chapter  21
9 Pages

Indians Abroad

Mixing it up
WithKaren Leonard

How should one conceptualize Indian-descended collectivities abroad, especially when focusing on those that are hybrid? This collection is entitled South Asian diasporas, and my topic is hybridity. ‘South Asian’ can include people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldive Islands, Afghanistan and even those of Indian origin from places like Fiji and the West Indies, but since most of my material concerns those who migrated before 1947, I will usually refer to Indians in what follows. Diaspora has become the term used loosely for sets of immigrants abroad and their descendants, and I too will use it in that way. Yet the original meaning of diaspora, and the meaning still implicit for many scholars, suggests that those abroad retain active connections and an ideological allegiance to the homeland, share a desire to return to it and display strong cultural continuities in belief and behaviour. Scholars typically have ‘compared South Asian diasporas with conditions “back home” on the Indian subcontinent and sought to determine processes of cultural retention and attenuation’ and, more recently, they have looked at interactions in the new environments, stressing the effects of new political contexts and focusing less on objective documentation of diasporas than on their production through the labour of memory (Eisenlohr 2007: 773–4). This means that diasporas can emerge, be invented if you will, over time, an insight that nicely complements Arjun Appadurai's discussion (1996) of the unstable nature of transnational ethnic identities, of concepts shifting and no longer bound by territory, history, or cultural homogeneity. My point is that definitions and policies concerning ‘Indians’ are often at the mercy of both old and new states and their changing policies over time, and immigrants can become diasporic if they were not so at first.