Displacement And Citizenship – A Hand-Book on Migration

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Displacement and Citizenship – Histories and Memories of Exclusion (Tulika Books, 2020) calling it a timely reminder of the price that has been paid not only in India but globally, by the privations caused by the negation of citizenship based on religion, gender, ethnicity/caste and/or race.

Statelessness is a massive problem that affects millions of people worldwide. Those without a nationality often face difficulty participating in society and accessing a full range of privileges, together with education, health care, travel, and employment. Some are even detained because they are outlawed.

According to a 2013 UN global migration statistics, 232 million international migrants – or roughly 3 percent of the world’s population – are living out of the country, worldwide. This makes transnational migration a key feature of globalization and a central issue on the international agenda. 

Migration certainly unlocks a host of opportunities for the individuals and countries involved. But at the same time, it is also marked by tremendous inequalities and serious human rights abuses. Targeted interventions are therefore crucial if the full potential of migration is to be explored and its negative aspects sufficiently addressed.

The present book ‘Displacement and Citizenship: Histories and Memories of Exclusion’ is a first-hand work on migration. Says the blurb:

The book intends to capture the crises of forced migration, internal displacement due to conflict situations, and development-induced migration. Edited by a group of academics, it examines issues of forced and development-induced migration and displacement in regions across South Asia, Latin America, Europe, and Africa.’


The twenty essays in this book chronicle the experiences of societies in South Asia (India, Bangladesh), Latin America (Peru), Europe (Germany, Austria), and Africa (Reunion Island, Namibia, Rwanda). Each of these countries has histories marked by large-scale displacement caused by colonial policies of land grab, slavery or indentured labor, or partitions and other eliminations in the very birth of the nation-state. 

Edited by Vijaya Rao, professor at the Center for French & Francophone Studies, Shambhavi Prakash, assistant professor at the Center of German Studies, Papori Bora, assistant professor at the Center for Women’s Studies and Mallarika Sinha Roy who teaches at the Center for Women’s Studies – all from   Jawaharlal Nehru University – this book is a stupendous work for its in-depth study and widespread grasp.

Ayesha Kidwai writes in the introduction: ‘If there ever was a perfect time for this volume to appear in print, this is it, as across the world at this very moment, the challenges posed by the realities of forced migration and displacement both within and across international borders are being responded to by nation-states by the parallel creation of a global crisis of citizenship itself. Although much of the world continues to accord citizenship rights based on either jus soli, “right by birth on soil”, or jus sanguinis, “right by birth of blood” (in addition to marriage and naturalization by long-term residence, both of which we shall ignore here), many nation-states have accorded a crucial role in documentation to reconfigure both these definitions as neither necessary nor sufficient, and contingent on other laws that regulate documentation itself.’

She  adds:

The essays in this book are more than mere cautionary tales, however, as they explore the ways in which exclusion from the category of “citizen” is constructed over and above the changing legal frameworks of the state, by a society that creates the state and which is in turn formed by the policies adopted by the state. A major strand in the discussion of what value citizenship has for the individual is about whether the notion automatically entails inclusion.

At a time when the world – counting India as well – faces the challenges posed by the realities of involuntary migration and displacement both within and across international borders, books of this nature bring to the forefront the delinquent issue and conceivable resolutions therein.

Divided into four broad sections – cultural citizenship, displacement and refugeehood, sites of memory and gendered violence -, the approach of the book is interdisciplinary. With contributions by A Mangai,Pallavi, Arshi Javid,Pallavi Brara, Sunil Choudhary, Nazia Akhtar, Anindita Ghosal, Ekata Bakshi, Madhu Sahni​,​ Lipi Biswas Sen, Chitra Harshvardhan, and Udaya Kumar, the book has been the result of  a research project entitled ‘Traces of the Global: Memory, Displacement, and Cultural citizenship.’ 

The book  is timely in the Indian context​ -NRC, CAA, et al – ​ because it is most of all a reminder of the price that has been paid not only in India but globally, by the privations caused by the negation of citizenship based on religion, gender, ethnicity/caste and/or race.

What enhances the splendor of the title is it places contemporary concerns against the context of colonial histories in the above-mentioned societies. The volume draws from the wide fields of literature, films, humanities, and social sciences to reflect on the questions of displacement and citizenship from different vantage points.

‘The world  in the twentieth century,’ says the concluding lines of the introduction, ‘roiled by world wars, mass migrations, mass resistance and social and political revolutions pointed to the importance of legal provisions of citizenship being enabling rather than restrictive. Unlearning those lessons in the twenty-first century will only take us back to a past that should be left behind.’

About the Reviewer

Bhaskar Parichha is a senior journalist and author based in Bhubaneswar. He does book reviews for major publishing houses – mostly  non-fiction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s