This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Dr. Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

On Territorial Integrity And Self-Determination In The Context Of Decolonisation

More from Dr. Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

Recently I was speaking to a friend who prides herself on being ‘from the far-Left’ and the discussion was around the topic of nation-states and nationalism. I have always been fairly interested in testing and hypothesizing disparate scenarios, often even on the extremes, and yet naturally taking a nuanced and hopefully informed stance. In this particular instance, we were cavorting through the freeways of hypothesis, nay wild conjecture, and some intellectual cartwheels. And then suddenly the discussion ended up on the singular and idiosyncratic point of the possibility of no nation-states whatsoever. A free flow of people, of ideas, of humanity in all its glory and freedom. So beautiful, so utopian!

The idea probably sprouted from words of people like Benedict Anderson who characterised a nation as an “imagined community” and Paul James who saw it as an “abstract community“, and somewhat aligning ourselves with these ideas, at least intellectually, since at the end of the day a nation is oft-about a fairly impersonal coming-together of people who are virtual strangers but who identify with a central conception of nationhood. It is an idea, a conception. Getting back at our trip down hypothesis-boulevard, we reflect on points similar to what Dr. Klaus F. Zimmermann, Professor of Economics at Bonn University and Harvard University, in his article ‘What if there were no national borders?‘, spoke at length about: how, sans international boundaries, the increased mobility could help international economics and social equity.

And then reality hit us – the quintessential administrative conundrum. Of how to keep people away from concentrating in places conducive to subsistence and prosperity. Of people not creating nations again as per self-interest and alliances of convenience. So, we ended up deciding that contemporary nation-states are possibly convenient and useful unless one could think of an international system of just provinces under one umbrella (a tad bit utopian too). However, the question of identities around nation-states, nationalism, and self-determination was a much more grey area. More importantly, we ended up at the buzzword of the hour, and yet a highly relevant point of discussion: decolonisation.

What Is A ‘State’?

The question of state and statehood, nation-states and nationhood have confounded political thinkers for years. To begin with, what is a state? One of the most famous definitions of the ‘state’ is Weber’s which describes the state as a compulsory political organisation with a centralised government that maintains a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain territory. Marxist thought regards the ends of the state as being the perpetuation of class domination in favour of the ruling class which, under the capitalist mode of production, is the bourgeoisie, and as per the Communist Manifesto, Marx said that “the executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

Another commonly accepted definition of the state is the one given at the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States in 1933, which says:

‘[t]he state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

[…]

[t]he federal state shall constitute a sole person in the eyes of international law.

A nation, on the other hand, is a political entity composed of a stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common territory, ethnicity, language, history, or a common culture. As per Anthony D. Smith in ‘The Ethnic Origins of Nations’, “It (a nation) is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interest”. Contemporary political thinkers have started to rue the future of nation-states in the context of increased globalisation. Thinkers like Samuel Huntington say that it will be the cultural and religious identities of people that will be the primary source of conflict in the post–Cold War world.

There is the concept of post-nationalism, which is the process or trend by which nation-states and national identities lose their significance relative to global and supranational entities. Globalisation, internalisation of financial markets, a rise of socio-political super-national bodies, and the advent of new information and culture technologies has led to what Jan Zielonka of Oxford University would call ‘new-medievalism’, which refers to “overlapping authorities, divided sovereignty, multiple identities and governing institutions, and fuzzy borders“.

Imagining Statehood In Context Of Decolonisation

Colonialism may have receded from the world today, but its aftereffects are felt on the global system as much today as ever, in the process of creating new borders, dealing with compromised identity politics and self-determination of communities. Scholars have increasingly become aware of the fact that postcolonial nations were not simply created, but instead, a messy and long-drawn process was put in place instead. A process of trying to imagine new nations. A process of understanding what it truly means to be decolonised. The intersection of the decolonisation of governance with the decolonisation of the human element creates a complex conflict whereby the drawing of borders and conception of nationalities created compromised identities. Questions like what does it mean to be a citizen of such a postcolonial country mean, who is a citizen, what does citizenship entail, both in terms of rights and responsibilities, are relevant and emergent.

At its core, decolonisation is about creating the basis and foundation for states in the vacuum left by the colonial powers. However, since there are numerous problem regions which defy the normative notion of the nation-state and what it means to be sovereign, this is not an easy project. States with fractured identities or compromised cultures are weak from the beginning and have to contend with the perennial debate of territorial sanctity and integrity vs. self-determination of its constituents.

It is this pertinent point within the discussion of decolonisation that fascinates and intrigues me immensely. In our world, there are far more self-identified nations than there are existing states and there is an interesting question and dilemma of redrawing state boundaries according to the will of these people. Where does one begin and where does one stop? Whose identity or culture or intersectionality of both should determine this process? According to the Helsinki Final Act (1975), the United Nation, International Court of Justice and international law experts, there is no contradiction between the principles of territorial integrity and self-determination, with the former taking precedence.

The Tussle Between Territorial Integrity And Self-Determination

In their work ‘In Pursuit of Sovereignity and Self Determination: Peoples, States, and Secession in the International Order’, Aleksandar Pavkovic and Peter Radan talk about three ways to resolve this dilemma. Firstly, the realist theory of international relations, pursued by major powers during the Cold War, states that territorial sovereignty is more important than national self-determination. Secondly, comes liberal internationalism that promotes increased individual liberty within states and the abolition of war among states, and holds that the expansion of cross-border cooperation and global markets reduces the importance of territorial integrity, allowing for somewhat greater recognition of self-determination of people. Thirdly and lastly, we have cosmopolitan liberalism that calls for political power to shift to a world government which would make secession and change of boundaries a relatively easy administrative matter, thereby effectively ending self-determination of national groups.

I believe that only if people have faced injustices, discrimination and/or violence beyond repair then there should be the possibility of seeking greater self-determination and autonomy. The question is who judges what is beyond repair? This does bring the question of self-determination from the realm of statecraft to the realm of human rights. An interesting point that Allen Buchanan (James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy at Duke University) makes here is that he can only acknowledge secession in two instances: one, to remedy wrongs as in the aforementioned point, and two, if the state grants or the constitution includes, a right to secede.

I have always been a stickler for balance, and believe in this case that one can maintain the territorial integrity of a nation without compromising on self-determination of people within it by greater decentralisation and devolution of power to its constituents, particularly those who may be at odds with the conception of the nation-state promulgated or who seek self-determination for one of many possible reasons.

Most nation-states today do not have any clauses in their constitution for self-determination of their constituents by secession. There are some provisions, however, to do so, in others, under specific circumstances. For example, in the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln said that secession might be possible through amending the United States Constitution. Countries like the People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, has strict anti-secession rules.

In the UN Charter, Article 73 noted that:

‘[m]embers of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount […]’,

in order to “[d]evelop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement […]”

Article 76 (b) points out that one of the aims of the trusteeship system is:

“[t]o promote the political, economic, social, and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the trust territories, and their progressive development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned, and as may be provided by the terms of each trusteeship agreement.”

In addition to the United Nations charter, two United Nations’ declarations have addressed the issue of self-determination: the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries as well as the 1970 Friendly Relations Declaration. Both these declarations envision self-determination leading to secession as a matter of last resort only and both confirmed the importance of the principle of territorial integrity of existing states. In addition, the principle of the self-determination was highlighted in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was ratified by the majority of the countries in the world, with the exception of Antigua and Barbuda, Bhutan, Burma, Kiribati, Brunei, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Qatar, Oman, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tonga, Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates and Fiji.

Self-Determination And Conceptualising ‘Remedial Right Only Theory’

Today, international law bestows on all people the right to self-determination, but it bestows the right to external self-determination, exercised through remedial secession, only in extreme circumstances, to severely persecuted and colonised peoples. International law tolerates secession in cases of external self-determination, where a people is oppressed or colonized (like in Kosovo), while secession is disallowed under international law if the secessionist entity is attempting to separate by violating another fundamental norm of international law. In other cases of attempted secession, where the relevant people are not colonised or oppressed, international law is neutral on secession. In such a case, it neither prohibits nor supports secession, and allows the dispute to be settled using domestic law and political negotiations with the country. It is important to note some of the terms and conditions that are essential in order to realise the right to self-determination. Eyassu Gayim, a political thinker and scholar, claims that at least the following conditions should be present:

1. a clear territorial division
2. will of the group of people
3. public awareness
4. no external intervention or manipulation
5. an independent forum for discussion before making a decision

The Remedial Right Only Theory suggests a list of occasions which can justify secession, and seems to be quite reasonable. It also emphasises that secession could only be a matter of the last resort. Thereby, besides the decentralisation and devolution model, this theory provides the essential balance between the territorial integrity and the right of the people to self-determination.

We live in an age where free will and the relational reality of people in society are becoming increasingly important when self-determination and self-actualisation are key to the well-being and effectiveness of a people in their lives, society, politics, and conception of oneself. In this age, decolonisation is an important aspect of life. Decolonisation of lives, societies and, most importantly, minds. However, on a practical level, usually in extreme cases of persecution and continued colonisation, the debate of self-determination and self-assertion against maintaining the status quo of international geopolitics in the form and nature of existing nation-states emerges. It is in this context that either Remedial Right Only Theory or decentralisation and devolution of power by a state to its constituents is crucial. I would like to end this essay with the powerful and high relevant words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

‘The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.’

Featured Image Credit: UN.org
You must be to comment.

More from Dr. Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

Similar Posts

By Prakash Chand

By Harsh verma

By GetLegal India

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below