Representing refugees in the Indian diaspora, Sunjeev Sahota's The Year of the Runaways (2015).

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsInvited talkResearch


In the 21st century’s climate of globalization and mobilisation, refugees, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are the most vulnerable of the transient groups of the diaspora. According to Agamben the refugee is ‘the limit concept’. Subject to surveillance, social exclusion and dehumanising practices due to their illegitimacy and non- citizenship status, refugees and illegal migrants have liminal lives. As border subjects who inhabit peripheral zones of occupation, enduring racial discrimination, social and financial insecurity, and poverty they demonstrate distinctive subaltern identities. Identities become destabilised and transformed under these harsh and unpredictable conditions of survivorship, and representations of such marginal groups pose problems of interpretation. Narrative accounts by and about refugees and asylum seekers require different forms of understanding; this includes their modes of production and reception as the new area of poverty studies suggests. Should their stories be read as ‘victim’ narratives requiring empathy, or as narratives of resistance and self assertion, negotiating new spaces outside the home nation, instigating more hospitable acts in the host society, and hence potential agency? Questions like these lie behind this paper which will focus on The Year of the Runaways, the Booker Prize-nominated novel by Sunjeev Sahota (2015), which consists of the interlocking stories of a group of ‘runaways’ from India who seek a new life in England, and who develop a subaltern-cosmopolitan diasporic subjectivity out of “poverty, prejudice and unemployment”. In discussing how the genre of the novel creates greater imaginative scope in representing the refugee/illegal immigrant, the paper will take into account the impact on the global marketplace of Sahota’s novel in being nominated for a major literary award. What new possibilities for representations of the Indian diaspora in England and elsewhere, are suggested by this accolade?
Period17 Feb 2017
Event title1st International Literary Conference: The Cultures of New India
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Refugees
  • asylum seekeers
  • Sunjeev Sahota
  • The Year of the Runaways
  • poverty
  • precarity
  • unemployment
  • Indian diaspora
  • victim
  • agency