State Securitization and Internal Ethnic Conflicts in India: Re-examining the Punjab Crisis

Date01 December 2014
DOI10.1177/0973598415576596
Published date01 December 2014
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Sreya Maitra Roychoudhury, Ph.D. Scholar and Senior Research Fellow,
Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India.
E-mail: shreya.maitra@gmail.com
State Securitization
and Internal Ethnic
Conflicts in India:
Re-examining the
Punjab Crisis
Sreya Maitra Roychoudhury
Abstract
The theory of securitization postulates the remit of post-political,
military action to quell an existential threat in International Relations.
Pluralist democracies like India have used armed forces to tackle inter-
nal situations of ethnic conflict and legitimized it by deeming the conflict
as a threat to national security. But ongoing domestic turmoil proves
that armed confrontation between the state and its aggrieved commu-
nities has only succeeded in prolonging the dynamics of the conflict,
rather than their comprehensive resolution. The present article takes a
cue from this reality of insecurity. It seeks to theoretically link internal
ethnic conflicts (which are perceived to threaten state survival) and
their securitization, in the light of an actual conflict situation. The crisis
in Punjab that embroiled India for a decade and met with a heavy mili-
tary response of the state forms the case study. Analyzing the state
response to the Punjab ethnic crisis from the securitization prism is a
hitherto unexplored theoretical enterprise. The article undertakes this
task. Also, securitization lends us the theoretical props to identify cer-
tain junctures and movements in the state-factional group/ethnic com-
munity interactions in the course of the crisis. The case study provides
the empirical evidence which can inform securitization theory, and test
its dynamics and efficacy.
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
18(2) 155–173
2014 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/0973598415576596
http://jnr.sagepub.com
156 Sreya Maitra Roychoudhury
Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, 18, 2 (2014): 155–173
Keywords
Securitization, internal conflict, ethnic crisis, Punjab, Khalistan
The discipline of International Relations has systematically explored the
dynamic relations of cooperation, conflict, and competition among
nation-states, and the inter-play of clashes and conflicts ‘within’ states,
between groups and communities, as they crucially impinge on the sta-
bility of the state system as well as on bilateral ties. Civil wars, internal
conflicts, or internal wars (as they are essentially referred to in the theo-
retical parlance of international relations) have been a subject of exten-
sive concern, theoretical expositions, and statistical analysis since the
last quarter of the nineteenth century.1 However, there has been an over-
whelming tendency among sovereign power-holders to resort to the
deployment of military capabilities against dissident sections of the pop-
ulation. Pluralist democracies like India have on more than one occasion
used its armed forces to tackle internal conflict situations and more
importantly, the state has legitimized such military action by deeming
the conflict to be a threat to national security. Securitization theory,
pioneered by the Copenhagen school2 has substantiated the handling of
such existential threats by the state (as a referent object of security) with
the deployment of post-political, military action.
Ongoing conflict zones prove that armed confrontation between the
state and its aggrieved communities has only succeeded in prolonging
the dynamics of the conflict, rather than their comprehensive resolution.
The continuance of acute and simmering internal conflict situations in
various parts of India which spurted immediately after independence are
cases in point. The present article takes a cue from this reality of insecu-
rity. It seeks to theoretically link internal ethnic conflicts (which are per-
ceived to threaten state survival) and their securitization, in the light of
an actual conflict situation. The crisis in Punjab that embroiled India for
a decade and met with a heavy military response of the state forms the
case study for drawing inferences. The re-examination of the Punjab cri-
sis from the prism of securitization seeks to serve three-fold objectives.
First, viewing state approach to the Punjab ethnic crisis as securitization
is itself an exciting theoretical enterprise, hitherto unexplored. Second,
securitization lends us the theoretical props to identify certain junctures

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