Indian Diaspora: Emerging Issues and Challenges



GRFDT Seminar Series

Indian Diaspora: Emerging Issues and Challenges


GRFDT organized a seminar on 25th June at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on “Indian Diaspora: Emerging Issues and Challenges” in which three papers  were presented by different scholars. The seminar witnessed participation of a large number of scholars and students from different universities and institutes such as Institute of Manpower Applied Research (IMAR), Jamia Millia Islamia, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and others. Prof. P.C. Jain, SIS, Jawaharlal Nehru University was the chairperson. The programme started with a formal welcome by Dr.Sadananda Sahoo, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. In the chairperson’s address, Prof. P C Jain explained that globally we have a large number of diaspora. Diasporic communities are as much as number of countries in the world. Multilinguism, multiculturalism, multi-ethnicity are the area of activities going on about Indian diaspora. He mentioned that there are five broad patterns of Indian emigration. The first phase was indenture labour migration, under which a contract was to be signed. This started around first half of the nineteenth century and people mostly migrated from eastern UP, Bihar, Chhota Nagpur region and Tamilnadu. Second was Kangani or Mistry system, migration took place as a full family migration. Third was Migration of Trading caste from Gujrat to Africa and Fiji with some professionals such as teachers, doctors and lawyers, which can be called as free or passage migration.   After independence a new form of migration came in to existence which can be said as brain drain to England, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the world. After 1990s it became brain gain. Final, the fifth phase of migration can be said as migration to Gulf Countries. Although with all these debates, the question still remains whether we can treat Indian migrants from Nepal, Sri Lanka and other neighboring countries as diaspora or not as they too equally participate in the remittance process to India. After giving this brief background, he invited the paper presenters to present their respective papers.

The first paper was by Kshipra Uke, Research Scholar, Centre for American Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University on “Hindu Nationalism, Identity and Marginalization in Indian Diasporic Literature in the US”. The paper began with the census data to show the increasing number of Indians in the US, showing that Indians are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in United States of America. Around 50% of the Indian diaspora comprises of the Hindus. 200,000 Indian-Americans are millionaires. More than 35,000 are physicians. 300,000 work in high-tech industries. 58% of the community over the age of 25 have a college degree. 43.6% of Indian-Americans in the workforce are employed as managers or professionals. 15% of Silicon Valley start-up firms are owned by Indian-Americans. More than 5000 Indian-Americans are on the faculties of various American universities. 74,603 Indians are studying in the United States—making Indians the largest group of foreign students in the country. Indians are not behind in carrying food, music or culture in American shores. Indian food can be easily found in grocery shops. And Swami Vivekananda made a memorable impact at the World's Parliament  of Religion in the US in 1893 when he delivered a lecture on Hindu philosophy. Even before this, during the 17th century, missionaries and members of the British government working in India translated many sacred texts from Sanskrit into English, making their way to America. Thus, Bhagavad Gita became a favorite text of American Transcendentalists. The past thirty years has seen the rise of temple-based Hinduism in the United States which is something very new to American culture. As the number of followers of Hinduism increased they built temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and the numerous other gods who are held in high regard. Today, with over seven hundred temples and centers, Hinduism has become a visible part of America’s religious mosaic. This assertion of Hindu identity is not just a process of intolerance towards other religions like Christianity and Islam but also an attempt to marginalize various internal socio-cultural and linguistic groups within Hindus who view India as a multi-religious and multicultural society and are striving to safeguard its secular fabric. U.S. is becoming the hub of Dalit activities and there is a clash of identity between new and old Diasporic groups.

 There are socio-cultural clashes observed between different ethnic and caste groups within Hindu community in the US. Throughout the past few decades, much blood has been split in the name of this so-called Hindu nationalism; all for the purpose of uniting a land that—in truth—has never been united and it is believed that “the rise of Hindu nationalist politics has been funded and supported by Hindu diaspora groups. The role of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishav Hindu Parishad (VHP) are very vital in promoting Hindu nationalism in US.  While the earlier diasporic literature dealt sympathetically and fairly with the lower-caste and class, non-English-speaking segments of Indian society, the works produced by Indian writers in the US in recent times reveal a clear bias in favor of ‘classical’, Brahminic, and therefore exclusionary, intended to produce an effect of a pure "Indianness" with little attention to its caste and class-based, social, communal, and regional inequalities. The paper concludes with a remark that this increasing impact of Hinduism is creating many changes but writings on Diaspora have, in fact, marginalized the factor of religion and relegated it to second place in favour of ethnicity and nationality. There are major issues such as religious identity, intolerance and social discrimination which are no longer the main concern of these writings.

The second paper by Dr. Amit Singh, Associate Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi was on “Indian Diaspora in India’s Look East policy”. He mentioned that Diasporas have emerged as a powerful factor in developing relations between nation-states. The Indian Diaspora has notably acted as a catalyst in strengthening bilateral relations between India and the host nations. The Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal is a case in point, as ethnic Indians in United States successfully lobbied for clinching of the N-deal. However, the recent incidents of maltreatment of the ethnic Indians in Australia and Malaysia seem to have gone against the general trend of strengthening relations between India and the host countries. The major argument of this paper was to show the non-cooperative behavior of Indian Government in promoting Indian Diaspora. The paper discussed the “Disassociation policy” of government which is very much prominent in Nehru writing. Here, the Indian Diasporic group is not getting any benefit from the government. The government is not taking any initiative to promote Diaspora. The policy of other nations makes Indians stateless like in Fiji, Myanmar etc. Every Southeast Asian country has either PIOs or NRIs. It is estimated that 6.7 million Indians reside overseas in South East Asia, with one-third living in Malaysia and Singapore, 85,000 in Indonesia, 150,000 in Thailand and 50,000 in the Philippines. Myanmar has a sizeable number estimated around 2 million.  Although after 1991 there is a shift from active disassociation to active association due to factors like globalization, privatization and liberalization. The India was facing financial break down and was in great need of promoting FDI’s to strengthen India’s economy. To deal with the problem, government planned some policy in collaboration with other nations but these policies could not have much impact on the diaspora. In case of Australia, the government is not only ignorant but also has a reluctant attitude towards providing any support to Hindu Right Action Forum (HINDRAF). As Singapore is using Indian diaspora as an asset by taking advantage of it as a knowledge diaspora, it is time for India also to look strategically towards its scattered population across the world. The paper critically analysed the impact of India’s Diaspora policy with regard to ethnic Indians in Southeast Asia. It sought to answer the questions like— What bearing has India’s contemporary Diaspora policy had on the Indian Diaspora in general and on Southeast Asia in particular? What is the fallout of ‘India’s Look-East Policy’ on the Indian Diaspora? And does India differentiate between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Diaspora in the sharp societal cleavages of the host countries?


The third paper presented by Dr Anjali Sahay, Department of Political, Legal and International Studies, Gannon University Pennsylvania, U.S.A was on “Giving back to India; Investment opportunities and Challenges”. As the second largest Diaspora in the world, with over 20 million people worldwide, the Indian Diaspora has tremendous economic and political prowess in their countries of origin and destination.  In particular, the 2.8 million strong Indo-American communities (boasting of the highest household income of all ethnic groups in the United States, as well as higher degrees of education) have an important role to play in the economic development of their home and host countries, India and the United States respectively.  As the developmental state, India also sees its Diaspora as ‘agents of change’ facilitating and enhancing investment, accelerating industrial development, and boosting its international trade and tourism. As both India and the United States pledge to deepen and broaden ties in the wake of the first ever India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue in 2010, the Indian Diaspora can contribute to the future of the Indo-US relationship with their role as facilitators of US businesses in India.  To this end, while there will be references to Indian Diasporic efforts from all across the globe, particular emphasis will be placed on the role of the Diaspora in the United States. The major argument of the paper was to analyse the positive effect of the Indian Diaspora between the countries. The paper argued that if Indian Diaspora has been promoted then it would help in providing wealth, infrastructure, entrepreneurship skills, network and dual citizenship which is benefit for the nations. Also, India is a very good place to invest because it has very promising plans like 7.5% growth rate in 2013. It is also a member of G8, G20 and BRIC etc. The biggest advantage to India is that it is getting funds from FDI and the amount of remittances which is still minimum is due to non-availability of Dual-citizenship citizenship. The NRIs are not allowed to set up their firms directly in India due to which India is not able to take the advantage of their entrepreneurial skills. The paper attempted to fill an important gap in the current literature on international migration and human capital as well as transcend the boundaries of international relations between two countries. As change agents, the Diaspora’s role in the development of India is both timely and important to study.


All three papers were unique in its concept and provided a very good picture of Indian Diaspora. After these papers it becomes easier to understand the advantages and problems of Indian Diaspora. Mr. Jitendra D. Soni Faculty, Govt. College, Tara Nagar Churu, Rajasthan Research Scholar, CSRD, JNU has discussed all the three papers and gave an insight of recent issues and challenges of Indian diaspora. The seminar ended with the questions and suggestions by various participants in which various issues were raised up such as money transfer by Western Union, recent trends of Indo-American marriages and issues of dual citizenship etc. Dr. Mahalingam M., Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Analysis, New Delhi delivered vote of thanks to all participants, organizing team, members of GRFDT and all visible and invisible support of people who helped in the success of this seminar.


Report By,

Ayushi Agrawal, Monika Bisht and Rakesh Ranjan, SOITS, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, India






Time and Place:

Date:   Saturday, Dec 08, 2012
Venue:   Room No 13, CSSS, SSS II, JNU
City/Twon:   New Delhi
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