Internal Displacement: Simplifying a Complex Social Phenomenon

Sudha G. Rajput

Edited by Kristina Hook

October, 2013


The magnitude of the social phenomenon of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is a daunting humanitarian challenge. Today, upwards of twenty-six million people (UNHCR, 2013) are believed to have become IDPs, who differ from refugees in that they are displaced within their own national borders of origin (Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,UNHCR, 1998). Further, such numbers do not account for the fact that counting the displaced is not always easy, as given the stigma of displacement; many IDPs go into hiding, thus escaping the registration process.

The study and the issues of those internally displaced, remain less understood than the issues of other displaced populations, such as refugees or asylum seekers, owing to this internal nature of this crisis. Consequently, the multi-faceted issues of IDPs have often been studied as stand-alone topics, using specific frameworks, such as the legal framework (Cohen and Deng, 1998), business framework (Zea, 2011), and psychological framework (Kagee and Del Soto, 2003). These stand-alone accounts of internal displacement have been successful in bringing to light selected aspects of this multi-pronged phenomenon, albeit in a piecemeal manner.

The author's goal here is to provide a systematic and a holistic understanding of the myriad issues that surround those internally displaced and to explain the IDP phenomenon as an event that is not only triggered by conflicts in most situations, but as one that can potentially become a cause for conflicts in subsequent phases of displacement. These features attribute to the complexity of understanding this phenomenon. Any attempt to understand the issues surrounding this daunting challenge must consider such complexity in order to respond appropriately.

This article is based on a multidimensional investigative inquiry conducted by this author into the internal displacement of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) community of the Kashmir Valley (Rajput, 2012) in India-administered Kashmir. Relying on this firsthand data will help to guide diverse audiences, such as conflict resolution practitioners, the scholarly community, and community builders, into systematically deciphering what at first appears to be a web of complex displacement issues into easily digestible topics. Research participant narratives provide the bulk of this article, with interviewees representing more than a dozen IDP camps in the key Indian cities that house the largest numbers of displaced KPs, such as Jammu, Delhi, and Srinagar. As such, this article unfolds the many political, social, cultural, and psychological dimensions of displacement, many of which are often embedded and enmeshed within other issues. In order to provide the readers with a holistic understanding of internal displacement and to highlight the interwoven nature of the underlying issues, sub-issues, and structural issues surrounding displacement, Marie Dugan's Nested Model (Dugan, 1996) is used for organizational purposes.

Such an understanding is key to societal reforms, successful community building, and the design of appropriate interventions into similar displaced communities across the globe. Failure to appreciate the embedded nature of IDP issues is dangerous, as it leads to ill-suited or marginally applicable policies and practices. Further, it does injustice to the community builders by providing an insufficient diagnosis of such communities. Given such concerns, the following section of this article is foundational, as it systematically explores the issues and the challenges of the displaced KP community. This article also concludes with recommendations for the appropriate handling and analysis of the phenomenon of displacement.

Research Context

In order to appropriately contextualize the issues and challenges of IDPs, it is important to understand the events leading up to displacement of this minority community of Kashmir Valley. "Since late 1989, the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has been in the grip of a vicious movement of Islamist extremist terrorism" (Gill, 2003). In the aftermath of the 1989 militant uprising, among the mosaic of minority groups of the Valley, the KPs were 'specifically targeted as they were perceived to be symbolizing Indian presence in the area, by professing a different faith' (Anonymous, 2011) and exhibiting reluctance to confirm to Islamist ways, as other minorities had done in earlier periods (Satyawali, 2012). Consequently, many KPs were threatened, abducted, and killed. Those who fled now form the pool of approximately 250,000 displaced KPs (IDMC, 2010), officially dubbed as "Migrants." The displacement of this community is generally recognized to be the harshest reality of the overarching Kashmir issue; however, only a handful of issues affecting this community had been explored previously (Sekhawat, 2009). As a result, even after twenty-three years of displacement, only selected issues have received the attention of the media, conflict resolution practitioners, community builders, and the national government itself (Satyawali, 2012).

Field-based research was launched into this community in the summer of 2011, by the author as a PhD candidate at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, of George Mason University. Ninety-four in-person interviews were conducted with the national-level policymakers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), members of host communities, and IDPs themselves. The challenges and issues that surfaced during the interviews represent the views of a range of IDPs living in the camps of Delhi, Jammu and Srinagar. Differences of opinions also emerged among the IDP community. For example, some lived in semi-integrated communities, some dreamed of returning to the Valley, and some felt insulted by the notion of returning to the same place that "humiliated their identity" (KP Family, Muthi Camp) and expelled them.

Issues and the Challenges of the Displaced Kashmiri Pandit Community

Displacement touches and adversely magnifies a range of issues at multiple levels, individual, social, economic, legal and political issues. Therefore, it is instructive to utilize Dugan's Nested Model, which is employed in social sciences to analyze events occurring at various interactive levels. This model is helpful in illustrating the highly overlapping nature of the issues of displacement. Aligned with the framework of the model, we begin addressing the challenges of the IDP community with the specific issues of their displacement, followed by the relational issues, the sub-system issues, and lastly but most importantly, the systemic issues.

Specific Issue

Similar to other displaced communities around the globe, such as the Kachin IDPs of Burma or the Kurdish IDPs of Turkey, issues confronted by the KP community are numerous and multifaceted. The narratives of many KP families suggest that the most important feature of their displacement was being forcibly uprooted from their ancestral homes. As these families fled, to unknown destinations, running from the fear of persecution, their unplanned departure resulted in a phenomenon of homelessness, making it a specific issue of their displacement.

In the context of internal displacement, the Geneva-based Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has explored the concept of "house" from the perspective of those displaced (Achieng, 2003), where the house is seen to symbolize material, cultural, social and economic dimensions of those displaced. In that respect, the concept of "house" extends from a mere physical structure to one that includes property rights, shelter, security and a sense of belonging and identity (Achieng, ibid). In the Home Here and Home There, Achieng explains that the notion of "home here" refers to the actual place of one's living experience where 'contestations and negotiations take place'. In contrast, "home there" refers to the metaphorical space of personal attachment. For the KPs, the forceful eviction from their ancestral homes has meant more than a loss of their physical abode in the Valley, it represents the loss of the way of life. In addition, the constant anxiety of being uprooted again has eroded their sense of security and identity, as expressed by one grandfather of Jammu's Jagti Camp:

I was a well-known Pandit, in a society in which the ratio of Pandits was one-tenth, so people knew me as respectable Pandit Ji, the owner of the walnut orchards. Now I am nothing, a migrant of Flat X, Block X, now I am Pandit among 2,500 in my camp. I have lost my uniqueness. The government constantly reminds us that these are temporary accommodations, who knows when they may ask us to vacate these one day.

The fear of being evicted again, keeps this phenomenon of homelessness alive for KP families.

Relational Issues

Equally daunting as the challenge of homelessness is the challenge of community relations confronted by all displaced communities. Relational issues refer to the fit of a person into their society (Dugan, ibid). Subsequent to the breakup of a family and the loss of one's social and cultural ties, finding one's place in a new society poses additional hardships for IDPs. Prior research, on other displaced communities, such as that of Calderon (2010), suggests that 'pressure from the local population, which typically must shelter a large number of outsiders with limited resources', poses additional challenges for IDPs, impacting their fit into the society. Such pressures often result in resentment, hostility, and mistreatment of IDPs (Duncan, 2005). Calderon (ibid) also suggests that displacement typically brings diversity to a new community, which may not necessarily be welcomed by the host. Such sentiments also unfolded in the communities of Delhi and Jammu, subsequent to the arrival of the KP families. In addition, to an unwelcomed ethnic mix, the KP families brought practices, which the locals of Delhi and Jammu attribute to having 'diluted their culture' (Rajput, 2012). These practices involved the meat-eating habits of the KPs, in contrast to those of the locals, their worship of a single Hindu deity (Shiva) was also perceived to be offensive to the local values that gave homage to all Hindu deities. In addition, the host communities that had initially sympathized and welcomed the KP families, such as in Delhi's Hauz Rani Camp, eventually began to reassert control over their resources, such as the wedding halls (barat ghar), which were being used to house the KP families. The locals made a case to push these families out of their community and have them vacate those halls. Their appeal to the state ministry led to the relocating of the KP families to the outskirts of Delhi, depriving them of the opportunities of the metro area.

Sub-System Issues

The relational aspect of displacement, that is, the ability to communicate and integrate into one's new society, is further complicated as those issues become entangled with other issues of a sub-system nature. The sub-system issues refer to the language, education, and social upbringing of people (Dugan, ibid) and where there are differences, in the two groups, given these elements, these issues can add to the challenges of IDPs. These issues lead to inadequate access to participation in the society and hinder IDPs' mobility, generating feelings of discrimination and marginalization in those displaced. Limited participation and hindered mobility can be misperceived to signal the antisocial behavior of the IDPs, which adversely impacts the relational aspects. My research points to the adverse implications of sub-system issues, in relation to the KP community. During the early years of displacement, the KP families had struggled to bring their children up to par to the children of Delhi's locals, as the children of the two societies were brought up under distinct education systems. In addition, the language barriers had complicated the adjustment of the KP elders in their new societies, which was perceived by the Delhi locals as the anti-social nature of the "proud" KPs. Apart from the differences in language and education, the KP families across the board continue to experience inequality, stemming from the official dubbing of this community as "Migrants". Similar to the displaced communities in Sri Lanka (Brun, 2010), the "Migrant" category has come to be used by the locals of Delhi and Jammu to separate the KP families from the rest of their society.

Systemic/Structural Issues

In addition to the specific issue of homelessness, which is complicated by relational and sub-system issues, deeper issues of displacement exist. Such issues contribute to the complexity of this phenomenon, as they incorporate the legal, political, and economic spheres. These issues are referred to as the systemic or structural issues (Dugan, ibid), and they spill over into the entire displacement experience. Depending upon how these overarching systems are set up, these structures and the institutions they represent can either promote the well-being of IDPs or oppress them further. The implications of these systems for those displaced are explained below:

Economic Structures: Relational issues for IDPs are embedded within the economic issues that confront them. The economic structures of a society, of specific significance to IDP community, include access to education and jobs. Access to education has direct relevance to their future earning potential. Similarly, access to jobs provides opportunities that sustain the families in their new communities. Access to these services is often hampered by the discriminatory policies adopted by the local communities (Zea, 2011) that purposely keep the IDPs out, such as the requirement of state residency as a prerequisite to school admissions. In the context of protracted displacement of Sri Lankan IDPs, Brun (2010) explains that the districts that were home to greater numbers of IDPs had lower indicators of economic activity, with unemployment rates for IDPs three times higher than those of local citizens. Similar policies have had serious implications for the KP community, as inadequate access to jobs and education has confined a large part of the community to the informal sector.

Legal Structures: The legal structures that affect the lives of IDPs represent institutions for IDP protection, systems that protect their property rights (of properties left behind in their hometowns), mechanisms for land restoration, and the overall systems of justice for the IDPs. For several years into their displacement, the KP community found itself obligated to pay property taxes for property in the Valley that they were forcefully evicted from. The families suggest that most of their property was "grabbed by the militants". Having been officially dubbed as "Migrants," with official explanation that "the families left of own volition" (official statement, 2011) the overall system of justice for these families has been inadequate.

Political Structures: Issues which are embedded in the political structure of a country overlap with economic and legal matters, as the political policies affect the provision of social services, housing, employee assistance programs, and avenues for legal recourse. In addition, political issues include the issue of the right of return, state censorship of IDP issues, participation in political processes, and the system of officially identifying (categorizing) IDPs. The right of return for the displaced KPs is highly embedded in the political sphere, as it is impacted by negotiations with the opposition, eradicating militancy, and ensuring security of this minority community in the Muslim-majority Valley.

As discussed here, a plethora of displacement issues touch every dimension of IDPs' lives and magnify the complexity of their displacement experience. The issues are enmeshed and intertwined within many spheres, thus defying the categorization of IDP issues as solely political, social, economic, or psychological stand-alone topics. It is imperative that the IDP phenomenon be understood as a comprehensive system, situated in a nested model where issues tend to germinate, spread, multiply, complicate, and even keep the displacement experience alive for protracted periods.

Displacement: A Multi-Faceted Conflict Issue

As illustrated here, displacement and specifically conflict-induced displacement can now be appropriately understood as a multi-faceted conflict issue, as it is not only triggered by violence in the first place, but carries potential seeds that can spark further conflicts, such as between the host and IDP communities. The forceful eviction of persons and families from their homes results in issues of a spiraling nature. Subsequent phases of displacement rapidly deteriorate the plight of those displaced, already traumatized by the break-up of families, loss of identity, home, and belonging (Rajput, 2012). In addition, their arrival into host communities involves a complex intergroup dynamic, which as investigated through KP displacement, is often characterized by intergroup prejudices, discrimination, and power relations dominated by the host group (ibid).

In addition, internal displacement is typically worsened when displaced families are crowded into urban slums marked by previously existing crime and violence. Such a scenario further complicates IDPs' challenges, and consequently, the dynamic between the host and the displaced can lead to a unilateral or bilateral conflict escalation. Competitive group dynamics are triggered when host community behaviors are seen as dehumanizing the IDPs and the IDPs retaliate (e.g., by intentionally polluting their host communities or by stealing). Competing claims for finite resources, specifically the use of land, can further spark IDP/host tensions (Ferris, 2011). Such an instance occurred in Delhi's Bapu Dham Camp, where local residents began reclaiming their community halls, barat ghar, even while they were being used to house the Kashmiri "Migrants" (Rajput, 2012). Ultimately, local residents convinced their political leaders to evict the KP families and to relocate them to the outskirts of Delhi, to the Dwarka Camp. Such tensions, as well as the fear of being uprooted again, contribute to some IDPs' reluctance to embrace the local community. The displaced may then create their own sub-community, but their vulnerability can lead to targeting by their host and a myriad of other negative consequences.

Unfortunately, the complexity of the displacement experience goes beyond IDP/Host relations and intergroup dynamics. When a displaced family finally returns home, it faces new challenges of a territorial and political nature involving the reclamation of land and political rights. Such challenges frequently generate fresh conflicts into the life cycle of a major conflict. Often, when the displaced return, they find themselves in even more dangerous conditions than when they fled, as they become subject to suspicion and hostility by their new neighbors, as well as by the authorities.

Appropriate Handling and Analysis of Displaced Communities

This paper has striven to appropriately position displacement as a complex phenomenon that results in a myriad of ensuing issues. Based on such an understanding, it is imperative that an analysis of conflict-induced displaced communities be undertaken in the context of the field of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (CAR). The CAR field focuses on an 'understanding across divided communities as an essential element of humanitarian engagement' (Ramsbotham, 2011). CAR offers a range of theories and frameworks that can be utilized to analyze the multiple issues of displacement, such as the concept of social identity (Korostelina, 2007, Tajfel and Turner, 1986), structural violence (Galtung, 1964) and group processes (Brown, 2000). The engagement of these concepts and theories, in the context of displacement, will enable analysts and practitioners to better understand the underlying psychological processes involved in the Host/IDP dynamic, such as the group process (Brown, ibid), the role of personality of key actors, the cultural context (Avruch, 2003) and the significance of positions that key actors come to represent (Harré, and Langenhove, 1999). Such an understanding is critical to accurately diagnosing such communities, and these concepts and theories will empower analysts with tools to better understand human behavior, including people's motivations and decision-making. A holistic understanding of not only displacement, but more importantly, the significance of spillover effects, is useful in responding to displaced communities. These concepts also provide useful guidance in understanding the subtleties behind the positions and placement of key actors. For instance, to fully grasp the phenomenon of homelessness, as a multidimensional experience, it may be useful to analyze homelessness in terms of a loss of identity and belonging (Tajfel and Turner, 1986). Similarly, by engaging the theory of Structural Violence (Galtung, 1964) it becomes easier to trace the sources of repression and exploitation that flow through a host society's overarching systems of jobs, housing, and education embedded in the top-down structures of a society.


Similar to the plethora of articles that discuss refugee issues, my intent here has been to advance the understanding of the growing problem of internal displacement within one's homeland in general and to bring to light the displacement of the Kashmir Pandits in particular. By suggesting a systematic model for unfolding the myriad issues arising from displacement, I hope that displacement is now understood as a comprehensive system that needs an innovative response. It has become clear that displacement is far from being a stand-alone issue that occurs at one given point in time, resulting in a single identifiable outcome, which can be solved with a single policy prescription. Whether the policies or interventions are aimed at the rehabilitation of the displaced communities within their host communities, or aimed at securing their safe return to ancestral towns, such efforts need to account for the interaction of individual, social, economic, legal and political spheres of those displaced.


Achieng, R. (2003). Home here and home there: Janus-faced IDPs in Kenya. Researching Internal Displacement: State of the Art. Conference Report, February 2003, p. 17. Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

Anonymous (2011). "Kashmir: The Pandit question. Al Jazeera speaks to author Mridu Rai about how the minority Hindu community fits into the Kashmir dispute". Reader comment. Retrieved January 2012 from: 7/2011724204546645823.html.

Avruch, K. (2003). "Ch. 8: Culture" p. 140-154. Conflict: From Analysis to Intervention. London, New York: Continuum.

Brown, R. (2000). Group processes. Malden, MA: Blackwell publishers.

Brun, C. (2010). "Hospitality: Becoming 'IDPs' and 'Hosts' in Protracted Displacement", Journal of Refugee Studies, 23(3), 337-355.

Calderon, M. (2010). "Internal Displacement: Recent History, Visions for the Action Ahead". ISP Collection. Paper 838, SIT Graduate Institute. Retrieved January 2011 from:

Cohen, R., & Deng, F. (1998). "Exodus within borders: The uprooted who never left home". Foreign Affairs: July/Aug 1998, 77/, p.12. Pro Quest Social Science Journal.

Dugan, M. (1996). "A Nested Theory of Conflict". Women in Leadership 1, (1) Summer 1996.

Duncan, C. (2005). "Unwelcome Guests: Relations between Internally Displaced Persons and Their Hosts in North Sulawesi, Indonesia". Journal of Refugee Studies, March 2005, 18, 1 (25).

Ferris, E. (2011). Resolving Internal Displacement: Prospects for Local Integration (editor). The Brookings Institution, June 2011.

Galtung, J. (1964). "A Structural Theory of Aggression." Journal of Peace Research, vol. 1, pp. 95-119.

Gill, K. (2003). "The Kashmiri Pandits: An Ethnic Cleansing the World Forgot". Retrieved March 17, 2012 from: psgill/2003/chapter9.htm

Harré, R. & van Langenhove, L. (1999). Positioning theory: Moral contexts of intentional action. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

IDMC (2010 (1). Livelihoods. Displaced Kashmiri Pandits. Source: GoI-MHA, 2 March 2010, p.1 0). Retrieved January 1, 2011 from: lopes%29/76DFF3EF1763FF44C1257790005CB4DE?OpenDocument.

Kagee, A., & Del Soto, A. (2003). "Taking issue with trauma". Researching Internal Displacement: State of the Art. Conference Report (p.27), February 2003, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

Korostelina, K. (2007). Social Identity and Conflict: Structures, Dynamics, and Implications. Palgrave.

Rajput, S. (2012). Displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits: Dynamics of Policies and Perspectives of Policymakers, Host Communities and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). (Doctoral dissertation) George Mason University, VA.

Ramsbotham, O., Woodhouse, T., & Miall, H. (2011). Contemporary Conflict Resolution, 3rd Edition, Polity, USA.

Satyawali, A. (2012). "The History of Kashmir". Retrieved March 1, 2012 from

Sekhawat, S. (2009). "Conflict induced displacement: The Pandits of Kashmir". Conflict Trends, 2009 (4).

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. (1986). "The social identity theory of inter-group behavior". In S. Worchel and L. W. Austin (eds.), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Inc.

UNHCR (1998). "Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement". Available at:

UNHCR (2013). Retrieved October 8, 2013 from:

Zea, J. (2011). "Internal displacement: violence, public and socioeconomic policy in Colombia". The Michigan Journal of Public Affairs, 2011, 8. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.