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【ACS Institute 2023 -Day 3- 8/12- Activity Report】Prof. Paula Banerjee - The Conundrum of Trafficking and Statelessness in India


Beyond Borders: Prof. Paula Banerjee's Illuminating Discourse on Human Trafficking and Statelessness in Contemporary India

Author: Monika Verma (Ph.D., NYCU, Taiwan; contact: moniletit@gmail.com)


Event Title: Decolonization in the 21st Century
Lecture Title - The Conundrum of Trafficking and Statelessness in India
Speaker - Prof. Paula Banerjee, IDRC Endowed Chair and Director of Center on Gender and Forced Displacement,
Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand (Online)
Date: 12 August 2023
Time: 14:00-15:30
Venue: R103 HA Building 3, NYCU, 1001 University Road, Hsinchu,
Taiwan 300


          Professor Paula Banerjee's lecture on "The Conundrum of Trafficking and Statelessness in India," hosted at the ACS Institute 2023 as part of the "Decolonization in the 21st Century" series, proved to be an enlightening and profound exploration of the intricate challenges surrounding human trafficking and statelessness within India. Professor Banerjee, a distinguished scholar renowned for her work in the domains of gender and forced displacement, delivered a thought-provoking presentation. Her discourse unveiled the complexities interwoven between statelessness and its association with trafficking, predominantly within the South Asian context, with India as its focal point.


Key Insights from the Lecture:

          Statelessness as a Global Challenge: Prof. Banerjee emphasized that statelessness is a pressing global issue that affects not only the individuals who find themselves stateless but also challenges the principles of human rights, dignity, and citizenship. Stateless individuals often suffer from a lack of protection, making them vulnerable to exploitation and displacement.

          The Statist Imagination: Citizenship plays a central role, one of the central themes highlighted by Professor Banerjee, in the way states perceive and categorize populations. Stateless individuals exist outside the conventional framework of citizenship, often excluded due to strict definitions and hyper-statism. The unwavering criteria for acquiring citizenship can consequently result in the creation of large groups that exist on the margins, devoid of legal acknowledgment and the protection that comes with it.

          Trafficking and Vulnerability: The lecture presented compelling examples from India to illustrate how crises, such as the ongoing pandemic, exacerbate vulnerability, leading to an increase in human trafficking and the creation of stateless populations. She masterfully unravelled the intricate connections between trafficking, vulnerability, and statelessness, particularly within the context of South Asia. The discourse illuminated how these issues intersect, leading to an urgent need for comprehensive understanding and redressal.


Professor Paula Banerjee's Deeper Exploration:

          Prof. Paula Banerjee's lecture delved into the multifaceted issues surrounding human trafficking and statelessness. Her insights shed light on the complex interplay of factors contributing to these challenges, particularly within the context of South Asia, with a focus on India.

The Nexus of Trafficking and Vulnerability:

          During her lecture, Prof. Banerjee emphasized the critical connection between trafficking and vulnerability. Her analysis revealed that around 75 to 80 percent of trafficking activities in the region transpire within the confines of national borders, signifying that it is predominantly an intra-country predicament. Only around 20 to 25 percent of individuals involved in trafficking cross international boundaries. The question then arises: why do individuals choose to leave their home regions for trafficking? Prof. Banerjee pointed out that the driving force behind this decision is the existence of demand.

Understanding the Choices of Trafficked Individuals:

          It's crucial to recognize that those who become involved in trafficking make conscious choices, often driven by desperation and the pursuit of improved economic prospects. She powerfully illuminated that these individuals, especially women, are far from ignorant or naïve. Instead, they are responding to the arduous circumstances prevailing in their places of origin, where opportunities are scarce, and the promise of a better life elsewhere, even if involving trafficking, presents itself as a tantalizing option.

Trafficking as a Transaction:

          Challenging the prevailing discourse that paints trafficking solely as a crime against women, Professor Banerjee provided a fresh perspective. While she acknowledged the grave abuses within trafficking, she underscored that its fundamental essence lies in material gains. Traffickers exploit the demand for labor, whether for work in sectors such as construction, manufacturing, or even sex work. The pursuit of profit and economic prosperity motivates a diverse array of individuals, including those who do not fit the stereotypical image of the young and powerless victim.

The Criminalization of Victims:

          One concerning aspect that Prof. Banerjee addressed is the tendency to criminalize the victims of trafficking. She brought to light cases where individuals willingly became part of trafficking networks, agreeing to the transaction. However, they often did not fully comprehend the consequences of their choices, especially when they crossed international borders and surrendered their identity documents to traffickers. This marked the initial
steps on their journey toward statelessness.

Statelessness and Lack of Rights:

          Prof. Banerjee underscored the central role of citizenship in conferring rights and protections. She emphasized that statelessness strips individuals of their citizenship, rendering them vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and displacement. Even refugees, who have already endured considerable hardship, are further deprived of the basic rights associated with citizenship. This, in turn, makes them susceptible to criminalization, both by the state and society at large.

The Need for Mobility and Agency:

          A critical point raised by Professor Banerjee was the imperative need to consider mobility as a fundamental human right rather than a problematic phenomenon. She stressed that simplifying mobility and providing avenues for legal migration could significantly contribute to addressing the multifaceted challenges posed by trafficking and statelessness. By viewing individuals involved in trafficking as agents making choices, we can shift the discourse away from criminalization and toward a deeper understanding of the root causes that compel them to embark on such perilous journeys.

Enriching the Dialogue:
          In the dynamic Q&A session that followed Professor Paula Banerjee's compelling presentation, participants delved into various facets of human trafficking and migration, uncovering the intricate web of these multifaceted issues. One of the pressing questions that arose concerned the influence of digital technology on the intensification of human trafficking. Professor Banerjee aptly acknowledged the dual role of the digital realm, which both facilitates and complicates the trafficking landscape. The proliferation of information and messaging enables traffickers to ensnare potential victims more effectively, yet it also renders these individuals more vulnerable to exploitation. The cloak of anonymity provided by the digital sphere allows trafficking networks to operate covertly, making them exceedingly challenging to track and apprehend.

          Another intriguing query revolved around the identification of traffickers, particularly the difficulties encountered in pinpointing those responsible for orchestrating these criminal activities. Professor Banerjee's response shed light on the evolution of traffickers, who have now become increasingly ingrained within the very communities they target. Instead of being external, malevolent actors, some traffickers assume roles as family members or trusted community figures, making it a complex and often perilous task for victims to report them to law enforcement. This revelation underscored the urgent need for more nuanced strategies in combating trafficking, emphasizing not just the perpetrators but the underlying systems and structures that enable their actions.

          A thought-provoking dimension of the discussion centered on the historical context of the trafficking discourse. Professor Banerjee and the participants collectively reflected on the enduring focus on the morality of women's choices, a theme that has persisted throughout history. Historical narratives, such as the 'white slavery' panic, fixated on the perceived moral transgressions of young women who ventured abroad for various reasons, including employment in the sex trade. This historical perspective served to amplify the moral dimensions of trafficking while often side-lining the systemic factors that underpin it.

          In a resounding call to action, Professor Banerjee emphasized the urgency of evolving our vocabulary and conceptual frameworks to address these issues comprehensively while respecting the unique perspectives and experiences of marginalized communities, including indigenous peoples. She illuminated an ongoing project that seeks to collect keywords on migration and mobility to construct a more inclusive and comprehensive lexicon. Recognizing the pivotal role of language in shaping our understanding of complex phenomena, this project aims to diversify our vocabulary, thereby enabling us to better grasp the intricacies of human trafficking and migration.

          In sum, the Q&A session served as an enriching dialogue that unearthed the multifaceted nature of human trafficking and migration. It underscored the importance of adapting our approaches, both semantically and practically, to confront these challenges effectively while considering the historical, social, and technological shifts that continue to reshape these complex issues.

          In summary, Professor Paula Banerjee's lecture on "The Conundrum of Trafficking and Statelessness in India" has offered a nuanced and thought-provoking perspective on the intricate challenges of human trafficking and statelessness. Her insights into the complex interplay between these issues have deepened our understanding of the hardships faced by marginalized communities. Professor Banerjee's lecture has not only shed light on these critical issues but has also acted as a catalyst for further reflection and action. Her profound insights prompt us to re-evaluate our approaches, advocating for a more compassionate and rights-based framework to address the multifaceted challenges posed by human trafficking and statelessness. This lecture, accompanied by the enlightening Q&A session that ensued, serves as a clarion call for introspection, meaningful dialogue, and proactive efforts in upholding the principles of human rights and dignity. It has undoubtedly left an enduring impact on our journey toward a more equitable and just society.

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