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Policy Report No. 24

‘Nobody's Children, Owners of Nothing’: Analysing the Indian State’s Policy Response to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

The political exclusion of Rohingya Muslims in post-colonial Burma and the waves of violence against them in the form of a state-sponsored campaign of massacre, rape and arson is now widely seen as ethnic cleansing and as crimes against humanity. It has resulted in a million Rohingyas fleeing to other countries, mostly Bangladesh. While Bangladesh struggles to deal with the crisis, the South Asian power, India, is not allowing in all those who seek entry, plans to forcibly repatriate those who are already in the country, and is not providing sufficient relief to them. This report analyses India's policy response to the Rohingya crisis juxtaposing its political and humanitarian aspects, examines different steps taken by the government to project the Rohingyas as a ‘threat to India’s national security’, and looks at the response offering an explanation about the underlying politics of humanitarianism. This is an attempt to provide a theoretically grounded explanation using a discursive analysis of the speeches, acts by the governing elite, the parliamentary debates/questions on the issue, circulars and ordinances passed that call for deportation, and other strict measures. The Indian state’s response with the ‘refugee-centric’ desired responses and its own response to other refugee groups in the country has also been analysed.


The report lays bare how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s approach towards refugees is in keeping with its Hindu nationalist agenda, with religion dictating state policy. Feeding into the global Islamophobia industry, religious majoritarianism is gaining momentum in India under the current government; the Indian state is using the Muslim identity of the Rohingyas to project them as ‘terrorists’: it has taken extreme measures through bureaucratic procedures, surveillance, and border control, even resorting to violence against the Rohingyas seeking refuge. The report also shows how the Rohingyas — mostly living in ramshackle shacks in semi-urban ghettoes in Delhi, Jammu, Haryana, Rajasthan, and other places, have been denied even basic public goods. This report further explains how India pursues its strategic interests by offering developmental aid in Rakhine and some meagre assistance to the refugees in Bangladesh while finalising plans to forcibly repatriate the few thousand Rohingyas from the country.


[PDF 5.14 MB]

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