INDIAN DIASPORA: A BRIEF STUDY
In the Indian context, emigration has been a continuous process. It has been taking place for centuries. Indian emigration during the 19th and early 20th centuries was unprecedented. Broadly three distinct patterns of Indian emigration are identifiable during the colonial period:
(a) Indentured labour emigration;
(b) Kangani and maistry labour emigration, and;
(c) Free or Passage emigration.
New plantations, industrial and commercial ventures in European colonies created the need for large supplies of labourer. To fulfil the demand for cheap labour the colonial authorities introduced indentured system in India in 1834. Under this system some 1.5 million persons from various parts of the country migrated.
Indenture was a signed contract to work for a given employer for five years. During this period the emigrant was entitled to receive a basic pay, accommodation, food rations and medical facilities. At the end of five years, the emigrant was free to re-indenture or to work elsewhere in the colony, and at the end of ten years, depending on the contract, he was entitled to a free or partly paid return passage to India or a piece of crown land in lieu of the fare. The prospective emigrant had to testify before a magistrate that he understood the terms of the contact. Unscrupulous methods were used to dupe ignorant country folks. Majority of the recruits were young males. Females were few. “Although the government of India, supported by the colonial office, stipulated that there should be forty women for every hundred men, ships often left India with less than this percentage.”1 “The shortage of women affected both indentured and free labourers.”2 The hardship of journey became a metaphor of their journey of life. In their displaced and homeless conditions it is their mother country India that became their source of consolation, identity and imaginary home.
Another system prevalent to get the contract labour was Kangani system. The kanganis were Indians who were employed by the plantation owners to recruit labourers in India. “They were men with some capital who advanced money to the prospective coolies for travelling and settling down on a plantation.”3 The ‘maistry’ system was more or less similar to the kangani system. In contradictions to indenture labourers, coolies under these systems were largely free. They were not bound by any contract or fixed period of service. “During the period 1852 and 1937, 1.5 million Indians went to Ceylon, 2 million to Malaysia and 2.5 million to Burma.”4 After 1920 the kangani system of labour recruitment discontinued due to fall in demand for the Indian labour.
Emigration from India did not cease after the abolition of indenture and other systems of organised export of labour. Emigration to East African countries namely Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Natal (South Africa), Burma, Malaysia and Fiji during the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries present a third pattern: ‘Free’ or ‘Passage’ migration. Under this pattern trader, artisans, bankers, petty contractors, clerks, professionals and entrepreneurs emigrated.
A new and significant phase of emigration began after India became independent. The large scale and steady emigration of doctors, engineers, scientists and teachers to the developed countries like Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand is essentially a post-independence phenomenon, and particularly so of the late 1960s and 1970s. This pattern of emigration is often described as ‘migration of talent’ and ‘brain drain’.
The demand of the expatriate labourers rapidly increased in the oil exporting countries of the Gulf and North Africa. Thus during the 70s and 80s there was unprecedented immigration to the Gulf due to the oil boom. “There were only 14,000 Indians in the Gulf in 1948.”5 “By 1971 their population had risen up to 40,000.”6 Now, latest type of emigration is in process. Under this type the software engineers, management consultants, financial experts, media people and other professionals are migrating to the developed countries. In many diasporic situations, especially in multiethnic polities and where the people of India are numerically significant, the question of their image and identity has been critical.
The Indian diaspora is so widespread that the sun never sets on it, because it spans across the globe and stretches across all the oceans and continents. It is the third largest diaspora next only to the British and the Chinese. It is playing very significant role the field of creative writing. Once upon a time people of the world were devouring the novels of Walter Scott and Charles Dickens; now, both the novel and the English language, have been enlivened in the hands of the writers of Indian diaspora - M.G. Vassanji, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Rohinton Mistry, Bharati Mukherjee , Anita Deasai, David Dabydeen, A.K. Ramanujan, Bharati Mukherjee, Meena Alexander, Homi K. Bhabha, Bhikhu Parekh, Farook Dhondi, Vijay Mishra, Satendra Nandan, Uday Singh Mehta, Sudesh Mishra, Anshuman Mondal, Susheila Nasta, Agha Shahid Ali and Jumpa Lahiri. These literary members of Indian diaspora differ from each other not only in their socio-cultural backgrounds and the literary ancestries but also in their thematic pre-occupations and literary style. However, their diasporic condition, their sense of exile and alienation and their effort to seek replenishment by making symbolic returns to their origins bind all this writing into unity.
1. J. Geoghagan, Note on Emigration from India (Calcutta, 1873), p. 49.
2. Brinsley Samaroo, “Two Abolitions: African Slavery and East Indian Indenture ship”, India in the Caribbean, ed., David Dabydeen and Brinsley Samaroo (London: Hansib Publishing Ltd., 1987), p. 30.
3. Ravindra K. Jain, South Indians on the Plantation Frontier in Malaya (New Haven: Yale UP, 1970), p. 199.
4. Kingsley Davis, The Population of India and Pakistan (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1951), p. 104.
5. C. Kondapi, Indians Overseas, 1838- 1949 (Madras: OUP, 1951), p. 528.
6. Hugh Tinker, The Banyan Tree: Overseas Emigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (London: OUP, 1977), p. 12.