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Indian Diaspora in South-East Asia Its Importance, Problems and Prospects
Term paper submitted in partial fulfilment of the award of the degree of the Master in Arts
Submitted by: Prafulla Rana, IV semester Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, JNU, New Delhi-110067
Abstract: Since the time immemorial, there has been the movement of human beings from one place to the other. This process was on when there was no concept of the state and even after the emergence of state boundary this process is still on. People are compelled to move due to various reasons whether it is the need of a livelihood or the atrocity of the environment, loss of land due to conquest or the activity of trade. These people now have got a new identity particularly after the reorganisation and formation of Jew state – Israel. This identity is known as ‘The Diaspora’. It refers to the people living outside of the parent country (sometimes and somewhere referred by the scholars as mother country) having a strong cultural and racial continuity with the natives of the mothers country. In the south-east Asia, there are found a large number of Indian communities because of its relationship with the region in the distant past and in continuity of it even during the recent period of globalisation. These people are found in each and every country even in significant numbers except in Cambodia where the number of Indian diaspora is too meagre. These Indian communities have a great sense of honour and a rich cultural continuity with India. They observe and celebrate each and every Indian festival and national days; they seek the Indian system of education and live like Indians with a huge sense of patriotism and ‘the non-resident nationalism’. They contribute to the Indian economy, they act as bearers of the great Indian tradition and culture and even they bear a great strategic significance as we have noticed during the 30s and the 40s when the Indian National Army(INA) was formed and had great support from this region. Now, with the changing time these communities are facing a lot of difficulties because of the rise of nationalism and regionalism of these states and due to the apathy of the local govt. in dealing properly with the Indian diaspora. In this term paper, an attempt has been taken to illustrate the presence of the India diaspora in this region and its various problems due to the aforementioned reasons.
Etymologically, the term diaspora is derived from the Greek word ‘Dia’ (through) and ‘Speiro’ (to scatter). Literally, the meaning of diaspora is scattering or dispersion. It was originally mentioned in the context of Jews or Jewish com-munities scattered in exile outside Palestine. During the latter half of the twentieth century it is being applied to dispersal of any ethnic group or community outside the country of their origin. Diaspora is the term often used today to describe practically any population that is considered ‘Deterritorialized’ or "transnational" that is, which has originated in a land other than in which it currently resides, and their social, economic, and political networks spreads across the borders of nation-states or, indeed, span the globe. The so-called diaspora populations are growing in terms of their numbers and they are expected to play significant roles in the life of the countries of their adoption as well as the countries of their origin. According to Arjun Appadurai (1997), “A diaspora implies a deterritorialized fertile ground, characterized by a global circulation of capital, commodities, and human beings. The deterritorialized populations, in the abiding sense of placelessness and timelessness, carry ideas and images from their home-land/motherland/fatherland to the new host setting.”
What has received less attention perhaps is the use of diaspora as a spatial strategy by globalizing nation-states, especially major powers of civilizational proportions and predispositions, to reterritorialize its imagination, in the wake of mounting challenges to their legitimacy, authority, and effectiveness. The origin and evolution of India diaspora in south-east Asia: Colonisation of India: A long history of human mobility and migration notwithstanding, it is only recently that the Indian diaspora has started receiving the serious and systematic attention of the intellectuals and institutions of statecraft in India. In a sharp contrast to China's longstanding policy framework for overseas Chinese, leveraging the expatriate community for national ends, the Indian government has just begun mapping out the Indian settlements and communities abroad. The first substantial Indian migrations abroad were dictated and driven largely by indentured labour arrangements of the nineteenth century. It was against the backdrop of economic compulsions generated by colonialism that people of Indian origin began to migrate overseas in significant numbers during the nineteenth century; initially to the countries of Africa, Southeast Asia, Fiji and the Caribbean. This wave was triggered mainly due to the enormous demand for cheap labour that arose in the wake of abolition of slavery by the British in 1833-34. Migration: A major chunk of the Indian diaspora found in various parts of the world is due to the cause of migration. It is basically an economic drive which led the native people to migrate to those places where they are found now. As it has already been mentioned above, most of the native Indians left India because of the financial problem that India was going through the time of British rule. In order to sustain their life they had to migrate to other places to find a lovely hood and to survive. Indian diasporas found in South-East Asia, Canada, America, Australia, in the gulf countries and in Saudi Arabian countries just for this reason only. Trade and business: The other factor which created a large amount of Indian diaspora in the south-east Asian region is the trade and business in that area by the Indian traders. It is a historical action as most of the cases of trade and merchantry took place in the ancient Indian history when the traders from the eastern coastal region of India such as Odisha, Bengal, and Andhra etc. were engaged in such activity with the south-eastern countries like Java, Sumatra, Bali etc. this is why it supposed to be a factor of creating a sizable amount of diaspora in that region.
Religion: More or less the factor of religion cannot be ignored in the case of diaspora formation. It is because, religion has pushed the people to find others in new land who can be persuaded to embrace and spread that religion. That’s why most of the discovery of sea routes are the driven by the religious curiosity which precedes the discovery brought about by the drive of trade. The evidence of spread of Buddhism bears an ample testimony to that effect. It was believed that in 300 B.C king Asoka had sent his emissary to the regions which now are situated in the current areas of south-east Asia. Globalisation: In the recent period, globalisation has become the major factor of both the migration and trade which has further accelerated the pace and thus has contributed a lot in forming a diaspora outside India. It is also an important factor because it has enabled the diaspora to connect its parent country and extend their loyalty to it.
Indian diaspora in the different countries of South-East Asia: Brunei: Most of the India community in Brunei migrated in the 20th century, particularly after the discovery of oil in 1929 and more prominently from 1950s onward when Brunei’s economy started expanding. When Brunei introduced new education in the 1950s, there was a large need of teachers and at that time many of them went from India. Apart from that the major portion of the construction workers went to Brunei in the last decade. There are around 2500-3000 Indian expatriates who include teachers, businessman, engineers and construction workers. Social interaction between the Indians and the others including the Bruneians and expatriates from third countries is limited. The community maintains a low profile despite of its relatively significant size. Their main areas of settlement are the Kuala Belait district and the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. The community makes a conscious effort to preserve its cultural identity and carry on its cultural traditions. There are also a few churches and some Hindu temples. Majority of the members are Muslim and for them, Brunei provides a more natural environment. However, the Hindus have no cultural or religious restrictions. Culturally, the largest segment of the Indian community comprises of Tamils both Muslims and Hindus. Other sizable groups are the Malayalees and people from U.P. There are two associations of the Indians in Brunei, namely, the Indian association of Bandar Seri Begawan and the Indian association of Kuala Belait. These associations organize functions on the national days, Diwali, Onam etc. there is Indian chamber of commerce for economic purposes. There is also an evening radio programme in Hindi.
Cambodia: There is a small Indian community in Cambodia, numbering around 150. A majority of them are expatriates working on assignments. There is an India association in Cambodia (IAC). The present condition in Cambodia poses an opportunity for the Indian groups in Thailand to explore the possibilities of entering into the Cambodian market. The companies from India could also look at the Cambodian market more seriously. The tourism and the hospitality sector are the major areas of interest. Indonesia: India involvement in Indonesia long preceded the arrival of the Dutch. However, the Indians presently in the country are the descendants of those who arrived in the country in response to the western mercantilism from t he end of 19 th century through the late 30s. Many skilled and semi-skilled workers from the Tamil region went to work in Sumatra with the Dutch and the English. A major population of the Indian diaspora are concentrated in the Sumatra region and the rest are found in the areas of Java and Madura. The majority of the Indian community who arrived here in the 60s and the 70s concentrated more in the textile business. Gradually the NRIs acquired citizenship after fulfilling the certain conditions prescribed under the immigration laws. There are no discriminatory policies. Indonesian of Indian origin, have got the right to franchise in Indonesia. Most of the Indians are still maintaining their link with India, having properties and bank accounts in India. The Indian community is culturally very active. They actively organise and participate in India cultural functions. However, they keep a low profile in the domestic politics. The economic association of Indonesia and India (ECAII) established by the Indian business community to promote trade relations is very active. There is an India bazaar called ‘Pasar Bharu’. The Sindhi community has their own association called ‘Gandhi Seva Loka’. There is an Indian school called “Gandhi memorial international school’. There is also an Indian club in which all the Indian community members actively participate. The Indian community has traded well and integrated itself with the local community because of its long historical relationship with it. Places of religious worship like church, temple and gurdwara exists in Madan, Jakarta and Surabaya. In addition the Indian film industry has a wide range of popularity in Indonesia. Laos: The Indian community in Laos is very small numbering only 125 persons though the Indians numbered around 1000 prior to the communist revolution in the previous century. Most of them are from Tamil Nadu. There are a few Sindhis as well. There are about 18 persons of Indian origin who have acquired the Lao citizenship. Around 70-80 percent of them are Muslims. Main areas settlements are Vientiane and Sekong.
The community has integrated itself very well with the local populace. Some of the Indian settlers in Laos have married to local ladies. There seem to be a very good understanding between the Indian community and the people of Laos. Most of the members of Indian community keep a low profile and mainly focus on their day-to-day activity of their business. The India expatriates in Laos are mostly professionals and well-educated where as a large number of settlers are not so well educated. Most of t he settlers try to send their children to India for higher education. India experts in consultancy, particularly in the infrastructure related projects, business in textile; jewellery and restaurants are active in that region. India’s contact with Malaysia goes back to the pre-Christian era. However, despite the great antiquity of the Indian overseas migration to Malay and the debt of Malay culture to ancient India, there were seldom large numbers of Indians in Malay in the pre-British period. The bulk of Indians came during the British time as plantation workers. Nearly all the 1.6 million Indians at present in Malaysia are either themselves immigrants or the descendents of recent immigrants. Indian ethnic community consists of mostly the Tamils followed the Keralites, Andhrites, Bengalis, Punjabis, Sindhis and the Gujuratis. Most of the Indian community is settled in the Penang state in north Malaysia, in Perak in central Malaysia and the rest in Kuala Lumpur and Selangar state. The contribution of Indian diaspora to the Malaysia’s total GDP is around 2 percent and it’s share in international trade is around 3 percent. There are some groups and associations formed due to their educational linkages with India such as Malaysian Association of Indian University Graduates (MAIUG), Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and Society of Medical Graduates of India and Malaysia (SOMGRIM). The university of Malaysia has a department of Indian studies which focuses almost exclusively on the Indian languages and among them special is the Tamil. Indian culture such as the classical music and dance are regularly promoted by the institutes such as the temple of fine arts, sutra dance theatre, sektra dance group and tanji kamla dance group. There are two Indian expatriates association and several associations of persons of Indian origin. The Indian community maintains its linkages with India by means of pilgrimage, tourism and business trips apart from social commitments. The religious activities are permitted by the local authority within certain guidelines. It is difficult to acquire Malaysian citizenship and the persons of Indian origin and the non resident Indians with continuous residence of 1015 years and having a Malaysian spouse are considered selectively for Malaysian citizenship. Myanmar: The origin of the present day Indian community in Myanmar can be traced back to the second half of the nineteenth century with the establishment of British rule. Britain rules the country with the help of the Indian soldiers, policemen and civil servants. Indian labour
wad extensively used for developing infrastructure and for construction work. Indian farmers were being taken to the cultivation of virgin lands by the English and this was later followed by the Indian zamindaars. Consequently there grew a large Indian community in Burma and particularly in the city of Yangon and Mandalay, the Indians were a dominant community. All important spheres of life such as civil services, trade, education, agriculture and construction were taken over by the Indian community. But the scenario began to change when the Myanmar attained independence in 1948 and it attempted to nationalise everything. Later the military takeover in 1962 was followed by a wholesale nationalisation process which meant replacing English by the Burmese in all teaching establishments and in the govt. administration. This caused a large exodus of this community into the Indian territory. Due to lack of the availability of data, the exact size of the Indian community in Myanmar is in dark. As the information provided by the embassy in Yangon, there are around 25 lakhs of Indian origin in the country out of which only 2000 hold Indian passports. The embassy has estimated that there are 13 lakhs Muslims, 8 lakhs Hindus and 4 lakhs Christians and Sikhs. The Indian community in Myanmar is not well off as most of them are engaged in petty works such as domestic help, construction work, mechanics and farming. The Philippines: Recent studies suggest that there has been remarkable Indic influence on the language, literature as well as the social customs of the Philippines. Some of the pre-Islamic influences are more pronounced in the cultures of the Tausungs, the Maguindanaos and the Maranaos. In the literature for instance, ‘Maharadia Lawana’ is based upon the story of Ramayana. Similarly there are found certain names which has got the Sanskrit origin and have not been completely islamised. The names such as Nagasura, Madale, Gadia, Mitra, Laxmana, Rajda and Salipada etc bear the testimony. It gives an overview that India had a significant influence on the region of Philippines at a particular time in history. A majority of the Indians in the Philippines are settled in Manila whereas some are present in other towns of the country as well. The Sindhi community in the Philippines is mainly engaged in the trade and manufacturing whereas the Punjabis are dealing in money lending. There are two Indian joint ventures in artificial yarn production. Indians have a dominant position in manufacturing and export of garments there are many gurdwaras and Hindu temples. There is monthly English magazine known as ‘Samachar’ which is run by the sindhis community. In addition, business and industry representatives from India are engaged in joint ventures in the Philippines and multinational companies such as Birla, Kirloskars and Dalmias have made Manila as their business base in south-east Asia.
Singapore: The nucleus of the present Indian origin community in Singapore was formed by those who were with sir Stamford Raffles, the East India company officer, who arrived in Singapore in 1829 to establish a base there to arrange protection and provision for the East India Company. From 1830 onwards, large immigrant group, mainly the Tamilians were brought in by the British as indentured labourers to work in the plantations, civil projects etc. it was followed by the immigration of the Indian traders. In cultural terms, the Indian community is the most diverse of Singapore’s ethnic communities. About 64 percent are of the Tamil origin and Tamil is one of the four languages together with Chinese, Malay and English. There is also a sizable Punjabi, mainly the sikh community, most of whom arrived in Singapore as members of the British army and police. The other distinct Indians are the Malayalis, Sindhs, and the Gujaratis. Indians are also the most religiously diverse of Singapore’s ethnic categories. According to the information of the Indian high commission, the Indian community in Singapore are content with their life. The authorities in Singapore have provided them with facilities like housing , schooling and have recognised the cultural tradition as well. In matter of religion, it can be said that all the major religions found in India are represented in Singapore. There are temples, Gurdwara, Mosques and even there is the presence of a branch of the Ramakrishna Mission. The govt. has allocated one radio and one TV channel exclusively for the Indian community. The programmes in the channels are mainly in Tamil. Thailand: The presence of Indians who have settled in Thailand can be traced back to more than 100 years ago. Some Indians have been settled there 3-4 generations. The earliest group to have been in sizable numbers to Thailand appear to have been the Tamils. Phukhet in southern Thailand seems to have been the first area that experienced a spill over of tamils from Penang and peninsular Malaysia. Most of them went there to participate in the cattle trade and the mining of precious stones, with service groups like the Chettiyars following them. As Bangkok became the commercial and business hub, the tamils also moved to it from Phuket, Penang and Singapore. Almost all the Indians in Thailand are found in urban centres. About 75 percent of them live in Bangkok. The other urban centres, where the Indians are found in large numbers, include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Lampang all in the northern Thailand. The largest component of the Indian community id the Sikhs numbering around thirty to thirty five thousands followed by the Hindus numbering between fifteen to eighteen thousands originally from west Punjab. They are followed by the persons from UP, Maharashtra, Gujarat and south India. A majority of the community is well established mainly in the textile industry, real estate, gem and the jewellery business. They have been playing a very active role in the economy of Thailand.
Culturally the Indian diaspora of Thailand is very much interested in the Indian culture. A large number of religious and cultural organisations have been formed by the PIOs. It is very active and organises various Indian cultural programmes and events from time to time. It has adopted and integrated itself with the local population and the environment also. It does not take much interest in political activities, whether at the local level or at the national level. Most of the persons of Indian origin have attained the Thai citizenship and they have also been issued long term visas by the Indian mission in the country to enable them to visit India. They visit frequently and remain in touch with the motherland. There is found a trend among them to send their children to India for higher study. Consequent upon the down turn of the thai economy since 1997, the Indian community has shown interest in investment in various projects in India. They are now playing a major role in the current BIMST-EC. Vietnam: It is reported that prior to the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, there existed a wealthy Indian community of over 25000 in south Vietnam with a large concentration in Ho Chi Minh city, most of the members hailing from Tamil Nadu and Bombay. They were engaged in petty trade such as textile, jewellery, general merchandise retailing and service profession. A number of Chettiyars concentrated in the Ho Chi Minh city were prosperous moneylenders. The Indians who migrated into Vietnam in the recent past are working as professionals. They are well educated. Many of them are engineers and accountants. Most of them are the Indian representatives of Indian companies in Vietnam. There are virtually no unskilled works in the Indian community. The main areas of settlement are Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Due to the close political ties between India and Vietnam nurtured since the era of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and president Ho Chi Minh, there is a great warmth among the Vietnamese for India. The Indians are, therefore, easily acceptable and are identified as traditional partners by the Vietnamese. Moreover, progress made by India in the recent few years in the fields of computer software and information technology and achievements like Green Revolution and White Revolution have also helped boost India’s image in this country. Apart from it , the Indian educational system and the cinema are quite appreciated here. This community is quite active culturally. Major Indian festivals like Diwali and Holi are celebrated in Hanoi and the Ho Chi Minh City. There are four Hindu temples and a mosque, all located in the Ho Chi Minh City. There is also a Gurdwara located in Hanoi. Under the cultural exchange programme, the ICCR sends cultural troupes to Vietnam every year.
Problems and demands of these Indian diaspora in the south-east Asi: Being a separate community and that too remaining apart from its mother country, the Indian diaspora faces a lot of difficulties in the south-east Asia region. The problems are due to various reasons such as the type of government in the country, the attitude of the local people towards them and lastly the degree of sympathy received from the parent country. In case of the Indian diaspora situated in the south-east Asian region, most of the problem faced by them are due to the either the attitude of the local people with them and the stand of the local government. For example, we see that most of the problems faced by the Indian diaspora is due to the antipathy of the Burmese government and the nationalistic attitude of the Burmese people. In Brunei there are the demands of assistance from the govt. of India on consular matters like faster and quicker verification of passport particulars. They clamour for the issue of a larger passport booklet in place of the present one which consists of only 60 pages and the issue of new passport at least one and a half year before the expiry of the current passport. The other demands are the grant of dual citizenship, the right to vote in their respective local constituencies in India and at last the demand of a regular flight of Air India from Brunei to Chennai as most of them belong to Tamil Nadu. In Malaysia also there has been the demand of setting a cultural centre in Malaysia and regular assistance by the govt. of India. They seek to open educational branches of Indian universities in Malaysia a regular flight between Kuala Lumpur and Cochin or Thiruvananthapuram. The PIOs of the Philippines expect to have dual citizenship so that they can participate in the Indian elections. They also look forward to India for educational opportunities of their children. Some members of the Indian community have brought to the notice of the Indian embassy problems faced by them in obtaining long-term visas and permanent residence status for their Indian spouses. These are some of the demands and problems faced by the community living in the South East Asian region. As being non resident Indians they are significantly contributing to the economy of India and as being the persons of Indian origin they are playing a great role in continuing the Indian culture and tradition there. So they are significant for the Indian state economically, culturally, and strategically also as like as the regular citizens of this country. It is the need of the hour that they are provided with every kind help they need and steps be taken to integrate into the mainstream of Indian economy and culture.
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