Oxford Professor Faisal Devji on India's reversed approach to refugee crisis

Updated: Jan 14, 2020, 07:35 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Oxford Professor Faisal Devji tells mid-day how India's current political environment shows a 'reversed' approach to refugee crisis

Faisal Devji, professor of Indian history at the University of Oxford. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Faisal Devji, professor of Indian history at the University of Oxford. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

It is a fascinating movement that is happening in India right now," said Dr Faisal Devji, the professor of Indian history at the University of Oxford. The anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests have brought to light a strange reversal in India's political approach to the refugee crisis that the world is witnessing, Devji added.

"Whether or not this [anti-CAA protests] is purely a movement of young people and whether it can bring on board other segments of society...it certainly is historic in some sense... This movement seems to be reversing what is happening elsewhere in the world while dealing with the same issue, i.e. the issue of refugees," said Devji while speaking to mid-day ahead of the 22nd Vasant J Sheth memorial lecture titled 'Gandhi at Sea' at the Visitor Centre Auditorium, Fort, on Wednesday.

Explaining how India's approach towards refugees is different from the rest of the world, he said while the Right elsewhere does not want migrants in their countries, India has approved a law to give citizenship to minorities facing persecution in neighbouring nations.

"There seems to be a strange kind of flip where the Right [is concerned]. The Right [in India] has historically been concerned about the territory of the nation and the State...but now it seems to be concerned with non-Indians becoming Indians — which was never really their concern in the past," said Devji.

Speaking about the Left's approach, he said that in other parts of the world, people loosely referred to as Left leaning, are seen as pro-refugee, while in India the people considered Leftists are focusing more "on the domestic politics of citizenship" though they are not anti-refugee.

"Whatever the consequences of these protests, I wouldn't be surprised if what we are going to see in the near future will be kind of enriching and reinterpretation of the meanings of nationality, citizenship, and belonging," Devji said.

Devji also draws imagery between Mahatma Gandhi's non-cooperation movement and today's anti-CAA movement. "We have just finished celebrating 150 years of Gandhi's birth and 2020 is the centenary of non-cooperation — the first mass mobilisation in Indian history led by Gandhi. I find it to be a strange coincidence that the movement is happening right now, on the 100th anniversary of the non-cooperation movement."

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