The Partition of India, which brought in its wake a sea of displaced populations, meant that it was not merely refugees and their effects but equally the identity documents that were issued to them prior to migration that suffered from a sense of displacement. Given that the figure of the refugee was alien to the memory of the colonial state, it was hardly surprising that there were no pre-existing genres of recognising her. In Delhi, various actors such as the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation, housing agencies, the city administration and refugee associations acted in concert to fortify the process of rehabilitation from the chaos of displaced identity documents. Using several genres of primary historical sources, this paper inquires into how the Indian state went about knowing, in ways that straddle the philosophical and the feasible, the material and the intangible, ‘the refugee squatter’ dwelling in urban spaces. In particular, it asks the question, what role did refugee knowledge play in the fashioning of identity documents between 1947 and 1960? This paper must also be read in another register, namely, the popular making and not just the popular life of identity documents in marginal spaces of dwelling at an early hour of state formation.
Tarangini Sriraman teaches Politics and History at the School of Liberal Studies in Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She has previously been a Postdoctoral Fellow at Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi and Visiting Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. Her research over the last six years has been invested in the histories of identification documents in the disparate colonial and postcolonial spaces of India. Her work has attended to the material forms, the legal and cultural aspects of identification documents at various moments like epidemic control in late 19th century British India, rationing during the Second World War, urban housing for Partition-displaced persons, the resettlement of slum residents in Delhi post-liberalization and the implications of Aadhaar for urban poor subjects. Her work has been published in several journals like Indian Economic and Social History Review, Contributions to Indian Sociology, SAMAJ and Economic and Political Weekly. Her book with OUP titled In Pursuit of Proof: A History of Identification Documents and Welfare Practices in India is forthcoming in the next academic year. This book uses eclectic ethnographic and archival approaches to trace genealogies of identification documents within domains of urban welfare production in contemporary India and Delhi in particular.
Valerie Foster Githinji
South Asia Program
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