The Citizen and the Migrant: Postcolonial Anxieties, Law, and the Politics of Exclusion/Inclusion

Ratna Kapur


This Article examines how the legal subjectivity of the migrant subject is intimately connected to the construction of the citizenship subject and how both have been products of the colonial encounter. Deploying the lens of postcolonialism, I argue that the migrant is addressed through a spectrum of legal rules based on normative criteria reminiscent of the colonial encounter. These criteria reinscribe citizenship within dominant racial, sexual, and cultural norms as well as claims of civilizational superiority. That which does not fall within the boundaries of citizenship is regarded as outcast, an "Other," and subject to restraint, persecution, censorship, social stigma, incarceration, and even annihilation. The discussion draws examples from recent judicial decisions in the context of postcolonial India, dealing with migrant bar dancers and migrant Muslims, highlighting the deep and lasting impact of the colonial encounter and the imperial imagination on understandings and constructions of citizenship in the contemporary period. The cases further illustrate how notions of "global" or "world" citizen, unbound by territory or the nation-state, are unable to account for the complex and contradictory understandings of citizenship that have emerged from within a postcolonial context. The arguments force us to inquire into the role of citizenship, its relevance or meaninglessness in the lives of the migrant once its exclusionary potential has been exposed.

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