Monday, February 28, 2011

[This edition is compiled by Ishita Dey,Doctoral Student at Department of Sociology, Delhi University and Member of Calcutta Research Group]

Until January 2011, Tunisia was known for a repressive government headed by Mr. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who ruled the country for 23 years till the jasmine revolution when the anti- government protests forced him to resign. As the Prime Minister of the interim government in Tunisia also puts in his resignation, the neighboring state Libya witnesses a violent anti- government protests against the 41 year old rule of Colonel Gaddafi and there are reports of Libya’s border overrun with migrants, mostly Egyptians. According to UNHCR reports, almost close to 100,000 people (which includes Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and third country nationals including Chinese and other Asians) have fled due to anti-government unrest in Libya. Mostly people are fleeing to Tunisia and Egypt- the states which are in a state of transition due to the recent political agitations. Under the given circumstances, UNHCR in a press release welcomed the positive approach of the two transitional states- Tunisia and Egypt to keep its borders open for people trying to flee from Libya. According to the press release, "Given the continued reports of violence and human rights abuses inside Libya, it is imperative that people fleeing the country are able to reach safety". Infact UNHCR in its web portal on 25 February mentions that “the interim government in Tunisia has declared that the country's borders are open for all nationalities attempting to flee Libya. According to their statistics, more than 22,000 people have crossed the border since last Sunday, mainly Tunisian nationals, with a number of Egyptians, Turks, Moroccans and Chinese”. While on one hand the political unrest has led to influx of people in Tunisia and Egypt; the reports indicate that both these countries will need the commitment and support from international humanitarian agencies. UNHCR has opened its operations in Tunisia and is supporting Tunisian Red Crescent and border community Ben Guardane whose volunteers are helping the new arrivals. The Tunisian military has set up a transit camp which can accommodate 400 people. UNHCR fears that they have received phone calls from refugees registered with UNHCR and living in Libya that they might be targeted as foreigners. Prior to conflict UNHCR had registered more than 8000 refugees and approximately 3000 asylum seekers have pending cases. While Tunisia has kept its borders open for people fleeing from Libya, Tunisians take recourse to high seas to reach Lampedusa, an Italian island midway between Tunisia and Malta. In a news report published in Financial Times (14 February 2011) approximately 4000 people had landed in this island over the past four days. They are mostly young Tunisians and apparently thousands have gathered in Tunisian ports to pay $ 2000 each to traffickers for the passage. The reasons for taking high seas are many. Some reportedly fled Tunisia were desperately looking for work, others were fleeing violence and disorder. Some even thought that they might be persecuted after the overthrow of the last regime. Under the present circumstances Italy is expecting more Tunisians to arrive and have opened the reopening of the transit centre at Lampedusa to take in migrants. For the past two years they had closed this transit centre and was intercepting migrants at high seas with the co-operation from Tunisian and Libyan governments- countries which have witnessed major anti-government protests. Italy has called for EU’s concerted response to the present situation. In this context, Geetisha Dasgupta in her article “When was the revolution?” gives us a status update of the peaceful struggles that people have launched across the Arab world. Refugees have also taken recourse to high seas in Asia as well and last year there were several media reports of Rohingyas taking to high seas to reach safer destinations. Rohingyas continue to be ill treated by the Thai Government as they were reportedly set adrift without food, water and even their engine was not working. Under the given circumstances, Human Rights Watch in a recently released press release urges the Thai Government to investigate the matter with deeper concerns. For details on the latest development please visit the section on News where we also bring to your attention that due to fresh military operations almost 90000 people in North West Pakistan will be displaced according to UN agencies.

Last year there has been a lot of discussion on stateless people and in this edition, Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury brings to our attention one such case- Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh. Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines that a ‘stateless person’ is someone who is not recognized as a national by any state under the operation of its law. They therefore have no nationality or citizenship and are unprotected by national legislation and left in the arc of vulnerability. Whether or not a person is stateless can be determined on the basis of an assessment of relevant nationality laws and how these laws are implemented by the state. Since nationality is generally acquired on the basis of an existing, factual link between the individual and the state – some kind of connection either with the territory (place of birth or residence) or with a national (descent, adoption or marriage) – it is important to look at the nationality legislation and relevant practice of states with which an individual enjoys a relevant factual link, to see if nationality is indeed attributed to the individual under any state’s law. If not, then he or she is stateless. Anasua gives us a ground report of the present situation of Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh. In this section, Vandana in her article brings to our attention the gendered dimensions of displacement through the documentation of women’s voices; those affected due to developmental projects and in this case she chooses to the study the women whose lives get affected due to the construction of Tehri dam. Finally we bring to you the proceedings of a recently concluded workshop by Calcutta Resarch Group aimed for media practitioners.

27 February 2011. Libya unrest sparks refugee crisis at Tunisia border. Source:
25 February 2011. UNHCR urges support for Tunisia and Egypt as thousands flee Libya. Source :
23 February 2011. UNHCR says open borders imperative for people fleeing violence in Libya. Source :
Dinmore, Guy and Byrne, Eileen. “ Italy appeals to EU for help over Tunisian Flotilla” in Financial Times, February 14, 2011

Changing Nature of Forced Migration: Vulnerabilities and Responsibilities in South and Southeast Asia

Venue: Asian University for Women

Dates: 22, 23, 24 September 2011

Protracted conflicts, restrictive asylum policies, unequal burden sharing, climate change and natural disasters, along with shifting policies regarding immigration, asylum, work, development, and globalization are not only changing the nature of forced displacements but also blurring the line between forced migration and economic migration. These situations create vulnerable “people on the move”: refugees, internally displaced peoples, trafficked peoples and migrant workers for whom leaving their home becomes the only viable solution. Although they fall under different jurisdictions in domestic and international laws, their vulnerability is often similar as a result of being considered “temporary”, “illegal”, or “illegitimate” and the processes that produce peoples on the move tend to be linked and interconnected. Moreover, this kind of mobility tends to challenge the legal and normative notions about state responsibility, citizenship and identity.

The conference will examine the following:
• the intersections and specificities of causes and consequences of vulnerabilities of these groups of people;
• the coping mechanisms utilized by them;
• the implications of these commonalities and particularities for the distribution of responsibilities and action for domestic and international policies for nation-states, the international community, as well as local and regional actors.

The conference will focus on specific issues concerning South and Southeast Asian regions (including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines).

Burma’s Rohingya Refugees Take to High Seas

Thai Government was once again accused of ill- treating the Rohingyas who tried to flee Burma for fear of being persecuted. In a recently released News Release, Human Rights Watch pointed out that since mid January this year there have three incidents of boats of Rohingya that have arrived on the Thai coast. Another boat carrying 129 Rohingya landed in Aceh province of Indonesia on February 16. At least five additional boats are believed to have left Bangladesh and remain at sea. The report urges Thailand Government to investigate how the boat that landed with 91 people in Trang province ended up being in Andaman Islands and that too without a motor. Thai foreign ministry spokesperson Thani Thongphakdi in his statement on this incident mentions that this group of 91 “illegal migrants” was found ashore in Trang province and was "handled according to the country's immigration laws". According to Subir Bhaumik, though the Thais agree that they have deported the Rohingyas to Burma on other hand the refugees told the Indian police that their boat was set adrift without food and water and an engine by the Thai navy. According to Human Rights Watch though Thailand is non-signatory to 1951 Convention under customary international law the Thai government has an obligation of "nonrefoulement" – not to return anyone to a country where their life or freedom is at risk. The news release further urges that United Nations Refugee Agency should be given unhindered access to all boat arrivals of Rohingya in Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia and India.
To read more on Rohingyas being intercepted at high seas:
February 2011 Human Rights Watch news release, "Thailand: Give UN Access to Rohingya 'Boat People'".
Bhaumik, Subir. 2011. Thailand “deported” Burmese Rohingyas.

Around 25000 People Displaced in Northwest Pakistan due to Military Operations against Insurgents

According to UNHCR, fresh military operations against insurgents in NorthWest Pakistan have displaced 25000 people in last week of January. The figure could increase to 90,000 by end of February. UNHCR has established two new camps, mainly to accommodate people who have been fleeing the Sagi and Dawezai areas of Mohmand agency since the military operations intensified on January 27. The report also indicate that the successive conflict in tribal areas have displaced around 1 million people, including almost 140,000 people from Mohmand agency. Of these, most live among host communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Some 147,000 live in three camps in the province with most (138,000) at the Jalozai camp in Nowshera district.

For details read:
February 2011. “Fresh military manoeuvres in northern Pakistan displace 25,000 people”

Mexico’s New Refugee Law in January 2011

The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed the entry into force of a new law in Mexico on the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers that now gives the country a legal framework that complies with international standards in this area. The law, which was formally signed by President Felipe Calderón on 26 January 2011 was drafted in 2009 by the Mexican Refugee Commission with technical support from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees .Mexico signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and its Protocol in 2000 and has a history of protecting asylum-seekers and refugees, according to the agency. However, the country lacked a specific legal framework as previous laws did not comply with international standards. The new “Law on Refugees and Complementary Protection” incorporates Mexico’s good practices on refugees, such as permission to work, access to health services including health insurance, access to education and revalidation of studies.

For details visit:

Women and Forced Displacement in the Tehri Dam Project

Vandana Asthana
[Associate Professor at Eastern Washington University, Cheney WA]

The main aim of the project is to investigate “How do women experience displacement and relocation in the dam project?” through the case study of Tehri Dam and its impact on women. Cernea’s (2000) model of displacement was used to identify the women’s risks of forced displacement. The eight interlinked potential risks intrinsic to displacement identified in Cernea’s model as landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalization, food insecurity, increased morbidity and mortality, loss of access to common property and social integration manifested in the daily lives of these displaced women. In a region where women and children make up the majority of displaced population, insensitivity to the needs of women has shaped post-rehabilitation programs in a way where women face impoverishment, income decline, and destitution. They suffer from joblessness and homelessness as many of them live in tin sheds; they have lost their traditional homes and cannot afford to build new ones; they suffer from a loss of access to commons, which creates fodder and fuel wood shortage and decline in income and food diversity. The findings revealed that systems of care, protection, compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) remain largely insensitive to women’s needs leading to a fundamentally disenfranchising experience.

Many international conventions have drawn attention to gender justice and reduction in gender inequality. India remains committed to many of these conventions but there exists a gap between the ground realities and government’s commitment to these rights. State institutions often end up marginalizing women because of their ignorance as to what constitutes gender sensitive programs that are suitable to local needs of the people. These gender inequalities are comparatively more starkly evident in this hill region of Uttaranchal where women are the backbone of the hill economy and most men migrate to the plains in search of jobs. The research demonstrates that as people experienced new realities, women experienced marginalization in the processes of involuntary displacement by the dam project.

These processes of involuntary displacement are surrounded by ‘physiological, psychological and sociological components’ (Scudders 1993:13) that destabilizes their traditional cultural practices with a ‘reordering of space, time, relationships, norms and psycho-social-cultural constructs’. The shifts in these traditional practices result in newer practices. These practices are negotiated and renegotiated in the socio-cultural setting of an environment that emerges only after the breakdown of earlier routines and practices. This change makes it very difficult for women to adapt in a new and hostile environment. Women experienced a sense of social disarticulation due to disruption of social network by the processes of displacement. In the past community networks that helped cope with poverty through personalized strategies, informal loans, exchange of food, clothing and durable goods, mutual help with farming, building houses, and caring for children existed. These networks provide small loans of food and cash, or labor exchange and tide poor families through periods of shortage in their places of abode in villages. This disruption of such networks usually goes uncounted in cost benefit exercise of large irrigation schemes, and rehabilitation programs associated with such schemes of resettlements. These multifunctional yet virtually invisible social networks are lost through displacement acts. They are a major cause of impoverishment.

Women also experience a lack of well being. However, their sense of well being is not just related to physical needs but also involves social, cultural, economic, political and psychological support systems. They miss their forest walks for fuel wood and fodder which was also the time they spent with friends and shared their daily activities. In doing these day-to-day activities, they found their freedom and autonomy to run their households. They also miss the relationship with the river, which has both material and spiritual significance for them. As a young woman from the resettlement site mentioned:

I used to get up at in the morning. I would make chai (tea) and start with the household chores. I would go to the spring to collect water; I would make breakfast and send my children to school. I would then give fodder to the cattle and then with some of my friends from the village. I used to go to collect wood and fodder from the forest. That was the time I spent talking to friends. In the afternoon, I would work in the fields and in the evening cook dinner for the family. I was busy and I could just wander out of my house anywhere I wanted. Here, I still get up at 4 am and finish my household chores but I have no place to go and no friends to talk to and nothing much to do. The environment in the plains is different from the hills. Women in this area do not work in the fields; it is considered inferior; so I am confined to the walls of this tin shed I live in.

In the plains, hired labourers are required to perform various agricultural tasks. In the villages women were an integral part of agricultural practices that also included decision-making and equal participation of men and women. In the resettlement sites, it is mostly men who negotiate hiring and supervision of the activities, and women feel marginalized and disempowered in this process. Their participation in day-to-day routine practices is negligible and the confinement to their household limits their space of social interaction. Confined to the four walls of the house, and fear of moving out in an alien environment makes many women depressed, stressed and lonely. Many women complained of high blood pressure and other health problems.

Women also experienced a sense of insecurity in the physical and social space assigned to them. Built houses and residential patterns, cultural and linguistic differences as well as hostility of host populations in the resettlement areas do not provide a sense of security that they experienced in the hills. In their villages and in old Tehri women felt safe and could move around even in late hours. They could freely wear jewelry and travel to different villages to attend weddings and ceremonies. Now their apprehensions are expressed as under:

I never put a lock in my village at Mallideval. Here I have to lock the house all the time and have to be in the house by 6 pm. It is just not safe and many people in this host village consider us outsiders. We have been dumped and are sufferers on both counts

Due to a sense of insecurity and distance between kinship groups, women also experience a loss of support systems. Dependency has overtaken their role of being the primary household keepers. Due to the lack of familiarity and loss of social networks, they become dependent on male members in the household for small little things whether it is traveling back to the village or taking the children to the doctor.

In the interviews conducted, women complained of lack of basic amenities like water, loss of land rights, discrimination in compensation, and absence of a sense of well being and security. These observations substantiate the claim of the World Bank Report (1994) that men and women are affected differently by dam projects. Women are harder hit by resettlement than men, since they are more likely to earn their living from small businesses located at or near their residences. Women may also be affected disproportionately in rural areas since they are more often dependent on common property resources.

These experiences can be traced back to the historical processes of gendered division of labor. The male biases perpetuate gender inequality, and state institutions and policies are insensitive to women’s needs that are far different from a monetized economy. Processes of development are not gender neutral, a gap exists in the ways in which distribution and calculation of benefits of development is accomplished. Contributions of women as the invisible workforce remain uncalculated and men have disproportionately enjoyed benefits (Agarwal 1996). A gender gap exists in both policy and practice. Thus, gender justice remains distant in local and state discourses.

The resettlement process is fraught with ‘impoverishment risks’ and the reconstruction remains incomplete. Women are forced into adopting a culture they have never known, and limitations in their social space have prevented them from rebuilding their daily practices in a new environment[1]. The narratives of the displaced women interviewed clearly brought out the insensitivity of state discourses to the needs of women. Although the national R&R policy acknowledges gender as a category in resettlement processes, the actual resettlement and rehabilitation is a state issue. The processes of displacement transform the everyday lives of women from a community owned network to individual private property ownership that undermines the socio-economic status of women. State policies should take into consideration these problems to enable participation of women and move towards gender justice. Ensuing narrative based approach highlights the concerns of women affected by displacement processes, for consideration by policy planners while making decisions that make far reaching transformations in the lives of women in the name of 'development and public purpose'.


Agarwal, B. 1996. A Field of One’s Own. Gender and Land Rights in South Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cernea, M. 2000. Risks, Safeguards, and Reconstruxction. A Model for population displacement and resettlement. in M. Cernea and Christopher Mcdowell (eds). Risks and Reconstruction. Experiences of Resetttlers and Refugees. The World Bank. Washtingon:11 - 56.
Scudder , T. 1993. ‘Development induced Relocation and Refugee studies: 37 Years of change and continuity among Zambia’s Gwembe Tonga’ Journal of Refugee Studies. 6: 2.: 123-52
World Bank. 1994. Resettlement and Development: The Bank-wide Review of Projects Involving Involuntary Resettlement 1986-1993. Environment Department Paper. World Bank, Washington, D.C.

[1] Women have started renegotiating their daily lives although it is a difficult process. For example, during my stay in the resettlement site women would often go to the nearby forestland in Hardwar region to gather fuel wood but it was always in big groups of tens of twelve. Women mentioned that they felt insecure, as they were sometimes victims of the anger and disciplinary powers of the forest rangers that prevented them from picking fuel wood categorizing it as illegal and an offense. This was earlier natural to them in the hills where fuel wood was their common property that met some of their daily needs.

Unheard Voices: The Stateless Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh

Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury
[Research & Programme Associate,Calcutta Research Group]

Santosh Kumar Chakma (name changed) is a Gaon Burah (head man) of a village called Dumpani in Diyun circle of eastern Arunachal Pradesh, India. Santosh and his family decided to leave Chittagong Hill Ttracts (CHT) having faced the violence that broke out in 1964. His family had eight members when they left their village. After walking for several days in a group with his ailing parents, wife, and a two-year old son he crossed over on this side and reached Demagri transit camp, set up by the Government of India in the Mizo district (now Mizoram) of Assam. The moment they registered their names in the refugee list of the camp, they got a new identity - “Chakma refugees”. Santosh after losing his two wives remarried and has a son from his third wife. He has two more sons from his earlier two wives, who have got Indian citizenship by birth. By the time when Santosh’s youngest son was born, the Government of India amended its Citizenship Act 1955. The amended Act entails that “every person born in India, - a) either on or after the 26th day of January, 1950, but before the commencement of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 1986 or (b) on or after such commencement and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth, shall be a citizen of India by birth” (Art 3, clause 1). According to this new amended Act Santosh’s youngest son cannot be an Indian citizen as either of his parent is not Indian citizen. Irony is that in a same family his two elder sons are Indians by birth (as they were born before 1986) and his youngest son has become stateless just because either of his parents is not Indian. Santosh’s family is not the only one in Arunachal Pradesh. There are many other Chakma families, who are facing the similar problem due to legal anachronism.

History reveals that the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh,were encouraged by the Government of India to take shelter in the desolate land of NEFA (North East Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh), India once they were uprooted from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) in 1964. Chakmas were displaced primarily due to the construction of the Kaptai dam in connection with a hydroelectric project over the river Karnaphuli. The government records of Arunachal Pradesh indicate that between 1964 and 1969, a total of 2,748 Chakmas and Hajongs comprising some 14,888 persons were sent to the NEFA. Initially these refugees were settled in 10,799 acres of land in the three districts namely, Lohit (214 families settled and 1192 person altogether), Subansiri (now in Papum Pare: 238 Families and 1133 persons in total) and Tirup (now in Changlang: 2146 Chakma families with 11813 persons in total and 150 Hajong families with 750 persons in total). By 1979 these figures increased up to 3919 families consisting of 21,494 persons. According to the 1991 census report total number of the evacuees from the CHT increased further to around 65,000, whereas the total population of the state was 8,58,392. Due to absence of census survey since then the aforesaid figure is quoted in all accounts of the issue.

The plots of land varying from 5 to 10 acres per family (including 3 to 5 acres of cultivable land) depending upon the size of the family was allotted to these refugees under a centrally-sponsored rehabilitation scheme of India. A cash grant for each family was also sanctioned by the Ministry of Rehabilitation. Later, under the Indira-Mujib Agreement of 1972, it was decided that India and not Bangladesh would be responsible for all migrants who entered India before 25 March 1971 and therefore the Chakmas, who came to India before the aforesaid date, would be considered for the grant of Indian citizenship. However, though these “new migrants” got refugee cards after crossing the international border, the Government of India provided citizenship to only a microscopic minority (1530 in numbers as of 2010) out of 65,000 Chakmas. As majority of these Chakmas do not have nationality they are regarded as stateless and are systematically deprived of other fundamental rights.

Due to increasing incidents of social discrimination and economic boycott against the Chakmas and Hajongs since early 90s the Committee of Citizenship Rights for the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh (CCRCAP), was formed to raise their demand for citizenship rights. Since its inception the CCRCAP repeatedly informed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about the threat to the lives and property of the Chakmas. Though initially the NHRC treated it as a formal complaint however, on 7 December 1994, it directed the State Government of Arunachal Pradesh and Central Government to provide information about the steps taken to protect the Chakmas and Hajongs. The issue became critical following the resolution passed by the political leaders of Arunachal Pradesh led by then Chief Minister Mr. Gegong Apang to resign en masse from the national party membership if the Chakmas and Hajongs are not deported by 31 December 1995. The resolution also prohibited any social interactions between the local Arunachalees and the Chakmas and Hajongs. The CCRCAP approached the NHRC again to seek protection of their lives and liberty in view of the deadline and the support extended to the strongest students’ organization AAPSU (All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union) by the State Government. As the State Government was inordinately delaying to inform on the steps taken to protect the Chakmas and Hajongs, the NHRC, headed by Justice Ranganath Mishra, approached the Supreme Court to seek appropriate relief filing a writ petition (No. 720/1995). The Supreme Court in its interim order on 2 November 1995 directed the State Government to “ensure that the Chakmas situated in its territory are not ousted by any coercive action, not in accordance with law.” As the 31st December 1995 deadline approached, then Prime Minister P V Narashima Rao formed a high-level committee headed by then Home Minister S B Chavan. On 9 January 1996, the Supreme Court gave its judgment in the case of NHRC vs. State of Arunachal Pradesh, issuing the following orders:

a)The State of Arunachal Pradesh, shall ensure that the life and personal liberty of each and every Chakma residing within the State shall be protected and any attempt to forcibly evict or drive them out of the State by organised groups, such as the AAPSU, shall be repelled, if necessary by requisitioning the service of para-military or police force, and if additional forces are considered necessary to carry out this direction, the State will request the centre to provide such help;

b)Except in accordance with law, the Chakmas shall not be evicted from their homes and shall not be denied domestic life and comfort therein;

c)The quit notices and ultimatums issued by the AAPSU and any other group which tantamount to threats to the life and liberty of each and every Chakma should be dealt with by the state in accordance with law;

d)The application made for registration as citizen of India by the Chakma/s under Section 5 of the Act, shall be entered in the register maintained for the purpose and shall be forwarded by the Collector or the Deputy Commissioner who receives them under the relevant rule, with or without enquiry, as the case may be, to the Central Government for its consideration in accordance with law; even returned applications shall be called back or fresh ones shall be obtained from the concerned persons and shall be processed and forwarded to the Central Government;

e)While the application of any individual Chakma is pending consideration, the State shall not evict or remove the concerned person from his occupation on the ground that he is not a citizen of India until the competent authority has taken a decision in that behalf.

The situation has slightly changed after the Supreme Court verdict in 1996. However, the state government is yet to take any steps to foster the process of granting them citizenship. Recently a Committee under the Chairmanship of Joint Secretary (North East), Ministry of Home Affairs has been constituted to examine various issues relating to settlement of Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh including the possibility of grant of citizenship to eligible Chakmas and to recommend measures to be taken by Central Government/State Government in the matter. The committee has decided to organize a four-party talk among the representatives of AAPSU, CCRCAP, the Central Government and the State Government on this issue. All the stakeholders are pinning high hopes on this talk as they feel that dialogue among them can only help to listen to each other and in the long run it may be helpful to fill the gap between the Chakmas and the other major indigenous tribal groups like Khamti, Singphoo, Adi, Nishi of Arunachal Pradesh. Colonial history coupled with the post-colonial transition, and the role of identity politics has made the situation complicated, where a large number of the Chakmas and Hajongs living in the designated areas of Diyun and Bordumsa in Changlang, Chowkham in Lohit and Kokila areas of Papumpare districts have become de jure stateless.

When was the Revolution?

Geetisha Dasgupta
[Graduate student at the Binghamton University (State University of New York)]

So, at first it was Egypt and now it is Libya. Or, was Egypt the first one? We were undecided which way we should think when Tunisia was protesting, upturning and toppling the reigning order. Worldwide, we have been witnessing efforts on part of the elite to clip the wings of the masses that represent themselves and exercise collective bargaining rights. Whatever the crisis, it ends up causing a fresh round of displacement, giving birth to situations where people find themselves ousted from their habitual place of residence without even knowing; overnight.

What happened in the Arab world, beginning from January 25, 2011 and ending on February 11, 2011, following the stepping down of Hosni Mubarak from the President’s Chair in Egypt, is being christened by the media as the 18 day Revolution. Others decided to call it as the 25 January Revolution or even as the Rage Revolution. The “success story” of one country renders a fillip to another one and therefore Libya joins the parade now. However, thousands are fleeing Libya due to the uncertainties that come packaged with such mass uprising. Both Tunisia and Egypt, still coping with their own unrests, are now additionally struggling to provide hospitality to people spilling out of the Libyan borders. Not much is being heard about these refugees though, from the international media, as every other organ of communication is busy putting together the story of another violent revolution.

People in Tripoli, the seat of Gaddafi’s power have been caught up in the violence and are afraid of coming out of their houses in fear of being shot by the pro Gaddafi militia. The President, however, continues with his vow of crushing the uprising in Libya at any cost, leading to more and more crash downs and increasing violence deployed over the common people. Most of the people that are fleeing Libya now are young men who went there to find work. Thousands of other foreigners are still stuck in the Libyan capital, however. Many of the workers - from Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh and Ghana - worked for Turkish construction companies and said some of their managers quickly fled for Turkey without returning the workers' passports.

The UN Security Council has unanimously voted to conduct international war crimes investigation against Gaddafi, charging him and his Government with widespread and systematic attacks conducted over the citizens of Libya. Libya has been referred to the International Criminal Court. As far as other states are concerned, the reaction to Gaddafi ranges from condemnation (by Barack Obama), revocation of diplomatic immunity of Gaddafi and his family (by Great Britain), to a suspension of a treaty with Libya that includes a non-aggression clause, removing a possible obstacle to taking part in any peace-keeping operations in Libya (by Italy). But where does the common man figure in this broil? It is again big players taking charge of other players, and attempting to contain, while the big story of revolution (read: political unrest in the Arab world and potent and fresh contest of accumulation/power over the Arab world) continues to do the rounds. Below are given some latest information about the status of peace and struggle in different parts of the Arab world:

IRAQ: Thousands march on government buildings and clash with security forces in cities across Iraq. Twelve people are killed in the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knock down blast walls and throw rocks. The protests are fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Shiite-dominated government.

YEMEN: Security forces open fire on thousands of demonstrators in the southern port city of Aden, wounding at least 19 people, in the latest confrontation with crowds pressing for the U.S.-backed president’s ouster. Tens of thousands of protesters march in different parts of the country. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has promised to step down after national elections in 2013, but the demonstrators want him out now.

EGYPT: Tens of thousands jam Cairo’s main square. They are trying to keep up pressure on Egypt’s military rulers to carry out reforms and call for the dismissal of holdovers from the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators say they are worried the army is not moving quickly enough on reforms, including repealing emergency laws and releasing political prisoners.

BAHRAIN: Tens of thousands fill the central square of Bahrain’s capital, Manama. Protesters have taken to the streets every day for the past two weeks, asking for sweeping political concessions from the ruling monarch. Security forces make no attempt to halt the marches.

JORDAN: About 4,000 protesters rally in the capital, Amman, the largest crowd yet in two months of unrest. The leader of Jordan’s largest opposition group warns that patience is running out with what he called the government’s slow steps toward reform. King Abdullah II, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, has so far failed to quiet the calls for sweeping political change.

TUNISIA: Police in Tunis fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters. Demonstrators massed in front of the Interior Ministry to call for the ouster of the interim government that has run Tunisia since strongman ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled Jan. 14 and fled into exile. Tunisia has been relatively calm since Ben Ali’s ouster.

SAUDI ARABIA: About 300 Shiites protest against the Sunni-led government in a march. They disperse peacefully under the close watch of Saudi security forces. The kingdom had been largely quiet, and its ruler earlier this week promised a massive package of economic aid, including interest-free home loans, in hopes of forestalling unrest.

In the mean time, over 100,000 have fled Libya, says the UNHCR. Most of them are migrant workers, from Egypt and Tunisia, have fled Libya in the past week and many remain stranded at the Libya-Tunisia border as Libyan customs officers deserted their posts. Some 55,000 people have arrived in Egypt since February 19. About 7,000 of those are nationals mostly from Asia. A further 50,000 people, including 2,000 Chinese, have crossed into Tunisia. Foreigners are teetering under the weight of plastic-wrapped boxes or suitcases they carried on their backs as they make their way past customs guards and immigration officers into relative safety in Tunisia. Agencies from the Tunisian border report: “…a full-blown refugee crisis had emerged on the Tunisian border. A sea of people filled the roadway out of the border crossing. They dragged plastic bags full of belongings. They wrapped themselves in purple blankets. They moved in huge waves, the scale of their exodus an illustration of the level of political turmoil mounting across the border in Libya, where a political revolt, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, has torn the nation and cost hundreds of lives.”

Meanwhile, Egypt continues to be cheered for its transition from one order to another—the first one militaristic, the second one military—both cheering the logic of development. The picture jeers and jolts the common man, the observer, who has become the accepted toll of the Revolution, a change, for the time being, in disguise and displaces him from known his life forever and asks, “…so…when was the revolution?”

For more information, please refer to:,000-have-fled-Libya

Media and Forced Migration

The recently concluded two and half day workshop on Media and Forced Migration from 21-23January 2011 by Calcutta Research Group was aimed ay media practitioners from East and North East India. The workshop began with the welcome address by Ranabir Samaddar, the director, Calcutta Research Group (CRG). At the very outset while welcoming all the participants Ranabir Samaddar mentioned that eviction from one’s homeland occurs because of various causes, including conflict, natural or manmade disasters and the so-called development drives. As a result, people are forced to migrate and relocate often amid poor living conditions, uncertainty and insecurity. This problem is encountered in many parts of the world, and the North-east is one of the hotspots today. However, it often does not get due coverage in the media, and many journalists feel that the resources, tools and skills to cover this issue at their disposal is inadequate. He said that the idea of bringing out this media reader emerged from a two-day workshop on ‘State of Research on Forced Migration in the East and North-east’, organised jointly by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, Panos South Asia and Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG) in Guwahati on 12-13 February 2010 where the media persons pointed out the unavailability of data on forced migration to follow up on a reported story. Samaddar indicated that the media persons requested Panos South Asia and CRG to hold a two to three-day workshop on forced migration and displacement issues where new technologies that could be used to cover news and issues related to forced migration could be explored.

The second day of the workshop started with a special inaugural lecture by Bharat Bhushan where he talked about various causes of displacement; second, he dealt with the rights of the displaced people; and finally, he talked about the various sources that might be used while reporting displacement. While discussing causes of displacement, he pointed out five factors, namely, political conflicts, identity-based conflicts -- precisely the conflicts between locals and migrants -- religious conflicts, natural disaster and development induced displacement. He identified five major sources for reporting displacement. These are: state, promoters and developers, local political parties, NGOs and activists and the victims. During discussion on his lecture, the role and purpose of media in reporting displacement was analyzed in detail. He reminded that, the NGOs sometimes tend to dominate as the displaced people are often not that articulate to their difficulties.

The participants shared their experiences while discussing on the role of media in the time of violence. The question was raised on the structure of the sources discussed by Bharat where the state is at the top and the victims are at the bottom of the hierarchy. It was argued by a few that, the victim voices get marginalised in the dominant representation by the media. According to Bharat, a journalist needs to do the required homework before going to the field and need to master the art of reporting displacement issues in view of odds posed by the media houses and situations on the ground. He emphasized that, there is no point reporting displacement if it is not done in a big way. If it is not possible for any reason whatsoever, then it is better not to report at all.

This was followed by a discussion on the theme Refugees in the North East. In the beginning, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury pointed out that, while discussing refugees in India’s northeast, it is important to take note how colonial rule and the subsequent process of de-colonization of the Indian sub-continent have led to the making and unmaking of borders in the region. Paula Banerjee initiated the discussion by highlighting the fact in view of the massive and fixed flow of refugees/immigrants in India’s Northeast, any neat categorization between the refugees and IDPs is difficult, if not impossible. She proposed that, the reader, therefore, should have one introductory section explaining this reality. She also argued that, the reader should include necessary references to the work done on this field earlier by CRG, particularly, Internal Displacement in South Asia: The Relevance of UN Guiding Principles (Sage, 2005). Paula also suggested that, there should be some references to some leading cases filed by NHRC in relation to the refugees and the IDPs in India’s Northeast. She also emphasized the need for including a separate section on the gender dimension of displacement in the reader.

Irene Lalruatkimi highlighted the relationship between the Mizos and Chin refugees in Mizoram. She talked about the illegal immigrants, who come from the neighbouring country to Mizoram for their economic benefits and how it complicates the situation. She talked about the Mizo threat perceptions vis-a-vis the Chins. According to her, while reporting displacement, it is important to take note of the sensitivity involved in the entire issue. In order to understand the complex nature of the situation, it is important to have the views from both sides, Irene pointed out.
In the discussion it was suggested that:

•As India’s northeast is contiguous to the other eastern parts of South Asia comprising Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar, it is important to include the other South Asian sources especially the Bangladeshi sources when we deal with the refugees in India’s northeast. A comparison of the situation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with that of the refugees in India’s northeast may be interesting.
•In the reader, there should be cross-references in the sections that would help the users to link one section with another.
•It was felt that, there could be a solid section in the introduction on state, borders and sovereignty.
•It is also necessary to take note of the cultural resistance to the other, immigrant communities and ‘outsiders’. Similarly, it is important to understand why the local inhabitants of an area, who are in a majority, feel marginalized by the refugees.
•It is important to include the role of perceptions while preparing the reader.

The session was chaired by Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury
The next session on Conflict/violence-induced displacement began with Pradip Phanjoubam’s intervention who drew attention to the spirals of insecurities at the very outset. He mentioned that there are no primordial causes of conflicts by highlighting the examples of conflicts between the Nagas and Mizos, or Meiteis and Kukis. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury initiated the discussion on displacement by referring to three major phases in the course of any displacement: causes of displacement, state of displacement (including the camp conditions, if any) and rehabilitation and repatriation of the displaced. He mentioned that in the context of India’s northeast, massive and mixed flows of displacement made the whole issue more complicated for the researchers/journalists to report. He also said that, in cases of conflict or violence-induced displacement, it is quite difficult to get the actual figures of the displaced persons. Contrasting and competing figures always create problems, and it very often entails a numbers game. We need to recall how the boundaries were carved out in this region, while we deal with the issue of refugee flows and the IDPs. He mentioned that, the post-colonial era did not start with a clean state and the current problems related to the refugees and IDPs in this region have their roots in the colonial past. He argued that, the reader should include the case of the conflict between Garo and Rabhas in January 2011 that has reportedly displaced about 50,000. He opined that, while reporting and analysing these displacements, we have to take into account the histories of identity politics in the region. He pointed out that, while considering the right to return of the displaced persons, it is also necessary to observe whether they are willing to return to their habitual residence or not in the context of their continuous sense of insecurity.

Jayanta Bhattacharya, highlighted the developments in Tripura. He pointed out that, Tripura, a state with 856 km long border with Bangladesh, is free from insurgency now. But, the Bengalis now constitute 70% of the total population of the state, while the indigenous people constitute only 30% of that, whereas before partition they were 60% of the total Tripura population. During the post-colonial era, the indigenous communities lost everything and got marginalised in every sense due to the population influx from East Pakistan. He mentioned about the conflict between locals and the Riyang refugees in Tripura. He also talked about the displacement due to the construction of fencing. He argued that the insurgency has come to an end in the state main due to good governance provided by the Government of Tripura.
During discussion, the participants pointed out that, there should be a long and more comprehensive backgrounder to the section on conflict/violence-induced displacement. It was felt that Tripura has been slightly ignored in this section. The section on Tripura could be based on government reports. Even a book chapter written by Subir Bhaumik and Jayanta Bhattacharya earlier could be shortened to add in this section. Even the report prepared by CRG earlier (in Bengali) Obiram Raktopat could be translated and included in this section. This section needs to include the displacement of the Nagas due to deployment of Assam Rifles personnel in the Naga-inhabited areas. Similarly, more attention could be attached to the reports prepared by the human rights organizations like MASS, NPMHR. There could also be an entry on the R&R policy of Government of Tripura. Similarly, something should be added with regard to the cluster approach followed first in Mizoram and then Tripura in resettling the displaced indigenous people. It is also important to note how the jhum cultivation is being transformed into sedentary form of cultivation in Tripura. It was suggested that, the relevant sections from the Report of the Naga Mother’s Association entitled ‘Shade no more blood’ could be included. Amena Mohsin pointed out that, in Bangladesh, there is a distinction between documented and undocumented refugees. She argued that, one should take into account the role of NGOs, INGOs and donors while reporting displacement. Nitin Sethi pointed out that importance there is a need to take note of different aggregates of the data available.
In the session on Resource Politics, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Displacement, Nitin Sethi and Xonzoi Borbora pointed out how different indigenous communities in India’s northeast have come into conflict with one another over the control of the natural resources. Similar clashes take place between the local population on the one hand and the ‘outsiders’, on the other. Nitin alerted how the issue of climate change is gradually being manipulated by certain agencies for their own benefits. This also has to be taken into account. During discussion, the participants pointed out that, if a distinction is being made between the state property and common property. If that is made, then one has to examine how common is the common property, it was felt. Attention should be given to the phenomenon how the traditional common property is turned into state property. The session ended with a presentation made by Mayal Mit Lepcha of ACT on dams across the Teesta and impending displacement and role of Media.

On 23 January 2011, in the session on Laws/Policies relating to forced migration Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury stressed the need for looking at the laws at the international, national and state levels in relation to the policies adopted at various times by various governments towards the refugees and IDPs.

Nirmalya Banerjee initiated the discussion by saying that most of the displacements in the North-east have taken place over disputes centering on tribal lands, it is necessary to take stock of the policies to prevent land alienation. He cited two examples: 1) Bodoland in Assam and 2) Tripura.

In the colonial times, the first efforts to prevent land alienation began with the introduction of the ‘line system’ and then with the demarcation of ‘tribal belts and blocks’. However, these measures did not have much impact. The amendment of the Assam Tribal Land Regulation Act with the inclusion of Chapter 10 in 1947, too, left a few loopholes through which land alienation continued. The Brahmaputra river bank erosion further complicated the issue with thousands being rendered homeless and occupying tribal land. When the Bodoland agitation started, the All Bodo Students Union highlighted the importance of land and so did the NDFB website. The Bodoland Autonomous Council set up in 1993 had little power except that it was supposed to be “consulted” on any administrative measure. The Bodoland Regional Council formed in 2003 had more powers under the Sixth Schedule, but since the measures it adopted were given only “prospective” effect, they did not have any impact on the existing situation. Meanwhile, the Bodo-Santhal riots took place in 2008 resulting in massive displacements and the problem still remains.

In Tripura, the alienation of tribal lands started during the time of the kings. In 1960 the Tripura Land Regulation Act was enacted but it had several lacunae and became ineffective in protecting tribal land. The demographic composition of the state had begun changing. In 1985, the autonomous councils were set up under the Sixth Schedule. However, since all tribes were not in the same stage of development, their problems, too, were different and this fact is yet to be addressed properly.

Xonzoi Barbora began by pointing out the huge amount of ambiguities in census categorisation. He referred to the 2005 Karbi-Dimasa clashes during which entire villages were displaced and resettled. A visit organised by the CRG to the IDP camps revealed 16 years later that he problem was still prevailing. People from the camps had to migrate as far as Lucknow in search of work, but their permanent address remains the camp. The law is still being formulated as we speak, he said. So, we should look at the more everyday negotiations rather than the law itself. How did the Chakmas and the Tibetans come to be settled in the areas in the North-east? Do we say laws and policies actually messed things up, he questioned.

Taking part in the discussion, Paula Banerjee said that the refugee debate was no longer confined to the 1951 Convention. One has to look at the evolution of the legal framework and the corpus of judgements delivered in this regard. There was also a need for a comparative study of the Indian situation and the experience of other South Asian countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. Ranabir Samaddar recalled that the Supreme Court of India as well as the state high courts such as the Guwahati high court had constantly referred to international laws in connection with refugee protection. The Punjab high court even referred to an Australian high court judgement.

The people displaced during the Bodoland agitation and the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh have been in a protracted state of displacement. What about their right to return, he asked. Forced repatriation, however, creates problems. There is a need for protection of the returnees. In respect of protection, the role of laws is perhaps 30 per cent and the role of regulations is much more. Finally, the bureaucracy gets the power. Is it always good, or should we think about other mechanisms? The political parties, too, have a role. He suggested the inclusion of the following in the media reader:

•The work of Walter Fernandes on policies
•Evaluation of the actions of the National Human Rights Commission
•The policies of the Arunachal Pradesh government
•One or two exemplary pieces on how the laws/policies have worked here.
•A list of relevant AIR case references.
•The Guwahati Law Research Group documentation.

Amena Mohsin referred to the importance of customary laws and customary rights. We also cannot overlook the role of the donors and the kind of policies they are playing, she said. Ranabir Samaddar, however, cautioned that the authenticity and acceptability of customary laws had to be taken into account. Tongam Rina said that the customary laws in Arunachal Pradesh were not very women-friendly. Under these laws, women cannot own immovable property and polygamy is also sanctioned. Yet, people normally would go to the traditional courts rather than the official courts. But since every tribe has its own laws, the codification of customary laws becomes unrealistic.

This was followed by discussion on the media reader. The two day workshop ended with an interesting session on From the field to the newsroom: Challenges of news gathering, politics of editing and media ethics where the following points were raised. Tongom Rina mentioned that the journalists in her newspaper, Arunachal Times, often obtained a lot of information by making applications under the Right to Information Act. Nilanjan Dutta remarked that the ‘filters within ourselves’ often posed greater hurdles before the presentation of objective news than the other ‘filters in the newsroom’. One has to try harder to overcome them. Xonzoi Barbora urged everyone to think how to adapt to the new environment in the ‘era of Wikileaks’. Jayanta Bhattacharya and Nirmalya Banerjee said the problem of confirmation of news and figures be dealt with more elaborately. Ranabir Samaddar stressed the role of small and local newspapers as they had more persons of the place on their staff and often produced some of the finest news reports on forced migration. Jayanta Bhattacharya, too, agreed that the local newspapers had a good network that was helpful in newsgathering. While chairing the session Saumya Bandyopadhyay drew attention to the need for good follow-up reporting.