THE INDIAN DIASPORA





Dr. Hareshwar Roy
The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is celebrated in India and abroad on the ninth day of January every year. The choice of the date is significant.  On this very day Mahatma Gandhi finally returned from South Africa to India in 1915 to lead India's freedom struggle. The first PBD was organized in New Delhi from January 9-11, 2003 in recognition and appreciation of the constructive economic, political and philanthropic role played by the Indian Diaspora as well as the goodwill demonstrated by it towards India.
The Indian diaspora is so widespread that the sun never sets on it. It is the third largest diaspora. It is playing very significant role in various fields like Creative Writing, Economic Development, International Trade, Industrial Development and Investment Promotion, I.T., Biotechnology, Education, Culture, Science & Technology, Health and Tourism etc.
            In the Indian context, emigration has been a continuous process. In pre-colonial times it was for the purposes of the trade and the propagation for religion. Indian emigration during the 19th and early 20th centuries was unprecedented. It was the European imperialist expansion that created condition for emigration in large numbers.


To fulfil the enormous demand for cheap labour the colonial authorities introduced indentured system. Indian labour emigration under the indenture system first started in 1834 to Mauritius, Uganda and Nigeria. Later the labourers emigrated to Kenya, Tanzania, Guyana, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique and Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent Natal, St. Kitts, Japan and Surinam, Jamaica, Fiji, Burma, Canada, Thailand. Under the indenture system some 1.5 million persons from various parts of the country migrated. Most of these migrants and their descendants could not return home. With the loss of their home and absence of motherland, these Indians depended on the Gita, the Ramayana, the Hanuman Chalisa and the Mahabharata. Very often they compared their exilic life with that of Ram's banishment from Ayodhya. In Trinidad and other island countries we find these Indians celebrating Diwali, Ugadi, Holi and Thaipusam. Thus India with her flora and fauna and festivals largely loomed in the Indian communities’ imagination. 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 Kangani system prevailed in the recruitment of labourer for emigration to Ceylon and Malaya. A variant of this system, called the maistry system was practised in the recruitment of labourer for emigration to Burma. It was more or less similar to the kangani system. Under these systems the kangani and maistry recruited families of Tamil labourers from villages in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. 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. Those who migrated during this phase held from urban middle class families and were well educated and professionally trained. They formed the new Indian diaspora and maintained a close ties with the places of their origin.
The emigration of skilled and unskilled Indians on a large scale to the West Asian countries is also a post-independence phenomenon. 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.


            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. They are considered to be the cream of India. They are very mobile and keep very close contact with India in terms of socio-economic interests.
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. What gives a common identity to all members of Indian diaspora is their Indian origin, their consciousness of their cultural heritage and their deep attachment to India.


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