The Refugee Crisis in India: Can a therapeutic jurisprudence lens assist?

Guest blogger Nabeela Siddiqui, pursuing a Master in Laws (Constitutional Law), University of Madras, and Chennai, India writes…

Someone recently asked me ‘what is TJ?’ Coming from a law background, my understanding was legally inclined, I told her, and it is the “study of the role of law as a therapeutic agent”.

I have been working on the Refugee crisis, for some time now. Be it in the capacity of an internee at AALCO (Asian African Legal Consultative Organization), or writing as a researcher, my urge to know more has ignited the fire for more indepth research.

I have been reading extensively about the on-going discussions about refugees. I feel there is a need to view the same, through the lens of Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ). Probably, the definition which I learnt and stated in the beginning of my discussion could be deployed to squeeze out some solution based policy structures, to deal with the on-going Refugee crisis in Myanmar.

The Crisis

To those who are unaware of the Rohingya refugee crisis, Rohingya refugees are people fleeing persecution in Myanmar. The Myanmar government’s peace process makes no provision for dealing with the crisis. The country refuses to even recognise the term ‘Rohingya’. The Rohingyas’ claim to citizenship rests on their assertion that they constitute an ethnic indigenous group of Myanmar, which can trace their lineage to an old Arakan kingdom, and that they are not merely Bengalis. But the Myanmar government continues to deprive the Rohingyas citizenship, marking a policy of exclusion. Gross human rights violation and eminent “Fear of persecution”, has led them to flee and cross borders.

The challenge props here are, when the Central Government in India, announced the deportation of these 40,000 Rohingya Refugees. The core of my issue is surely not at all, advocating for refugee rights or talk on some angles from International law perspectives. The point I am trying to draw here is what could be the best possible practice available? How to strike a balance between International comity and norms in contrast to the national security issues of the receiving state?

The heroic character of TJ

This is where TJ comes into the picture. Being heroic in nature, TJ is that antidote that rescues the cursed princess, bringing her back to life. Talking of the jurisprudential angle here, in specie we have certain peace keeping obligations that International law creates, for mutual co-operation between States. And, then we have these municipal laws which correspond to a State’s approach to the governance and laws in the said ambit.

Talking in Indian context, we have Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which enshrines on all persons the right to life and personal liberty, which could be curtailed by the procedure established by law.

So, we have the law, we have the subject matter of the law, i.e. the designated group of people, and a problem worth working upon. With that structure we need to employ TJ and tackle the issue in a modern yet accommodative fashion.

In India, the whole issue of refugee crisis has taken a purely political colour with the advent of time. The present government seems to find these refugees (Rohingyas), as potential fodder to radical groups present in the country. Apart from the national threat angle, the pressing religious colour to the whole issue has also polarized the views when advocating human rights for all.

The question worth pondering upon would be, could Local Secular Organisations (LSOs) be of assistance?

Could TJ be an answer to the Refugee crisis in India?

My TJ research has led me to the view that one such model in India could be great reliance on Local Secular Organisations (LSOs) over Faith Based Organisations (FBOs).

Some benefits of LSOs would be that they have a local view point, knowledge and skill base. LSOs have been powerful tool for advocacy work both at local and national levels, making known the plight of the forgotten displaced and untouched refugees.

With FBOs the faith ‘label’ can act as a barrier rather than a bridge. In contexts where religious identity has been conflated with political position, being identified as a ‘Muslim organisation’ has made the situations more complicated.  But, the same is not the case with local secular organisations.

For example In Hyderabad, the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), a non-governmental organization (NGO), helps the Rohingyas obtain UNHCR cards, which are valid for two years. “Once we are approached, we prepare documentation for the process, which takes three months or more (to get a card). It is a very rigorous process of three interviews and investigation, after which a card is issued,” said Mazher Hussain, executive director, COVA.

COVA monitors the refugees in getting them the UNHCR card. They also coordinate with the police to give them records about the refugees. The refugee card comes in slots after the interview has been taken and it has a validity of two years. “We are interviewed at the UNHCR office for the refugee card. They cross-examine and question us to check if we actually belong from there” said Mohammed Rafiq.

An Indian wellbeing vis-à-vis TJ research tools

For those concerned with the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic effects of the law on legal actors, research is needed to look into the contributions of LSOs versus the FBOs, when it comes to tackling international problems like refugee crisis within the municipal ambits.

In terms of research, it will be necessary to examine whether these organisations and their experiences does in fact pose particular challenges for national security. This will necessitate comparisons with other disciplines and jurisdictions. There will also be fascinating comparators to make between organisations of different orientations within different parts of the India. Including asking questions such as whether the belief and faith based local communities/organisations may provide a sound base for bolstering community resilience in immediate aftermath of crisis, in consonance with the Constitutional matrix of the Nation?

Research on this topic would be a novel and also might be of great importance to the policy structures pertaining to Nations like India, which although is not a signatory of Refugee Convention 1951, but has a long history and constitutional obligation to safeguard the human rights of ‘all persons’, including refugees.

Read more by Nabeela Siddiqui:  Law As A Therapeutic Agent: The Advent Of A New Age Research

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