Nullification of citizenship: negotiating authority without identity documents in coastal Odisha, India

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This paper discusses the case of a community of Bengali immigrant settlers along the coast of Odisha in India at the centre of a unique citizenship controversy. Families have arrived here gradually over the years since 1947, and have generally acquired a range of identity documents from Indian state agencies. These documents certify to a range of rights that signal social and political participation within India: land ownership, voting rights and the receipt of official welfare subsidies. With little warning, a 2005 order by the state government following a high court directive led to the production of a list of 1551 persons, declaring such persons as ‘infiltrators’. The list ostensibly comprises those who have entered India illegally after 1971 or born to parents who entered illegally. While no deportation, as originally intended, has taken place, the nullification of their various documents of citizenship has created a void in their lives. This paper examines the wider politics of the case, especially focusing on how those with nullified documents negotiate the authority of the local state and actors within their own society, and what this reveals about the ever contested nature of citizenship in post-partition India.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-190
Number of pages16
JournalContemporary South Asia
Issue number2
Early online date29 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • citizenship
  • identity documents
  • refugees
  • immigrants
  • India

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