Noel Mariam George
Refugees, Identity and the State: Tibetan and Tamil histories of citizen becoming in South Asia
How does refugee participation in the politics of recognition change citizenship? Foregrounding refugee attempts in the reconstruction of identity to assert group rights, by the two largest refugee communities in India: Tibetans and Indian Origin Tamils from Srilanka as an entry point, I attempt to introduce ground up, identity specific nuances in the study of citizenship. I examine how refugees in India tactically emphasize or downplay their particular transnational and transcultural identities, as per the demands of recognition. Refugee self-fashioning as citizens to fit into categories of positive discrimination in the state as — scheduled tribes and scheduled castes—point to a complex process, by which, despite histories of unfathomable precarity, refugees attempt to assert themselves as agential actors for inscription in the state. While the primary focus of the project is to decode refugee claims to Indian citizenship and group rights along centre-state negotiations, the project is also positioned at the interface of multiple citizenship regimes in South Asia: international, regional and distinct national regimes. The figure of the refugee juggling multiple political-legal regimes amidst the demands of recognition of the complex identity centered, yet liberal constitutional architecture in India forces us to rethink singular narratives of refugees as bare life. Refugee endeavours at reconstruction are in many ways, attempts to ameliorate their collective misrecognition which was foundational to their forcible displacement/expulsion or assimilation in their former states. I trace the plurality of refugee political-legal assertions, many of which ‘demand’ increasing state recognition, or rectification of former misrecognition, to make legible: refugees as citizens and further, citizens as subjects of special rights. I also examine the counter-intuitive ways in which the politics of recognition induces competition of marginality; in rare occasions even cooperation, between citizens and refugees. This way, while refugees do not have “the right to have rights”1, I argue that they have nevertheless attempted inscription in the state in interesting, often unexamined ways.