Organized Panel Session
In the early 1950s, Indian government officials received a series of complaints from Indian citizens working in the Arabian Gulf. These citizens, mostly skilled workers in the oil industry, wrote that their human rights were violated by their employers, and the workers asked the Indian government to intercede on their behalf. To further draw attention to their cause, workers also wrote to newspapers and publicly asked the government for action. Despite these public and private requests from Indian citizens abroad, the Indian bureaucrats who received these complaints had limited influence with multinational oil companies and the British colonial authorities operating in the Gulf. Instead, bureaucrats decided to focus on how to best regulate the emigration of Indians to the Gulf. This paper argues that the regulation of migration to the Gulf was a key moment when the postcolonial Indian state attempted to exert the sovereignty of the state both within the country and at its borders. As sovereignty was invoked and given weight through laws and bureaucratic practices, Indian citizenship was also defined. This paper explores how the regulation of emigration to the Gulf illuminates the role of class, religion, and race in defining both Indian citizenship and citizens’ rights. Examining the tensions between state sovereignty, citizenship, and individual rights through the lens of emigration elucidates how international laws and the state’s obligations to protect citizens’ rights worked together to limit the freedom of some citizens to emigrate.