- Global Indian Diasporas: Exploring Trajectories of Migration and Theory
The past few years have seen an explosion in Indian diaspora studies. Often extending the colonial history of British India into wider, transregional arenas, historical and sociological works on the Indian diaspora have successfully tracked the administrative and military reach of the colonial apparatus, the reproduction of "culture" amid difference, and the emergence of new circuits of economic and cultural production.1 Tracing the histories of the twenty million people of [End Page 177] South Asian origin living outside the subcontinent, these works have invariably stressed the search for a common identity, the reproduction of culture, and the production of an attachment to "India," all of which are considered essential for naming the "Indian diaspora." Undoubtedly contributing much needed evidence on a wider world of social interaction, dislodging binaries of metropole /periphery, and tracking the continuity between colonial and postcolonial India and South Asia in the global twentieth century, the field of India diaspora studies has largely reflected, and deepened, an affirmative identification with Indian cultural and economic power.
The need for critical approaches to the Indian diaspora is definitely upon us. In this wide ranging and expansive study, edited by Gijsbert Oonk, eleven authors set out to examine the very portability of the diaspora concept for India. Simultaneously providing an insight into methodological and institutional differences, and very importantly naming the diverging realities between "India" and "South Asia," the book takes a deep look at the "quite a few overseas Indians who were not interested in re-connecting with the homeland" (p. 1). Very seriously probing the "limits of the diaspora concept, rather than its possibilities and range" this collection of essays highlights new historical material and new historical actors, and in the process opens the door on new methods for world history (p. 4).
The authors provide complex accounts of a range of meaningful counter-identifications with "India," whether as a reaction against the Indian government's exclusion of Muslim Indians, the immigration patterns of Indian Africans after expulsion from Uganda, or the cultural identifications of twice migrants such as Hindustanis in the Netherlands. The range of trajectories followed in this collection builds on four broad patterns of movement: first, traders in search of trade and business (these were often temporary or circular migrations); second, Indian indentured labor, a forced migration; and third, the movement from the subcontinent after the Second World War (these were the cross-border forced migrations of Partition, or after 1970, the movement of highly educated Indian professionals who left for the "dollar and pound" economies or to the Middle East). Within this lies the fourth pattern: the twice migrants such as those from East Africa [End Page 178] expelled by one regime and who, instead of being drawn "back" to the subcontinent, settled instead in the United Kingdom and Canada. That these trajectories provide fresh and original alternatives to the usual arcs of "homeland to diaspora" is evident. What is even more commendable is the rich comparative work performed by each article, comparative work that is essential to materializing the power of divergent trajectories.
Part 1, "Critical Historical Perspectives," discusses the applicability of the term "diaspora" during a period when the concept was not recognized. Here Scott Levi provides his signature deep research into the Indian trading world of the seventeenth century. The dispersal of Multanis and Shikarpuris across from (what is today) Afghanistan and beyond into Iran, the Caucasus, and Russia illuminates the reliance of prosperous trading links on the transitory and masculine kin networks oriented toward Central Asia. Gijsbert Oonk turns to the issue of language in East Africa. Rather than favor a literal reading of the dominance of English as signaling the triumph of globalization, he illuminates instead how and why Lohanas in British East Africa "lost" their ability to read, write, and speak in Gujarati. Subsequently, they learned English instead of Swahili; they did so because it enabled them to enter into a local cultural and...