What do S.R. Nathan, the former president of Singapore, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana and Deepak Chopra, the holistic spiritual guru have in common with H.S. Dillon, an Indonesian political figure, S.P. Lohia, the billionaire businessman and Raam Punjabi, the king of soap operas? They all share a common link through their Indian ethnicity.
One key to a successful diaspora is a love for the homeland, where cultural and heritage ties are reinforced by evolving social norms and practices.
This memory of the homeland keeps alive the ethnic identity and rekindles a sense of patriotism, defining the diaspora.
Leading global diasporas include those of China, India and Russia. India’s 27 million diaspora members are second only to China’s 50 million in number.
The Indian diaspora represents India, its people, regions, values and diverse cultures. Indians have been living and working overseas for centuries, contributing to societies and economies they live in.
The Indian diaspora dates back to ancient times, meaning Indians have long had cultural exchanges with people from elsewhere.
Starting with saints and monks who spread knowledge, peace and love, other Indians spread across the world in search of economic opportunity and trade. Laborers and workers followed and much later so did scholars, academics, managers and professionals.
At present, India’s intellectual abilities abroad have been further highlighted by the success of Indians overseas, which have in turn helped create the brand of India. Many companies hire Indian professionals and conduct business with Indian companies.
The success of the Indian diaspora today is said to have been accelerated through hard work, distinctive cuisine, the Bollywood phenomenon and the connectivity of the Internet.
There are currently significant Indian populations in more than 60 countries, with Nepal, the United States and Myanmar each having more than 3 million Indians, followed by Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with more than 2 million and Britain, South Africa and Canada with more that 1 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore has 670,000, Australia has 450,000 and China has 150,000 persons of Indian origin.
Standing strong in Indonesia
In Indonesia, there are an estimated 100,000 people of Indian origin, with just over 9,000 of them being expatriates.
Indians were first brought to Indonesia as laborers to work in the plantations of Medan, North Sumatra, with Tamils and Sikhs dominating the diaspora there.
They have been completely assimilated into Indonesian society.
Sindhis were the second wave of Indians to move into Indonesia during the first half of the 20th century, mostly engaging in textile trading and commerce.
The third wave moved late in the 1970s, comprising mainly of investors, managers and professionals such as engineers, consultants, chartered accountants, bankers and IT professionals.
Jakarta is now home to about half of the Indian community in Indonesia.
The Indian community in Indonesia is generally prosperous and includes entrepreneurs and individuals holding senior positions in local and multinational companies.
The diaspora in Indonesia is connected by several organizations such as Gandhi Seva Loka, a charitable institution in the education and social fields and the India Club that gathers professionals.
IndoIndians.com, a web portal founded by Poonam Sagar, serves the community by providing information on shops, services, events and activities that are of interest to the Indian diaspora.
Indian restaurants Kinara, Ganesha and Queens have served Indian food to an international palate.
The Shiva Temple in Pluit is the center of Indian religious activities. And the list is endless.
To connect the diaspora together, the Indian embassy in Jakarta set up an Indian Cultural Forum in mid-2012 comprising 31 Indian cultural organizations. The India Business Forum was also established that year to provide a platform for business interests.
The systematic approach in developing the Indian diaspora has been catalyzed by the way China engaged its diaspora several decades ago, and it is the phenomenal growth of the Chinese economy that made the government of India to realize the importance of the diaspora.
The Indian government then began to engage the diaspora as partners in what is seen today as “emerging India’s” growth story.
Many business figures
Business tycoons of Indian origins in Indonesia include S.P. Lohia, who established the Indorama Group, Srinivasan Marimutu (Texmaco Group), M.L. Mittal (Ispat Group), Harris Lasmana (Cinema 21), Jaka Singgih (Bumi Laut Group), Suresh Vaswani (Gandhi Seva Loka), and Raam Punjabi, who established a film production empire.
The list of chief executives and country heads of non-indian companies is growing, with Ranjana Singh as chairwoman of WPP, Indonesia’s largest communications group, V.P. Sharma of Mitra Adi Perkasa, Indonesia’s largest retail company, Thomas Malayil of Lippo Malls, Indonesia’s largest mall operator, Dr. Gershu Paul of Siloam Hospitals, Indonesia’s largest health care chain and Vismay Sharma of L’Oreal.
The list also includes Milind Gadre of Vision Ease, Manjot Mann of Hutchison CP, Arvind Mohindra of Haier Telecom, Aditya Srinath of JP Morgan Securities, Joseph Abraham of ANZ Bank, Suresh Narang of Deutsche Bank and Veena Lakkundi of 3M.
Sunil Des Alwi of Energizer, Vikas Shrivastava of Johnson & Johnson, Amit Bose of PepsiCo, Prakash Subramanian of Standard Chartered, Vikram Reddy of Four Seasons Hotel, Nagesh Chawla of Ritz Carlton and Sachin Gopalan of BeritaSatu Media, which publishes the Jakarta Globe, are joined by advertising professionals such as Shalini Menon, Himanshu Shekar, Cedric Miranda, Ram Subramanian, Srinivasan Raghavan, Shubho Sarkar and Rajesh Menon.
Rajan Natarajan and Rajat Sagar are IT entrepreneurs and leading management consultants Naresh Makhijani and Amol Titus, join the list of Indian origin business personalities.
Anil Kumar Nayar is the Singaporean Ambassador to Indonesia, Bharat Advani is Honorary Consul for Estonia in Bali, and Shoeb K. Zainuddin is group chief editor at the Jakarta Globe.
Overseas, prominent Indian businesspeople include Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail, Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems and Vinod Dham, father of the Pentium computer chip contributed to the information age, and closer to home, Tony Fernandes and Lakshmi Mittal.
And artists too
There are also prominent Indians in the artistic arena. Ben Kingsley, M. Night Shyamalan and Mira Nair became famous Indian names in the movie world. Zubin Mehta, Freddy Mercury, Jay Sean, Norah Jones, Susheela Raman and MIA are world famous musicians of Indian origin.
Amar Bose set up the famous BOSE speakers that created a sound revolution. Rajiv Shah is the present administrator of USAID.
Authors V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth are prominent literary figures. Russell Peters is world famous as a stand-up comedian, and Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams are astronauts.
Amir Iqbal Khan the boxer, Vijay Singh the golfer and Nasser Hussain the cricketer are sportsmen of world repute. Former Malaysia Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammad has roots set in Kerala, India.