Editorial by Dr. Sourav Banerjee - The Indian Diaspora Project - TMYS Review June 2021

    “Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”


    This quotation from Salman Rushdie reveals much about the ambiguous condition of the diasporic people. The term diaspora, which was once an object of suspicion, has now become one of fascination. Once it was historically and politically a loaded concept, today it is not only an impartial term but also an all embracing one for the erstwhile terms like immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, guest workers or expatriates. While this development mirrors a conceptual propagation, yet that does not make the work of a researcher working on this field any easier. Again this is favoured by those who consider that subjective definitions are more important than ones built upon objective facts. Vijay Mishra talks of the existence of “the diaspora imaginary,” which is “the state of identification in which we appear likeable to ourselves, with the image representing ‘what we would like to be’” and is also a product of desire, “a joy, a pleasure around which antimiscegenation narratives of homeland are constructed.”

    It is common knowledge that diaspora as a concept and a particular phenomenon of migration has a double origin. Etymologically it comes from the Greek verb diaspeirein, --- dia meaning across and sperien meaning to scatter; historically, it refers to the dispersal of the Jews from their ancestral land after the destruction of the Second Temple in 586 BCE. This term “diaspora” was a neologism coined by the translators of the Hebraic Bible into Greek in the 3rd century BC. Though originally associated with the Jewish diaspora, the term was later used to refer to other Diasporas, and has been applied to the involuntary displacement of other peoples — for example, the African, Armenian, and Irish Diasporas. Based on the Jewish “prototypical” case, the concept has been commonly defined as encompassing a collective identity shaped by the trauma that accompanies a group’s forced departure from its ancestral land and its emotional and material attachment to the origins that is sustained by the desire to return home or by symbolic manifestations of nostalgia.

    After the Second World War, the world has witnessed innumerable population shifts of millions of people who have shifted to countries other than where they were born. Although their residing in these hostlands is of a permanent nature, yet they can neither be regarded immigrants nor be completely ignored. The often massive presence of such people and their refusal to assimilate completely into their hostlands, even at times, challenges the traditional notions of national identity and sovereignty. Kim Butler had commented that since the 1960s, as the numbers of transplanted people increased, communities that were once differentiated as immigrant, nomadic, or exile also began to be called Diasporas. Diaspora Studies is a field of scholarship that has developed at the crossroads of cultural and literary studies, the social sciences, history, and political science since the late 1970s, at a time when the Western nations started to take stock of the magnitude of contemporary migrations, both present and still to come. Sometimes considered as an offshoot of postcolonial studies, the field of diaspora studies shares a similar interest in questions of political and epistemic domination, subalternity, race, gender, language, and identity. Since the 1990s, the emphasis was largely focused on issues of identity and belonging; since then, the field of Diaspora Studies has developed considerably in terms of both literary output and scholarship, taking on-board the key issues among the societies involved. Thus the first step in attempting a fruitful discussion on diaspora must start by understanding what sort of ethnic, national, or religious communities it justifiably refers to and what distinguishes it from immigrants.

    Migration involves the movement of people across borders. In its simplest form, migration may be defined as “movement from one country, place or locality to another.” Ever since the time when ancient humans who originated on the African continent migrated to Eurasia and elsewhere, humans have been on the move. Presently, 3 percent of the world’s total population, i.e. around at least 258 million people, live outside of their countries of origin. Migration has long been caused and complicated by war, enslavement, and persecution. Jews fled their ancestral lands after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., creating a widespread diaspora.  Migration is a key aspect of human history and is informed by larger global economic, political, and social forces. Migration Studies draws on social science approaches such as sociology, political science, history, economics, law, and international affairs. On the other hand Diaspora is a term used to describe the dispersion of populations across borders coupled with the construction of an identity as a distinct community in the hostland. Additionally, in a majority of cases, Diasporas invoke connections to a homeland, either real or imagined. We also cannot fail to notice that while Diasporas have existed throughout history, the occurrence of communities sustaining transnational connections has become more prevalent in the modern age of globalization. So it would be more accurate to treat Diaspora Studies as an interdisciplinary field in the humanities and social sciences, that includes but is not only confined to history, sociology, cultural studies, literature, music and film studies. So we find that diasporas possess an ambiguous status of being both refugees and ambassadors. As refugees they look for security and protection and as ambassadors, they project their own culture and help enhance its comprehensibility.

    Migration is nothing new to Indians. India not only has the largest diaspora in the world (around 18 million living in other countries), but can also claim to have one of the world's most diverse and complex migration histories. Since the 19th century, ethnic Indians have established communities on every continent as well as on islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific and Indian oceans. Again, the composition of these migrants has evolved over time from mainly bonded labour in far-flung colonies to post-war labour for British industries to the high-skilled professionals in North America and low-skilled workers in the Middle East. After the decision by the Indian Supreme Court in 1966, making "right to travel" a fundamental right under the Indian constitution, unskilled, skilled, and professional workers migrated from India to the United Kingdom. This was facilitated by the United Kingdom's commonwealth immigration policy, which allowed any citizen of a Commonwealth country to live, work, vote, and hold public office in the United Kingdom. Between 1995 and 2005, half of the Europe-bound Indian emigrants headed to the United Kingdom and the ethnic Indian community there stood at 1.3 million in the first decade of the 21st c.

    Substantial Indian migration to Northern America started only in the late 1960s. Both in the United States and Canada, major changes in immigration policy affected immigration flows generally, and Indian immigration specifically. In the United States, the 1965 Immigration Act, which came fully into force in 1968, abolished national-origins quotas and made it possible for high-skilled immigrants, including Indians, to gain permanent residence and bring their family members. It is no wonder that Indian citizens are by far the top recipients of H-1B visas each year, leaving immigrants from Canada a distant second. Even Indians emigrating to Canada increased quite noticeably and in the first half of the 21st  c. Canada was home to half a million Indians, which accounted for 7.2 percent of all immigrants in Canada. Australia became an important destination for Indian emigrants since the 1990s. Australia with 147,101 Indians, in the 1st decade of the 21st c, accounted for 3.3 percent of all immigrants. Undoubtedly, the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia have emerged as the top four destinations for Indian emigrants in recent times. And it is also true that the Indian diasporic community has shown great sense of adjustments, adaptability, mobility and accessibility. The sense of homelessness that every immigrant suffers is genuine and intense. But in recent times it has been seen that this concept has been minimized and made less intense through their social networking and sense of solidarity.

    In keeping with the mission of our digital quarterly, TMYS Review, to make a conscious attempt to engage scholars with the stories of the contemporary era, in the June 2021 issue, we have compiled stories and essays of migration and resettlement by the Indian diaspora in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. This is the first of a series of four issues on Migration-Resettlement-Displacement, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, and investigates if the movement of the Indian Diaspora could be broadly categorised as ambition based migration. We have indeed been lucky enough to have been graced by the active participation of twenty renowned delegates, five each from each of the mentioned countries, who had given insightful interviews about their stories of migration, displacement and resettlement. These delegates were grouped as Professors of Social Sciences (Manu Bhagavan, Nyla Ali Khan, Jagbir Johal Jhutti and Shobna Nijhawan), Professors of English and Creative Writing (Chandrima Chakraborty, Bashabi Fraser, Roanna Gonsalves, Jaswinder Bolina and Ankhi Mukherjee) renowned poets and writers (Vish Dhamija, Jenny Bhatt, Bhaswati Ghosh, Rashida Murphy, Christopher Raja and Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca), and impactful diasporic Indians from other fields with unique life-journeys – sometimes spanning more than one generation or one country (Sahana Bajpaie, Anustup Basu, Rajeev Kamineni, Suneeta Peres DaCosta and Neilesh Bose).

    The best essay in each category has been selected for this issue. In compiling these essays, greater consideration was accorded to the lived experiences of the delegates compared to the information in theoretical books on Indian diasporas. We believe this work is important because personal stories, about a place or time, are very important contributors through which history can be recorded and even understood. It is very much in conformity to Philip Neilsen’s exposition about such records as “history that does not pretend to be empirically verifiable”. We sincerely hope that such “histories” would provide a comprehensive overview linking the records from official history books with the truth filtered from semifictional and nonfictional narratives of the Indian diaspora. This would be of great interest and value to young scholars venturing out into this field of study.

    We trust that the June 2021 issue of TMYS Review will act as a bridge to plug the gap between academia and the people who do not want to be caught up in the intricate maze of imposed complexities created by stereotypical literary criticism. It is also our endeavour to create a better understanding of the condition of the Indian diaspora in these countries and add to the existing repository of the official and state sponsored documents, with the lived experiences of such people, and find out if they corroborate or undercut the official versions.



    Dr. Sourav Banerjee

    Editor – TMYS Review

    Project Lead: TMYS Review June 2021

    Associate Professor 

    & former Head of the Dept of English

    of a Govt. sponsored college

    affiliated to Calcutta University.

    Education Ambassador of IOER (Philippines).



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