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The sanctioning state: Official permissiveness and prohibition in India

Ajay Gandhi

Keywords: bureaucracy; discretion; discrimination; India; migrant; sanction; state

Abstract

This article examines the Indian state’s engagement with deportable foreign migrants. It draws on an ethnography of officials’ responses in Mumbai to noncitizens from Bangladesh and countries in Africa. The conceptual focus is on the “sanctioning state”: official powers that alternately permit or prohibit migrants’ presence. At one level, the Indian state sanctions, or prohibits, unauthorized migration. Simultaneously, via authorities’ discretionary power, the state can sanction, or permit, foreigners’ presence. To address why state actors simultaneously sanction migrants’ enduring presence, and also sanction their intermittent removal, this article delves into the Indian state’s historical evolution and everyday functioning. The domains of bureaucratic practice, discretionary authority, and differentiated citizenship are framed by antecedent logics. This historical survey undergirds an ethnographic study of the state in migrant-saturated neighborhoods in Mumbai. Based on interviews and observations with officials and migrants, this article elucidates the rationales, capacities, and strategies that comprise the “sanctioning state.”

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