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‘Silence of the Lambs’: Rohingya Refugee Policy, Politics and Trope in Contemporary India


· Arnab Roy Chowdhury Higher School of Economics (HSE), Moscow (Moscow, Russia)


07/28 | 11:20-11:40 UTC+2/CEST


To escape persecution and violence, the Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Myanmar, especially for the last two decades. Many of them have entered India since 2012. Official statistics put the number of Rohingyas in India at about 40000. India has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Status Convention or the 1967 Refugee Status Protocol but, until the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power, it had adopted a policy of tactical but somewhat humane negligence towards these refugees. After it came to power in 2014, the BJP has been increasing state surveillance, intimidation, and harassments. Since 2017, the government has been proactively trying to deport these ‘illegal infiltrators’ in the name of a national ‘security threat’. A Rohingya makeshift settlement was situated on the margins of Southeast Delhi. This camp was burnt to ashes in 2018. A right-wing youth leader claimed on Twitter to have torched it, but the government did not act against him. My ethnographic observation and interviews of the Rohingyas in Delhi after the arson show looming, palpable liminality, precarity, and a threat of violence that is corporeal, structural, and inter-subjective, have engulfed refugee lives. A few civil society organisations like Zakat foundation and Rohingya Human Rights Initiative are working with these hapless people amidst decreasing state support. I argue that the religious-nationalist state in India is bringing about its original fiction of ‘exclusivist’ sovereignty by creating a symbolic non-Hindu, non-citizen ‘other’, by deploying the ‘Rohingya’ trope. That shows that refugees and the stateless are the central ‘political figures’ of our conservative-nationalist times.