ICS Occasional Papers

Politics, Displacement and Identity: Kazakh refugees from Xinjiang in Bhopal during World War II

The 1940s saw an unprecedented movement of thousands of Kazakhs from northern Xinjiang province in China to British India. Many of them ended up in Bhopal, a city in Central India completely different from the environs that these nomadic people were used to. Based on materials in the National Archives of India, this study explores the factors leading to this unusual and understudied phenomenon. It also explores how the Kazakh refugees adapted to their new circumstances and alien environment, as well as the knotty questions of nationality, identity, and jurisdiction that their arrival in India posed to the government of British India, Republican China, and the then princely state of Bhopal. It suggests that the presence of these Kazakh refugees in India reflects the complicated geopolitics of the wider region as well as the relative fluidity of borders and increased movement of peoples during World War II.


Keywords: Xinjiang, Refugees, National Archives of India, World War II


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