted to maximize the revenues. They started a unit of exchange – sikka and Rupee. Nayeb Razim Reza Khan was appointed to collect revenues. The Company rule was a new kind of despotism, having power without responsibility- looking for absolute profit unencumbered by any welfare or moral obligation towards the ‘native’ subjects. This caused a great famine in Bengal in 1770 known as the ‘Bengal Famine’. This famine compelled the rural population in Bengal to migrate to Calcutta. Chakraborty quoted Hunter, who on the analysis of data said that Calcutta was emerging as a city of palaces. There was a marginal crisis of labour. Thus, there was an inducement to migrate and work in the city. Chakraborty explained that commercialization of agriculture, rural indebtedness, and rayatwari-mahalwari settlements etc. caused depeasantization. According to Chakraborty migration of people from rural to urban places was sometimes controlled by the state.

There was a panel discussion on Migration, Borders and Women in the second session comprising Paula Banerjee and Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury. At the very outset of her presentation on Women and Circles of Insecurity: Borders in East and North East India Banerjee said South Asia is a region of unique borders. Borders symbolize the national security of a state. On the one hand, the borders in this region are sites of hatred, disunity and informal connections while on the other borders signify cooperation. Threats of human trafficking, drug peddling and arms smuggling are the few problems that infest these borders constituting a part of non-traditional security discourse. Banerjee mentioned in her presentation that women and children are the most vulnerable group as they are often trafficked through these borders. In this context she narrated a story of a refugee woman who was caught and raped by the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel while illegally crossing the Indo-Bangladesh border. She was later rescued by the villagers. While narrating the story Banerjee opined that the main reasons behind forced migration are endemic poverty and lawlessness. She said that sometimes women have to take care of her families in absence of men, whom they have lost in the course of migration and these women often are trapped by traffickers when they ventured out of their homes to earn livelihood. They usually have nothing to barter except their body. Banerjee mentioned trafficking of women as one of the major causes of HIV/AIDs in this region of South Asia.

Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury in her deliberation on Stateless women in India started with the legal definitions of Statelessness stated in the international legal regimes like 1954 and 1961 conventions. While conceptualizing de jure and de facto statelessness she said that the citizenship is the legal bond between a state and an individual. To give example of de jure statelessness she elaborated the case of Chakmas and Hajongs in Arunachal Pradesh. During her presentation she shared the experiences of her fieldwork in Arunachal Pradesh. She concluded by discussing the risks that stateless people have to bear and the condition of stateless women. As an illustration, she narrated the story of Kamala Devi from Dumpani village in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The panel discussion ended with interaction between the panelists and the participants.

In the last session on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) with special reference to Conventions and Protocols, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury defined ‘refugees’ according to the 1951 convention of refugees, Oriental African United (OAU) convention of 1969, Cartagena convention of 1984 and the protocol of 1967. He described the methods in which the UNHCR deals with the refugee problems in South Asia. He also described the evolution of the concept of refugee from 1951 to 1984. While Samir Kumar Das made a distinction between the refugees and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). He said the conditions of refugees and IDPs were the same. He defined IDPs according to the international refugee law and highlighted many important points on the definition which are usually ignored by students. In order to explain IDPs Das talked about the causes of displacement like natural or man-made disasters, development programmes and resource crisis among others. In his deliberation he mentioned that United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) remains silent when displacement happens due to development programmes. While explaining the classifications of the IDPs Samir Das gave an example of the situation triggered by river bed erosion of Ganges-Padma in Malda district of West Bengal. The workshop ended with the distribution of certificates among participants.

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