Different Shades of Diaspora: My Lived experience from East Africa

Author Name

Urmila Jhaveri

Author Address

Independent Scholar, Delhi, urmilajh[email protected]


Gujarati diaspora, Indian Diaspora, East Africa


The migration of Indian diaspora to distant lands to form significant communities has been going on for more than five centuries. Fortunately, the spectacular advance of communication technology has helped us to trace this journey and simultaneously record, analyze, decode and update the past and present history of the Indian diaspora.

However, over the years due to globalization and transmigrations , important issues such as  multiple migration/displacement i.e. those who have migrated and then emigrated to a third country due to economic sanctions / constraints , cultural differences and governmental policies etc cropped up. In addition, in East Africa all  these changes caused the emergence of  a new category of second and third generation  immigrants  who do not have much reference to India as their homeland .It has been a difficult but fruitful journey for these communities as they have gone through a gamut of drastic changes and experiences, which had a major impact on their lives.

 Born in 1931 in Pemba -Zanzibar during the Omani Sultan's rule , I am also a product of this crucial period in East Africa where I have spent some eight decades of my life , growing up during the harsh colonial apartheid system , sailing by Dhow all the way to India from Africa during World War II, getting married  , raising a family  and  together with my husband being a part of pre and post independence struggle in Tanganyika. It all reminds me of my involvement with UWT - National Women's Organization during its formative years. We used to visit women in the remotest part of the country where ,homes were thatched huts, toilets a hole in the ground where slithering snakes showed up suddenly and wild animals roaming  after dark. The women lead a very  vulnerable life with anoverhanging threat of divorce with just three  words, Talaq Talaq Talaq.  Years thus spent, struggling together and striving relentlessly for women's rights have linked us in powerful bond of sisterhood . That bond has been my mainstay all the time , whether I was sharing a bus ride , a meal , a song , listening to the travails of a life time ,watching a young girl learn a craft and a grand mother learning to write her name alongside her grandchild and most of all when holding hands with almost naked mad man  or listening to witches' call .

Time does not allow me to talk more about some hair raising incidents, but I would like to go back for a moment.  The Second World War was raging fiercely as Hitler was on his demonic march to conquer the world. A number of ships had been torpedoed by German and Japanese submarines in the Indian Ocean and people from EA were leaving for India by dhow. My father also hired Bijli the Dhow as he also wanted to reach the safety of Jamnagar. Thus, began my Sindbad the Sailor Safari by Dhow during the war in 1943 when I was just a kid. It took us one month to reach Gujarat .We sailed through rough and tough storms and silent nights watching the splendour of the sun, moon and the stars as well as sharks and shoals of whales. For fear of being bombarded we kept absolutely quiet and were not allowed to light even a candle at  night. It was a fantastic journey and a sure way of learning to share, care and make friends with nature

Therefore, my paper, which is based on my observations and experiences of a life time spe


International Conference on Migration, Diaspora and Development
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