Labour and longing


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THE Indian diaspora is today an incontestable fact of world culture. As the world drifts towards globalization, and India itself enters into the world economy, shaking off its notorious Hindu rate of growth for the decidedly mixed blessings of what might be called a new coolitude,1 the Indian diaspora is beginning to occupy a greater place in transnational economic and cultural exchanges. However, to some observers, the Indian diaspora has had, perhaps most visibly thorough cultural artefacts, something of a global presence over the last few decades.

Among the most visible signs today of India’s diasporic presence are its Silicon Valley millionaires, the graduates of its IITs, and its other professional elite such as doctors. But before all of this there was the literature of the Indian diaspora, the gradual emergence of Indian food as a global cuisine, and the nearly ubiquitous Patel Brothers grocery store. Anyone with more than a modicum of familiarity with Great Britain will recognize that the power which colonized India has finally, owing to the pervasive influence of Indian food, become something of a civilized place. If I may invoke Somerset Maugham, one no longer has to eat an English breakfast three times a day in order to eat well in Britain. The curry invasion of Britain has been well documented, and newer episodes in the ‘curry wars’ are being written every month.

In the last decade or more, V.S. Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, Anita Desai, and the Ved Mehta of Daddyji and Mummyji fame have been joined by Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Vassanji, Harold Sonny Ladoo, Rohinton Mistry, K.S. Maniam, Subramani, Cyril and David Dabydeen, and Agha Shahid Ali, to name only some of the more prominent poets and novelists who have transformed our understanding of English and its idioms.



Yet literature and Indian food are not the only telltale signs of the globalization of the Indian diaspora. Though the United States is only now discovering that there is a cinema of mass appeal other than Hollywood, Hindi films have had a marked presence in the southern hemisphere since the early days of decolonization. The diaspora is no longer very far from Bollywood’s horizons either, as films such as Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Pardes, Jeans, and Kal Ho Na Ho amply demonstrate.

That the diaspora of Bollywood’s imagination has moved from Mauritius to the United States is another matter, and it gestures at some of the themes which shall be the subject of my observations. While scholars of the Indian diaspora have hitherto professed no great disinclination to speak of it in the singular, it is becoming increasingly clear that the term ‘the Indian diaspora’ obscures as much as it is reveals. One might argue that there is no compelling reason to jettison the term, and that though one can reasonably ask what makes the highly dispersed Indian diaspora ‘Indian’, one can also, just as reasonably, point to the numerous ways in which a sense of ‘Indianness’ can be evoked.



What is it that is common, for example, among Canadian Sikhs, Tamil-speaking Indo-Mauritians, the Indo-Guyanese of New York, the Bhojpuri-speaking peoples in Lambasa (Fiji), the thrice-emigrated Gujaratis displaced from Uganda and Kenya, Indo-Fijians now settled in Australia and New Zealand, the Malayalis of the Gulf states, Malaysian Indians, Punjabi-Mexican Americans, Indo-Fijian Canadians, and the affluent Indian elites of North America? The US-based Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, or GOPIO in its more familiar acronym, has obviously dwelled on the notions of ‘origins’ to draw out what it takes to be common to Indians dispersed around the world.

But what does it mean to say that the origins of a seventh-generation Indo-Mauritian, whose ancestors may have arrived at the shores of this island by the first boat in 1834, and who has never had any first-hand familiarity with the land of his ancestors, lie in India? Will the origins of Indo-Mauritians 300 years from now also lie in India? What kind of histories of continuity are assumed by claims of ‘origins’?

Some scholars will, for good reasons, seek to disavow the idea of origins. The quest for ‘origins’, as we have found out all too often, is often chimerical; it is also laced with political intent, since arguments mounted on the back of ‘origins’ become the vehicle for claiming primacy and privileges. The idea of ‘origins’, it is obvious, excludes as much as it includes: if the hybrid forms of culture that have emerged in recent years are any indication, ‘origins’ is bound to become an increasingly unreliable index to ‘Indianness’. I suspect, moreover, that the globalized forms of what passes for Indian culture, from the immensely popular (among middle-class Indian families in the US) dance form of bharatanatyam to the samosa and the Bollywood film might aid us more in giving shape to the notion of an Indian diaspora than the real or alleged origins of those who claim membership in the diaspora.



In speaking, then, of the Indian diaspora, it appears that certain elementary distinctions are in order. As I shall suggest shortly, these distinctions are of considerable importance in understanding which diasporic communities are more liable to suffer from political, economic, or social disabilities, and which of these communities are clearly subject to acute or chronic forms of racial discrimination, injustice, and even systemic forms of oppression. One can speak, with the obvious proviso that there are exceptions to neat forms of categorization, of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ diasporas, the first pre-eminently a diaspora of the 19th century, the latter largely of the 20th century; the former also coincides with the diaspora of the ‘south’, just as the latter appears to coincide with the diaspora of the ‘north’.

The truly heroic saga of 19th century indentured labourers who made their way to Mauritius, Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam, Fiji, South Africa and elsewhere has only in the last two decades received sustained scholarly attention, and the Government of India’s interest in this diaspora, or even acknowledgment of its existence, is even more recent. One well-known scholar of an earlier generation not inaccurately described indentured labour as another name for slavery,2 and I suspect that Indians, who have seldom had social intimacy with black populations, have always been inclined to view slavery as a phenomenon which describes the experiences of black people rather than their own experiences. That is one reason, among others, why the older diaspora has largely been obscured from visibility, and indeed its very invisibility is itself a sign of its vulnerability to forms of oppression.



The new diaspora, now eagerly courted by the Government of India, is represented, to a substantial degree, by professional elites who have carved a niche for themselves in the countries of the affluent north. Yet the porousness and tentativeness of these distinctions between ‘old’ and ‘new’, ‘south’ and ‘north’, lower-class and upper-class, ‘coolie’ and professional, ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ becomes at once evident on somewhat closer scrutiny. The so-called coolies of the ‘old’ diaspora appear to have their counterpart, the enthusiasm of Thomas Friedman and Gurcharan Das notwithstanding,3 in the cybercoolies recruited among the young men and women of India who, without leaving India, have now become the latest incarnation of the diasporic sensibility. They are at least as much exiled from ‘village India’ as Indians settled in the diaspora.

Similarly, if we recall that the older diasporas comprised not only indentured labourers but traders, then it is by no means idle to suggest that some of the vanguard of the new diaspora, who have been among the most enthusiastic advocates of globalization, are themselves anticipated in the figure of the Gujarati trader whose networks were as vast as any which are today associated with global and corporate elites.

There is, then, much less certainty in our characterizations of Indian diasporas as ‘old’ and ‘new’ than we are wont to imagine, but nonetheless the distinction will not go away. One of the many reasons why the Indian populations of Fiji, Trinidad, South Africa, Guyana and other portions of the ‘old’ diaspora cannot seamlessly be assimilated, either through a category such as ‘origins’ or by invocations to some broad conceptions of ‘Indian civilization’, into a wider story of the Indian diaspora of which the US, Canada, and Australia partake is that the Government of India has never been much inclined to bestow attention on the older Indian diaspora.



It is no accident that the term NRI (the Non-Resident Indian), which is now often cleverly passed off as a reference to any overseas Indian, only came into usage much less than two decades ago, and has acquired something of a magical resonance in the last decade when India finally became committed to the opening of its economy to foreign investments, the reduction of tariffs, and the gradual elimination of the license raj. When we consider that the United States only opened its doors to immigrants from India and other countries in 1965 with the passage of a new Immigration and Naturalization Act, and that a professional and affluent Indian elite, which in time would have both the means and the desire to support the economic liberalization of India, was first established in the 1980s, it becomes easier to understand why NRI became at the same time a term of approbation, indeed a sign of something to which the middle-class Indian could aspire. The entire destiny of the middle-class Indian consisted in effecting a transformation into the NRI – and, to be sure, the NRI was never then a category that referenced all overseas Indians, but rather only Indians in the affluent North, and most particularly those settled in the United States.



The recent Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas gatherings in New Delhi are similarly deceptive exercises which invoke an ecumenical conception of the Indian diaspora that, to the contrary, the Government of India has almost always disowned. It is scarcely an exaggeration to suggest that the Indian government, and no less the educated elites of India, were oblivious to the presence of an older Indian diaspora and were predisposed towards viewing it as a reminder of everything that India had to leave behind if it wished to be seen as a nation marching towards progress and development. Since political correctness, as much as the aspiration to be viewed as a great power, largely prevents the Government of India from openly embracing outright discrimination with respect to overseas Indians, the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas gatherings have perforce sought to convey the impression that Mother India will take unto its bosom all of its dispersed children, howsoever poor or wealthy, the older ones as much as the younger ones.4

But dishonesty cannot always dissimulate successfully: thus the stated intention of the Government of India to confer the privilege of dual citizenship upon the members of the newer, affluent diasporic communities of the north, while leaving Indian communities in the Caribbean, Fiji, South Africa, Malaysia and else-where out in the cold, and this on the pretence that the older diasporic communities have not maintained much of a living connection with the mother-land, comes as no surprise.



Far from highlighting the injustices to which Indians around the world might be prey, the two Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas gatherings have inadvertently underscored the fact that many diasporic Indian communities have remained largely invisible, and that jubilant celebrations of India’s supposed global presence may not be particularly meaningful to Indians residing in countries, such as Trinidad, Guyana, South Africa, Fiji, Kenya, and Malaysia where the racial divide is profound if not always transparent, where Indians, even as they might be dominant economic players, are shut out from civil society, or where the syncretic culture forged through common Hindu and Muslim bonds is now being undermined by what can fairly be described as the communal evangelism of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

How have Indians negotiated their place in countries where they have been settled for a hundred years or more? What relations have they forged with indigenous groups, as in Fiji, or with other, older immigrant groups, such as the African populations of Trinidad and Guyana? Anti-Chinese riots have been a recurrent feature in modern Indonesian history, and in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States Muslims might be encountering increased harassment and discrimination the world over, but I suspect that Indians have had the singularly unpleasant distinction, in the post-World War II period, of facing eviction from more countries than any other community.

There has been a pervasive feeling in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, where Gujaratis came to dominate the trading networks, constituting a comprador elite, that Indians occupy the same place that Jews once did both as middlemen (and, one must add, as scapegoats), but I am not aware that those who have dealt with Indians unjustly, often with brutality and naked aggression, faced anything like the opprobrium that persecutors of Jews have faced in the twentieth century. The inescapable conclusion is that Indians can be oppressed without much consequence to the oppressors, a conclusion borne out, as we shall have occasion to witness, in aftermath of the coup in Fiji in 2000, as well as by the so-called repatriation of Indian Tamils from Sri Lanka following the Sirimavo-Shastri Pact of 1964.



While even a sweeping glance at the liabilities faced by Indian communities around the world remains outside the scope of this paper, numerous insights can be gained by delving briefly into the contemporary histories of the five diasporic communities, with histories that diverge as much as they intersect – of South Africa, Trinidad, Fiji, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates. How far these are ‘representative’ diasporic communities is an open question. Both Fiji and Trinidad received large number of indentured labourers, largely from the Bhojpuri-speaking Gangetic belt in North India, who worked the sugar plantations.

However, the Indian presence in Trinidad, which dates to 1845, anticipates Indian migrations to Fiji by four decades; moreover, Trinidad straddles the Atlantic, just as Fiji straddles the Pacific, and if Trinidad’s history is inextricably intertwined with the histories of the Caribbean, including other diasporic Indian communities in Guyana, Surinam and Jamaica, Fiji’s Indian diaspora is today increasingly beginning to circulate in neighbouring New Zealand. But nonetheless Fiji and Trinidad are also iconic in many similar ways of the Indian indentured experience.



The Indians, as George Lamming so movingly wrote, humanized the landscape, tilled the soil, and put the food on the table.5 In Trinidad, at least, despite growing up initially under conditions of appalling poverty, Indians were still able to effect a number of remarkable transformations over two or three generations. Through sheer perseverance, labour and thrift, and most significantly by a calculated withdrawal into their culture in which they found forces of sustenance, these Indians successfully laboured to give their children and grandchildren better economic futures. Their very success would be held against them, as palpable evidence of their greed and exploitative nature.

The calypsonian Lord Superior voiced these sentiments in Trinidad, when he urged Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams, on the eve of independence in 1958, to ‘tax them’ Indians ‘mad’:

It have some old Indian people

Playing they like to beg

This time they got one million dollars

Tie between their leg

I am telling the Doctor

I am talking the facts

Is to chop loose the capra [cloth]

And haul out your income tax.

Electoral politics in Trinidad, where Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians account in equal measure for nearly 85% of the population of 1.3 million, is seared by an intense racial divide. Three general elections took place in Trinidad in a little more than two years, the most recent in October 2002. The Indian presence in Trinidad’s electoral politics was felt for the first time in 1986 when the ruling party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), which had reigned supreme since Trinidad derived its independence from British rule in 1962, lost to a coalition of the United National Congress (UNC), led by the trade unionist Basdeo Panday, and the National Alliance for Reconstruction.



The Alliance’s A.N.R. Robinson was swept to power, and Basdeo Panday was placed in charge of the Finance Ministry at a critical moment in Trinidad’s history when the IMF had called for drastic economic reforms to avert what it described as economic collapse. In 1991, the PNM came back into power, but in 1995 Panday achieved what would have been considered absolutely improbable a decade ago, namely outright electoral triumph. Thus, 150 years after Indians first arrived in Trinidad, an Indo-Trinidadian, whose ancestors came from the plains of north India, ascended to the office of the prime minister.

Having served out his five-year term, Panday appeared to have consolidated the UNC’s place in Trinidad’s politics when he again led the party to victory in late 2000. The UNC captured 19 seats, and the PNM 16 seats; but dissension in the ranks of his party, which deprived Panday of his majority in Parliament less than a year after he was sworn into office for his second term, led him to dissolve Parliament and call for early elections. Among those who quit Panday’s cabinet was Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who stated that he no longer had confidence in his government’s ability and will to deal with corruption.

Manning and his PNM, which has historically attracted Afro-Trinidadians much as UNC derives most of its constituents from the Indian population, campaigned against corruption in the government; on the other hand, Panday argued that his party was best calculated to lead the oil-rich nation into further prosperity and economic growth. The December 2001 elections, however, resulted in a stalemate: the UNC and the PNM, still led by Patrick Manning, each captured 18 seats in the 36-seat Parliament. The three dissenters from Panday’s party, though constituting themselves into a new political party called Team Unity, failed to win any seats.



Following the stalemated election, Panday proposed a power-sharing agreement between the two parties, but he could not gain Manning’s agreement. Subsequently, Panday and Manning came to the understanding that Arthur Robinson, who had been elevated to the largely ceremonial Presidency of Trinidad & Tobago in 1997, would choose the head of government, and that new elections would be held at a date agreed upon by the two parties. On 24 December 2001, Robinson chose Manning to form the new government. For the Indian community, puzzled that incumbent Prime Minister Panday should have been overlooked, this was perhaps calculated to revive memories of the domination of Trinidad’s politics by those of African descent. Panday declared himself unable to accept Robinson’s decision on the grounds that it had not been made in accordance with the provision of the Constitution.



Following a party meeting on 2 January 2002, Panday issued a statement describing the government of Manning as ‘illegitimate, unconstitutional, [and] contrary to the rule of law.’ Manning, for his part, issued a statement on 3 January laying claim to the government and denouncing Panday for ‘disregarding the rule of law’ and ‘engaging in action designed to inflame the minds of followers.’ ‘Poor Mr. Panday, I feel sorry for him,’ Manning said. ‘Some people have difficulty adjusting to new arrangements. He doesn’t realize that he’s not the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, that there’s a new prime minister and he has difficulty adjusting to that. But I think over time, he will adjust, so let us be patient and kind with him.’

Manning had surely spoken too early, since the political stalemate never disappeared, and the country’s political business came to a standstill in the absence of a Speaker in the House of Representatives. Manning, consequently, asked for the dissolution of Parliament and asked that the country go to the polls yet again. In the most recent elections, Manning led the PNM to victory with 20 seats. But the overwhelming suspicion that the PNM represents only the Afro-Trinidadian party remains; moreover, electoral politics is scarcely the only sign of the racial cleavage that afflicts Trinidad.

The country’s Sanatan Dharma Mahasabha, which closely monitors the state and its institutions, has time after time pointed to other manifestations of what it describes as the systemic undermining of the Indian population. From official patronage of the Carnival and the state’s refusal to grant the Mahasabha a radio license to allegations that school textbooks allow African and Afro-Trinidadian history a disproportionately high place on the syllabus and that the government is keen to introduce ‘racial quotas’ which would reduce if not terminate the domination of the University of West Indies’s St. Augustine campus by Indo-Trinidadians, the signs are unmistakably clear of endeavours to represent Trinidad’s history as exclusively a history of the black diaspora.



Considering the Mahasabha’s predisposition towards an extreme form of Hindu nationalism, one might be tempted to dismiss its frequent depiction of Indians as the victims of state-sanctioned racial bigotry and discrimination as rhetorical excess. But Trinidad’s growing problems with crime perhaps furnish a different window into allegations of racism and discrimination. Reports about the rise of kidnappings in Trinidad have been proliferating over the last two to three years, and even the US State Department which views Trinidad as a valuable oil-producing ally, had perforce to admit in 2003, in its annual report on human rights, that ‘criminal kidnappings for ransom were a growing problem’ in Trinidad.6

The Indian community has alleged that the vast victims are of Indian origin, and though no one has claimed that Trinidad’s own government is implicated in these kidnappings, there are reasonable questions to be asked how far such kidnappings are tolerated or overlooked by a police force that might be indifferent to the sufferings of Indians. Prime Minister Manning, speaking at Howard University in Washington, DC in December 2003, went so far as to describe ‘a significant number’ of the ‘kidnappings’ as bogus, as ‘something else’, and thus clearly implying that they had been stage-managed, or that such reports were only calculated to lead ‘to heightened tensions among the people of Trinidad and Tobago.’7



However intense the racial divide in Trinidad, the prospects for Indians in Fiji look far more bleak. One encounters many people who pride themselves on their knowledge of the world to whom it comes as a shock that 20% of the British Caribbean is Indian; much greater is the shock of those who are brought to the awareness that 30 years ago Indians accounted for over 50% of Fiji’s population. Indians were first brought to Fiji in 1879 to work as indentured labourers on sugar plantations owned primarily by the Colonial Sugar Refining company of Australia; they not only farmed the land, but it is from the profits of their labour that Queensland and New South Wales were developed. Yet far too many spokespersons, usually self-proclaimed, for the ethnic Fijians and Europeans alike have chosen to obscure the history of Indians in Fiji.

The Indians became the mainstay of the sugar industry, by far the largest contributor to the Fijian economy; and yet, as the Fijian leader Ratu Sukuna conceded in 1936, demands for their exclusion from the political process, indeed from Fiji, were being voiced. As he wrote, ‘They have shouldered many burdens that have helped Fiji onward. We have derived much money from them by way of rents. A large proportion of our prosperity is derived from their labour. Yet a Fijian Nationalist Party was formed by a man called Butadroka in January 1974 with the slogan of ‘Fiji for the Fijians.’8



The Indians still till the soil, but under Fijian law the ownership of 83 per cent of the land is reserved for ethnic Fijians, and another 9% comes under the jurisdiction of the government. Indians own less than 2% of the land. Following independence in 1970, 98% of the Indians took out Fijian citizenship, though there is nothing to suggest that they came to acquire the privileges of citizenship. The fact that the term ‘Fijian’ is somehow reserved for ethnic Fijians, rather than Indian Fijians, is itself indicative of the secondary status of Indians.9

Independence did not furnish Indians with rights over land; instead, the Indo-Fijians who had worked the land were granted 30 year leases. Upon their expiry in 1997 and the years following, these leases were allowed to lapse by ethnic Fijians who much preferred to let the land remain fallow in the name of nationalism and ethnic pride rather than be turned over to Indians.10 Indo-Fijians, despite some obvious attempts to starve them into submission and compel them into exile, have nonetheless shown great resilience: thus they also predominate among the traders, smaller businessmen, and educators. They have been a presence in Fiji for several generations.



Yet the leader of the coup of 2000, George Speight, who is of part European descent and was then resident of Australia, and is much more of a foreigner to Fiji than any Indian born and settled there, had the audacity to describe Indians as ‘foreigners’: as the Austrian wit Karl Krauss might have said of him, he shows the same effrontery that a sausage does when it is charged with being a pig. There is, moreover, little that is ‘indigenous’ about the political arrangements devised for ethnic Fijians: the Great Council of Chiefs was largely a British invention, an attempt to appease ethnic Fijians alarmed at the prospect of Indian entry into Fiji.

Indians have been streaming out of Fiji since the first coup in May 1987. The political reality is that the National Alliance, dominated by ethnic nationalists, Australian business interests, and a few wealthy Indians, was handed a decisive defeat in the elections of the preceding month, which brought to power a multiracial coalition: this display of democracy was found to be intolerable. Dr. Timoci Bavadra, at the head of a coalition of the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party, had garnered the support of the Indo-Fijian community, and 19 of the 29 elected MPs were Indo-Fijian. Half the cabinet seats were filled by ethnic Fijians, and political power in the new government was admirably balanced between ethnic and Indian Fijians.

Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, leader of the coup and encouraged by the ‘Taukei movement’, an ethnic Fijian defence of ‘our land’, claimed to be preserving and enhancing the rights of ethnic Fijians; Indians were seen as attempting to take control of the economy. The view that Indians were assuming political domination was groundless, but Rabuka was adept at exploiting the charge, nor did ethnic Fijian leaders do anything to issue a contradiction. The constitution that was promulgated in 1990 ensured the political supremacy of ethnic Fijians and reserved senior positions, including the post of the prime minister, for that community; it allocated nearly 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives to the ethnic Fijians, whose share of the population, following the exodus of Indian Fijians, had risen to 46 per cent.



However, the openly racist constitution turned Fiji into something of a pariah, and Rabuka eventually, in 1997, appointed a constitutional review commission. Racially-based provisions of the constitution were eliminated; not surprisingly, in the elections of 2000, Mahendra Chaudhry swept to power. His Labour party, in alliance with two smaller Fijian parties, captured 70 per cent of the seats. This put an Indo-Fijian at the helm of power for the first time in Fiji’s history.

Though George Speight was to defend his actions in launching the coup of 2000 with the observation that Fijians needed to take control of their own destiny, having allegedly been reduced to impotence in their own country, it is instructive that Chaudhry awarded eleven positions in his cabinet to ethnic Fijians, and only six to Indians. It is said that history repeats itself as farce; in Fiji, one suspects that farce is the very template of history. The same scenario of racialism, gangsterism, and xenophobia was played out yet again as a coup overthrew Chaudhry’s government.



In the political negotiations that were to take place between Speight, the interim military government, and the Great Chiefs, the Indian Fijians, whose numbers have now been reduced to 42-44% of the population owing to massive migrations to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US, were found deserving of one ministerial seat in the new administration – that too a junior non-Cabinet post for ‘multiethnic affairs’. The new – the other word for old, tested, and corrupt – way of conducting ‘multiethnic affairs’ in Fiji appears to be to proceed on the assumption that the ethnic Fijians are the only true inheritors of the land and that Indo-Fijians, now settled there for five generations, are still visitors. One wonders how long it will be before the discourse shapes the reality, and Indo-Fijians are treated like visitors to their own land.

Indian indentured labour to Malaysia, in contrast to Trinidad, originated in the late 19th century; and the vast bulk of the labourers were drawn from South India, predominantly from Tamil Nadu. As many as 90,000 Indians were brought to Malaysia every year between 1911-1930,11 and in certain districts, for example in southern Kedah, the Indian population became preponderant. Malaysia’s Indians today account for 8 per cent of the country’s population. Owing to Malaysia’s relative proximity to India, it is reasonable to infer both that a greater number of Indian labourers returned at the end of the contractual period, and that even those who stayed behind continued, howsoever sporadically, to retain some links with the motherland. Malaysia’s Indian population bears, in these respects, a closer similarity to Indians in Singapore, which in any event was part of the Malay Federation before emerging as a separate nation state.



It has often been said that in Malaysia the numerically preponderant Malays have a grip over government jobs, the Chinese predominate in business, and the Indians are congregated around plantations. Until recently, indeed, rubber plantations were still the largest employers of Indians, and though oil palm is rapidly replacing rubber as Malaysia’s largest cash crop, a significant portion of Indian Malaysians still live in and around plantations. The deplorable living conditions in the rubber estates have been well documented.12 Water and electricity shortages are acute, and houses are in an extraordinarily dilapidated condition; workers are exposed to toxic pesticides, and medical services are grossly inadequate. Salaries of estate or plantation workers are among the lowest in the country, and in the mid-1990s nearly 70 per cent of workers were heavily in debt.13 Estate schools, with a few exceptions, receive no state funding; nor has the government shown any desire to build schools for the Tamil community in urban areas which have witnessed a growth in Indian population as rubber plantations get shut down and Indonesians and Bangladeshis increasingly take the place of Tamils on estates. Alcoholism and subtle discrimination have together drained the life out of the community.14



As some studies of Malaysia have suggested, poverty afflicts the Malay community as well. The New Economic Policy of the long-serving but recently retired Prime Minister, Muhammad Mahathir, generated new wealth but also exacerbated some inequities. A report published in 1998 admitted that ‘poverty among Malays is still widespread as it is among urban settlers, indigenous peoples, plantation workers (mainly Indian) and New Village residents (mainly Chinese).’15 Though there is some disagreement about how far Indians have been specifically targeted by the state, no one denies that considerably greater segments of the Indian population remain deeply mired in poverty than among other ethnic groups.

Whereas affirmative action or some equivalent policy of reservations is used in most countries to redress the grievances of minority communities who may have been subjected to systematic discrimination, in Malaysia the policy of reserving jobs for bhumiputras, or ‘native sons of the soil’, is calculated to privilege the Malays and give them the assurance that state patronage remains the preserve of the native community. But the preservation of Malay hegemony can take on much more subtle forms.



It has, for example, long been the experience of the educated elite among Indian Malaysians that a glass ceiling prevents the ascendancy of Indians to the highest positions not only in government but in universities and other institutions of civic society.16 Malaysia openly prides itself on its multiculturalism, and yet the country is openly described as an Islamic state. There is no necessary inconsistency in this position, but for the fact, to take only one example, that Malaysians do not in the least take it as amiss that every university has a mosque, but none offers religious services for Hindus, Christians, or practitioners of other faiths.

It is on the note of multiculturalism that we come to the case of South Africa. The migration of Indian farm labourers to South Africa commenced in 1860: following the example of plantation owners in Madagascar and Mauritius, farm owners in the province of Natal successfully lobbied the Indian Government to send indentured labourers to farm the sugar plantations. By 1900, Indians outnumbered whites in the province of Natal. But the history of the Indian diaspora in South Africa has its own distinctive features: as is well-known, it is here that non-violent resistance to unjust laws was initiated by Gandhi and other members of the Indian community.



Notwithstanding their relative proximity to the east coast of Africa, and to the Indian communities of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zanzibar, South Africa’s Indians have perhaps had more in common with the Indians of Fiji, Mauritius, and Trinidad. But South Africa remained distinct for other reasons: it is here that the ideology of racial segregation received full-blown expression. Racism was no longer to be predicated on mere sentiment; on the contrary, racial discrimination was institutionalized. The African National Congress (ANC), the main organ of resistance to apartheid, had at one time been inspired by both the Natal Indian Congress and the Indian National Congress. In the apartheid era, Indians not only fought alongside black people, but came to occupy significant leadership positions in the ANC.

The end of apartheid should have been a signal to Indians that the disabilities under which they had suffered would be removed. As elsewhere around the world, the white race in South Africa had set itself up as a transcendent entity, representing itself as a people whose presence alone kept the country from disintegrating into racial and ethnic hostilities. The racialized hierarchies white South Africa brought into existence have prevailed. Thus, discrimination is no longer sanctioned by state policy, but black animosity has increasingly turned towards Indians. Matters came to the fore in mid-2002, when the Kwa-Zulu writer and musician, Mbongeni Ngema, released a song entitled ‘AmaNdiya’, the Zulu word for ‘Indians’.17 ‘Oh brothers,/Oh, my fellow brothers,’ begins the song,

We need strong and brave men

to face the Indians.

This situation is very difficult,

Indians do not want to change

Whites were far better than Indians

Even Mandela has failed to convince them to change,

Whites were far better than Indians.

Ngema then suggests that politicians, bribed by Indians, remain indifferent to the plight of Zulus. He invokes great figures from the Zulu past – just why he does so becomes clear from these lines:

Indians have conquered Durban.

We are poor because all things have been taken by Indians.

They are oppressing us.

Mkhize wants to open a business in West Street,

Indians say there is no place to open a business.

Our people are busy buying from Indian shops…

They [the Indians] don’t want to support a single black shop.

Indians keep coming from India.

The airport is full of Indians.



One commentator has written that a similarly incendiary song by the Rwandan musician, Simon Bikindi, was heard on radio in the fatal spring of 1994 shortly before the Hutus went on a genocidal rampage and, in the short space of three months, ended up killing 800,000 Tutsis. Bikindi is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on five counts of genocide.18 The broadcasting of ‘AmaNdiya’, some South African Indians have maintained, may have kindled a violent crime wave against Indians. The South African Human Rights Commissioner described ‘AmaNdiya’ as a song that ‘taints an entire community’ and ‘perpetuates harmful myths and stereotypes’. It is to the credit of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission that, acting on a complaint from the South African Human Rights Commission, ‘AmaNdiya’ was taken off the air waves on the grounds that it ‘promoted hate in sweeping, emotive language against Indians as a race.’ But will such protections always be available to Indians?19



The position of Indians in the diaspora has always been precarious. The dissolution of a democratically-elected government, as in Fiji, largely for no other reason than that it was headed by an Indian, even in a country where they accounted for over half of the population, points to the fragile position of Indians, and the discriminatory and blatantly racist mechanisms deployed to keep them on the margins of civil society. In some respects, the case of Fiji is distinct though not unique: we generally hear, not surprisingly, of minorities that are subjected to systematic discrimination, but much less frequently of majorities that are treated as minorities. Having said this, I by no means to wish to commit myself to viewing politics as a question of majorities and minorities, since this framework is, in many respects, a modern kind of political arithmetic. Minorities have often had the confidence of majorities, as the case of Parsis in India so palpably demonstrates.

Fiji apart, it is necessary to understand that the problems of Indians in the diaspora, which had been of substantive concern to the Indian National Congress even as it waged a freedom struggle against the British, were underscored almost immediately after the attainment of independence by India in 1947 and Burma the year after. Indians had been prominent property owners in Burma, significant in business and trading circles: in Rangoon, they accounted for half of the population of 240,000 in 1900. Hindustani was at least as popular as Burmese. Though directed principally at the British colonizers, the nationalist movement also gave rise to the demand for restrictions upon the immigration of Indians into Burma, and under the Indo-Burmese agreement of 1941, Indian immigrants were required to meet certain financial obligations and literacy qualifications.



Another provision of the agreement forbid Indian men from marrying Burmese women without previous sanction of the Burmese government, and such sanction was to be given only to those immigrant men who could furnish evidence of their capacity to provide maintenance to their intended wives. The Burmese nationalist, Aung Sun, described the ‘Indian vested interests’ as not in favour of independence; he also thanked Jawaharlal Nehru for his efforts to check the ‘rapacity and economic imperialism of Indian big business.’20

The Indian exodus from Burma commenced during World War II, and though many Indians returned immediately after the war to help in the country’s reconstruction, Indian businessmen and traders complained that neither their lives nor possessions were safe under the growing political and economic instability created by the nationalist movement and communist insurgencies. When the Indian community appealed to Nehru for assistance, he took the position that this was a matter between them and the Burmese state, and India was unable to intervene in the internal affairs of a foreign state; moreover, Indians who had been settled overseas were to reconcile themselves to the fact that, having abjured Indian citizenship, they had no substantial claims on India.



As Nehru was to put it in a Lok Sabha debate on 8 March 1948, ‘Now these Indians abroad, what are they? Indian citizens? Are they going to be citizens of India or not? If they are not, then our interest in them becomes cultural and humanitarian, not political. That interest of course remains.’ Adverting to the Indians in Fiji, Mauritius, Burma, and Ceylon, Nehru put the option starkly: ‘Either they get the franchise as nationals of the other country, or treat them as Indians minus the franchise and ask for the most favourable treatment given to an alien.’ This has, in effect, been the position of successive Indian governments to this day, though as India acquires more muscle power, or certainly imagines itself (which it does frequently) to be a major player on the world scene, it might be tempted into believing that nothing precludes it from exercising its influence to protect the lives and interests of those who, though they may not be Indian citizens, are Indians in ancestry.

In a number of countries Indians were sacrificed, as we have seen, to nationalist politics. Wherever in Africa Indians established themselves, they became indispensable as the principal arteries of trade, shopkeepers to the nation, and so opened themselves to the charge that they had done so by illicit activities, by marginalizing the local population, and with no other thought than of enhancing their own interests and prosperity. This interpretation is not without its Indian supporters: thus Ashwin Desai, speaking of the Gujaratis in South Africa, has written that the ‘real story of how these people exploited Africans, their contempt for the ordinary coolie and their desire to be accepted by the whites is hidden and forgotten.’21



On the occasion of the recent and unprecedented exhibition on the Asian African Heritage at Kenya’s famous National Museum, a local Kenyan was heard describing Indians, who are known as Asians, as ‘behav[ing] like colonizers.’22 This sentiment is evidently quite widespread, and the conduct of Indians in countries such as Kenya, where a negligible number of Indians held Kenyan citizenship even some months after independence in December 1963, has not been calculated to endear them to Africans.23

Still, even if one were inclined to accept these judgments, nothing can justify the cruel and brutal treatment meted out to Indians in Uganda, from where Idi Amin effected their wholesale and immediate removal, or the violent uprooting of the community in Kenya following an unsuccessful coup in 1982. Indians have all too often been sacrificed to black nationalist politics, and one ought not to forget that they, too, were subject to the machinery of racial discrimination and apartheid. The dominant white regime sought to drive a wedge between Indians, coloureds and blacks, and etch within the minds of Indians a notion of ineradicable ‘difference’ between themselves and other subjugated peoples.



That this strategy was not without success was attested to by the first free elections in South Africa, where Indians, though they had fought alongside the black population in the African National Congress to resist apartheid, deserted Nelson Mandela in the fear that an inevitable ‘Africanization’ under Mandela was bound to impoverish and marginalize them.

Two fundamental considerations arise, then, in thinking of the future of Indians in the diaspora. First, diasporic Indians cannot reasonably look to the Indian government for succour and assistance, and whatever the strength of the emotional and cultural ties between them and the ‘motherland’, their centre of being lies elsewhere. That question, ‘What can India do for people of Indian ancestry abroad’, begs to be effaced.

There are doubtless cases which clearly call for an exception. Where Indians have recently gone as labourers on work permits, as is the case with a significant number of migrants in the Middle East, the Indian government is duty bound to lodge, whenever necessary, protests over their ill-treatment, or to otherwise act to protect their lives and property. In the days subsequent to Kuwait’s invasion of Iraq in 1990, and before the beginning of the war between Iraq and the US in 1991, the Indian government took upon itself the mammoth task of evacuating the greater part of the Middle East’s Indian population, and it did so at the request of a panic-stricken people who could claim their Indian citizenship as a passport to safety.

One can admit that the question of what must be the relationship between overseas Indians, whether citizens of India or of another nation, and the Indian government is one that admits of no easy solution. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the Indian government is in any case incapable of anything more than a toothless response; and its own inadequacies will, in turn, be reflected in the indifference that stronger powers are likely to display on the question of discrimination against Indians in the diaspora.



Despite much noise made about excluding Fiji from the Commonwealth and other international associations, and India’s protestations, Mahendra Chaudhry’s government was not restored to power. The reach of Indian power is not so great that India is in the position of being able to retaliate for attacks perpetrated upon its citizens living overseas, or on people of Indian descent. Nor, one might add, should any country have such reach – but that is another matter.

Second, diasporic Indians are, it is my submission, called upon to inhabit a different kind of political awareness. However much comfort there may be in thinking of identity as given, bound within purportedly natural categories, or in supposing that identity can always be recovered and revived, there is a greater courage in reconstituting identity along lines of political and cultural choices. It is for Gujaratis, Bengalis, Tamilians, Punjabis, Malayalis, Sindhis, and others in the diaspora to forge links between themselves as Indians, to enter into coalitions with other marginalized, peripheral and disenfranchised people, and most significantly, to formulate for themselves a moral, sensitive and democratic politics.

Almost everywhere where Indians and blacks form part of the population, there is the perception that Indians are not merely apprehensive of them, but likely to observe a caste-like discrimination against blacks. One could go so far as to say that Indians have, not infrequently, shut blacks out of their moral vision, and invested them with an evil that properly belongs to political and social structures.



In an illuminating incident that took place in 1994 in Diamond Bar, an hour’s drive from Los Angeles, the Indian community honoured in a public reception the Los Angeles Police Department for its supposedly heroic efforts in capturing four black men who had been implicated in the rape of a young Indian girl. Though it was a matter of evident relief and unfailingly conducive to justice that the criminals were apprehended, the Indian community appears to have overlooked the widely-known fact that the Los Angeles Police Department had then – only a short while after the videotaped public beating of Rodney King had become a matter of worldwide discussion – a notorious reputation for blatant racism, and that there was scarcely any need to commend the department for the mere execution of its duties.

Such insensitivity cannot bring the Indian community closer to other minorities who have all too frequently been the victims of racism and police brutality. If this appears to be an unusual incident, we have only to recall the general disdain in which black families in the US (and elsewhere) are held by Indians. The comparatively high rates of teenage pregnancy, single motherhood, drug abuse, incomplete schooling, and incarceration among young blacks are seen as exemplifying the failure of black adults to exercise responsibility and provide for their families; on the other hand, the devotion to family life is trumpeted as a quintessentially Indian trait.

The retreat into the family home, the concerted refusal to engage with a wider notion of the ‘public’, the general segregation from other communities, and the often mindless replication of ‘timeless’ Indian traditions have been among the more distressing characteristics of Indian existence abroad, particularly in the affluent West. We cannot but fail to recognize, when we keep vividly before our mind the story of Indian indentured labour, that in the marginalization and pauperization of blacks and Hispanics there is also, however unwilling most Indians in the US may be to recognize it as such, their own humiliation. Or, to take another example, if Indians are all too often heard describing black people as ‘lazy’, they might be reminded that, for 200 years, the British were wont to use the same language for them.



I return, finally, to my provisional distinction between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Indian diasporas, between the diasporas marked, respectively, by ‘labour’ and ‘longing’. The prospects for Indians in the newer diaspora, some would argue, have never looked so good. Ujjal Dosanjh, who grazed cattle in the Punjab and grew up in the tiny hamlet of Dosanjh Kalan, not leaving India until the age of 17, served a term recently as Premier of British Columbia. This is only one of many remarkable stories of up-ward mobility among Indians in the diaspora.

For most people in India, however, the real ‘success’ story of diasporic Indians appears to be, as I have mentioned previously, the acquisition of immense wealth by Indians in Silicon Valley. Newspapers serving the community, such as India West and India Post (both in California), enthral their readers with frequent accounts of Indians who have entered the ranks of billionaires. Though the bubble burst, the enthusiasm of Indians for the miracles wrought by information technologies has by no means diminished. The predominance of Indians in the software industry remains a matter of great pride, and numerous list-servers recount Indian successes in lavish detail. It is sometimes pointed out that Indian achievements on Wall Street, in the computer industries, and in the professions (especially medicine, the sciences, and engineering) have now yielded political dividends.



When Pakistan and India nearly entered into a full-scale war over the occupation of Himalayan peaks in Kargil, the Americans urged Pakistan to retreat to their side of the Line of Control, and the then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaaz Sharif, had to return to Pakistan from a visit to Washington empty-handed. This episode is in conversations pointed to as the first truly significant achievement of the Indian lobby in Washington, and many think that the Indian caucus on Capitol Hill is poised to make India into a vital economic and political partner of the United States. Notwithstanding these supposed triumphs, the anxiety of diasporic Indians in the United States that India has not yet arrived, even that India is barely treated with respect, has not diminished but increased. That, however, is a story which I have told elsewhere.24

If diasporic Indians even in the US feel that India has not quite yet received its place under the sun, we might consider the misfortune of those who have long lived in the shadows. The Indian diasporas closest to the ‘homeland’ have received comparatively little attention in the scholarly literature. The presence of a substantial Hindu community in Bangladesh, which over the years has had to reconcile itself to the fact that the partition is an enduring reality and that there is no prospective return to the homeland, ought to raise pressing questions for students of the Indian diaspora. Though reports of the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh have been circulating widely over the last few years, their plight, insofar as anyone has cared to given it compelling attention,25 is viewed within the history of Hindu-Muslim relations in the Indian subcontinent, rather than as part of the story of the diaspora under duress.



Similarly, the histories of the Sri Lankan (or Jaffna) Tamils and Indian (or plantation) Tamils have not adequately been integrated into narratives of the Indian diaspora, and even less so into accounts of disabilities suffered by Indians in the diaspora. As a scholarly study published in 1984 details, the Indo-Ceylon Agreement of 1964, rendered necessary by chauvinist Sinhalese sentiment which deprived Indian Tamils of their citizenship following the attainment of independence by Ceylon in 1947, provided for the ‘repatriation’ of nearly two thirds of these Tamils back to India. In other words, the Indian government, quite unable – and perhaps unwilling – to do anything else, consented to this gross form of injustice. The only comparable exodus, that of the Vietnamese following the ignominious withdrawal of the US from Saigon in 1975, received massive publicity. Yes the forcible repatriation of half a million Tamils over two decades has barely entered into the annals of human rights’ violations.26



In speaking of Indian diasporic populations closer to the ‘homeland’, I also refer to Indians in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf states. Though as late as around 1970 there were only 40,000 Indians in the Middle East, their numbers grew rapidly in the 1980s, and after 1979 there has never been a single year when fewer than 113,000 Indians left to work in the Middle East. From 1992-1997, more than 400,000 Indians left for the Middle East every year. Judging by the statistics maintained by the Indian government’s Ministry of Labour, in 2000 there were three million or more Indians in the Middle East.27

Owing to the highly prohibitive naturalization laws prevailing in West Asia, most Indians, even those settled there for well over a decade or two, have been unable to get naturalized; and those who have gained citizenship have found, as in Bahrain, that naturalized citizenship is still a substantially lower class of citizenship, with restrictions, among others, on the right to vote and to run for office. There has also been a constant stream of reports about Indian women working as housemaids who, though subjected to sexual harassment and rape, have no protection under the laws; similarly, there has been a stunning silence on a problem unique to diasporic Indians in the Gulf, namely the inability of non-Muslims to carry out cremations, as in Saudi Arabia, or having only the most elementary facilities to do so, as elsewhere in the Gulf.



It has sometimes been argued, following Myron Weiner’s argument, that even scholars have paid so little attention to Indians in the Gulf because they constitute what he has described as an ‘incipient diaspora’. Though Weiner concedes that Indians constitute a large group of foreign workers, he suggests that those who are ‘allowed to remain in their host country only to work’ may not constitute a full-blown diaspora, and consequently live in ‘a state of legal and political ambiguity, economic insecurity and as social outsiders.’28 But such a view elides considerations of class, and fails to recognize that a modern diaspora comprised overwhelmingly of the lower strata is not only viewed by Indian elites as something of an embarrassment, as the very sign of India’s secondary place in geopolitics and the world economy, but as posing immense difficulties for those who are inclined to view the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ diasporas as largely exclusive categories. That scholars have chosen to remain silent about this diasporic population is in itself a sign of the discomfort that the ‘old’ diaspora is still likely to induce among those who prefer to see the diaspora as an emancipatory and hybrid space for transnational flows of goods, ideas, and people.

In the Indian diaspora, as in India itself, there is then an increasing disjunction between those who lead working-class lives and those who shuttle back and forth between metropolitan capitals. That the contemporary Hindi film is increasingly attentive to the diaspora is worthy of note, and flattering to diasporic Indians, but have we asked why its conception of the diaspora is confined to the modern West?



With what consequences does the Indian diaspora get reduced in the modern Hindi film to mainly the US, and why should diasporic Indians in the US, who have done little to develop their relations with other minorities in the country, just as they are often inclined to support religious extremism in India, be courted by the Hindi film industry or be seen as models of success? The modern Indian diaspora began in conditions of extreme adversity, and we are not likely to be sensitive to the acute adversity under which Indians still labour in many countries where they have a significant presence if we allow ourselves into thinking that the narratives of Silicon Valley ‘miracles’ and the musings and rantings of V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie have adequately captured the spaces which diaspora inhabits.

To be in the diaspora means to be in an in-between space, and it is in this space that Indians must endeavour to give society a new, at least slightly more human, face. As I have written elsewhere, the diaspora has also nurtured soft forms of Hinduism, new forms of Chutney music, and even, from within the depths of Ramacaritmanas country in Fiji, the first novel ever written in Bhojpuri anywhere in the world.29 Our Indian diaspora, in this respect, is much like India itself, complex and variegated, and one hopes that it will before long have the Purana that it deserves.



1. The term ‘coolitude’ is borrowed from Marina Carter and Khal Torabully, Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora (London: Anthem Press, 2002). I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Anindita Nag with library research, and thank the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) for inviting me to deliver an earlier version of this paper as the keynote address at their conference on the Indian diaspora in Queens, New York, March 2004.

2. Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery (London: Oxford University Press, 1974).

3. Thomas Friedman’s recent visit appears to have left a lasting impression on the New York Times columnist. See his ‘Small and Smaller’, New York Times (4 March 2004), p. A31; idem, ‘The Great Indian Dream’, New York Times (11 March 2004), p. A29; and, idem, ‘Origin of Species’, New York Times (14 March 2004), p. A12.

4. For a more extended discussion of the politics of the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas gatherings, see Vinay Lal, ‘India in the World: Hinduism, the Diaspora, and the Anxiety of Influence’, Australian Religious Studies Review 16, no. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 19-37.

5. George Lamming, ‘The Indian Presence as a Caribbean Reality’, in Indenture & Exile: The Indo-Caribbean Experience, ed. Frank Birbalsingh (Toronto: TSAR [Toronto South Asian Review], 1989), pp. 45-54. I have, in this paragraph, drawn upon my earlier work: ‘Reflections on the Indian Diaspora in the Caribbean and Elsewhere’, New Quest, no. 117 (May-June 1996), pp. 133-42.

6. There were 227 killings in Trinidad in 2003, or proportionately twice as many as in the US, which itself has a homicide rate that exceeds, by a factor of 50 or more, the rate in countries such as Japan and Switzerland. See also US State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2003: Trinidad (Washington, DC: US State Department, 2004), on the internet at:

7. Sean Douglas, ‘2003 Saw the End of Innocence’, in Newsday (4 January 2004), on the internet at:; see also the press released issued by the UNC on 17 December 2003, accessible at:

8. Cited by Sarva Daman Singh, ‘Indians in Fiji’, in Indians Abroad, eds. Sarva Daman Singh and Mahavir Singh (Gurgaon, Haryana: Hope India Publications and London: Greenwich Millennium Press, 2003, for Maulana Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata), p. 224.

9. In 1995, Rabuka issued an order stipulating that the term ‘Fijian’ was to be understood to mean all Fijians. Ethnic Fijians resisted, and the Indians still go under the designation of ‘Indo-Fijian’.

10. Even mainstream American media has reported on the Fijian monopoly over land: see Richard C. Paddock, ‘Fighting for a Slice of Heaven’, Los Angeles Times (29 July 2002), p. A5.

11. Paul D. Wiebe and S. Mariappen, Indian Malaysians: The View from the Plantation (Delhi: Manohar, 1978), p. 6.

12. Much less has been documented about living conditions in oil palm plantations. Conditions in rubber estates are, however, likely to be much worse, since earnings have risen very little in relation to consumer prices. Studies of Indian poverty in Malaysia may be partly misleading in that the research has dwelled on the workers in rubber estates, though oil palm estates are increasingly accounting for a greater share of employment.

13. Anon., ‘Life in the Estates’, Utusan Konsumer (Penang, August 1981), p. 12; Jeremy Seabrook, ‘Changing Life of the Tamils in Malaysia’, Utusan Konsumer (Mid-October 1994), p. 12; N.V. Subbarow, ‘Estate Workers Living Conditions’, memorandum published by the Consumers’ Association of Penang (n.d.).

14. See the compilation published by the Consumers’ Association of Penang, Samsu (Intoxicating Liquor): The Silent Killer (n.d.).

15. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Malaysian Human Rights Report (Selangor, Malaysia: Suara Kommunikasi, 1998), pp. 10-11.

16. This is the view not only of harsh critics of Malay hegemony such as Professor P. Ramasamy of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, but also of writers such as K.S. Maniam. I met with both of them in Kuala Lumpur in September 2003.

17. I am grateful to Professor Surendra Bhana of the University of Kansas for sharing with me the translation of the song that appeared in the Johannesburg Post, 24-26 May 2002.

18. See archive/2002/07/03/20020703art03.html

19. Ajith Bridgraj, ‘Inspiring the Murder of Indians’, online at:; ‘BCCSA rules on "AmaNdyia",’ online at: htm

20. Cited by Swapna Bhattacharya (Chakraborti), ‘Indians in Myanmar’, in Indians Abroad, eds. Sarva Daman Singh and Mahavir Singh, pp. 172-204 at p. 195.

21. Cited by Thomas Blom Hansen, ‘Diasporic Dispositions’, Himal (December 2002).

22. Karl Vick, A New View of Kenya’s "Asians",’ Washington Post (15 March 2000), p. A21.

23. See, for example, Mala Kapur Shankardass, ‘Is This My Country? To and From Kenya’, India International Centre Quarterly 28, no. 2 (Monsoon 2001), pp. 14-24.

24. Vinay Lal, ‘India in the World: Hinduism, the Diaspora, and the Anxiety of Influence’, Australian Religious Studies Review 16, no. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 19-37.

25. Even allowing for the ‘fact’ (as has been represented to me) that the New York-based Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Unity Council ascribes to Hindutva ideology, and is prone to paint Islam in the broad brushstrokes of evil, it seems that their recent and massive compilation, Bangladesh: A Portrait of Covert Genocide (2003), furnishes incontrovertible evidence of large-scale atrocities against Hindus.

26. Yvonne Fries and Thomas Bibin, The Undesirables (Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi & Co., 1984).

27. Anisur Rahman, Indian Labour Migration to the Gulf (New Delhi: Rajat, 2001).

28. Myron Weiner, ‘Labour Migrations as Incipient Diasporas’, in Modern Diasporas in International Politics, ed. Gabriel Sheffer (London: Croom Helm, 1986), p. 47.

29. Vinay Lal, ‘Diaspora Purana’, The International Indian 10, no. 6 (February 2003), pp. 29-31.