Stateless in the Bengali borderlands : New technologies and challenges for identity and identification

Led by Mohammad Salehin

Apr 2021 – Mar 2025

​The project investigates the current crisis of statelessness affecting millions of people in the Bengali borderlands, including the Rohingya population of Myanmar and Bengali Muslims in the Northeast Indian state of Assam.

The project's primary objective is to examine the production of statelessness by investigating the interplay between identity as discourse, as expressed through new means of communication and mobilization (smartphones; social media), and identity as practice, as shaped by novel technologies of biometric identification and related governance.

The 2017 mass exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state gave rise to a major refugee crisis, and tension between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The 2019 exclusion of 1.9 million Assamese Bengalis from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has sparked fears of another crisis, with mass detention of "foreigners" and possible deportation efforts looming on the horizon. Studying a region troubled by protracted conflict, this project aims to generate in-depth knowledge of how statelessness is produced, examining Rohingya and Assamese Bengali identity construction as a combination of self-identification and grassroots community-building, governmental projects of discrimination and denial of rights, and enemy "othering" by Rakhine and Assamese ethno-nationalists.

The project is led by ​Mohammad Salehin, and the research team includes PRIO Research Professor Åshild Kolås and Senior Researcher Marte Nilsen, as well as researchers at the University of Dhaka, University of Tromsø, and BRAC University.

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