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Indian Diaspora: Dissecting the incredible

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credit: www.facenfacts.com

By Ila Garg

Since the beginning of civilisation, people have been migrators. In India too, diaspora has a history of more than 2,000 years. From Kanishka dynasty to Cholas, many people have dispersed in and out. They were popularly known as gypsies across the world.

credit: www.facenfacts.com
credit: www.facenfacts.com

The term diaspora has draws its roots from the Greek lingua and it means distribution, or dispersal. Many people in the past have spread across the globe due to multiple reasons under different circumstances. However, there was no term to define this dispersion.

Diaspora was first used for Jews who were scattered worldwide, but these days diaspora can be applied to anyone residing away from their native land.

An overview of Indians residing abroad

According to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, an estimated population of 25 million (2,84,55,026) Indians are presently living overseas. See the table for detailed stats:

AreaPopulation of Indians
USA44,55,909
Saudi Arabia28,00,013
Malaysia21,50,000
UAE20,02,349
UK18,25,000
Sri Lanka16,14,000
South Africa15,50,000
Canada10,16,185
Singapore7,00,000
Thailand1,70,000
Spain54,974

These statistics are too high. With so many Indians living abroad, Indian Diaspora becomes an invincible topic of discussion.

What is Indian Diaspora?

Indians living abroad come under the blanket of Indian diaspora. These days, they are often called NRIs (Non-Residential Indians). Diaspora is very special to Indians; the reason being Indian Diaspora is the largest diaspora counting to about 25 million people who are scattered worldwide. With such a large Indian-origin population residing away from their motherland, there are huge chances of intermingling of languages, cultures, and religious practices.

In literature too, very often one stumbles upon this term ‘Indian Diaspora’ and why not? Eminent author Salman Rushdie, who writes extensively about his memories of India, caters to the Indian Diaspora.

How did Indian Diaspora start?

Gypsies (Romani people)
Gypsies (Romani people)

Indian diaspora came to the fore around 2,000 years ago and Indian people who travelled across in northwest direction to settle down in European and American countries were more often known as gypsies (or Romani people) by the English-speaking lot. These gypsies mainly originated from Rajasthan in India.

Modern Indian diaspora roughly started around 1800s with the arrival of East India Company in India. As the demand for sugarcane planters increased, millions of Indians were forcefully taken to the Caribbean island nations as indentured labourers. Later, it also assumed the murky form of slavery.

Thus, the dispersion to the middle-east nations was at times, mobile in nature. Even today, many Indians travel to the Caribbean nation. They work there for a short span of about six months and return. There can be many reasons for their return to India; for some, it can be the relations that they leave behind. For others, it can be the Indian culture that they carry in their heart. The link with the native country is what makes this diaspora so significant for India and Indians.

What does being Indian mean? What exactly is Indian-ness?

People can disperse anywhere but the emotional connection with the motherland can’t be done away with in an instant. Indians can be scattered worldwide, but the ‘Indian-ness’ goes along with them. After all, it is India where they belong to. The emotional, cultural, and spiritual links with the country are not marred and thus Indians residing abroad often end up creating their own little India wherever they go.

So what does it mean to be an Indian? There is no earmarked definition for being an Indian. On the contrary, being Indian is a feeling and an emotion in itself. It can vary from person to person. From the snow-covered mountains in the north to the deep blue oceans in the south, and from the beautiful valleys in the east to the sand dunes in the west, India is a diverse and incredible country.

Consequently, being Indian is a very personal expression. It means to imbibe the diversity and yet live in harmony. India as the golden bird has welcomed the pluralistic ideas in the past, resulting in an extensive cultural diversity. The tri color flag fluttering in the air and the tune of the national anthem are enough to germinate pride in the heart of every Indian. The waft of spicy Indian cuisine, the beautiful architecture, the congested old lanes, the smilingly innocent villagers, the youngsters imitating the dialogues from Hindi movies, the indigenous music and others characterise ‘Indian-ness’.

Mothers worrying for their children; fathers going beyond their comfort zones to ensure smile on their children’s faces; the unsaid family bonds and many other factors are uniquely embedded in India. Praying to millions of gods and goddesses and the management of pompous Indian weddings make India a truly colorful nation, and perhaps they act as identity-markers when they interact with the natives of other nations.

So what makes Indians travel abroad? And what keeps them linked to their motherland? Is it the relations that they leave behind, the memories, or something else? How do they survive in a different land and what are their experiences there?

All these questions firmly hold ground but they will be unravelled in the NEXT…

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Ethnic Indian Jai Sears responds to complaint against the statue of Gandhi in Grenada

Jai Sears wrote in response to a letter on Mahatma Gandhi entitled “Dustbin of history” written by Josiah Rougier

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Gandhi
Mahatama Gandhi, leader of non violence

Jai Sears from Grenada, Caribbean has written a letter to editor in response to complaints against the statue of Gandhi in Grenada. Here is the text:

I write in response to a letter on Mahatma Gandhi entitled “Dustbin of history” written by Josiah Rougier and published in the Grenada newspaper, The New Today (Nov 3, 2017). In his letter, Rougier is asking the Government to remove the bust-statue of Gandhi which overlooks Sauteurs Bay in Grenada where East Indians arrived 160 years ago. Rougier’s opinion is based on the false notion that Gandhi was racist because the Mahatma reportedly considered Indians to be superior to black Africans when he referred to the latter as “kaffirs.”

Gandhi was only 27 years old when he made that contextual statement. If Rougier had done his research, he would have found that Nelson Mandela said: “Gandhi must be forgiven for these prejudices in the context of the time and the circumstances.” The quote can be found in “Gandhi the Prisoner” by Nelson Mandela published in 1995. Gandhi was a man; he was not god. And even god made mistakes.

In favour of Mahatama Gandhi
Photo of Jai Sears

Rougier must instead focus on the Gandhi’s vision of non-violent protest and his belief in satyagraha which inspired rebels and revolutionaries around the world. Gandhi’s ideas influenced leaders of the African National Congress and the struggle by Indians and blacks against white apartheid rule in South Africa. From as early as 1956 when he was 27 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to Gandhi as “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”

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Following the success of his boycott, King contemplated traveling to India to deepen his understanding of Gandhian principles. The fact is that Gandhi saw people of all races, castes, colours and creeds as equal which led to his assassination by a Hindu fanatic in 1948. So who is this unknown Josiah Rougier? Is he as illustrious as the great Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King? And is he disagreeing with his possible heroes?

A friend to all.
Jai Sears
Grenada, Caribbean

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Recent Trends among the Indian Diaspora and its Increasing Significance

As the Indian diaspora is increasingly organizing itself in the host countries by accumulating the resources, it may have potential impact on the economic, social and political landscape in India.

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Indian Diaspora
Indian Diaspora organizing community identity in the host country

The Indian diaspora is a generic term representing the people who migrated from the Indian territories to the other parts of the world. It includes the descendants of these groups. Today, over twenty million Indians which include Non-Resident Indians and People of Indian Origin are residing outside the Indian territory as Indian diaspora. According to a UN survey report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world. In 2005, Indians formed the world’s third-largest diaspora. The Indians who settled overseas in the 1960s for more developed countries such as US, UK, Canada, Australia and Western Europe formulate the category of the New Diaspora.

What are the popular host countries for the Indian Diaspora:

The 2010 estimates of Census data of US, UK and Canada suggest that Indian diaspora constitutes three million people in US, 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom and one million in Canada. Indians are the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States. Also, five million emigrants from India residing in the Gulf region at present.

The History of Indian Diaspora:

A brief overview of the history of Indian diaspora suggests that the first group of Indians immigrated to Eastern Europe in the 1st century AD from Rajasthan during the reign of Kanishka. Yet another evidence of migration was witnessed in 500 AD when a group immigrated to Southeast Asia as the Cholas extended their empire to Indonesia and Malaysia thereby spreading the Indian culture in these states. Thus the early evidence of the diaspora was found during ancient times. The medieval period witnessed the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism during the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms. Mughals took Indians as traders, scholars, artists, musicians, and emissaries to the other parts of the country.

Old Diaspora:

The first wave of the Modern Indian Diaspora, also called the Old Diaspora, began in the early 19th century and continued until the end of the British rule. The Dutch and French colonizers followed the suit. Indians were sent in large numbers to become the bonded labourers for sugar and rubber plantation in their colonies.

Indians in Caribbean, Africa, and Asia:

By the end of World War 1, there were 1.5 million Indian laborers in the colonies in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. At present, around 60% of Indian diaspora is constituted of this Old Diaspora.

Impact of Immigration policies on Migration from India:

After the Indian independence, a large number of unskilled and some skilled Punjabi male Sikhs migrated to the UK from India due to favorable immigration policies in the United Kingdom. Similarly, the 1990s onwards, due to software boom and its rising economy, H-1B was introduced in the US immigration policy that allowed the entry of highly skilled IT specialists, doctors, scientists and engineers in the US. Further, the 1970s witnessed oil boom in the Middle East that led to significant growth of Indian diaspora in the Gulf region.

While the low skilled and semi-skilled workers are moving to the Gulf region for better economic opportunities, highly skilled labor is moving from India to US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Has Indian Diaspora started impacting the economies and societies:

With the growing rate of international migration since the beginning of millennia, there is a significant impact of diaspora on the economies and societies of the world. In recent years, the diaspora is influencing the economic, political and cultural affairs in their homeland. It is so because the influence of the diaspora communities increases as they organize themselves and accumulate resources in their host countries for several years. The mobilized diaspora are now influencing the affairs of the homeland countries. A common form of exchange is the financial remittances provided to the relatives by the diaspora community. Overseas family networks of the political elites in India are shaping the political landscape as well. Culturally, the diaspora is influencing the music and literature trends in India as the content is consciously structured to cater to the tastes of the diaspora.

What actions have been taken by the government of India to tap the potential of Indian Diaspora:

The first Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was organized in 2003 by the Government of India to expand and reshape the state of India’s economy by the use of the potential human capital which the Indian diaspora reflects. Clearly, Indian diaspora has a larger role to play in the Indian economy over the coming years as the efforts to mobilize them increase in the homeland.

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Diwali Preparations Grow in US, from Disney to Times Square

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Dipawali
Diyas adorn every corner of the house on the celebration day of Diwali. pixabay

The holiday of Diwali in the US is starting to light up mainstream America. Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Indians all over the world, has long been observed in immigrant communities around the U.S.

But now public celebrations of the holiday are starting to pop up in places ranging from Disneyland and Times Square to parks and museums.

The Times Square event is the brainchild of Neeta Bhasin, who says that while many Indian immigrants have found great success in the U.S., “still people don’t know much about India. I felt it’s about time that we should take India to mainstream America and showcase India’s rich culture, heritage, arts and diversity to the world. And I couldn’t find a better place than the center of the universe: Times Square.”

Places in America where Diwali Celebrations will take place.

Bhasin, who came to the United States from India 40 years ago, is president of ASB Communications, the marketing firm behind Diwali at Times Square. The event, now in its fourth year, has drawn tens of thousands of people in the past. It’s scheduled for Oct. 7, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., with dance performances, Bollywood singers, a bazaar of food, saris and other goods, and a lighting ceremony.

While Diwali celebrations are held throughout the fall, the holiday’s actual date is Oct. 19. Also called Deepavali, it’s an autumn harvest festival held just before the Hindu new year. Celebrations include lighting oil lamp called diyas and candles to symbolize “a victory of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, good over evil,” said Bhasin.

The Diwali celebration at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, includes performances of traditional Indian dances and a Bollywood dance party for guests. It’s part of a festival of holidays at the theme park reflecting cultural traditions from around the world. The Disney festival begins Nov. 10 and runs through Jan. 7.

San Antonio, Texas, has one of the nation’s largest city-sponsored celebrations of Diwali, drawing more than 15,000 people each year. The 2017 event, scheduled for Nov. 4 at La Villita, a historic arts village, will be its ninth annual Diwali celebration with Indian dance, entertainment, food, crafts, fireworks and the release of lighted candles into the San Antonio River along the city’s River Walk.

New York City’s Rubin Museum will mark Diwali with an overnight Ragas Live Festival featuring more than 50 Indian classical musicians performing amid the museum’s collection of sacred Himalayan art. The event begins Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. and continues all day and night through Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. Chai and mango lassis will be served, visitors will have access to all the galleries and pop-up events like meditation and sunrise prayer will be offered. Special tickets will be sold for the opportunity to sleep beneath the artwork.

Other places hosting Diwali celebrations include Cary, North Carolina, in Regency Park, Oct. 14; Flushing Town Hall, Queens, New York, Oct. 29; the Seattle Center, Oct. 21; the Dulles Expo center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct. 7-8; and Memorial Park in Cupertino, California, Sept. 30. In Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio History Center is hosting a photo exhibit about the city’s fast-growing population of immigrants from Nepal, Bhutan and India, with a Diwali event Oct. 8.

Bhasin said Diwali’s message is particularly timely now. “It is extremely important to be together and showcase to the world, not only Indians, but the entire immigrant community, to be together with Americans and to show the world we are one, we are all the same human beings,” she said.(VOA)