ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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What Can the Shifting Meaning of Refugees Tell Us about Nationhood, Belonging and Citizenship in India?

Making Refugees in India by Ria Kapoor, Oxford University Press, 2021; pp 272, price not mentioned.

Ria Kapoor’s recent work, Making Refugees in India, is a riveting narrative of India’s wrangle to pin down refugees within a postcolonial, national colloquy amidst an emerging universal, cosmopolitan order. Scholars have pointed to India’s definitional reluctance in spelling out who does and does not constitute a refugee, to be a form of “subcontinental defiance” to Eurocentric, in the least, homogenising definitions of refugeehood (Ramasubramanyam 2018). Kapoor com­plicates such a scholarship to bring in the paradoxes of India’s unique refugee accommodation mechanisms.

While forced migration was a quotidian phenomenon during colonialism, the word refugee was strangely never used to describe people displaced by trans­national empires. Hence, Kapoor (2021a) places the emergence of refugees as a conceptual category in the transition from an “imperial international order” to a “postcolonial national order” (p 98). Kapoor argues that the nation’s inception was mired in mass migration and accommodation of the “citizen-refugee,” making refugees foundational to the conception of citizenship in South Asia (Sen 2018). Challenging traditional scholarship on the guest–host dichotomy, Kapoor argues that partition refugees blurred the lines between host and guest as refugees were part of the national self (p 8). Controvertibly, in India, “to build the refugee was to build the state” (p 13). In this process, India began to endorse, if only begrudgingly, refugee reconstruction as intimately tied to national reinvigoration (Chatterji 2012).

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Updated On : 18th Sep, 2022
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