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Indian Diaspora: All you need to know

Indian Diaspora: The 19th and early 20th centuries saw thousands of Indians shipped to those countries to work on plantations in British colonies, which were reeling under a labour crisis due to the abolition of slavery in 1833-34.

As part of the second wave of migration, nearly 20 lakh Indians went to Singapore and Malaysia to work in farms.

The third and fourth wave saw professionals heading to western countries and workers going to the Gulf and west Asian countries in the wake of the oil boom.

There are 4.7 crore Indians living overseas. The number includes NRIs, PIOs, OCIs, and students.

Excluding students, the number stands at 3.22 crore, including 1.87 crore PIOs and 1.35 crore NRIs.

According to the World Migration Report, prepared by the International Organisation for Migration under the UN, India has the largest emigrant population in the world.

It is the top origin country globally, followed by Mexico, Russian and China.

Indian Diaspora: Historical perspective

Imperialism led-migration: The incorporation of the British Empire in India can be linked to the existence of modern Indian Diaspora all over the world.

Indentured labor: Dating back to the nineteenth century, Indian indentured labor was taken over to the British colonies in different parts of the world.

World Wars: In the post-World War II period, most of the Indian labor and professionals got scattered and it was a worldwide phenomenon.

European reconstruction: The reconstruction of Europe after the war was provided by Indians and other South Asians, particularly in the United Kingdom and Netherlands.

Modern brain-drain: Most recently, Indians have made their presence visibly felt in professions in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Major sections of Indian Diaspora

(1) Indians in the Gulf

Around 8.5 million Indians live and work in the Gulf countries, one of the largest concentrations of migrants in the world.

The geographical and historical proximity makes it a convenient destination for Indians.

Today migrants from across India are working and living in the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait).

(2) Indians in USA

In recent decades the population has grown substantially, with 2.4 million Indian immigrants resident in the United States as of 2015.

This makes the foreign-born from India the second-largest immigrant group in the US after Mexicans.

Categorizing Indian’s abroad

Overseas Indians, officially known as Non-resident Indians (NRIs) or Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs), are people of Indian birth, descent or origin who live outside the Republic of India:

Non-Resident Indians (NRI): NRIs are Indians who are residents of foreign countries.

Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs): The PIO category was abolished in 2015 and merged with the OCI category. However, existing PIO cards are valid till December 31, 2023.

 PIO refers to a foreign citizen (except a national of Pakistan, Afghanistan Bangladesh, China, Iran, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal) who at any time held an Indian passport, or who or either of their parents/ grandparents/great grandparents was born and permanently resided in India as defined in Government of India Act, 1935, or who is a spouse of a citizen of India or a PIO.

Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs): A separate category of OCI was carved out in 2006. An OCI card was given to a foreign national who was eligible to be a citizen of India on January 26, 1950, was a citizen of India on or at any time after January 26, 1950, or belonged to a territory that became part of India after August 15, 1947. Minor children of such individuals, except those who were a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh, were also eligible for OCI cards.

OCI are not citizens: Overseas Citizenship of India is a form of permanent residency available to people of Indian origin and their spouses which allows them to live and work in India indefinitely. Despite its name, OCI status is not citizenship and does not grant the right to vote in Indian elections or hold public office.

It can be revoked: The Indian government can revoke OCI status in a wide variety of circumstances. As of 2020, there are 6 million holders of OCI cards among the Indian Overseas diaspora.

Significance of Indian diaspora

(A) Contribution in the freedom struggle

Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for ending institutionalized discrimination against Indians in South Africa became an inspiring legend for enduring sentimentalism about the diaspora in modern India.

The diaspora also became a vehicle for promoting the cause of Indian independence among the political elites of major countries.

As the independence movement gathered momentum at home, it began to influence many Indian communities abroad.

(B) Diaspora as Cultural extension

The act of migration is not just limited to geographical limits; rather it is a cultural extension.

Let us take the example of the Sikh community. The Sikhs are one of the largest migrants from India to the UK, Canada and many other countries.

They have very well maintained their culture and ethnic existence for decades.

(C) Remittances

Money sent home by migrants is one of the largest financial inflows to developing countries.

The latest World Bank Migration and Development Brief, released in November 2022, said, For the first time a single country, India, is on track to receive more than $100 billion in yearly remittances.

In 2020, India and China received the largest amounts of international remittances in Asia, with a combined total of more than $140 billion, it added.

(D) Diaspora as ‘Agents of change’

Diaspora acts as ‘agents of change’ facilitating and enhancing investment, accelerating industrial development, and boosting international trade and tourism.

Diaspora’s motives to invest in India are long-lasting as many of them wish to establish a long-term base in India.

 (E) Technological development and entrepreneurship

Another tangible long-term advantage in nurturing ties with an active diaspora is an accelerated technological sector and increased socio-economic development.

Some examples to illustrate this phenomenon are Bengaluru, Gurugram and Hyderabad as thriving IT hubs that not only house multinational companies (MNCs) but also multiple Indian start-ups.

(F) Enhancing India’s global say

India’s permanent membership to the UNSC can become a reality with support from the diaspora.

Apart from political pressures and ministerial and diplomatic level lobbying, India can leverage its diaspora to influence states such as Canada and Mexico to support India’s membership

Most Importantly,

(G) Diaspora diplomacy

The diaspora’s ability to spread Indian soft power, lobby for India’s national interests, and contribute economically to India’s rise is now well-recognized.

A less tangible but important advantage in having a large immigrant group is “diaspora diplomacy”.

The recent engagement of Indian leaders in US general elections is a continuation of the extraordinary political investment in engaging the Indian diaspora.

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