Friday, July 15, 2016

Migration and Security

Ranabir Samaddar 

[Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, CRG. He can be reached at]

When we speak of human security we first of all recognise the need and the practice of a juridical structure of security that acknowledges various special claims for security, but reconciles at the same time the differential claims for security in its structure. Such a structure becomes overall by displaying three features – by being legal, by acknowledging special claims, and by reconciling differing claims for security. In case of India, the constitution has recognised the presence and certain rights of the indigenous people, has made room for specific provisions for those rights, has provided for special security arrangements in an area such as the North east, has tried to settle legally the international borders and boundaries as much as possible, and has done away with old hierarchies in terms of political-administrative units of the Union, and has made all units equal as states. Yet, as India’s post-Independence history indicates, the emphasis on country’s overall security has reinforced molecular insecurity. Assam is a telling case, where its international boundary, inter-state boundaries, and internal boundaries – all have combined to make each fragment of the state of Assam insecure. In that region, probably like many others, no one can provide security at the grassroots – the rebels, the army, the ethnic home guards, the civil society, frankly no one. The special provisions only display their own inadequacy; the reconciliation mechanisms prove to be mere governmental exercises of rule; the army and the paramilitary forces prove oppressive; and the international boundaries become the negotiating space for kin groups, kin political formations, the immigrant army of labour, and people fleeing from torture, threats of persecution, and fear. The overall security is reinforced by an “overall” political economy of the region, some of whose features produce insecurity. Such a security framework cannot acknowledge fully the figure of the immigrant except in the sense of denying or ousting the immigrant from the political universe. Unable to provide enough economic resources and development, or to put matter correctly, unable to de-link development and the influx of migrant labour, and unable to cleanse the nation of aliens, the only way remains for the indigene then to ensure molecular security is to claim homeland. The fly in the ointment is that, this path of overall security leading to molecular security is also the path to molecular insecurity. It is like a place degree zero, where constitution has stopped bearing relevance, only pragmatism rules, and daily negotiations order the day. It is a hard case, harder than all juridical security arrangements, harder than constitutional provisions; it is a terra incognita where history rather than law has the capacity to play the grand jury. In fact history calls law into question here, and whatever may be the outcome of the security/property question in the present juncture, we must recognise the hardness of the case, if we are to claim that we are making serious intellectual effort towards revising our notion of security, if the phrase “non-traditional security” suggests some such need.

In different parts of the world, imperial nations are trying to readjust their border security regimes in the wake of various free trade agreements, the crash of 2008, and the global discourse of terrorism. One effect of this has been trying to secure neighbouring countries’ consent in tightening the borders, also “flexibilising” border management in a way so that immigrant labour can come only a legally sanctioned way, suspected terrorists cannot come, and illegal immigrant labour cannot sneak in. In this dawning regime of “flexible security” system, immigrant labour is the hardest element to be persuaded to fall in line.
The reason is simple - they upset the private property system, in whatever form it exists – group property, nations’ property, individual property, or a cartel’s property. This is so because, while private property requires as its political security a citizenry based on universal suffrage, a participatory system to a lesser or greater extent, a transactional mode of politics, and some sort of preferential arrangements in politics and (at times) economy based on positive discrimination, immigration breaks this framework, makes the contradiction between economics and politics acute, pitches conflict at the most fundamental levels of society, making liberal rule very, very difficult by provoking collective claims, violence, and politics to an ungovernable extent. To all these, the response of the regime of private property is to make “security” a flexible issue, which means security too has become today a theme of governmentality – a field of politics, negotiation, government, and rule.
Governing population groups calls for stabilising these groups, and regulating and controlling their flows. This is how security becomes one of the essential aspects of population management. I have tried to show elsewhere the threefold component of security in relation to population management, namely: the overarching sovereignty of the State (which calls for a centralised authority guarding the borders and frontiers, and maintaining police, army, administration, and laws to rule the population), the disciplinary powers at all levels (which decide friend/foe distinction, make possible an economy of society, implement rules and customs, and orients mentalities), and the governmental power (which regulates and controls population groups physically) that make up the triangle of security architecture – a triangle that has in the words of Michel Foucault “as its primary target the population and as its essential mechanism the apparatus of security”. Indeed, what needs to be added is that it is the concern for security that binds its three aspects, namely, sovereignty, disciplinary powers, and governmental functions, and brings upon the people a fearsome force of classification, pacification, and domestication.
In such a situation how can we displace the discourse of security? This is a vast exercise. But re-orienting our ways and attitudes would mean at least at an intellectual level finding out the fault lines in that architecture, understanding the complexities in the phenomena of population flows, and trying to discover the broad contours of the practices of negotiating with others – practices perched on those fault lines, whose traces I made a feeble attempt to describe in The Marginal Nation. Some significant historical studies have shown how different population groups have created for themselves what can be called as “borderland existence”, how borders have produced borderless and borderland people, how the mainstream perception of an immigrant may not necessarily be the same held by the groups being called immigrants but who do not necessarily think of themselves as so, and how we need to develop for all these new geographies of knowing. Clearly contemporary law, administrative practices, and mainstream economy, are against such borderland existence. Their flux is a threat to security, which is built around the idea of stable population groups. To inquire into those borderland existences means also avoiding the stereotypes of the binaries of exchange, which we easily associate with those negotiations - the creditor and the debtor, gratitude and resentment, killing and pity, respect and mercy – and investigating instead the histories of “living together but separately”, and “trusting but not getting intimate” with the neighbour, not to copy these histories but to see what political history precedes today’s various alternative notions of security that try to avoid acute hostility and rupture. A political history of friendship between communities, of the way in which communities choose to welcome or expel the newcomers, or who they perceive to be stranger communities, will also show the moral standards that inform at a particular moment the decision of a community to welcome or to expel or kill. That morality, which we can take to be an ensemble of moral standards, exists in three concentric domains. The central core contains those judgements of right or wrong that people hold reasonably everywhere – thus, even with all the existing discriminations, a community may hold the judgement that it is wrong to kill or expel simply on the ground that it does not like the group to which its members do not belong. Beyond this are the judgements of right or wrong, or, acceptance or rejection, made under specific social conditions, on the basis of values the members of a community share internally, and political choice. Thus communities in the pursuit of national legitimacy may accept killing and expulsion of others, and participate. Judgements in the third domain differ from the preceding two in a significant way, since these judgements are based on the idea of what we owe to others. It seems plausible therefore, there is a plurality of values within the range of morality, and these values may support mutually incompatible standards of conduct. It is important to remember in the context of the varying moral practices that a community may have internal cleavages and what seems to be a community’s moral choice is simply the choice of the powerful few within the group, later on accepted by the rest with persuasion and under duress. A history of these varying moral practices will throw light on the way security perceptions evolve, the way in which our “traditional” security choices are made, and the significant measure to which the moral practices influence these security choices. More than a disagreement about right or wrong, and traditional and non-traditional, it is a matter of understanding through deep historical studies the varying, discriminating, and differential world of friendship and enmity. Such historical studies will also bring out the basis, or the varying bases, on which reconciling of claims is achieved, and thereby communities live together. The basis, as indicated already, may be on moral grounds, on ideas of friendship, on practices of accommodation, on accepting as “normal” the borderland existences in societies and polities, and finally on the rules of what I have called elsewhere minimal justice.

Minimal justice is minimal because it accepts the idea of historical limits, it accepts that there can be other ideas of justice, that there are greater possible extents to which justice ought to be fought for; but against all these and without denying all these, the idea of minimal justice stresses the idea of the minimum, of the necessity and the reality of a consensus on what is just, and enunciates the rules that govern the standard of justice based on rights and the quality of reconciling of claims. In this case, (a) recognition of past injustices towards immigrant communities, (b) compensating the victims of xenophobia, (c) the supervision of accommodating arrangements, (d) joint custodianship of common resources and legally ensuring that common resources is not treated as private property of a group, and finally (e) instituting mechanisms that encourage improvements of our politics towards accommodating non-national existences – these five principles seem to be the rules of minimal justice in this case. These rules do not deny the historic basis of conflicts, but they stress the historic basis of the possibilities of reconciliation. 

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