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The conclusion of the book calls for a renewed international law approach to minority rights and the question of statehood – one that takes into account the unique nature and background of postcolonial states and, at the same time, pays attention to minority perspectives going beyond state-centrism, liberal individualism, and neoliberal developmentalism. In this regard, I critically examine a wide range of possible ways out and reform agendas to propose a more humane interrelationship between minorities, postcolonial states, and international law. My reflections, offered as potential approaches to redefining international legal architectures to the advantage of minority groups, cover a wide range of avenues: from revisiting colonial boundaries in principled ways, to accommodating more robust protection for minorities within existing state structures, to radically reconceptualising the state itself through feminist and historiographic revision. I conclude that it is through these alternative approaches to minorities that international law can finally make sense of humanitarian catastrophes in postcolonial states and its involvement therein. Given that the book exposes the way in which international law advances the ideological making of the postcolonial state vis-à-vis minorities, this normative argument can also be replicated in cases beyond the Rohingya and the CHT hill people.
The introduction to the book presents the context, scope, normative framework, core arguments, and the general structure of the book. It identifies gaps in existing literature on statehood and minority rights and explains the way the book addresses those gaps. The introduction especially elaborates the background of case studies and their relevance for the book. My unique approach to the case studies that goes beyond the vulnerability framework and instead focuses on the ways minorities are marginalised through the ideological operation of postcolonial states, is also discussed in this part. To support my analysis throughout the book, I have relied mainly on primary materials and archival sources, whenever possible. The research is also informed by a series of interviews with national and international organisations working in Bangladesh. My analysis is influenced by critical, postcolonial, and TWAIL (Third World Approaches to International Law) scholarship. Although the historical context is South Asia and the specific focus is on colonial India and present-day Bangladesh and Myanmar, many of the arguments, observations, and findings of the book should be equally relevant to other postcolonial states. The normative and pragmatic significance of the book beyond the Rohingya or the CHT crisis lies in this fact.
Chapter 5 explains how the ideology of the postcolonial ‘developmental’ state relies on the language of economic progress and development to undermine the minority question. I offer a critical, in-depth, and multi-layered analysis of the complex interrelationship between minorities, postcolonial states, and dominant international actors with reference to ‘development’ and international law. The analysis is organised under two major rubrics: I first examine the treatment of minorities in the international law of development and then examine how international law discourse on minority and group rights addresses the issue of economic development. In both cases, critically engaging with central themes in the discourse on both ‘development’ and ‘minority rights’ under international law, I argue that international law provides a framework within which international actors and postcolonial states suppress minority interests in the name of economic development and that politically marginalised minorities suffer the most due to such development activities. In this way, international law involvement in the ideological function of the postcolonial ‘developmental’ state not only results in further marginalisation of already vulnerable minorities but also serves to legitimise and gloss over asymmetric power relations that produce such marginalisation. Case studies on the Rohingya and the CHT hill people substantiate my arguments.
Chapter one analyses the geneses of ethno-nationalism in postcolonial states by highlighting the three key elements of ethno-nationalist politics: the modernist response to primordial attachments in the process of nation-building, the active role and passive consequences of colonialism, and the influence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois classes under capitalism. Critically engaging with seminal scholarship in relevant fields by Clifford Geertz, Donald Horowitz, Antonio Gramsci, and Partha Chatterjee, my analysis in this chapter underscores that ethno-nationalism in postcolonial states is, to a great extent, the outcome of a combined force of all three elements. While the three elements highlighted in my analysis of ethno-nationalism are not exclusive aspects, ethno-nationalism in postcolonial states primarily draws on the elements of nation-building, colonialism, and capitalism. I substantiate this claim with the case of anticolonial nationalist movements in India. I demonstrate how conditions created by colonialism, capitalism, and the modernist vision of the nascent Indian state gave the nationalist movement an ethno-nationalist character that ultimately led to the partition of the country along religious lines.
Chapter four demonstrates how the post-WWII liberal vision of international law feeds into the ideology of the postcolonial ‘liberal’ state in the form of ‘individualism’, thereby dominating the discourse on minority protection. One direct implication of the dominance of liberal individualism in the postcolonial constitutional architecture of rights is the denial of protection for minority groups. The liberal human rights regime is designed to diffuse cultural groups into individual units, so as to facilitate their assimilation into a homogeneous national (read majoritarian) identity. This chapter explains how international law, with its liberal underpinning, shrinks the scope of the right to self-determination and thereby perpetuates the vulnerability of, or in some cases even leads to the extinction of, minority groups. In this connection, I also highlight the peculiar challenge that postcolonial states face in reconciling the diverging forces of ‘liberal individualism’ and majoritarian ‘ethno-nationalism’. The former emanates from the liberal international legal order, the latter from the nationalist discourse of allegiance, entitlement, and legitimacy. The issue of citizenship and statelessness is also discussed in this context. My arguments in this chapter are supported by in-depth case studies on the Rohingya and the CHT hill people.
Chapter three deals with the role of international law in the ideology of the postcolonial ‘national’ state. With its ambition of achieving a homogeneous and unified sovereign entity, the postcolonial state essentially relies on international law principles for the continuity of colonial boundaries (uti possidetis), territorial integrity, sovereign equality, and non-interference in internal affairs. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the uti possidetis principle helps in the maintenance of peace and order, I argue that uti possidetis is a key problem. Far from being a corrective mechanism halting potential ‘disorder’ emanating from decolonisation, the continuation of arbitrarily drawn colonial boundaries undermines the legitimate right to self-determination of numerous ethnic minorities in postcolonial states and often results in violent ethnic conflicts. The argument for uti possidetis in international law is also normatively inconsistent as it depends upon the capacity of the postcolonial state to efface ethno-nationalism while simultaneously allowing the state to produce its own sustaining nationalist ideology in majoritarian terms. The minority problem is thus embedded in the very ideological making of the postcolonial ‘national’ state in international law. My arguments in this chapter are substantiated with in-depth case studies on the Rohingya and the CHT hill people.
Chapter two examines how postcolonial states respond to ethno-nationalism in general and minorities in particular. I argue that nationalist ruling elites conceive of the postcolonial state itself as an ‘ideology’, claiming that the unified national state, its liberal constitutional structure, and the developmental agenda will end the troublesome ethnic parochialism and, therefore, solve the problem of minorities. The ideological making of the postcolonial state not only obscures and glosses over the real reasons for the problem, but also shift attention to issues that help maintain asymmetric power relations. To substantiate this argument, I first explain John Thompson’s notion of ‘ideology’ as a set of ways in which ideas and meanings help create and sustain relations of domination. I then develop my argument that the ideology of the postcolonial state functions in three different forms: the postcolonial ‘national’, ‘liberal’, and ‘developmental’ state. Working through these three ideologies, the postcolonial state demands the submission of the minority cause to the greater ‘national’, ‘liberal’, and ‘developmental’ interests of the state, thereby legitimising the oppression of minorities. I demonstrate these ideological functions of the postcolonial state with historical examples: the discourse used in Indian Constituency Assembly debates to discuss minority rights.
The ideological function of the postcolonial 'national', 'liberal', and 'developmental' state inflicts various forms of marginalisation on minorities, but simultaneously justifies oppression in the name of national unity, equality and non-discrimination, and economic development. International law plays a central role in the ideological making of the postcolonial state in relation to postcolonial boundaries, the liberal-individualist architecture of rights, and the neoliberal economic vision of development. In this process, international law subjugates minority interests and in turn aggravates the problem of ethno-nationalism. Analysing the geneses of ethno-nationalism in postcolonial states, Mohammad Shahabuddin substantiates these arguments with in-depth case studies on the Rohingya and the hill people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, against the historical backdrop of the minority question in Indian nationalist and constitutional discourse. Shahabuddin also proposes alternative international law frameworks for minorities.