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Rohingyas in India: Birth of a Statelesss Community

 Category: Reports  Publisher: Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group  Published: 1 September 2015  Tags: IndiaRohingyaRohingya Refugees |  Download


Among the most well known writings on statelessness are Hannah Arendt’s works written in context of the statelessness and displacement of the German Jews. In her 1943 essay ‘We Refugees’ she writes: We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.

The words still ring true, applicable to persecuted, stateless people across the world. Efforts to curb statelessness in the post World War II period by international covenants have failed as the population of stateless and insecure continue to grow. Arendt writes that ultimately the life of a stateless non-citizen is reduced to the ‘abstract nakedness of being human’ (Arendt 1951) or what Agamben (1998) calls the ‘bare life’. The thesis behind the reduction to just biological bare life is that the political voice and opinion of the people are taken away. Interpreting Arendt’s work in context of asylum seekers to Netherlands, Borren (2008) writes that citizenship is the basis on which we are are granted human rights and it is almost impossible for a sovereign nation-state to grant the human rights to a non-citizen. Civil and political rights in today’s world of nation states are premised on citizenship, nationality and nativity (ibid). Butler [E]veryone is precarious, and this follows from our social existence as bodily beings who depend upon one another for shelter and sustenance and who, therefore, are at risk of statelessness, homelessness, and destitution under unjust and unequal political conditions…Whether explicitly stated or not, every political effort to manage populations involves a tactical distribution of precarity, more often than not articulated through an unequal distribution of precarity, one that depends on dominant norms regarding whose life is grievable and worth protecting and whose life is ungrievable, or marginally or episodically grievable…and thus less worthy of protection and sustenance.

Interpreting Arendt’s work, particularly in Eichmann in Jerusalem, Butler expounds that our precarity as humans leads to interdependency and the only way to avoid genocide is to not choose who we cohabit in this world with: We might think that interdependency is a happy or promising notion, but it is often the condition for territorial wars and forms of state violence…[U]nwilled proximity and unchosen cohabitation are preconditions of our political existence, the basis of [Arendt’s] critique of nationalism…[F]rom unchosen cohabitation, Arendt derives notions of universality and equality that commit us to institutions that seek to sustain human lives without regarding some part of the population as socially dead, as redundant, or as intrinsically unworthy of life and therefore ungrievable.

To translate such a philosophy into a viable policy to reverse genocidal violence in Arakan, and the rest of the world, is a challenge facing us all.