Ethnic Indians have established their communities on every continent and islands of Caribbean and Indian Oceans since the 19th century.
It should be emphasized, however, that the emigration of Indians has a much longer history than what the reference point of colonialism seems to suggest. In the history of
ancient India, we come across accounts of the Buddhist bhikkus who traveled into remote corners of Cental and Eastern Asia. and a group of gypsies emigrated to northwest and Eastern Europe.
Narimsimhan et al. (2018) have found the existence of "Indus periphery" inhabitants living in Central Asia during the Bronze Age. They had migrated from the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Around 500 AD a group of Cholas, known for its great naval power emigrated to Southeast Asia and conquered Indonesia, Malaysia and kingdoms of Southeast Asia. The influence of Indian culture is still felt strongly in Southeast Asia.
Various Indian groups like Bhoras. the Banyas and the Chettiyars under the banner of Nattukottai Chettiyar Association (Tinker, ibid) had trade links with the East Africa. A Indian merchant colony in Russia in the 18th century reported the existence of Hindu traders.
"Indian Merchant Diaspora" (17th and 18th century) Indians migrated to Central Asia and Russia established their settlements and witnessed socio religious customs. In Astrakhan the Russia on the north east of Caspian Sea were big Indian bankers and trader’s community which lived in an enclave.
Maritime history of pre-colonial India records evidence of continuous contact between the kingdoms of the Coromandel coast and the islands of South-East Asia. The contact of the Palas of Bengal with the Sailendra kings of
Indonesia and the expeditions of the South Indian Cholas which vanquished the great Indonesia empire of Sri Vijaya are repeatedly referred to by scholars (see Tinker 1977:1).
Several elements of Hindu and Buddhist religion, mythology and culture have survived in South-East Asia, and most notably in Thailand and Bali (see Vincent Smith 1958).
"Yet none of these contacts led to a distinctive Indian population overseas" (Tinker 1977:1). The trade with East Africa, however, lead to a permanent Indian settlement
there. In a footnote, McNeill (1963:210) observes that "there is some reason to think that a colony of Indian merchants lived permanently in Memphis, Egypt from about 500 BC"
(see also Sastri 1959). In the nineteenth century, when "European explorers like Burton first ventured into the interior [in Africa] they were guided on their way by Indian
merchants" (Tinker 1977:2-3). These early migrants to East Africa belonged mainly to small trading communities like the Ismailis, Bhoras and Banyas of the Gujarat region.
Their counterparts covering Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, Thailand, and Indonesia were mainly Nattukkottai Chettyars of Chettinad in the Tamil region of South India. Research on
the pre-colonial Indian diaspora is scant and sketchy. Even the available data are scattered in historical works. Documenting the sources of such data is necessary. With the
help of historians compiling the basic research material on the subject may even be possible.
It is observed that a marginal peasants "...shifted their loyalties from one master to another and hence traveled from one region to another" (Jain 1993) even before the colonial indentured labor migration, " population mobility was inherent in the social order..." .
Likewise, Indian diaspora of ancient times laid a foundation for future prospects with the beginning of European Colonialism
500 years of European colonialism to the world, which marks as one the most significant phase of Indian Diaspora too, in terms of the magnitude of emigration and its spread, the European colonization, marked by the penetration of mercantile capitalism in Asia is very crucial.
The British had strategic portions of India under their control by the end of the 18th century and gained control over more territory in the 19th century which was the beginning on colonial era. Since the 18th century Indians have been coming to the European countries either as visitors, emissaries or teachers. Indian ayas (nannies to look after the children), naukars (household servants), munshis (tutors) and laskars, (seamen) immigrated to Britain. When India was a colony of Britain, many Indians as a part of British Army have been brought to fight during World War I and World War II.
The British rule and its impact on the Indian peasantry and the consequent economic backwardness resulted in mass unemployment.
The phenomenal trade surpluses earned by the European mercantile class in the wake of geographical discoveries were invested in mines and plantations in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. This created an enormous demand for a cheap and regulated labor force. By the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the demand for labor was accentuated by the ever expanding colonial economy, the growing opposition to slavery and eventually slavery saw an abolition by England in 1833, by France in 1848 and by Holland in 1863, and the inability of the European countries to meet the shortfall in labor by deploying their own labor force. A combination of factors made India (and China) an extant reservoir of cheap, docile, and dependable labor, especially to work on the plantations. Tinker (1993) provides one of the most comprehensive surveys of the emigration of Indian labor overseas during the colonial era. Broadly three distinct patterns of Indian emigration are identifiable in this period:(1) "indentured" labor emigration, (2) kangani and maistry labor emigration, and (3) "passage" or "free" emigration. The indentured labor emigration, so called after the contract3 signed by the individual laborer to work on plantations, was officially sponsored by the colonial government. It began in 1834 and ended in 1920. The overwhelming majority of the labor emigrants under this system were recruited from North India. These labor emigrants were taken to the British colonies of British Guiana, Fiji, Trinidad and Jamaica; the French colonies of Guadalupe and Martinique; and the Dutch colony of Surinam. The kangani (derived from Tamil kankani, meaning foreman or overseer) system prevailed in the recruitment of labor for emigration to Ceylon and Malaya (see Jayaraman 1975:6). A variant of this system, called the maistry (derived from Tamil maistry, meaning supervisor) system was practiced in the recruitment of labor for emigration to Burma. Under these systems the kangani or maistry (himself an Indian immigrant) recruited families of Tamil laborers from villages in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. Under these systems the laborers were legally free, as they were not bound by any contract or fixed period of service. These systems, which began in the first and third quarter of the nineteenth century, were abolished in 1938. Emigration from India did not cease after the abolition of indenture and other systems of organized export of labor. There was a steady trickle of emigration of members of trading communities from Gujarat and Punjab to South Africa and East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda), and those from South India to South East Asia. Most laborers emigrated to East Africa to work on the railroad construction. These emigrants were not officially sponsored: they themselves paid their "passage" and they were "free" in the sense that they were not bound by any contract.
Large scale emigration of Indians into far off lands was facilitated by the integration of peripheral economies into the emerging world capitalist system, the onset of a revolution in transportation and communication, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1986.
The Indian diaspora developed gradually during the 19th and 20th century when emigration of indenture and contract laborers, traders, professionals, students took place to the British, French, Dutch, Dane and Portuguese colonies in Asia Africa, Caribbean and Far Eastern countries. Today the emigrant Indians are termed as the "Old Diaspora".
During the colonial era India, was a founding member of the League of Nations, a participating nation in the Summer Olympics in 1900, 1920, 1928, 1932, and 1936, and a founding member of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. In 1947, India gained its independence and was partitioned into the Dominion of India
A new and significant phase of emigration began after India became independent in 1947.
The migration in the post- colonial period was entirely different when compared with the earlier forms of migration in the ancient-medieval and the colonial phases
All educational Institutions were patterned after the British and American educational systems. Many Indian migrants were skilled with instructions in English and qualified. The educational system produced professionals more than the availability of jobs that can absorb them.
Post-World War II numerous Indians migrated to the West European, American countries, Australia and New Zealand which is known as “New Diaspora" (Bhat, 2009) known as Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). A combination of unskilled (manual workers) semi-skilled and skilled professional Indians migrated to West Asian Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, the Gulf countries.
Broadly, three patterns of emigration can be identified in the post-independence emigration:
(1) The emigration of Anglo-Indians to Australia and England,
(2) The emigration of professionals to the industrially advanced countries like the United States of America,
England and Canada, and
(3) The emigration of skilled and unskilled laborers to West Asia.
The emigration of the Anglo-Indians is one of the least studied facets of Indian
diaspora. Feeling marginalized in the aftermath of India's independence, many of these descendants of intermarriage between Indians and the English left India for England in the
first instance. Finding that they were not racially and ethnically acceptable to the English, several of them emigrated to Australia, which has become a second "homeland" to a
significant section of the Anglo-Indians. The large-scale and steady emigration of doctors, engineers, scientists and teachers to the industrially advanced countries of the
West is essentially a post-independence phenomenon, and particularly so of the late 1960s and the 1970s. It somewhat declined with the adoption of stringent immigration
regulation by the recipient countries. This pattern of emigration, often described as "brain drain," is essentially voluntary and mostly individual in nature. With the second
and subsequent generations having emerged, and the emigrant population enjoying economic prosperity and socio-cultural rights, this stream of emigration has resulted in vibrant
Indian communities abroad. To be contrasted with the above is the emigration of skilled and unskilled laborers to West Asia in the wake of the "oil boom" there (see Nair 1991
and 1994). This emigration is voluntary in nature, but its trends and conditions are determined by labor market vagaries. It is a predominantly male migration, characterized by
uninterrupted ties with the families and communities back in India. This cannot be otherwise as in most of the West Asian countries the immigrant laborers cannot settle down,
and have neither property rights nor the freedom to practice their own religion (other than Islam).
In 1948, in order to protect the migrants UN (United Nations) made article 27 which is Universal Declaration of the Rights, where this article mentions that people in a country should be treated equally, irrespective of race, color, gender, language, religion, natural or social origin, birth and status. All countries were signatories to this Declaration. All member countries started accordingly and allowed migration.
Prior to 1 July 1962 all Commonwealth Citizens had an unrestricted right of entry to the United Kingdom as well as to the European countries (Peach, 1968: 11). During the 1960s, migration to the European countries did not require visas. Many Indians migrated to Europe with a hope to go to the English speaking countries of Great Britain and North America which was opposed for some time.
Issuance of passports was considered a discretionary mechanism of the Indian government to conduct its foreign relations until 1966, a decision by the Indian Supreme Court that established the "right to travel" as a fundamental right under the Indian constitution, following which the Indian parliament enacted the Passports Act of 1967.
Since the immigration countries are known for their well-being, better opportunities and social system there is always a continues attraction to go there. Overall there is excessive revolutions in the cultures of the migrating populations. Withholding of the cultural identity of their homeland in the host society is another important factor of Diaspora. Even though these migrants have their physical or geographical position de-localized where their cultural position is still attached to their homeland. With the help of telephone, transport and cyber technology, they developed cross-border relations, which in turn helped them to meet other Indian communities, keep their connections with the homeland.
Thus Indian Diaspora is become one of the biggest diasporas in the world as it stands at 17.5 million as the UN reports.