Indians in Kenya are still struggling for Socio-Political space: Dr. Sana Aiyer

Published Date:   Friday, Apr 08, 2016

Indians in Kenya are still struggling for Socio-Political space: Dr. Sana Aiyer

Speaking at the Seminar organized by GRFDT in collaboration with Bharati College, Delhi University on 7th April 2016 at Bharti College on the theme “Indian Diaspora: Challenges and Adventures”, Dr. Sana Aiyar, faculty at MIT, Boston says that though Indians have migrated to Kenya few centuries back, they still struggle to get equal socio-political space as that of Kenyans. Historically, Indian businessmen especially from Gujarat settled in many African countries including Kenya much before the colonial rule. However, the large scale settlement happened during the British times who imported massive number of labour for plantation work as well as building infrastructure. Dr. Aiyer highlighted the major traits of Indian diaspora abroad underlining the transportation of India culture, recreation of cultural practices, alienation from homeland, cross-cultural society and hybridity in destination country. There were about 30 million Indians left India between 1830-1930. Under the indentured system, the Indian labour emigrated to South Africa for the work-opportunities. In Kenya, there were 3,000 Indian labour immigrants recorded in 1887. It indicated the existence of a large number of Indians in Kenya during 19th century.

Dr. Aiyer further talked about the role of Indians in the Kenyan economy. She discussed the economic history of Kenya and how Indians played important role in economic activities. Between 1830s-1930s, there have been migration from western coast of Gujarat to Africa for trade. Mainly, the Gujarati Muslim Merchants emigrated to Africa for retail trade viz; clothes, rice, watches brought from Africa to India. Indians formed the economic and administrative middle class in colonial Kenya who largely constituted  merchants, skilled tradesmen, clerks, lawyers, and journalists.

Economically they were better off  than Africans. However, they were denied the political and economic privileges that Europeans enjoyed. Therefore, Indians were leading a vulnerable life despite their relative prosperity.  Africans usually viewed them as outsiders, and Europeans largely considered them subservient. Indians demanded recognition on their own terms.  However, Kenya decided to give single citizenship when it got independence in 1963. In case of Indians, the citizenship right became ambiguous for their children rights in condition of the in their birth place. Dr. Aiyer discussed many competing, often contradictory, strategies by which the people of Indian origin negotiate with the host country and sought a political voice in Kenya from the beginning of colonial rule in the late 1890s to independence in the 1960s. Keyna provides a very interesting picture with three heterogenous groups negotiating space in the domain of social, economic and political arena. 

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