Indian Diaspora: Dissecting the incredible


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.


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:

Area Population of Indians
USA 44,55,909
Saudi Arabia 28,00,013
Malaysia 21,50,000
UAE 20,02,349
UK 18,25,000
Sri Lanka 16,14,000
South Africa 15,50,000
Canada 10,16,185
Singapore 7,00,000
Thailand 1,70,000
Spain 54,974

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…