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 It is a sister concern to the international journal Refugee Watch, both published from Calcutta Research Group (

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 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

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

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

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

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

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.