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Becoming Citizen: Locating the Muslim ‘Migrants’ Claim to Humanity


By Noel Mariam George

Disclaimer: The article is an interweave of literary and political theory with contemporary Indian politics with special reference to Muslims and citizenship and uses heavy metaphor to conceptually develop alternative political concepts. Generalisation proceeds as a critique of the larger framework of Savarna nationalism and the xenophobia that produces the Muslim migrant and hence differentiates the usage of the word (migrant/immigrant) as used by tribes in the north east to connote a different meaning that is not necessarily xenophobic.

There is a giant temple /slaughterhouse in which cows are sacred and not killable. But if ritual butchering is to continue as usual, despite the sacredness of the Holy Cow, ‘other’ Beasts need to be butchered so that naïve native cows aren’t sacrificed. The Indian nation-state is becoming this giant temple /slaughterhouse in which citizenship is the process of symbolically constituting the Man /Beast binary as the cow protector and the cow eater. Citizenship cannot be understood as a static concept but as existence itself along a spectrum from the citizen: the Savarna Hindu Man as the one who has to protect the feminine naïve native cow; to the stateless refugee: the Avarna Muslim who is a terrorising patriarchal Beast that devours this feminine cow. The cow is an Ur representation of the national subjectivity of Savarna subjects who claim an origin myth over a holy territory to claim soverginity over the state. Contrarily the Beast is the Ur[1] representation of the ‘other’, an evil alien that has invaded and devours the cow. Citizenship is becoming, not being. Citizenship is a process of producing national subjectivity not an objectively defined static point of Being (Deleuze and Guattari, 1995). It is the process of becoming Man (citizen) and simultaneously becoming Beast (refugee).

To get beyond the gridlock of the Man/Beast; Citizen/Refugee binaries the primary subject of the 21st century needs to be rearticulated as the Migrant.[2] The migrant exists in the in-betweens of the citizen/refugee; Man/Beast binary (Nail, 2016). The migrant subject beyond commonsensical understanding as defined in international law needs to be theoretically redefined as the inclusively excluded subject, the undefined[3] (Derrida, 1978). The migrant is the one who is forced into eternal motion by the static state that attempts to code and regulate the flow his/her movement as methods of inclusive control while simultaneously excluding and expelling them over time. The philosopher Thomas Nail defines the migrant as inclusively excluded from four distinct paradigms: from the legal juridical realm as the criminal; from politics as barbarians/terrorists; from territory as the nomadic migrant subject and from economics as the proletariat. Criminals, Barbarians/Terrorists, the Proletariat and Nomads as migrant subjects that aren’t completely excluded like the refugee, neither are they completely included like the citizen. They are inclusively excluded. On the contrary the citizen is an exclusively included subject who has static and stable political existence within the state apparatus. Citizenship in liberal democracies is the process of reinforcing the power of this exclusively included citizen minority in the ethno-nationalist state by artificially producing a majority[4] through the consolidation of the inclusively excluded migrant within its fold. This produced majority enables the citizen – the Savarna Hindu Man – to exclusively yield sovereign power of the state. The migrant subjects are controlled, coded and criminalised by the Sovereign state while more and more are subject to racialisation to produce Avarna Muslim Beasts that enables the sustenance of the binary – the figure of the one who is completely excluded as a stateless, nationless Refugee.

Sovereign[5] power and the ‘Unruly’

The Indian citizen in the secular state was defined in its constitution as ‘all’ subjects contained in the territorial expanse of the state. However, the secular state, borrowing from codification of the colonial state that produced the Hindu majority as a ‘religious’ category rather than as caste conglomerates always had to redefine the secular depending on the extent to which  Hindu majority claimed Sovereignty. Sovereignty has traditionally been defined as the monopoly over violence, however in the modern context of democratic nation-states sovereignty needs to be redefined as the power to constitute the state of exception. The state of exception is a political phenomenon in which sovereign emerges beyond the law to reduce citizens or migrant subjects to bare life (Beasts). The state of exception is a process of transforming Avarna subjects (Dalits and Muslims) into bare life. It is the eruption of the zoological unto the political when citizens as humans suddenly become Evil Beasts before the sovereign and can be killed with impunity (Nikolopoulou, Agamben and Heller-Roazen, 2007). Subsequently the political erupts into the zoological and hence cow protection or the protection of the ‘rights’ of cows transforms into an idea of political existence of cows to exist as much as any other citizen, and any attempt to kill the cow makes one a criminal.  Cow protection is pseudo politics advanced by the Savarna Hindus to reduce Avarna subjects just as worthy as cows.

Sovereign power is the power to kill, but in everyday politics it is also the power to ‘tame that which it sees as unruly’ (McLeod, 2012). Citizenship is a method of taming; of disciplining those subjects which the state defines as unruly. The postcolonial context of the nation-state marks some as the origin people, while the others as outsiders, invaders or aliens. The majority claims itself as the origin people through myth, like the Hindu claim of India as a civilisational state that existed for millennia under Hindu empires rather than as a historically produced entity that is only about seven decades old (Kopf and Chatterjee, 2006).The nation as the most recent method of political organisation deludes its subjects to claim a history of always having mythically exited through eternity (Sweet, 1984).

The nation-state as a modern method of control has constructed the majority and minority along ethno-nationalist lines. The production of National subjectivity is a method of control and taming, by constituting the abstract majority as the Ur national citizen from whom various ‘other’ derivations are made as parasites, invaders, aliens, criminals, terrorist all which constitutes the binary Beast. Sovereignty is the power to exercise power that kills this beastly other (Mbembe, 2008). The liberal nation-state constitutes itself through an inclusive exclusion of those that it sees as the ‘other’ – the migrant subjects, so that the benevolent majority gets to maintain an exclusive sovereignty that furthers the agenda of complete exclusion of its binary, the Beast. Citizenship hence is a process of inclusive exclusion that simultaneously completes the inclusion of some at the cost of complete exclusion of others. It isn’t that Avarna Muslim subjects are completely excluded as ‘citizens’ in India, the nation includes just enough such that an inclusive exclusion mirages the larger project of complete exclusion. Avarna Muslim subjects exist on the spectrum as the inclusively excluded like the proletariat or the criminal that at any point can become the completely ‘excluded’ like nomadic terrorist refugee or the barbaric, parasitic illegal immigrant. The exercise of power to inclusively exclude and finally completely exclude is sovereign power of the nation state that has ethno-nationalism at its core. This is the sovereign power that has constituted itself in laws that lay down the state of exception in UAPA, TADA, POTA and AFSPA[6] in which the citizen is criminal first (guilty until proven otherwise). It is also sovereign power that mutates the criminal who has certain political and legal rights into the refugee who is stripped off of everything to reduce human existence into the category of the Beast. Muslims across the borders of India are becoming beasts: denationalised, stateless animals that can be killed with impunity as India reconstitutes itself as Hindu defined as the binary of the Muslim Other. The National Register for Citizens (NRC) was the first largest bioploitical attempt of governmentality in India that attempted to force poor, illiterate, displaced people ‘prove’ their citizenship to the government with documents. It was backed by movements that had strong xenophobic (anti-Bengali speaking) and Islamophobic tendencies. However, since the citizen was forced to prove his/her citizenship to the state it was not an exclusively anti-Mulsim attempt. However, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 which was passed this December redefined the citizen from the earlier category as “subjects within a territorial space who had to ‘prove’ their citizenship via the NRC into an attempt to racialise[7] Muslims through exclusion to exercise Hindu Soverginity.” At the same time it co-opted certain others constructed as ‘minorities’ of neighbouring states (Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parses and even Christians) to produce an artificial majority that is against the Muslim Other. The ‘benevolent’ Hindu sovereign temporarily inclusively excludes certain others, to ensure complete expulsion of the Muslim. It constructs a secular universal that includes Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsees and Christians to co-opt rather than actually include.

The Savarna Citizen constitutes secularism in the nation as a universal framework by inclusively excluding ‘others’ to an extent in which the real power of the savarna citizen isn’t questioned. The citizen man, constituted as ‘secular’, in binary opposition the ‘communal’ beast is the camouflage of the Savarna Hindu hiding his ‘Hinduness’ in broad daylight by defining the secular universal of the nation in his own terms. Real power is the power to constitute the norm (Foucault, 2005). Questioning the normative framework of the formation of the secular along lines of ‘becoming Hindu’, to become ‘secular’ citizens is the real political articulation of the migrant subject. The migrant subject in Indian politics is anti-caste, postnational and postsecular subject that reveals and rips apart the hegemonic universal of the ‘secular’ Savarna Citizen Man. Migrant subjectivity, as opposed to national subjectivity of the citizen, isn’t Hindu or secular, isn’t territorial and  isn’t national. Migrant subjectivity as opposed to savarna national subjectivity doesn’t aim at hegemonic ‘oneness’ in a centralised state. It is the politics of solidarity that recognises ‘difference’, an assemblage of distinct and different political subjectivities that simultaneously construct and deconstruct paradigms to enable political articulation of the excluded. Migrant subjectivity is contingent, self-reflexive and hence the only real articulation of emancipatory politics that cannot be coded by the static state that attempts to define only the citizens as a relevant political subject and the ‘others’ as killable.

The question today is not whether CAB or NRC is unconstitutional or if India is still a secular democracy. The words – secular, democratic and constitutional – have undergone such semantic change in the face of fascism that India can still claim all the three above mentioned principles through mere periodic elections and constitutional amendments, except that Indian Muslims might not be there in the democracy or the constitution. Situations are that grave. The perfect Hindu state would not be the one in which the Manusmriti has replaced the constitution. But rather, the perfect Hindu state would be the fascist state in which we will have Ambedkar’s Constitution and the elections yet the only true citizen would be the Savarna Hindus who have discursive power to decide who is and who isn’t a citizen while the majority are deluded into believing that the constitution and democracy exist. This is why we need to claim citizenship beyond legality for the designated ‘citizen’ alone and redefine the concept of ‘who’ can claim citizenship. This would be to claim Muslim migrant subjectivity as the need has risen to claim humanity beyond how the sovereign state exclusively configures the citizen. The migrant as the undecidable conceptually enables us to claim citizenship as a human right through the very negation of the concept of the citizen as the state exclusively defines it. The Muslim has been criminalised, ghettoised and deterritorialised by the state to the point of possible genocide with this attempt to denationalise. In such a situation Muslim rights in this country are no more about the constitution or legality; it is the political articulation of the migrant subjects claim to humanity as the citizen which questions dehumanisation by sovereign power. It is no more the ‘right to have rights’, but rather a claim to question the very concept of the citizen as the exclusive subject of rights.

[1] Ur: the word is derived from the name of an ancient Sumerian city that represents a prototype city. It refers to the primordial archetypes; someone or something from which derivatives are constituted

[2] The Migrant as a concept in the paper follows Thomas Nail’s theoretical development of the concept and at the same time also alludes to the discursive use of the word ‘illegal immigrant’ that was developed in the NRC debates and now in the CAB to euphemistically refer to Muslims.

[3] The undefined is the Derridian nodal point from which a binary metaphysical system is deconstructed

[4] The Hindu majority in India is false majority that presents itself as religious majority in opposition to Muslims when in actuality it is as Ambedkar argued, merely caste groups that have no organic unity.

[5] The Sovereign has been defined in four distinct ways in the paper. Sovereignty in Carl Schmitt’s definition is the  monopoly  over  violence  that  the  state  exercises  as  political  power  distinct  from  its  theological  roots. Agamben  defines  sovereignty  as  the  power  to  institute  the  state  of  exception  that  enables  the  sovereign  to exercise  power  beyond  the   category  of  ‘law’. Mbembe defines sovereignty in modern democracies as necropolitical power in his discussion of the ‘border’, while Falguni Sheth defines sovereignty as power to tame that which the Sovereign sees as unruly.

[6] These are laws that transform ‘normal’ politics that deal with issues of law and governance (civil /criminal) into the ‘exception’. Anti-terror laws empower state securitisation to slip into normal politics where ‘suspected’ citizens can be stripped off of rights for acts deemed anti-national and anti-state.

[7] These are laws that transform ‘normal’ politics that deal with issues of law and governance (civil /criminal) into the ‘exception’. Anti-terror laws empower state securitisation to slip into normal politics where ‘suspected’ citizens can be stripped off of rights for acts deemed anti-national and anti-state. Racialisation  is  the  process  by  which  sovereign  power  distinguishes  certain  characteristics  as  essential  and ‘different’  within  a  population  to  tame  that  which  it  sees  as  different  and  ‘unruly’.  Race  in  Falguni  Sheth’s definition  is  understood  as  a  technology  of  control  rather  than  as  purely  biological  or  purely  a  social construction.


Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1995) ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, SubStance. doi: 10.2307/3684887.

Derrida, J. (1978) ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’, Writing and Difference. doi: 10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004.

Foucault, M. (2005) ‘The Subject and Power’, Critical Inquiry. doi: 10.1086/448181.

Kopf, D. I. and Chatterjee, P. (2006) ‘The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories.’, The American Historical Review. doi: 10.2307/2168288.

Mbembe, A. (2008) ‘Necropolitics’, in Foucault in an Age of Terror: Essays on Biopolitics and the Defence of Society. doi: 10.1057/9780230584334.

McLeod, L. J. (2012) ‘Toward a Political Philosophy of Race’, Social Theory and Practice. doi: 10.5840/soctheorpract201036439.

Nail, T. (2016) Theory of the Border, Theory of the Border. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190618643.001.0001.

Nikolopoulou, K., Agamben, G. and Heller-Roazen, D. (2007) ‘Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life’, SubStance. doi: 10.2307/3685567.

Sweet, S. S. (1984) ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism’, Telos. doi: 10.3817/0684060227.

Noel Mariam George completed Masters  at  Jawaharlal  Nehru  University  and is currently pursuing M. Phil. at the University of Hyderabad. Email:


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Rohingya Refugees: Identity, Citizenship, and Human Rights”, edited by Chapparban Sajaudeen, Central University of Gujarat, India.

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