The Ambivalence of Citizenship

The IMDT Act (1983) and the Politics of Forclusion in Assam

Author: Anupama Roy and Ujjwal Kumar Singh


The code of citizenship marks out the "other," continually reproducing and re-inscribing it through legal and judicial pronouncement in a relationship of contradictory cohabitation. The relationship is, however, not one of exclusion or simple opposition, but rather that of forclusion, where the outsider is present discursively and constitutively in delineations of citizenship. This article examines the manner in which the process of forclusion unfolded in the delineation of citizenship in Assam, in northeastern India, in particular in the contests around the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act [IMDT] of 1983, and the complex reconfiguration of political forces and power relations between the Center and the state of Assam on the question of definition and identification of illegal migrants. The authors examine the contests over the IMDT Act, in the context of the elections in Assam in 1983, the Assam Accord of 1985, and the Supreme Court Judgment in August 2005 striking it down. They show how the illegality/alien-ness of the migrant became central to the construction of the Assamese identity in the 1980s and how the illegal migrant and the IMDT Act figured in precarious relationships of consensus and antagonism depending on the nature of political/electoral contests between the Center and state governments.

Regions: South Asia
Countries: India
Topics: Labor

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© Arthur Jones, PhD