What does the giving and receiving of disaster relief say about a democratic state’s engagement with justice and its responsibilities towards its citizens? This is the question that motivates the following paper, where an attempt is made to characterise the “relief state” through the example of the Indian state’s response to the super-cyclone in 1999 in Odisha on the eastern coast of India, and more recently, the devastating floods of 2008. The paper interrogates the norms that guide the state in its relief role, as well as the strategies deployed by disaster victims to access such relief. It argues that the ‘relief relationship’ between states and victims, who are also citizens, complicates the idea of the nation-state as a provider of just citizenship. Guided by contemporaneous debates about justice, rights and citizenship in India, the paper observes that the moral stance adopted by citizens is as important to the realisation of citizenship and its benefits as the formal enshrinement of rights. Through an intensive discussion of the norms and practices of disaster relief, it concludes that victimhood is the moral content of how citizens engage with the state after a disaster.
- Disaster relief