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      The idea of establishing the Centre for Indian Diaspora and Cultural Studies came from the highly inspiring and thought provoking speech of Shri J.C. Sharma, The Hon’ble Secretary (PCD), Ministry of External Affairs, The Government of India, inaugurating the first International Conference on “Indian Diasporic Experience: History, Culture and Identity” (Jan. 22-24, 2002) organized by us. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the centre owes its existence to the care and patronage it  has received from the Hon’ble Secretary. It will be, therefore, in the fitness of things to reproduce, in toto, the text of the speech which laid the foundation of Diasporic and cultural studies in the university.

Indian Diaspora

Inaugural Address



The Hon'ble Secretary,

Ministry Of External Affairs, 

Government Of India,


     "Hon’ble Vice Chancellor, Scholars on the dais, distinguished members of the faculty and my dear friends, I take great pleasure in delivering the Inaugural address at this seminar revolving around the theme, ‘The Indian Diaspora’. Indian Diaspora is a subject very dear to my heart and I am proud to be associated with it. During my Foreign Service Career, I have had the opportunity to see the Indian Diaspora from all quarters, sectors and backgrounds. It would not be wrong to mention that 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. There are Indians spread over forty-eight countries. In eleven countries there are more than half a million persons of Indian descent and they represent a significant proportion of the population of these countries.

     With a population of around twenty million, spread across a hundred and ten countries they are serving their host nations with distinction as entrepreneurs, workers, teachers, researchers, innovators, doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers and even political leaders. Every member of Indian Diaspora, while maintaining his commitment to bhartiyata or indianness has made India proud. Every overseas Indian is an achiever in his own way and as he succeeds, India succeeds with him. 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.  

    Throughout its history, India has received migrants from various parts of the world and has absorbed them instinctively with their culture, language, economic and social status. This has equipped Indians to easily interact with cultures and ethnicities abroad. Indians have carried this very rich legacy of adaptability with them to their host countries. This very unique feature of Indian Diaspora is the most important factor in the success of the evolution of the Indian Diaspora across a hundred and ten countries of the globe.  

     The story of the evolution of Indian Diaspora starts way back in the nineteenth century, and can be understood by dividing it into three categories. There were firstly those among them whose journey began during the colonial period. In most cases, they were the economically beleaguered labour force seeking their livelihood in distant lands. This was mainly in response to the enormous demand for cheap labour that arose immediately after the British abolished slavery in 1833-34. Indentured system was largely a by-product of colonialism and the abolition of slavery. Indentured labour was sent to Mauritius, Caribbean (Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana), Fiji and South Africa by British. French and Dutch had also to follow suit in abolishing slavery, resulting in migration of Indian plantation labour to their territories – Reunion Island, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Suriname. Portuguese also took Indian workers from its colonies in Goa, Daman and Diu to the colonies like Angola, Mozambique and others. There was also free or passage emigration mostly to East Africa, South Africa, and in smaller numbers to other British colonies where indentured labour had gone.  

     There were primarily two reasons behind migration under the Colonial Rule. The first was the poor condition that prevailed at that time in India because of the killing of the Indian village and cottage industry resulting in extreme poverty and unemployment. The West, on the other hand, was getting affluent because of industrial development. Second, all colonial masters found Indians skillful, hard working and useful, as a result of which the British, the French, the Dutch, and the Portuguese all took Indian skilled labour for development of plantations and agricultural economies of their territories.  

    The second wave of migrants ventured out into the neighbouring countries in recent times as professionals, artisans, traders and factory workers, in search of opportunities and commerce. There was a steady outflow of India’s semi-skilled and skilled labor in the wake of the oil boom in West Asia and Gulf in the 1970s. There was also some outflow of entrepreneurs, storeowners, professionals, self-employed businessmen to the First World countries like USA and UK. Organized commerce was introduced in Africa by Indian emigrants as traders and shop owners. These traders and businessmen, by their dint of hard work and business acumen, turned adversity into opportunity.  

     And then, there is the current third wave consisting of professionals and the educated elite of India who seek economic betterment in the more advanced countries of the world. The Indian Community in the First world countries has done so well that in US they are often referred to as the ‘model minority.’ Their industry, enterprise, knowledge, economic strength, educational standards and professional skills are widely acknowledged. This period has also coincided with India’s resurgence as a global player and a country of stature in the comity of nations. The First World economies are technology-based economies and India, after liberalization, in the 90s has become a major source of knowledge for these countries. Thus, it was easy for an Indian to enter into the enabling environment of these countries. This education and knowledge–based Indian emigration has made Indian Diaspora one of the most powerful diasporas in the world.  

       It is important to understand the history of migration to a particular destination because the current area-wise profile of Indian Diaspora depends on the history of emigration. The unique nature of Indian Diaspora can be further distinctively understood with the help of this Country-migration analysis. Let me briefly highlight area-wise profiles of Indian Diaspora.  

      I shall start with South Africa, the land of a great Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, where at present there are around a million Indians. Indians started arriving in South Africa as slaves of the Dutch. Indentured labourers were deployed in railways, dockyards, coal mines, municipal services and other trades till a second lot of traders and shop owners came as free passengers, the majority of whom were Gujaratis. The efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and the hard work and business skills of Indian community transformed the economies and their destinies in South Africa. As in South Africa, the saga of Indian settlers in East Africa is a mixture of success and frustration. Their induction into this part of burgeoning British Empire of the nineteenth century began in the late 1860s with the export of over 30,000 Indians - mostly Sikhs from the Punjab – on three year contract to provide cheap labour. Substantive Indian migration to Mauritius and Reunion also began after the abolition of slavery. While People of Indian Origin (PIOs), at over 220,000, constitute around 30% of Reunion’s population, Mauritius is the only country where PIOs form a majority with 70% of the population at over 700,000 in numbers. The Indian community in both the islands maintains its cultural ethnicity and at the same time enjoys good relations with the local community groups. Form 1970s-80s onwards, Indian professionals and traders also started moving towards countries like Botswana and Nigeria.  

      Similarly in the Caribbean, the British plantations recruited indentured labour. The agents lured a large number of workers painting a rosy picture which was exactly the opposite of the reality. India contributed approximately 134,183 indentured labourers to Trinidad and Tobago between 1845 and 1917, a vast majority of whom were from U.P., Bihar and Bengal. Similarly in Guyana, 239,000 Indian workers had arrived between 1850 and 1920. About 90% of them were from U.P. and Bihar. Unlike Britain and France, the Netherlands abolished slavery only in 1863. On June 5, 1873 the sailing ship Lala Rookh finally arrived in Paramaribo after a voyage of over three months with a cargo of 452 labourers, most of whom were recruited from U .P. and Bihar. These settlers to the Caribbean had usually carried with them on their way only their pots and pans, a few pieces of clothing, and perhaps a blanket. Yet, they managed to bequeath to their children and their grand-children the cultural heritage of their land of origin. Even, in Fiji, the colonial government decided to import Indentured labour from India, after its annexation by the British 1874. At the time of Fiji’s Independence, the population of the PIOs was approximately 51% of the total population. This number is now reduced to 44%.  

      Another area of large Indian population is South East Asia. The unique feature of this emigration, which precedes the dawn of Christian era, is that it has been entirely peaceful. Large-scale emigration, however, took place only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a result of colonialism, though after independence, Indians migrated to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and other places in search of employment and they still continue to migrate. Because of the geographical proximity, the community maintains close cultural ties with India.

     Another factor that opened vast opportunities in the Gulf region was the oil boom of the 70s. The Indian Diaspora of nearly three million people consists entirely of the NRIs. Both the Indian blue-collar workers as well as professionals are well represented in the Arab world.  

    As I mentioned earlier, emigration to the First World Countries started mainly after the Second World War. Indian, here, can be classified into three categories; first, were those with agricultural background; second, were the entrepreneurs, store owners, motel owners, self-employed small businessmen who had arrived since 1965 onwards, and the third were professionals like doctors, engineers (60s onwards), software engineers, management consultants, financial experts, media people (80s onwards), and others. At 2.8% of a population of 30 million people in Canada, and 1.7 million and 0.6% of the total US population, the Indian community enjoys the distinction of being one of the highest earning, best educated and fastest growing ethnic groups, and that too in the most powerful country in the world. High levels of education have enabled Indo-Americans to become a very productive segment of the U.S. population and contribute to the unprecedented economic boom of the 90s.  

    Similarly, the movement of Indian emigrants to Western Europe is largely a phenomenon of the twentieth century. Two-third of the Indian community in The European Union (EU) is found in the U.K. The presence of Indians in U.K. is primarily a result of the interaction between the British Raj and India. The acute shortage of labour after the Second World War resulted in large migrations from India. In sectors like health, Indian presence became crucial. There was the second flow of emigrants after the expulsion of Indians in Uganda. Today, the Indian community is well represented in every walk of life. Per capita income of the community is higher than the national average. Indians are also well represented in both Houses of Parliament and in the major political parties. The second largest presence of Indians in Western Europe is in Holland, which is primarily because of migration of PIOs from Suriname. Indians also have significant presence in Portugal, Germany and France.  

     In all these countries, Indian Diaspora plays an important role and can contribute in development, both, in these host countries as well as back home. For example, in Politics, Indian Diaspora can play a positive role in enhancing India’s bilateral relations with the countries of their residence. The presence of Indian Diaspora has also created a linkage between domestic political developments in India’s external relations with countries of their settlement. Then, in areas of Economic Development, Commerce and Trade, Indian Diaspora can help increase bilateral trade and commercial relationship with their host countries, especially because the liberalization of Indian economy since 1991 has opened up opportunities for investment in India. The acceleration of India’s economic reform process would definitely create a favourable climate for generating investments. In Science and Technology and Knowledge based industries, there is a large reservoir of highly trained experts and scientists. They can play an important part in India’s economic development and in enhancing India’s knowledge pool. Overseas Indians have also distinguished themselves in the field of medicine and healthcare in the countries of their residence. They can play an important role in secondary and tertiary healthcare in India. Education, Tourism and Culture are the other areas for widening linkages with the Indian Diaspora abroad. India should initiate constructive measures to ensure that the Diaspora’s pride and faith in its heritage is strengthened, which would inter-alia revitalize its interest in India’s development. Apart from these areas, Indian Diaspora has been eager to donate generously for worthy developmental causes in India. With friendly policy regulations and associations, philanthropy can act as a major catalyst in India’s development.

     The spread and presence of the Indian Diaspora all over the globe is a matter of great pride for India. This network gives an opportunity to have linkages in the field of culture, education, civilization and other areas. Since India achieved independence, overseas Indians have been returning to seek their roots and explore new avenues and sectors for mutually beneficial relationship from investment to transfer of skills and technology, to outright philanthropy and charitable works. This trend has become more marked during the last decade as the Indian economy has opened up, giving rise to a new range of opportunities for emerging generations. It is thus, a two-way role in which both the Diaspora and the Government are mutual beneficiaries. Therefore, there is a need for greater interaction and collaboration between members of Indian Diaspora and the Government of India.

      In a major initiative, the Government of India had set up a High level Committee on the Indian Diaspora in September 2000, under the chairmanship of Dr. L M Singhvi, The Member of Parliament, to prepare a comprehensive report on the Indian Diaspora, sensitizing it to their problems and their expectations from their mother country, proposing a new policy framework for creating a more conducive environment in India to leverage these valuable human resources and, thus, forging stronger ties between the Indian Diaspora and India. After working for fifteen months and traveling to twenty countries, the report was prepared and presented to the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India. It represented the findings of all initiatives and inputs, resulting from extensive first hand talks with overseas Indians, use of case studies and empirical data. The Committee Report came out with a detailed presentation of Conclusions and Recommendations on the entire gamut of the expectations, need and requirements of Indian Diasporas and for a closer interaction of India with its Diasporas.

     I would like to conclude by saying that I have found that the engagement of Indian Diaspora has generated a new sense of enthusiasm and expectation. Both India and the Diaspora have promises to keep. This demands for organized study of Diaspora, their expectations, their contributions and scope of collaboration in various sectors of economy. Seminars like this and other such events are much needed to find out ways to endure the partnerships between the Indian Diaspora and the Government of India. And I feel that it is particularly useful that the seminar is organized in Patan, in Gujarat because, of all the States, Gujarat has a significant number of its people in the Indian Diaspora. The Gujarati community overseas is known for its spirit of entrepreneurship, business acumen, and has shown great ability to adapt and yet maintain its cultural ethnicity. The state government of Gujarat has also realized the potential of development through association with the NRIs. I am thankful to the organizers for giving thought to the theme of Indian Diaspora and it is my earnest wish that many more seminars like this are organized in future and structured courses of studies are introduced in universities and colleges to understand in depth the subject of Indian Diaspora. This would go a long way in helping to build a better and fruitful relationship between India and its Diasporas spread all over the world."  


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Centre for Indian Diaspora & Cultural Studies,  
Hemchandracharya North Gujarat  University,  Patan384 265 (North Gujarat) INDIA
 Tel : + 91-2766 - 224025  Fax : + 91-2766-231917, 233645     Email : adeshpalngu@rediffmail.com