Internal Displacement in South Asia
Prafulla Ketkar ·       

Generally transborder permanent relocation of residential place and activity is viewed as a point of reference in a study on forced migration, due to threats perceived by the migrants in the process. Unfortunately, people facing similar persecution within there own internationally recognised state borders do not receive this attention. Increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the last decade is alarming. According to one estimate while the number of refugees declined from 1990 onwards, but internal displacement increased sharply, peaking in 1994 at 27 million in 32 countries.


The situation of IDPs has been more acute compared to refugees or migrants in the absence of protection from international organisations or states pursuing concrete policies in this regard. The other difficulty is in determining the exact number of the IDPs as they are inside the state borders and for whom life is always in a state of flux due to war like conditions. The peculiar situation in South Asia is that communities of same ethic group are spread across the international borders. This does not ameliorate the problems and wounds of displacement within the borders but has a spill over effect. Only recently has the UN provided Guiding Principles based on established human rights norms to deal with internal displacement .Though they do not provide the same kind of institutional arrangements as for refugees, like the UNHCR, they are adequate for initiatives at the regional and national levels. With this background this volume attempts to assess the efficacy and relevance of these Guiding Principles to deal with the issues of displacement. The situation is attributed to development policies in the region and massive violence manifesting in South Asia.


The book is organized in three sections. In the introductory chapter the editors provide a broad framework of the project undertaken by the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. They focus on the vulnerability factor of the IDPs and the limitations of state centric nationalistic approach in dealing with them. Basing on Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement enunciated by the UN, the editors have evolved a set of "ethics of care" for the South Asian countries. The introduction provides three broad arguments with regard to advocacy of care and protection of the IDPs, drawing from various approaches. The argument that right to life as against arbitrary eviction is regarded as sufficient reason for promoting the cause of IDPs, is preeminent. Care and protection on the principle of community and kinship have been advocated. In keeping with the humanitarian argument of achieving one's higher moral self, care of sufferers is considered as a form of self help,. These approaches set the task of applying UN Guiding Principles to the displaced persons in the case studies.


As the displacements in Afghanistan and Myanmar have direct implications for the broader South Asian context, they find a place in this book on South Asia. Because of a history of successive invasions, the Afghans belong to a classic example of "conflict-induced" migrations in modern times. The Soviet invasion, Taliban regime and the US intervention have pushed Afghan masses into a worst humanitarian crisis. Food insecurity, ethnic massacres, disappearance of many young men make the Afghan situation most relevant for an effective implementation of the international guidelines. The vulnerability of non-displaced population and attacks on the UN missions have made relief work even more difficult in the war torn Afghanistan. On the other side of the continent, Myanmar is facing same kinds of obstacles because of the insurgencies and the military-junta not cooperating with the international bodies .But ,the case of Myanmar rightly points out the difficulties rooted in the larger process of decolonisation which is more or less common to most of the South Asian countries.


Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, three important countries of the subcontinent, face displacements simultaneously due to development, conflicts and natural disasters. The rise of communal violence against minorities and unsettled borders has further worsened the situation for the internally displaced in these countries. The case studies of dams like Mangla, Tarbela and Kalabagh in Pakistan and Hirakud and Sardar Sarovar Project in India points appropriately to concerns of livelihood of uprooted people. Land acquisition, resettlement, rehabilitation, compensation and environmental depletion have always been either faulty or on secondary priority. Whilst this has been true in the past but with the emergence of new developmental paradigms and awareness in the national psyche about the development processes, a voice has been given to the victims. Regrettably, despite the large numbers of development induced displacements, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement remain silent on this category.


Natural disasters and environmental degradation occupies a significant place in the chapters on Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Pakistan, twenty-six districts in Balochistan and sixteen districts in Punjab and Sindh province face the havoc of floods and droughts every alternate year. In Balochistan alone more than one million people were rendered homeless in the dry span of 1998-2002. Bangladesh is a classic case of environmental displacement. Since 1980s, in the coastal Kazipur district alone 23 per cent of area was eroded and 46 per cent of the population of the district experienced displacement during 1980-86. In most of the developing countries natural disasters are dealt with only on a emergency relief approach and "lacks sustainable solution towards disaster mitigation and preparedness". (p. 98) The UN Guiding Principles, especially the principles 7,8, and 9 provide comprehensive measures that need to be taken before relocation of the affected population without violating their basic rights, can prove to be handy.


Conflict-induced displacement is the prime focus of the book. Ethnic conflicts in Balochistan and Sindh, the border conflict in Kashmir, communal violence in Gujarat, ethnic violence in North-Eastern India and Sri Lanka, the Maoist violence in Nepal and persecution of minorities in Bangladesh are reference points for examination in this regard. There are attempts to endanger the existence, culture and distinct identities of minority communities. These indiscriminate attacks polarize the society on communal lines and create the problems of psychological disorder and trauma for the displaced communities. The Sri Lankan situation depicts this reality beautifully. This phenomenon is more worrisome as the State or the state authorities are directly responsible for the process of oppression. Gujarat is the unique case in South Asia, which has been a witness to all varieties of internal displacement in recent years. There have been floods in Morvi, an earthquake in Bhuj, the Narmada project, instances of communal violence and droughts in Saurashtra. Though Gujarat as one of the developed states in India has successfully dealt with natural disasters, the case of Narmada dam and communal violence shows the role of state in promoting displacement.


The most fascinating part of the book is perhaps a separate chapter on women IDPs in South Asia because in a patriarchal society females have to face the worst kind of persecution. In the process of resettlement and rehabilitation where men are controlling the resources, they are treated as pariahs in the community. Paula Banerjee presents a case-by-case approach to portray this vulnerability.

The greatest strength of the book is that each contributor has presented a separate section on the application of the UN Guiding Principles in the concerned countries. It makes reading interesting and relevant in policy terms. But surprisingly, development induced displacement does not find much mention in the book, especially on the case studies pertaining to India. This particular category of displacement is more painful in India than any other category. Another point which needs consideration is the lack of will in countries like India and Pakistan to implement legal regimes related to land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation .How can we then expect them to take serious note of the UN Guidelines on Displacement.