Arts & Expression, South Asian, Storytelling, Editorials & Essays
By Tushar Unadkat
A non-resident Indian (NRI) is an Indian citizen who has migrated to another country, a person of Indian origin who is born outside India, or a person of Indian origin who resides outside India. Other terms with the same meaning are overseas Indian and expatriate Indian. In common usage, this often includes Indian born individuals (and also people of other nations with Indian blood) who have taken the citizenship of other countries.
A Person of Indian Origin (PIO) is usually a person of Indian origin who is not a citizen of India. For the purposes of issuing a PIO Card, the Indian government considers anyone of Indian origins up to four generations removed to be a PIO.
The NRI and PIO population across the world is estimated at over 30 million (not including Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan Diasporas).
The Indian government recently introduced the “Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)” scheme in order to allow a limited form of dual citizenship to Indians, NRIs and PIOs for the first time since independence in 1947. It is expected that the PIO Card scheme will be phased out in coming years in favour of OCI.
In the past decade during my international travel, I produced a photographic research titled, Home Away from Homeland.
The theme of this exhibition is concerned with the experience of various generations of Indians living abroad who try to retain aspects of the life they remember before they left India. After one or two generations Indians seem to find themselves in a time warp that relates to an India that no longer exists, except in the memory of their grandparents. In some ways their way of living Indian culture is more traditional than is possible in contemporary India. Thus, through the practice of photography, a body of work is created on the theme of ‘Home Away from Homeland.’
Here the word ‘Indian’ is used in the broadest sense and includes Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans. These images focus on the social, commercial, cultural, religious and day-to-day activities of Indians and observe the fine blending of different cultures. The intention was to capture what Indians have adapted from the West and vice-versa.
“I chose this theme because, as an Indian abroad myself, I share the concerns and experiences of my fellow exiles. I am both an observer and a subject.”
As a part of the research, this work has travelled around in England, Scotland, Germany, New York and Canada to compare the differences and similarities between the Indians in different parts of the West.
In 1961, the local authorities of the city of Leicester in England and Krefeld in Germany declared the cities as “twin” towns. It is said that Leicester has the largest Indian population in Europe. Hence the purpose of choosing Krefeld in Germany was to investigate the Indian community in the “twin” town of Leicester. To compare the lifestyles of the ‘Indian’ in different parts of the West, a study was then conducted in New York and Canada.
The work is addressed to various audiences. For example, for those Indians who cannot travel abroad, it will be an awareness-raising project that expresses the significance of their community in foreign lands. It could also target the population of different countries, to inform them about the Indians who live amongst them and their special culture.
A new flavour on this project can be seen through the images taken in India, of the Non Resident Indians (NRI). The aim of this exhibition is to establish a visually recorded history of Indians living abroad before the Millennium.
Indians in the UK
The Indian emigrant community in the United Kingdom is now in its third generation. As an immigrant group, people of Indian origin have been remarkably successful. Indians in the UK are the largest community outside of Asia percentage wise, and the second largest population wise, only surpassed by the United States.
Indian culture has been constantly referenced within wider British culture, at first as an “exotic” influence in films like ‘My Beautiful Laundrette,’ but now increasingly as a familiar feature in films like ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’ Indian food is now regarded as part of the British cuisine.
According to the UK National Census, in 2008 there are likely to be well over 1,600,000 citizens of Indian origin in the UK.
Indians in Canada
According to Statistics Canada, in 2006 there were 962,665 people who classified themselves as being of Indian origin. The term “East Indian” or Indo-Canadian is most commonly associated with people of Indian origin, since the term Indian in Canada has commonly been used to refer to the Aboriginal Canadians and still continues to be used to describe them, causing much confusion. In addition, the term Indian is also occasionally applied to people from the Caribbean (West Indians), also called Indo-Caribbeans. Out of this population, 42 per cent are Hindu, 39 per cent are Sikh, and the remainder are Muslim, Christian, Jain, Buddhist or have no religious affiliation. The main Indian ethnic communities are Punjabis (who account for more than half the population) as well Gujaratis, Tamils (Indian as opposed to Sri Lankan), Indo-Caribbeans (numbering approximately 200,000), Keralites, Bengalis, Sindhis and others.
The first known Indian settlers in Canada were Indian army soldiers who had passed through Canada in 1897 on their way back home from attending Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in London, England. Some are believed to have remained in British Columbia and others returned there later, along with other Punjabi Indians who were attracted to the possibilities for farming and forestry. They were mainly male Sikhs who were seeking work opportunities. Indo-Caribbean descendants of the Indian indentured workers who had gone to the Caribbean since 1838, made an early appearance in Canada with the arrival of the Trinidadian medical student Kenneth Mahabir and the Demerara (now Guyana) clerk M.N. Santoo, both in 1908.
The first immigrants in British Columbia allegedly faced widespread racism from the local White Canadians. There were race riots that targeted these immigrants, as well as new Chinese immigrants. Most decided to return to India, while a few stayed behind. The Canadian government prevented these men from bringing their wives and children until 1919, another reason why many of them chose to leave. Quotas were established to prevent many Indians from moving to Canada in the early twentieth century. These quotas allowed fewer than 100 people from India a year until 1957, when the number was increased to 300. In 1967, all quotas were scrapped, and immigration was based on a point system, thus allowing many more Indians to enter. Since this open door policy was adopted, Indians continue to come in large numbers, and roughly 25,000 to 30,000 arrive each year (which now makes Indians the second highest group immigrating to Canada each year, after the Chinese).
Most Indians choose to immigrate to larger urban centers like Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver, where more than 70 per cent live. Smaller communities are also growing in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. Indians in Vancouver are from diverse locations in India such as Punjab, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Indians in Vancouver mainly live in the suburb of Surrey, but can also be found in other parts of Vancouver. The vast majority of Vancouver Indians are of Sikh origin and have taken significant roles in politics and other professions, with several Supreme Court justices, three Attorneys Generals and one provincial premier hailing from the community.
Indians in the United States
Indian immigration to North America started as early as 1890s. A Sikh-Canadians community has existed in Abbotsford, B.C. for over 100 years. The Hindus from India started to settle after the government built the first Mandir (Hindu temple). Many of the Sikhs that were living in the United States would often visit their homes in India and share their experiences. The stories would encourage the Hindus to move to the United States and live there. In 1889, the first Hindu family arrived in America, the government built a Mandir for the family, which attracted more Hindus immigrants and soon after there were many Mandirs to be found around the country.
Sikhs were not allowed to build a temple as the government believed that Sikhism was created from Hinduism and hence the Sikhs would have to either pray at the Mandirs or not pray at all. The real reason was the Government did not want to use any more money on places of worship. More that 75 per cent of the Sikhs prayed at the Mandirs, but about 100 refused as they wanted to retain their own religion within the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) so they protested for almost 22 years. Finally, in 1911, the first Gurdwara was built not in America but in Canada, because the American government were occupied by the war in Japan and Europe. Today there are very few Gurdwaras in America and many in Canada.
The first Gurdwara on South Fraser Way in Abbotsford is the oldest Sikh temple in North America (1911). Emigration to the United States also started in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when Sikhs arriving in Vancouver found that the fact that they were subjects of the British Empire did not mean anything in the Empire (Canada) itself, and they faced blatant discrimination.
Some of these pioneers entered the United States or landed in Seattle and San Francisco as the ships that carried them from Asia often stopped at these ports. Most of these immigrants were Sikhs from the Punjab region. They were referred to in the United States as Hindus (due to a common American misconception that all Indians are Hindus and also the fact that this term distinguished immigrants from Native Americans who were also called Indians).
A restriction on immigration of Indian women, banned under the racially prejudiced immigration laws passed by the United States government in 1917 at the behest of California and other States in the West, meant a large influx of Chinese, Japanese and Punjabi immigrants during and after the gold rush.
As a result, a large number of these men married Mexican women in California. A fair number of these families settled down in the Central Valley in California as farmers, who continue farming until today. These early immigrants were deprived of voting rights, family re-unification and citizenship.
In 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind ruled that people from India (at the time, British India, e.g. South Asians) are aliens ineligible for citizenship became a citizen a few years later in New York. Bhagat Singh Thind was a Sikh from India settled in Oregon, he had earlier applied and been rejected in Oregon. After the Second World War, family reunification was allowed again for people of non-white origin after being banned for almost half a century and they were given the right to vote. A large number of the men that arrived before 1940s were finally able to bring their families to the United States, most of them settled in California and other west coast states.
Another wave entered the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. A large percentage of them were Sikhs joining their family members under the new colour-blind immigration laws and professionals or students that came from all over India. The Cold War created a need for engineers in the defence and aerospace industries, many of whom came from India. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gujarati and South Indian immigrants outnumbered Sikhs or Punjabis as new arrivals, though all communities had pretty much even representation in overall Indian-American numbers.
The most recent and probably the largest wave of immigration to date occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000 during the Internet boom. As a result, Indians in the United States are now one of the largest among the groups of Indian Diaspora, numbering about three million. In contrast to the previous sets of Indians who entered the United States workforce as taxi drivers, labourers, farmers or small business owners, the latest set went on to be very successful financially, thanks to the hi-tech industry, and are thus probably the most well-off community of immigrants. They are well represented in all walks of life, but particularly so in academia, information technology and medicine. There were over 4,000 PIO professors and 84,000 Indian-born students in American universities in 2007-2008. The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin boasts a membership of 35,000. In 2000, Fortune magazine estimated the wealth generated by Indian Silicon Valley entrepreneurs at around US$250 billion.
Though the Indian Diaspora in the United States is largely concentrated in metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Detroit and Houston, almost every state in the US has a community of Indians.