Occasional Paper –7
Diaspora to Transnational Networks:
The Case of Indians in Canada
Ajaya Kumar Sahoo
Centre for the Study of Indian Diaspora
University of Hyderabad
This paper examines the nature of Indian disaporic
communities in the contemporary context of globalisation, especially with the
advent of new technologies of transport, information and communication. After a
brief note on the Indian Diaspora in Canada, the paper discusses the emergence
of transnational networks, among the two of the most prominent communities,
viz., Punjabis and Gujaratis.
The history of Indian emigration to Canada begins in the last
decade of the 19th century. Indian immigrants started their
settlements in Canada especially after the opening of the trans-Canada rail
route to the eastern ports. The credit for initiating the process of Indian
immigration to Canada goes the visit of a group of soldiers under Sardar [Major]
Kadir Khan Bahadur to Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa, after attending the Queen
Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1898 (Kurian 1993: 485). The first
decade of the 20th century saw a steady growth of Indian immigration
to Canada (Petros 1993: 475).
After World War II, the Canadian immigration restrictions
were gradually loosened and immigration legislation in 1962 and 1967
substantially liberalised immigration. Prior to 1962, most of the immigrants
from India were men mainly from the Punjab region, but thereafter the influx was
more balanced between men and women. Besides the Sikhs from Punjab, Hindus from
Gujarat, Bombay and Delhi, Christians from Kerala and Parsis from Bombay too
immigrated to Canada. In the multi-cultural society of Canada, Indians
constitute a significant proportion of the total immigrants and by 1990s Indians
have emerged to be one of the most prosperous and well-educated ‘visible’
minority that enjoyed much higher level of acceptance than the other immigrants
The Indo-Canadian population according to the 1991 census was
424,095 (including 157,015 Hindus and 147,440 Sikhs) constituting approximately
1.5% of the population of Canada (Petros ibid.: 477). Among the immigrants from
South Asia, Indians – including the People of Indian Origin (PIO) from Fiji,
Africa and the Caribbean – constitute around 62%. Most of the Indians who
initially entered into Canada worked in the sawmill industry. They had gone with
the hope of finding work with good wages so that they could improve their
economic situation from what it was in Punjab. But on their arrival in Canada,
they encountered numerous hardships and discrimination. Canadians felt that
"…the growing number of Indians would take over their jobs in factories, mills
and lumberyards. It was these insecurities which led British Columbia to pass
stringent laws discouraging the immigration of Indians to Canada" (Sibia 2001:
1). In 1907 a bill was passed denying all Indians the right to vote. They were
restricted from running any public office, serving on juries and were not even
permitted to become accountants, lawyers or pharmacists. The Komagata Maru
incident of 1914 was an outright challenge to these exclusionist laws (ibid.:
What brings Indians together in Canada is their zeal to
preserve and maintain their cultural identity and promotion of common interest
in an alien society. Their cultural symbols include languages, religious
beliefs, food, dress and art forms. The Indian dances, both classical and folk
forms, are kept alive till this day. For example, classical Indian dances like
Bharatanatyam and Kathak, folk dances like Bhangra and Dhandhya are received
with great enthusiasm. Despite the distance, the age-old traditions such as
rituals, customs, festivals, religion, cultural expressions and performing arts
have remained central to the life and identity of Indian immigrants in Canada.
They also exhibit a strong desire to pass on these values and culture to the
next generation to make them appreciate their own cultural roots.
Canada offers its immigrants an environment to integrate with
the socio-economic and political life through her much publicised state policy
of multiculturalism. It may be mentioned here that the election of Ujjal Dosanjh
as the Premier of the Canadian Province of British Columbia (B.C) is a landmark
event for the Indian diaspora in Canada. Dosanjh’s victory at the leadership
convention of the governing New Democratic Party (NDP) in B.C. also marked a
triumph of the political efforts of the local Canadian Sikh community. Further,
the political rise of Dosanjh is seen as an instance of the political potency of
Indo-Canadians not only in B.C but across Canada as well. It is interesting to
note that British Columbia has the largest number of successful Indo-Canadian
politicians in the Canada.
A significant feature of the 1996 elections in ‘Ontario’ was
the victory of 11 South Asians that included two Pakistanis, one Sri Lankan
Tamil woman, and the rest (eight) Indo-Canadians. Today, Vancouver is the home
of majority of Indian immigrants. Except from Vancouver Indians also found in
large number in places such as British Columbia, Toronto, Newfoundland, Quebec,
Ontario and Alberta etc.
The concept of Diaspora
It is a common knowledge that the concept of diaspora owes it
origin to the Jewish context and acquired significance as an approach to the
study of all migrants and settlers beyond the countries of their origin.
Vertovec (1997: 277) finds the term today "…used to describe practically any
population that is considered ‘deterritorialzed’ or ‘transnational’ – that is,
which has originated in a land other than that in which it currently resides and
whose social, economic and political networks cross the borders of nation-states
or indeed span the globe". The High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora (2002),
under the Chairmanship of Dr. L. M. Singhvi, M.P., employs this concept in a
generic sense for "…communities of migrants living or settled permanently in
other countries, aware of its origins and identity and maintaining varying
degrees of linkages with mother country". Studies on diaspora communities often
centred on the issues of emigration, processes of settlement, persistence of
culture, the extent of assimilation or adaptation, socio-economic and political
participation in the host society, etc. Also implicit in this approach is the
assumption that the displaced or deterritorialized groups negotiate their life
and culture with that of theirs hosts and other immigrants, with limited
interaction with the motherland especially in the case of ‘old diaspora’.
Interactions with the motherland were essentially imaginary since the immigrants
lacked access to resources and modern technology.
Diasporic linkages or networks are centred around the
‘motherland’ and these linkages may be both imaginary and real. The intensity of
these linkages vary based on the proximity or distance - geographical and
cultural - between the ‘motherland’ and the ‘host society’. Closer the proximity
of motherland from the host society greater is the intensity of networks between
the diaspora and the motherland [Diasporic networking is illustrated in the
Annexure 1, following the endnote].
The past decade has witnessed a phenomenal dynamism among the
diaspora communities, made possible by the recent advancement in technologies
for travel, transport and communications. Not only did these developments could
bring the diaspora communities and their motherland closer but also has
facilitated in bringing the members of their community dispersed around the
world together. The emerging social formation, following the fusion of real and
virtual community transcends the boundaries of all nation states. It is
essentially transnational in nature.
‘Transnational’ generally implies migration of people across
the borders of one or more nations. It also refers to the deterritorialisation
of population along with their material and non-material cultural commodities.
The term came into prominent use for the first time in the study of
international relations in the context of international organisations, relations
between non-governmental bodies in particular (Vertovec 1999: xx). In fact, the
terms ‘transnational network’, ‘transnational communities’ and ‘diaspora’ are
often used interchangeably in many of the contemporary studies. Transnational
networks form a precondition to the emergence of transnational communities and
the process of this transformation is generally designated by ‘transnationalism’.
An excellent analysis of this process is promoted by Portes (1997) in his paper
on "Globalisation from Below: The Rise of Transnational Communities". He states,
quoting Basch and others (1994), that transnationalism is "… a process by which
immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that link together
their societies of origin and settlement. We call these processes
‘trasnsnationalism’ (especially) to emphasise that many immigrants today
build social fields that cross geographic, cultural and political borders". They
actively engage in multiple spheres of life in host countries as well as in the
countries of their origin. Such involvement is further extended to include other
countries too, where members of their community are dispersed.
Portes (ibid.: 4) further makes three points in his
analysis of transnationalism:
- That the emergence of transnational communities is tied to the logic of
capitalism itself. They are brought to play by the interests and needs of
investors and employers in the advanced countries.
- That these communities represent a distinct phenomenon at variance with
traditional patterns of immigrant adaptation.
- That because the phenomenon is fuelled by the dynamics of globalisation
itself, it has greater potential.
Peggy Levitt (1999: 4) has examined the significance of
several factors that lead to the emergence of the transnational networks. These
include a) easy travel and communication, b) the increasing role immigrants play
in the countries of their origin to legitimise themselves by providing service
to migrants and their children, c) the increased importance of the receiving
country states in the economic and political futures of sending countries, d)
the society and political marginalisation of migrants in their host countries,
and e) migration takes place within an ideological climate that favours
pluralism over the melting pot.
Besides the forces of globalisation, advancement in
technologies of travel, transport and communication too play a key role in the
emergence of transnational networks. Aeroplanes, telephones, televisions,
electronic mail and the most versatile Internet with Online interaction compress
space and time in a magnitude never ever anticipated.
Diaspora communities, like Chinese in China Towns or Indians
in their ethnic enclaves of ‘Little India’ world over, built ‘home away from
home’ but the transnational networks of contemporary times has facilitated
members of these communities to be ‘here and there’. The above mentioned
processes of globalisation and technological advancement have given rise to
networking among the diaspora communities dispersed across the world. Hence,
there is an urgent need to re-examine and capture the emerging phenomenon in the
Transnational space or social field is constructed from the
transnational networks, which in turn are built upon transnational family
networks (interactions between members / kith and kin of a family living in
different countries) as well as from the networking of community organisations
(caste associations, religious institutions, for instance). Transnational
networks are increasingly dense web of social contacts between places of origin
and destinations spawned by migrant’s spatial displacement, that are sustained
on the basis of social and kin relationship (Massay; quoted in Portes 1995).
These networks enable immigrants to maintain simultaneous connection with two or
more nation-states. Further these networks are intensified as a result of
globalisation, deterritorialisation, continuous circulation of people (such as
labour), money (especially the role of World Bank & International Monetary Fund
[IMF] etc.), and information (through Internet and other faster means of
communication) across the countries. Such intensified transnational networks
constitute a single community with global spread.
The remittances / investments that flow between transnational
migrants to their families back home as well as the socio-cultural networks with
the motherland, as in the case of Jewish, Chinese and Indian diaspora, is also
an interesting example of transnational networks. This sustained
transnationalisation of migrant ties is currently on steep increase. Further,
the global economy, along with international business operations, and provision
of dual nationality by the homeland governments offer opportunities for
promotion of transnational interactions. The modern modes of transportation and
communication, in combination with new international institutions of economic
activity following globalisation, have accelerated the immigrants involvement in
the economic transactions that cross borders of the nation-states of their
origin and also the countries of their settlement.
As mentioned earlier, revolutionary developments in the
spheres of transport and communications during the past decade has introduced
far reaching changes in all societies, including the diasporic communities
dispersed in different countries away from their countries of origin. In so far
as the diasporic communities are concerned, not only the ties with the
motherland are reinforced and intensified but are extended to reach the members
of their community settled in many other parts of the world. These networks are
transnational in nature as they cut across not just the ‘motherland’ and the
country of immigration but cover several nation states where members of the same
diasporic community are dispersed [see Annexure 2, following the endnote].
The emerging trend from diaspora towards transnational
networks is briefly examined below with the illustration of the transnational
networks among the Punjabi and Gujarati diaspora in Canada. Among the Indians in
Canada, Punjabis have the distinction of being numerically the largest group of
immigrants besides their early presence. Gujaratis are another significant
‘visible minority’ who maintain an extensive transnational network.
Transnational Networks among the Punjabis
Punjabis in Canada (numbering nearly 201,785 forming 0.71% of
Canada’s total population, as per Statistics Canada, 1996 Census) can be easily
distinguished from other South Asians from their cultural specificity including
the style of dress still retained. Besides being the first Indian immigrants to
enter Canada, Punjabis enjoy a vibrant community life today when compared to
other Indians in Canada. The Punjabi ethnic consciousness in Canada has two
levels, viz. firstly, all Punjabis share common status of an immigrant community
with other South Asians and secondly, it exhibits distinct behaviour patterns
from others (Judge 1994: 137-38).
When the Punjabis first reached Canada at the turn of the 20th
century, they went by see route and the only way to communicate with their
relatives in Punjab was the surface mail. On an average, as observed by Leonard
(1989), a Punjabi paid a visit to his family in Punjab after seven years if not
more. But when the Punjabis immigrated to Canada in the 1960’s and early 1970’s
- the 2nd wave of migration - they went by air and used airmail for
communication. These new immigrants, owing to their skills and professional
training, enjoyed good employment opportunities and maintained closer contact
through frequent visits to their families. The satellite communication
revolution and the popularisation of Public Call Offices in India during 1980s
have made it possible for the quickest communication between Canada and India.
This has facilitated further links of immigrants with the families back home in
Punjab and their ties have been re-strengthened (Judge ibid.).
Most of the studies conducted on Punjabis abroad suggest that
a majority of them belong to the Jat caste and were having a middle peasant
status before their emigration (Mcleod 1987; Judge 1994). ‘Rural’, ‘Jat Sikh’,
‘middle peasant’ and ‘educated’ (‘educated’ is applicable especially to those
who immigrated in 1960’s and 70’s) are the background characteristics common to
a majority of the Punjabis now resident in Canada.
Most of the Punjabi immigrants in the Western countries have
immense interest in the advancement of their kith and kin at their places of
origin. They send remittances to the families back home to buy land and other
properties. They also intervene in the decision making process of the family.
They encourage children of their relatives to get higher education and also
facilitate their immigration. Punjabis, like other South Asians, show a great
degree of community cohesiveness. They visit each other, attend ceremonies,
attend Gurdwara services and take community lunch programmes besides
associations and organisations to promote the interest of community as a whole.
As compared to other European immigrants in Canada, the
Punjabis form a distinctive ethnic group. In other words, they can be identified
as different from the host population in terms of the colour of their skin and
distinctive attire. An ethnic community with distinct relative consciousness in
terms of class, race, language, religion and cultural practices faces numerous
problems in integrating itself with the host population.
In 1971, Canada became the first Western country to adopt
multiculturalism as official state policy. In the contemporary post-industrial
world there is hardly a country where one finds an ethnically homogeneous
population. The process of colonisation, displacement of population and
subsequent creation of distinctive social identities, such as refugees, natives
and immigrants from innumerable countries have often resulted in the emergence
of ethnic diversities (Koushik 1996: 184).
Punjabis have maintained strong networks - socio-cultural,
economic, religious and political - with their kith and kin around the world as
well as with their relatives back home in Punjab. These networks are manifested
through sending remittances to the families left behind in India, involvement in
various national and international associations, visiting homeland for manifold
reasons. Further the process of maintaining these networks is facilitated by the
spectacular progress in global media, communication and transportation
With the help of Internet, web and news groups, and the
interactive communication through email, the diasporic Punjabis form today the
‘global Punjabi community’. The transnational networks among Punjabis can be
discussed at two levels:
- the networks among Punjabis in Canada and their community, including
relatives, back home in Punjab, and
- the transnational networks between Punjabis all over the globe.
Punjabi diaspora’s interrelationship with Punjab can be
understood in terms of social, economic, religious and political linkages. These
linkages are briefly illustrated in terms of their networks in the spheres of
kinship and marriage, culture, politics, economy, religion and language.
Kinship and Marriage
Punjabis uphold their social networks through family ties and
kinship obligations, marriage ceremonies and other ritual activities. The family
is the basis of social organisation, providing its members with both identity
and protection. Punjabis in Canada have retained their kinship relations through
contact with the families back home in Punjab and also with kith and kin around
Marriage is an important institution among Punjabis in
sustaining the ethnic bond. One of its important roles is to create positive
self-image through arranged marriages in which region, religion and caste
identities are maintained and promoted. Punjabis choose their marriage partners
not only in their respective places of residence but from the homeland and other
countries around the world. As Roger Ballard (2000: 14) observes, "…most of the
settlers abroad preferred to arrange a ‘Riste’ back home in Punjab,
partly because of the very limited degree of choice available (given the
restriction of marriage rules) within most localised ethnic colonies".
In comparison with the early period where marriage took place
within the local context, it has now become global, reaching out to Singapore,
Kenya, Hong Kong, U.K., and North America. Further, marriage has become truly
transnational due to the status such marriages have acquired. Now marriage
partners are increasingly chosen across the continent (Angelo 1997: 66). The
matrimonial advertisements, which are available in newspapers and on the
Internet, make further easier for searching the marriage partners. For example,
‘punjabimarriage.com’ is the web site, which provides a site for
matrimonial ads for the Punjabi and Sikh community around the world. In choosing
partners, consideration of castes still continues to play a significant role.
Apart from these there are also several other matrimonial sites such as:
www.sikhnet.com/Matrimonials and www.punjabimatrimony.com.
Culture is an abstract symbolic system, which is composed of
values, meanings and beliefs. The rich cultural heritage, common language and a
strong sense of being Punjabi bind the Punjabis together. For instance, ‘Bhangra’,
which is a popular dance form of Punjab, is an important ethnic marker
throughout the world inseparable from Punjabis.
As mentioned earlier, the transnational networks among
Punjabis became strong with the development of media, Internet, television,
audio, video, radio and other faster means of communication. Punjabi media
consisting of weekly newspapers, monthly and quarterly magazines play an
important role in informing overseas Sikhs about their homeland (Tatla 1999).
The transnational television and radio channels also provide information and
entertainment to the Punjabis around the globe. There are several transnational
TV and Radio channels such as Punjabi Radio, Netguruindia, TV India, Live
365.com, Punjabi+many, AM1320 Vancouver, Multicultural Radio Punjabi Saturday,
Montreal Canada, Radio Sikh-info Daily Kukamnama etc., provide information
to Punjabis in the diaspora.
Recently Zee TV has lunched its ‘Zee Alpha TV’ Punjabi
Channel for Punjabis living abroad. This is a 24-hour channel, which would use
satellite AsiaSat3s and foot printers covering West Asia, Africa, and Australia
apart from India. This channel would reach all Punjabis across the world.
Another 24-hour exclusive Punjabi channel from Doordarshan has also been lunched
in August 6th 2001. These satellite channels take images of Punjab
and Punjabis to Punjabi diaspora spread over different parts of the world.
Punjabi films, videos and magazines are now available in most of the Asian shops
abroad, which further supplement the cultural environment of Punjabis.
‘Kabaddi’ sport is another marker item of Punjabi
identity, which is now a transnational event. Kabaddi matches are not
only organised in Punjab but also in far away countries such as North America,
Canada and Britain where teams from Punjab, England, Canada, Pakistan etc. have
taken part in the tournaments. The news regarding the international matches
spreads through letters, Internet and newspapers across the frontier.
The political affinity of overseas Punjabis to the homeland
has a long history. Tatla (1999: 85) observes that "…starting from the pre 1947
period, the Chief Khalsa Diwan had established direct links with several Sikh
societies in the overseas countries". That is because of their history of
discrimination. From the early period of the evolution of the religious
ideology, Sikhs were facing the trauma of discrimination (both religious and
ethnic) in the home country as well as in the diasporas. This ethnic
discrimination in the diaspora and the religious fundamentalism in the home
state have resulted in the formation of various national and international
associations for maintaining the networks among the Sikhs around the globe.
The potential of Sikh diasporas to participate and intervene
"…in the politics of the homeland has been greatly enhanced and facilitated by
the spectacular development of global media and communication technologies" (Werbner
2000). For instance, soon after the attack on Golden Temple - the holiest Sikh
Shrine - the news spread through the media reach all corners of the world to
Sikhs. The Punjabi web sites featuring the Punjab riots aimed at raising the
diaspora consciousness among the globally dispersed Sikhs. The picture and
images of the incidence of communal violence, the picture of the Golden Temple
before 1984 and after 1984 distributed via the Internet are seen by the
relatives and friends in other countries and states contributed for the
mobilisation of support. Such interactions have resulted, within a very short
span of time, in the emergence of a self-conscious, ethno-national community,
which staked out a claim for statehood. In this regard, the World Sikh
Organisation and the International Sikh Youth Federation mobilised tens of
thousands of Sikhs in peaceful demonstration for an independent Sikh state. The
search for separate statehood [Khalistan] hastened the appearance of overseas
Sikhs as a distinctive, visible and identifiable diaspora (Singh 2000: 3-4).
From economic point of view, Punjabis today remitted a high
proportion of their earnings to support their families back home so also to
improve the economy of the home state. They invested their remittances in the
form of "…establishing industries, factories, and buying land and transport
companies in most of the major towns in Punjab such as Jalandhar, Ludhiana,
Chandigarh and other towns" (Tatla ibid.: 63). They also contribute their
remittances for the development of charities, hospitals and educational centres
Religion offers one of the most significant aspects of
cohesion among the immigrants. Sikhism [the religion of Sikhs] provides a forum
for the Sikhs in particular and Punjabis in general to live together in peace
and harmony regardless of race, religion, culture and nationality. The
Gurdwaras - the sacred place of their worship - is the best example of
cohesiveness of the community. Wherever the Sikhs have migrated the first thing
they did was to establish Gurdwaras in order to restore the community bond among
the members. Today there are thousands of Gurdwaras around the world
(approximately 75 Gurdwaras in Canada), which promote both religious and
cultural life of Sikhs and maintain religious networks by organising functions
and festivals. For instance, Khalsa Foundation organises seminars, quiz
contests and other activities across the world, and invite participants from
different countries to preserve and maintain networks among the Sikhs.
Language is an important vehicle for maintaining ethnic
identity. It is an ethnic symbol, like dress or physical features, which
distinguishes one group from other (Singh and Barrier 1999). The Punjabi
language is a part of Sikh identity and the Sikhs take sufficient care to
promote it among the younger generation. They publish the news regarding the
socio-cultural, economic and political life in Punjab and in the diaspora in
Punjabi. The diaspora Punjabi writers are encouraged to write on the history and
the mystery of the long-standing vibrant culture. National and international
conferences are organised for the purpose of reaching international community.
There were three international conferences so far; first is the World Punjabi
Writers Conference held in London in 1980; this was followed by the second one
in Vancouver in 1987 and third in Hong Kong in 1991. In June another major
international gathering of Punjabi writers took place at the Milwaukee campus of
the University of Wisconsin. Recently the World Punjabi Congress (WPC) has
decided to keep up the momentum of global Punjabi movement by holding eight
conferences in different parts of the world within next four years.
Transnational Networks among the Gujaratis
Though migration of Gujaratis to Canada may be traced back to
the end of 19th century and the early part of 20th
century, it was only after independence that large-scale migration of Gujaratis
to Canada took place. Most of them can be from upper caste and class
backgrounds. In the multicultural society of Canada today, Gujaratis constitute
around 45,185 (according to the 1996 statistics Canada: see Patel 2000). Today
they are the most affluent people who have entered into every field of service,
business and profession (though their first love is business).
The relation between the Gujaratis in Canada and their
counterparts living around the world as well as relatives back home, was not
only a matter of memories, but it has been an ongoing and continuous
relationship. These transnational relations can be broadly divided into two
categories, i.e., micro and macro linkages. Micro level linkages are more
personalised and informal in nature. The Gujaratis continue to keep in touch
with the friends and relatives in Gujarat and in other countries all over the
world. Their personal linkages are maintained through telephone calls, letters,
Internet and personal visits.
The micro level transnational networks among the Gujaratis
can be analysed from two perspectives. First, the networks between the Gujaratis
in Canada with their relatives back home, and secondly, the network between
Gujaratis living all over the world. In contrast to the ex-indentured
immigrants, Gujarati immigrants in the contemporary period have been able to
maintain extensive ties both at social and economic level. These ties are
manifested in the form of marriage arrangements, kinship networks, remittances
and religious affiliation, etc.
The main method of overseas transportation during the 19th
and early 20th centuries was ship where the emigrants were subjected
to very long voyages at sea under exceedingly difficult conditions. During that
period, the only contact with the homeland was through new arrivals and visitors
such as Hindu and Christian Missionaries. But now there is considerable travel
back and forth of Gujaratis to Gujarat and other parts of India, particularly
from North America, U.K. and East Africa. The growing affluence among the
Gujarati immigrants world over and the availability of affordable and faster
means of travel have allowed intense contacts among the Gujaratis.
The second type of transnational linkages are the macro level
linkages, which are promoted at the institutional level between diaspora and the
mother country as well as among the diaspora community members from different
countries. There are numerous socio-economic and political networks maintained
between diaspora and Gujarat. Although the Gujaratis have been living in most
parts of the world for the past 150 years, it is only recently that they closely
interact among themselves and also with the mother country. For example, the
government of Gujarat recently established Non Resident Gujarati Foundation (NRG)
in 1998. It has following objectives:
- To help and care for Non-Resident Gujaratis (NRGs) on their short trip to
India, in their investment matters, on establishing industries in Gujarat.
- To establish effective communication between NRGs and the foundation.
- To preserve the cultural heritage, e.g., to send experts for musical
concerts, dance performance etc.
- To preserve the language.
- To maintain social ties, e.g., matrimonial services.
- To create unity among the Gujarati families in different parts of the
- To identify NRGs, who have gained special achievement in their respective
fields and recognise them with awards (Nri-Gujarati.com - July 23, 2000).
The government is maintaining close contacts with Gujaratis
living abroad not for just commercial reasons, but to establish a closer rapport
with them so that they can remain in touch with their social and cultural
heritage. The government of Gujarat has lunched many schemes for NRGs not only
to attract investment in their home state but also to establish better
communication with them. For instance, the World Gujarat Meet held at Vadodara
on January 4th, 1999 had attracted NRGs from many parts of the world,
such as Uganda, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, UAE,
Australia and South Africa. The purpose of that meeting was to establish, not
withstanding the name and fame acquired on foreign shores, a socio-cultural
connection as distinct from a financial tie-up with the native land.
Some of the schemes initiated by the Government of Gujarat
became very attractive in terms of their returns and the NRIs began to utilise
them. They are investing either in NRI bank accounts or in real estate. They
bought properties such as flats or houses, mostly in cities like Anand,
Vidyanagar and Ahmedabad and other major cities. Very few of them have invested
in business or industry.
The role of international Gujarati associations and
organisations is very significant in the promotion of transnational networks by
bringing all Gujaratis together, work for Gujarat and to preserve the Gujarati
culture, tradition and folklore. There are considerable number of Gujaratis
living in the countries like USA, U.K., Canada and East Africa. They have formed
their associations in order to look after their fellow Gujaratis in the local
context and to pursue interactions with other Gujaratis all over the world.
Whenever and wherever crisis takes place the Gujaratis come together for
resolving the crisis. For example, the Holocaust and crisis in Uganda, Middle
East and Fiji have engaged every Gujarati’s to concern for other. Another
instance is that of the unprecedented earthquake of January 26, 2001 which has
brought together Gujaratis from all over the world. They mobilised men and
materials for immediate and long-term recovery from the massive damage. In order
to rebuild the economy and infrastructure they have raised funds from personal
to organisational levels.
Gujarat has a rich tradition of performing arts and customs.
Dhandhya, a folk dance with sticks and Garba are popular among the
Gujarati youths in India and abroad. Originally Dhandhya was performed by rural
folk, but it is brought to urban environment by remixing the pulse of disco and
Hindi film music. It is popularised further through Hindi films, played at
wedding receptions, dance parties, and community celebrations. For instance,
during ‘Navratri’ - a nine night religious ceremony to worship Goddess Durga -
Dhandhya dance is a major attraction and people from all backgrounds dance
Satellite and cable televisions also play an important role
in sustaining transnational linkages among the ethnic groups. For instance, a
24-hour Gujarati language TV channel is lunched by Zee Television Network under
the name ‘Alpha TV Gujarati’. It presents a blend of entertainment, news
and culture to ethnic Gujarati viewers across the world.
Gujarat is known for the origin and development of two major
sects among the Hindus. First, the followers of Swaminarayan, and secondly, the
followers of Vallabhacharya, known as Pustimarg. A large proportion of Hindu
emigrants from Gujarat has been involved in one or the other of these groups
(Ballard ibid.: 165-66).
The followers of Swaminarayan come under the Swaminarayan
Sampradaya sect. The Swaminarayan Sampradaya is a sect of Hinduism that has been
established for approximately two centuries. The founder of this sect was Lord
Shree Swaminarayan. Swaminarayan devotees are drawn from a wide range of castes
such as Kanbis, Suthars, Rajputs, and Lohans. The sect has already made inroads
in the world wide Gujarati diaspora and is now expanding rapidly. The followers
of Swaminarayan have been divided into four main sub sects such as Brahmacharis,
Sadhus, Palas and finally, the Satsangis.
In order to retain the religious practice and to guide the
younger generation, Lord Swaminarayan followers established hotels and schools,
hospitals and medical camps. They also provided aid in times of natural
calamities, organised international festivals to preserve, protect and promote
Gujarati culture, inter-faith harmony and universal brotherhood. The followers
are peace-loving group of people wedded to a sincere discipline of vegetarian
diet and moral purity insisting on no addictions, no stealing, and no illicit
The followers of Vallabhacharya are
called ‘Prajapatis’. Presently there are about 2.8 million Prajapatis in the
world and they interacted with each other through newsletters and other modes of
communication including Internet. The Prajapatis formed their community as early
as the 6th century, though their community came into limelight only during the
early 20th century. The Prajapatis are traditionally potters and
became closely linked with two castes, the Mistrys and the Suthars.
They formed only a small proportion of the population of rural Gujarat. Although
they occupied the lowest position in the caste hierarchy, because of their lack
of land and wealth, they are respected for their specialist occupation as they
supplied the earthenware that is much needed in daily life. The Prajapatis are
endogamous caste groups, hence their caste boundaries define their universe
within which all meaningful social relationships are conducted.
With a view to reach all Prajapatis
around the world, Prajapati Samaj has established
‘Prajapati Vishva Ashram’ in 1998. The main aim of
this Ashram is to enable all Prajapatis from different parts of the world to
interact with each other. They have also established Internet websites to
facilitate their communication and interaction on world-wide basis. The
interactions could be at individual, group or community levels. The Prajapati
Vishva Ashram encourages all Prajapatis to volunteer to work for their Samaj
wherever they reside. Based on the above philosophy some Prajapatis have
initiated an Internet site under
This web site was created in 1998 January to give
all Prajapatis in the world the platform to meet anytime, at anyplace to promote
the goals of Prajapati Vishva Ashram. Shree Bhavin
Champaklal Mistry of Edmonton, Alborta, Canada, has
spearheaded the initiative as webmaster. It has raised funds from Canada and the
USA for setting up of the computer Internet links with Gujarat. Other programmes
of this web site include funding education for employable skills, Learning
Vedas, Prajapati encyclopaedia etc. There are several Prajapati associations and
organisations located all around the world which have inter-linked with each
other. These organisations include the Shree Prajapati Associations of U.K.,
Canada and South Africa. The associations were established in 1978 as national
organisation in the respective countries.
The objectives of the Shree
Prajapati Association include the advancement of the Hindu religion and culture
and the relief of poverty and sickness among the Prajapati community. The
Prajapatis in South Africa and Canada are on the same path to preserve their
heritage and culture. The Prajapati community in South Africa and Canada strive
to preserve their heritage and culture. As a joint venture the Prajapati
community of South Africa and Canada are in the process of setting up an
Internet website to provide a means of communication across the rest of the
Prajapati community all around the world.
The revolution in information and communication
technology and its impact on immigrants is phenomenal over the past two decades.
The world wide networks of online media allow much easier access, relatively at
less cost, and above all, offer interactive opportunity to the dispersed people
around the world. For example, the diasporic Gujarati web sites are creating
global directories of individuals, community associations, and business
organisations owned by members of the diasporas. The online media help the users
to reconstitute pre-migration relationships, at least in cyberspace, as well as
create ‘virtual communities’ with ‘communal identities’.
For instance, the Internet site "kemchoo.com" aims at bringing all the
Gujaratis together and gives them the feel of the rich culture and tradition.
Further, its aim is to provide a ‘virtual home’ for those who are out of touch
with their culture and tradition or away from homes for long time. The site also
focuses on Gujaratis around the world and provides services to the people of
Gujarat. Another site, "evishwagujarati.net" provides the platform for
the Gujarati diaspora to interact with each other and link their lives,
strengthen their shared heritage, deal with the problems of living in foreign
countries, conduct business together and maintain stronger links with Gujarat.
The sites focus broadly on four categories; a roundup of events pertaining to
Gujarat and Gujaratis worldwide, the Samaj’s formidable network spanning
continents, culture and interaction and a Gujarat fact file.
Recent works on diaspora communities have shown that
there is an exponential increase in social networks, both formal and informal,
between the diaspora and motherland on the one hand and among the members of any
diaspora community dispersed around the world on the other. Such a networking,
cutting across the boundaries of several nation-states, is a foundation for the
emergence of transnational communities and societies. We are familiar with some
of the transnational formal organisations, both governmental and
non-governmental, impinging on the national to a limited extent (for example,
UN, World Bank, International Court, IMF and other world bodies, NGOs pursuing
environmental issues, etc.). Emergence of transnational networks among the
members of a diaspora community, scattered in several countries including the
motherland, facilitates promotion of their interest in all spheres of life
globally. The countries of their origin too reach out to their diasporic
populations, seeking their participation in the development of the motherland.
Nearly 80% of the investments in Mainland China, for instance come from the
overseas Chinese. The Chinese Government had initiated a Ministry for the
Overseas Chinese as early as 1920s. The Government of India has taken more than
50 years to constitute a High Level Committee in order to suggest policy
measures to facilitate the participation of overseas Indians in India’s
development. In other words, the governments of China and India pursue economic
and political advantages from the presence of Indian and Chinese overseas.
Individual and collective social networks have facilitated further emigration of
kith and kin to different destinations. Patel and Rutten (2000) have come across
several such instances where members of Gujarati families are dispersed among
several countries. Family business, founded on the absolute confidence that
unifies members of the same family, particularly among the Sikhs, sometimes
assumes global dimensions (Helweg 1986).
The Punjabis and the Gujaratis in Canada are in the threshold
of forming ‘transnational communities’ through their socio-economic, political
and religious networks. Language, regional culture and religion offer the
ideological base for their identities and bondage for fusion at the global
level. The networks formed by the dispersed members of Punjabis and Gujaratis
transcend the boundaries of the national states wherein they are currently
situated but fall within the legislated norms of inter-national relations. The
networking of these diasporic communities is mutually benefited to the
communities and the countries of their origin as well as the countries of their
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