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Indian Diaspora: Dissecting the incredible

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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:

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…

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Indian-American Diaspora Plays an Important Role in Country’s Development

Indian-Americans who want to share their success philanthropically with those in India can do so easily because of American-based groups such as AIF, Pratham U.S.A.

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US Embassy in Jerusalem drawing criticism from across the world. Pixabay

Over 31 million people of Indian birth or descent are part of the Indian diaspora spread around the world. Of them, 3.1 million, or 10 per cent, are Indian-Americans living in the US. The Indian-American diaspora has proven to be a vital resource contributing to the economic, political and social development of India.

Devesh Kapur highlighted the importance of the Indian diaspora in his classic 2010 book, “Diaspora, Democracy and Development: The Domestic Impact of International Migration from India”. Kapur’s analysis focused primarily on the period from the late 1960s until the end of the 20th century.

Indian-American influence, impact, and contributions were significant then and have grown even more so as we move forward into the 21st century. Part of the reason for this is that the Indian-American population on average stands head and shoulders economically and educationally above those in other Asian American subgroups and the US population in general.

A Pew Research study released in 2013 disclosed that the median annual household income for Indian Americans was $88,000 compared to $66,000 for all Asians and $49,800 for the US population. The study also revealed that 38 per cent of Indian-Americans held advanced degrees compared to 30 per cent for all Asian Americans and 10 per cent for the entire population.

Over 31 million people of Indian birth or descent are part of the Indian diaspora spread around the world. Of them, 3.1 million, or 10 per cent, are Indian-Americans living in the US.
Around 38 per cent of Indian-Americans held advanced degrees compared to 30 per cent for all Asian Americans and 10 per cent for the entire population. Pixabay

Indian-Americans excel as high tech entrepreneurs. A study by Vivek Wadwha for the period from 2006 to 2012 showed that overall immigrant entrepreneurship “stagnated” compared to the period from 1995 to 2005. But start-ups by Indian immigrants increased seven per cent over the prior period and a full 33.2 per cent of all start-up companies were founded by Indian Americans.

It’s not just that Indian Americans are doing well. They are also inclined to stay connected with India through investments, philanthropy and personal involvement. The Indian Diaspora can bring broad economic benefits to India. They can make substantial contributions in the areas of Innovation and entrepreneurship; health care; education; and skills development. They can help in creating jobs and in creating new companies across India. They can create a platform by sharing best practices and technology with small and medium enterprises and helping them to access financing.

In its 2014 paper, “The Indian Diaspora in the United States”, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) reports that “The Indian diaspora community is noted for being very well organised and having a deep and multifaceted engagement with the homeland. Many consider giving back an obligation and a welcome responsibility.”

I am one of those who feel that responsibility. Through the foundation my wife Debbie and I have established, we have underwritten the building of a new management complex, Frank and Debbie Islam Management Complex, which was opened last year at my alma mater Aligarh Muslim University. We have also pledged to provide considerable financial support to develop a technical training school for women in India so that they can be empowered through higher education.

Indian-Americans who want to share their success philanthropically with those in India can do so easily because of American-based groups such as AIF, Pratham U.S.A. and Ekal which provide a structured and organised approach for giving across a wide range of areas. Thanks to the work of these organisations and others, a number of high-impact initiatives have been launched in India in fields such as education, poverty alleviation and job training.

Over 31 million people of Indian birth or descent are part of the Indian diaspora spread around the world. Of them, 3.1 million, or 10 per cent, are Indian-Americans living in the US.
The start-ups by Indian immigrants increased seven per cent over the prior period and a full 33.2 per cent of all start-up companies were founded by Indian Americans. Pixabay

Indian-Americans can reach out to have an impact in India through a wide variety of organisations. As the MPI notes in its study: “The Indian diaspora has established countless highly organised, well-funded, and professionally managed groups. These organisations address a broad range of issues and take on many different forms, including philanthropic projects to improve health and education in India, advocacy organisations, business and professional networks, media outlets, and societies for the promotion of Indian culture, language and religion.”

The Narendra Modi administration recognised the pivotal importance of the US-India relationship and that is why it established a Strategic and Commercial Dialogue during President Obama’s Republic Day visit to India in 2015. After Donald Trump became President, it scheduled an India-U.S. two-plus-two dialogue.

That dialogue was to revolve around India External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. It was tentatively scheduled to take place on April 18-19 but was postponed due to Tillerson’s firing by President Trump.

Now that Mike Pompeo has been confirmed as the new Secretary of State it appears that the two-plus-two dialogue will be set up for some time in May or June. This meeting is important to the future of India-US relations. But it is also important to note that two-plus-two only adds up to four.

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India has grand ambitions and the success of its Make in India National Manufacturing Policy depends on the US being one of its key partners. This requires much more than ambition. It demands multiplication and exponential assistance in order to achieve its India’s lofty goals.

Indian-Americans have been a vital resource in the growth and development of India to date and they have the wherewithal to be even more so. Because of their accomplishments in the US and understanding of India they are uniquely positioned to help India address pressing issues and priorities in order to achieve its full potential.

India needs to reach out to Indian-Americans and their organisations and make them central to its growth and development process. They will make the difference by being the vital resource and ally that India needs to convert dialogue and talk into action and results. (IANS)