Indian Diaspora

Author:   John Mathew Chandi John, Philanthropist, Author and Entrepreneur

Indian Diaspora

John Mathew Chandi John, Philanthropist, Author and Entrepreneur

The word diaspora has its origin in Ancient Greek and meant scattering or sowing of seeds. In today’s context I am one of those seeds. Further the word was used to convey the exodus of Jews in 538 BC to non-Jewish countries after the Babylonian Exile. The literary meaning refers to any people or ethnic population forced or induced to leave its traditional homelands as well as the dispersal of such people and the ensuing developments in their culture.

In the contemporary period many other ethnic and religious groups live in diaspora as a result of wars, natural disasters, political repression, economic hardships which is particularly applicable to the topic. African diaspora which is one of the largest in the world started with brutal slave trade and continued till today thanks to the economic hardships, political repression and ethnic cleansing in African states. Korean diaspora is the result of years’ long Korean War initiated by the Imperial powers. In 19th century when colonization was at its height the great Chinese diaspora began, as many Colonial Powers lacked large pool of labourers. Tibetan diaspora was the result of the expansionist policy of the Government of China. Parsee diaspora though comparatively small in number was the result of religious persecution. The heart breaking sad story of the current exodus of refugees from Arab spring countries; particularly Syria and Iraq is caused by the terrorist war and cruel atrocities in those countries. In a broad sense none of these factors are applicable to the Indian diaspora.

Colonial Times

British-Indian army played a very significant role in first and second world wars. In fact both those wars were won by the Indian army; their absence from war theaters would have resulted in a totally different world order. The exploitation of the British Colonialist rulers during the wars left India in abject poverty, unemployment was rampant, essential commodities were virtually absent from the market places, as all the materials including food were taken away by force to feed the army. Industries were paralysed and agriculture was least productive. Famines hit several pockets in India and the people had to look for greener pastures elsewhere. Some of the soldiers who were fighting in war theaters like Iraq, Malaya, Burma and few African countries decided not to return to India. Countries like South Africa and Malaya had a well settled Indian diaspora during the first half of the 20th century. The stage was set due to poverty and unemployment for a great and continuous exodus of Indians heading to various countries in the world where they could work, do business and earn a decent livelihood.


The Gulf

The exploration and production of crude oil from the huge underground reservoirs in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iran and Iraq opened the floodgate for expatriates to rush in to those countries that were thinly populated and lacked skilled and unskilled workers, technicians, engineers, accountants and administrators. The USA, Europe, Japan and China depended on the crude oil from Gulf countries to drive their economic growth. From the beginning of the second half of 20thcentury the gulf countries that were poor and under developed started developing at a stupendous pace using the immense amount of wealth contributed by the importing nations. The requirement of expatriates in the Gulf countries increased in direct proportion with the pace of development. Today the number of Indian expatriates in the Gulf countries is far in excess of 20 million.

Issue of Citizenship and Rights

Expatriates living in Gulf countries are not eligible for the citizenship of the respective countries despite the duration of their presence in the countries and they are required to return to their countries on the expiry of their employment contract or when they reach old age. Indian diaspora in USA, Canada, Europe and other similar countries eventually get naturalized and ceased to be Indian citizens.

Citizenship is a concept based on false assumptions. During the process of the evolution of the universe, on our earth land mass and water mass separated based on the physical constants of mass and gravity. In both land mass and water mass life evolved and progressed. Homosapiens evolved at the forefront of the process; and their selfishness and greed divided the land in to several pieces and they called those pieces as sovereign nations. The mightiest brute in the so called nations became rulers and others their subjects or citizens. The guarantee of the rights and privileges for the citizen of the respective nations by theirconstitutions is a fallacy. Government of India did precious little to save the life and wealth of 170,000 Indian citizens stranded in Kuwait during the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. The world has witnessed in the current and past decades, the tragedies of millions of refugees; some of them became refugees in their own countries, some others had to flee from their countries and still others were kicked out of their countries despite the fact that they were all citizens of the respective countries. The world is witnessing breathlessly the plight of Syrian citizens.

The diaspora broke the false concept of citizenship ignoring the philosophical and political dogmas because of their fundamental necessities to live and survive. They migrated to wherever they could earn a better living and to assure the prosperity of their future generations. They accepted the citizenship of the countries they migrated to, and declared their loyalty to those countries. Their number is enormous and proper statistics is not available which is blessing in disguise. They are not patriotic to their countries of origin though they nurture nostalgia toward those countries and their future generations will be devoid of such nostalgia. Another group of expatriates living and working in Gulf countries and other Arab countries are namesake citizens of their countries of origin. They do not enjoy the rights of citizenship of any country. Suffrage is supposed to be a fundamental right of a citizen, even that is denied for the hapless gulf expatriates.

Migrants are the pioneers, challenging the fallacy of citizenship and breaking the borders which are manmade or rather made by the imperialists. They are not protected by the laws of the countries of their origin and discriminated by the laws of the host countries. They are the forerunners of one world. Their hope is the implementation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights universally. Human rights are denied partially in most of the countries including India and fully in few countries.

The Case of Indian Diaspora

Indian diaspora is in the horns of a dilemma; they are neither the citizens- except for the name sake- of the countries of their adoption nor the citizens of India. In the countries of their adoption they are not treated as first-class citizens and they are not willing to merge or dissolve in to the mainstream. Indian culture is unique and it has a world of difference from other cultures. The traditional culture of India is built in to the DNA of all the Indians; hence they remain aloof from the citizens of the host countries. To get over their identity crisis they flock together and create little Indias wherever they are, celebrating Holy, Dasra, Onam, Id and all the other national festivals. Indian diaspora are denied the fundamental human rights such as the recognition of the inherent human dignity and right of the equal and inalienable rights for freedom and justice in most of the host countries particularly in countries like Gulf Countries, Israel, Lebanon and a host of other countries. Declaration of human rights by UN unequivocally states that” No one shall be held in slavery or servitude, men and women have the right to marry and found a family and everyone has the right to own property.” These fundamental human rights are practiced more in violation than in implementation by a number of countries where a lot of Indians, Bangla Deshis, Pilipino, Sri Lankans and Africans are working as domestic labourers. They work long hours every day and seven days a week. They cannot enjoy marital or extra marital sex as they are supposed to be bachelors or spinsters. World Labour Organosation, NGOs and Governments are doing precious little to address the injustice rendered to these hapless millions of domestic servants. Human rights are privileges enjoyed by a class of people and denied for another class of people.

Diasporic Patriotism?

Patriotism of Indian diaspora is a subject demanding debate. Are they patriotic? If so are they patriotic to the country of their origin? Or are they patriotic to the country of their adoption? The vast majority of diaspora are working class or in Marxian terminology proletariats. They migrated to greener pastures to work and earn a living, not to get involved in politics or in matters of national interest. Patriotism is an emotional attachment to a country which an individual recognizes as his homeland. Karl Marx famously stated “the working men have no country and with the supremacy of the proletariat national differences will vanish.” I agree with the former part that working men have no country. Where there is work he will go there and he will call that country as his country. His emotional attachment is to that country that can feed him. His patriotism is transient; it is neither enduring nor permanent. Karl Marx was wrong in saying supremacy of proletariat will vanish the borders. Proletariat achieved supremacy to a great extent world over but instead of borders getting vanished they became stronger and harder. A large majority of the diaspora is proletariat; they ignored the manmade borders and opened up the world to become the citizens of the world. For them the dividing line between nostalgia and patriotism is very thin. Nostalgia is a lifelong sentimentality for the past while patriotism is a transient sentimentality for the present. For non-resident Indians in Gulf and similar countries patriotism is a feverish creed for they are denied citizenship in the countries where they work and hence their only hope for an identity is India. USA hosts the largest diaspora which is estimated to be 47 million; some of them are stateless, some of them are permanent residents and others are naturalized Americans. We can argue that the naturalized aliens are patriotic to the country though their emotional attachment is to their homeland. President Obama is emotionally attached to Kenya though he is the commander-in-chief of the mighty US army. By a wild figment of imagination if we consider that a war has erupted between Kenya and USA, will Obama be patriotic to USA or Kenya?. Similar situations exist in India-Pakistan relation or India-Bangla Desh relation. In conclusion I would say patriotism is only a state of mind influenced by the transient conditions of the individual.

New Problems and Issues

In the last one year or 18 months the world economy had undergone a sea change. Countries like Venezuela, Nigeria, Brazil and Algeria instead of being surplus countries fell in to the list of deficit countries. Very rich Gulf countries of yesteryears are no more rich countries and they are heading fast towards the status of deficit countries. All these mega changes were caused by the rise and fall of almighty crude oil. The army of migrant workers in Gulf countries army will be the biggest losers from the slump of oil prices and the impact will reverberate to poor countries across the middle east and South Asia.The rise of oil bought an unprecedented influx of migrants from poor countries in Asia. Migrants account for 30% to 65% of the resident population in these countries. In 2015 Saudi Arabia hosted 2 million migrants from India,1 million each from Pakistan and Bangla Desh, 0.75 million from Egypt and comparable numbers from Syria and Yemen. Smaller but significant numbers migrated from Afghanistan, Sudan, Nepal, Myanmar, Jordan, Lebanon and Ethiopia. These migrant workers amounting to 26 million were sending tens of billions of dollars to their countries which were an important or major source of foreign exchange for the respective countries. Out of these 26 million migrants more than 10 million are Indians. Majority of them are going to lose their job plainly because the economic model of the host countries is under threat from the fall of oil which has pushed the Governments’ budget deep in to the red and economies are close to recession.

The impact of the stoppage of Petrodollar flow in to India and the return of Indian diaspora back to India is a subject which needs research. Unfortunately no one in the Government is concerned about it, as the number 10 million is insignificant compared to a population of 1250 million. The fact to be realised is each expatriate is supporting at least five others in India and thus the affected population number will reach 50 million which is quite significant. Petrodollar loss is compensated to an extent by the drop in oil import bill. The social impact, particularly in Kerala will be very serious.

Indian diaspora in other countries are not affected by the fall in oil prices; on the contrary most of those host countries are net importers of oil and hence their economies are favoured. Middle East and North African countries are heading fast towards recession and resultant unemployment as stated earlier. Saudi Arabia has decided to cancel the trading license of all foreign small shopkeepers; they are groceries, automobile workshops, electricians’ shops, restaurants, repair shops for mobile phones and televisions and a host of other service providers. Those shops will be manned by Saudis. This decision at once throws out a few thousands skilled workers from their livelihood. Do we have enough space for them in India? Similarly the jobs of lakhs of nurses, teachers, clerks and office workers will be replaced by the locals as they are getting qualified and the governments are encouraging them to take up such jobs to reduce financial burden of subsidies and unemployment allowances.

Homosapiens, in the process of their evolution faced various challenges that threatened their existence and they outlived all of them and reached today’s stage as a kind of a superhuman. Today we face new sets of problems which are the creations of our supersonic pace of progress. Capitalism which outlived all other forms of political philosophies now pause a major problem to humankind- the problem of unequal distribution of Mother Earth’s resources. Socialism was an answer but by the massive onslaught of Capitalism, socialism took a back step. In yester centuries a sense of distribution prevailed though not fair; with the advent of Industrial Revolution and its predecessor Feudalism, the fundamentals of fair distribution were negated. From the 16th century onwards the accumulation of wealth in to the hands of brutally powerful people commenced and they started to amass the wealth of the world through foul means to satisfy their greed. The accumulation process gained momentum; 50% of the wealth reached the hands of 20% of the world population few decades ago, and by the turn of the millennium 80% of the wealth was owned by them. The process accelerated at a stupendous pace and today 90% of the wealth is in the hands of 1%. That 1% is controlling the destiny of the world today; a considerable part of the 99% who are not the owners of wealth anymore, has to migrate and join the ever growing diaspora to earn their subsistence from the places where the wealth is concentrated. Just 85 individuals own as much wealth as 3.5 billion people across the world, and theoretically the 3.5 million should earn their livelihood from the rich 85 persons. Migration is a phenomenon which will continue and grow; the migrants will break the manmade borders of the world and eventually the utopia of one world will become a reality.

The world diaspora are the forerunners of One World.

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