Indians are spread across the globe and can be found in almost every country. They have made the country of their migration their home and have contributed a lot to the other country’s economy. The population of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) across the world is estimated at over 30 million. In 2006, the Government of India introduced the ‘Overseas Citizenship of India’ (OCI) scheme to allow a limited form of dual citizenship to Indians, NRIs and PIOs for the first time since Independence in 1947.
The Overseas Citizenship may be sought by 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. In common usage, the term expatriate Indians is used, which often includes Indian-born individuals and also people of other nations with Indian ancestry who have taken the citizenship of other countries. In North America, the terms East Indian and Asian Indian are often used to distinguish people who have originated from India (including people from nations of the Indian subcontinent), from the indigenous people, the American Indians.
The most significant historical emigration from India was that of the Romani people or the Gypsies, who emigrated towards the northwest between 500 A.D. and 1000 A.D. Another major emigration from the subcontinent was to South East Asia. The influence of Indian culture is still strongly felt in South East Asia, especially in places like Bali in Indonesia. However, intermixture has been so great at these places that the nomenclature ‘overseas Indians’ cannot be applied.
In recent times, during the British rule, much of the migration that occurred was of poor workers to other British colonies under the indenture system. The major destinations, in chronological order, were Mauritius, Guyana, the Caribbean, Fiji and East Africa. There was also a small amount of free emigration of skilled laborers and professionals to some of these countries in the twentieth century. The British also recruited workers for the tea plantations of their neighboring colonies of Sri Lanka and Burma and the rubber plantations of British Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore).
After the 1970s oil boom in the Middle East, numerous Indians emigrated to work in the Gulf countries, most of them on a contractual basis. Gulf countries have a common policy of not naturalizing non- Arabs, even if they are born there. The 1990s software boom and rising economy in the USA attracted numerous Indians who emigrated to the United States of America. Today, the USA has the third largest number of Indians.
If we look at Indians in Australia, the first Indian had come to Australia as part of Captain Cook’s ship. Indians also entered Australia in the first half of the 20th century when Indian Sikhs came to work on the banana plantations in Southern Queensland. A large number of Britons and Anglo-Indians born in India migrated to Australia after 1947. These British citizens decided to settle in Australia in large numbers but are still counted as ‘Indian’ Nationals in the census. The third wave of Indians entered the country in the 1980s, after the demise of the white Australia policy.
Another big influx began with the IT revolution. The current wave of Indian migration is that of engineers, tool-makers, Gujarati business families from East Africa and relatives of settled Indians. Starved of government funding, Australian education institutes are recruiting full fee paying overseas students. There are about 260,000 Indians living in Australia.
Another country with large chunk of Indian population is Canada. According to Statistics Canada, in 2006 there were 962,665 people who classified themselves as being of Indian origin, including terms of East Indian, South Asian or Indo-Canadian. Out of this population, 50 per cent are Sikhs, 39 per cent are Hindus, and the remaining are Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, or with no religious affiliation.
The main Indian ethnic communities are Punjabis who account for more than half the population as well as Gujaratis, Tamils (Indian as opposed to Sri Lankan), Keralites, Bengalis, Sindhis and others. Indians continue to come to Canada in large numbers, and roughly 25,000-30,000 arrive each year, which makes Indians the second highest group immigrating to Canada each year, after the Chinese. Amongst the many notables in the Indo-Canadian Diaspora are the Hon Minister Harinder Takhar of the Ontario Legislature and Deepa Mehta, a prominent director and screenwriter.
The Indian Diaspora in Indonesia includes several thousand Sindhi families who constitute the second wave of Indian immigrants who made Indonesia their home in the first half of the 20th century. The Sindhi community is mainly engaged in trading and commerce. The inflow of major Indian investments in Indonesia starting in the late 1970s drew a fresh wave of Indian investors and managers to this country.
This group of entrepreneurs and business professionals has further expanded over the past two decades and now includes engineers, consultants, chartered accountants, bankers and other professionals. The Indian community very well regarded in Indonesia, is generally prosperous and includes individuals holding senior positions in local and multinational companies.
Indians in Madagascar are descended mostly from traders who arrived in 19th century looking for better opportunities. The majority speak Gujarati, though some other Indian languages are spoken. Nowadays the younger generations speak at least three languages including, French or English, Gujarati and Malagasy. A large number of Indians are highly educated in Madagascar, particularly the younger generation, who try to contribute their knowledge to the development of Madagascar.
Malaysia has some of the largest overseas Indian populations in the world. Most Indians migrated to Malaysia as plantation laborers under British rule. They are a significant minority ethnic group, making up 8 per cent of the Malaysian population. Most of these are Tamil but Malayalam, Telugu, Punjabi and Gujarati speaking people are also present. They have retained their languages and religion and 80 per cent of ethnic Indians in Malaysia identify as Hindus. A significant number of the population is Sikhs and the rest are Christians and Muslims.
Outside of India itself, Mauritius is the only country where people of Indian Origin form the vast majority. The people are known as Indo- Mauritians, and form about 70 per cent of the population. The majority of them are Hindu and a significant group is Muslims. Various Indian languages are still spoken, especially Bhojpuri, Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, Hindi and Urdu, but most Indo-Mauritians now speak a French-based Creole language at home, as well as French in general fields. Finding an Indo-Mauritian who exclusively speaks an Indian language is very rare. Aneroid Jugnauth, the former President of Mauritius was of Indian descent.
There is a huge population of Indians in the Middle East, most coming from Kerala and other south Indian states, especially in the oil rich countries neighboring the Persian Gulf. The Indian Diaspora makes up a good proportion of the working class in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) consisting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman. NRI population in these GCC countries is estimated to be around 6,000,000 (2006-2007), of which over 1,500,000 stay in the UAE, i.e. about 40 per cent of the population in the UAE.
The Indian emigrant community in the United Kingdom is now in its third generation. Indians in the UK are the largest community outside of Asia proportionally, and the second largest in terms of population,
only surpassed by the United States, and closely followed by Canada. According to the April 2001 UK National Census, there are 1,051,800 people of Indian origin in the UK. Sikhs comprise 45 per cent of the population, Hindus 29 per cent, Muslims 13 per cent, Christians nearly 5 per cent, with the remainder made up of Jains, Parsis (Zoroastrians), Buddhists and those who stated no religion. 2005 estimates state 2.41 per cent of England’s population as being Indian (not including mixed race).
Although Indian immigration to North America started as early as 1890s, the wave of Indian immigrants entered the US in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. A large proportion 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 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 US are now one of the largest among the groups of Indian Diaspora with an estimated population of about 2.7 million.
In contrast to the earliest groups of Indians who entered the US workforce as taxi drivers, laborers, farmers or small business owners, the later arrivals often came as professionals or completed graduate study in the US and moved into the professions. They have become very successful financially due to the hi-tech industry, and are thus probably the best-off community of immigrants. They are well represented in all walks of life, but particularly so in academia, information technology and medicine.
New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and South Africa also have a large number of overseas Indians. Some of the overseas Indians who have acquired international fame are Lakshmi Mittal, Gurinder Chadha, V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Nobel Laureates Amartya Sen and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Sawraj Paul, Lord Meghnad Desai and Indra Nooyi.