By Dr Kumar Mahabir
Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) who live in the Caribbean, and in the Caribbean diaspora, are descendants of indentured, immigrant labourers. They were brought by the British, Dutch, Danish and the French to the Caribbean/West Indies from 1838 to 1917.
They now number about three million people in the Caribbean, including Jamaica and Belize.
PIO are also living in Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana as well as in the smaller Caribbean islands. Collectively, they constitute the largest ethnic minority group in the English-speaking Caribbean.
In their ancestral homeland in India, there are Indian Diaspora Studies, Programmes and Centres in several universities, notably in Kerala, Mumbai, Hyderbad, Gujarath and Magad. They focus on global migration and the Indian Diaspora in the Humanities and Social Sciences, from multi-disciplinary perspectives, including history, literature, anthropology, sociology, politics, economics and international relations.
The following are HIGHLIGHTS of a ZOOM public meeting held recently (18/10/2020) on the topic “Indian Diaspora Studies/Programmes/Centre in universities in India – linkages, opportunities, scholarships and exchanges for researchers, students, teachers, lecturers and writers.” The Pan-Caribbean meeting was hosted by the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre (ICC) and moderated by DR. KIRTIE ALGOE, a young researcher at the Anton de Kom University in Suriname.
The speakers were HIS EXCELLENCY ARUN KUMAR SAHU, the High Commissioner of India to Trinidad and Tobago; DR. UJJWAL RABIDAS, an Assistant Professor at Amity University in Uttar Pradesh in India; and PROFESSOR ATANU MOHAPATRA, an Associate Professor at the Central University of Gujarat in Gandhinagar, India, who is also the Chairperson of the Centre for Studies and Research in the Diaspora.
HIS EXCELLENCY ARUN KUMAR SAHU said, in part:
“I wish to highlight some trends in diaspora and migration studies theories and the challenge in creating a single theory or grand theory in interdisciplinary research. It is sometimes difficult to identify dedicated Indian Diaspora Programmes in India because resources are limited and courses have to piggyback on other established centres and departments like history, literature, sociology, economics, political science and international relations.
In the Caribbean context, overgeneralisation can be detrimental to quality research. Though indentureship was common in the region, there were different political dynamics, e.g. there were British, Dutch, Danish and French colonisers. Each of these former colonies should be treated individually and selectively based on the governing colonising power.
DR. UJJWAL RABIDAS said, in essence:
“It is observable that in last few months, the deliberations on matters of Indian diaspora have suddenly multiplied on online platforms. It shows (i) the willingness among relevant stakeholders to network and collaborate in the exchange of ideas on diasporic issues, and (ii) the probability of outcome on diasporic collaboration that can be significantly achieved if facilitated through appropriate institutional support.
Like the sudden spurt in online networking, 2011 to 2012 witnessed a mushrooming of Indian Diaspora Studies Centres in Indian universities, led by the central universities and the University Grants Commission (UGC). These Centres are located in the University of Hyderabad, Punjabi University, Central University of Gujarat, Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University, Central University of Kerala, University of Kerala, University of Mumbai, University of Goa and others.
Going by the geographical location of these Diaspora Studies Centres in the universities, one can find that almost all of them are present in the southern and western part of India. Except for one such Centre in the Punjabi University, no other Indian Diaspora Studies Centre could be located in the entire northern, eastern and north-eastern part of India.
Quality researches on the Girmit Diaspora have taken place in various Indian universities with deep academic interest and probably without any special UGC area studies programme on diaspora. The absence of a dedicated Indian Diaspora Studies Centre in the Girmit area may be compensated by looking for research rather than research centres on the indentured Indians. This search itself, however, calls for a project worth undertaking to catch the spirit with which the diasporic deliberations on online platforms are multiplying.”
PROFESSOR ATANU MOHAPATRA represented the Central University of Gujarat (CUG). According to its website, the Centre for Diasporic Studies was established in 2011 to study and critically engage issues of global migration and Diaspora from multi-disciplinary perspectives and produce quality research and knowledge for academia, government and society.
The Centre focuses on Indian Diaspora in particular, and global Diasporas in general. According to MOIA recently-released statistics, nearly 30 million Indian diaspora persons reside outside of India.
The overseas Indian community has significantly contributed to the Indian development and has emerged as the “soft power” promoting India’s international relations as global ambassadors and contributing immensely to the social and intellectual capital of India.
A sizeable body of literature now exists, both in the form of fiction and scholarly writings on the historical, anthropological, sociological, cultural, demographic, political and economic aspects.
Dr Mahabir is an anthropologist and the Director of a ZOOM public meeting held every Sunday.
Correspondence – Dr. Kumar Mahabir, San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.