Royal Holloway University of London Department of History
and The University of Leeds School of History
Event Date: 9 and 10 September 2010
Royal Asiatic Society 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1
Uditi Sen – The Nation and its Exclusions: The Repatriation of European Refugees from Independent India, 1947-49
The transition from subjects of the British Empire to citizens of India and Pakistan was a long process which held different meanings for different people in South Asia. However, not all who were living in India at her hour of emancipation were entitled to make this transition. During World War II, India had emerged as a safe haven for several thousand Jewish refugees and British subjects evacuated from the Baltic States, Greece and Malta. As the war progressed, they were joined by refugees from Burma, Malaya and Hong Kong. In 1947, India’s independence sounded the death knell for these hastily set up refugee camps. From a refuge for stranded British subjects, India turned into a reluctant host, unwilling to succour ‘foreigners’. The national government was quick to differentiate between Indian citizens and British subjects, and pushed for the latter’s early repatriation. In 1947, there were no legal provisions distinguishing subjects from citizens, in India or in Britain. Despite this, there was a high degree of co-operation between the newly independent Government of India and His Majesty’s Government in removing ‘foreigners’ from Indian soil. By analysing the administrative discourse surrounding the repatriation of European refugees from India between 1947 and 1949, this paper explores the shared meanings of belonging to the nation of India which made such co-operation possible. Secondly, it compares this administrative discourse of belonging with the aspirations and actions of European refugees and evacuees. It attempts to understand why and how far they were complicit in their exclusion from India as outsiders. It also explores how a minority challenged this dominant discourse by staying on. By looking at India’s transition to independence from the perspective of those who were disenfranchised as ‘foreigners’, this paper seeks to throw fresh light on the boundaries of belonging to independent India.