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Memorial Lectures


Indian Diaspora, Old and New: Culture, Class and Mobility

By Professor R. K. Jain

The lecture aims at exploring the connections between old and new Indian Diaspora, viz., the labour Diaspora of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the ‘knowledge worker’ Diaspora to industrially developed countries from the mid-twentieth century onwards and continuing to this day. The connection is sought in three dimensions, namely, culture, class and mobility in the Diaspora space. The continuities and discontinuities are delineated with specific reference to the Diaspora experiences of South Indians in Malaysia (a population gaining mobility most recently through a partial dismantling of the plantation system), the East Indians in Trinidad (a population beginning to gain mobility from the status of plantation labour to a class of cane-farmers in the early twentieth century) and Information Technology workers from India into Australia from the 1980s onwards.

The relationship between the variables of culture, on the one hand, and class and mobility, on the other, is analysed in the dual framework of ‘networks’ and ‘the diasporic imaginary’. The hiatus between the longing and belonging in this group as well as the affilial ties with the parent country have been investigated. The paper looks at the conflicts resultant from the intermingling of cultures in the three settings and how ‘Indian’ culture is used for maintenance of separate identities. The increasing prominence of ‘circulation’ through the use of globalized communication technology leads to a socio-cultural configuration of the diaspora space where homeland and host society relations – and the lateral links within the diaspora – take on a seamless transnational character. The contrast between the nation-state reference with regard to diaspora Indian identity and transnational, yet ethnic, networks among the Indians in Australia is noteworthy. The paper ends by pinpointing the substantive and conceptual problematic in this area of studies. In pursuance of this last, concluding observation, illustrations have been drawn from the entire globalized Indian diasporic field in addition to the three locations selected for detailed examination.

Time- space specific instances are what the paper has and it shows a concern for the contemporary spatial-temporal pattern of study. The paper adopts a comparative perspective keeping in view the differences in space, time and circumstances of the three studies.