Diaspora Indians or Indians in the Caribbean and the Western World, who were not afraid to explore new frontiers such as America often, faced ‘good hell,’ when they arrived on this continent. These pioneers produced some of the best: lawyers, doctors, engineers, and heads of states in many countries in the ‘new world’ such as in Trinidad and Guyana. It was from the socio-political experiences of working with Diaspora Indians of South Africa that Gandhi developed his ideology and commitment to work for Indian independence. Mahatma Gandhi’s politics was a product of living and working among Diaspora South African Indians. Mohandas Gandhi left India in a three piece suit and went to England. After South Africa, he returned to India wearing a dhoti as the Mahatma. NRI’s, who immigrated to the West in the sixties, were often shocked to see, in the Caribbean, that Diaspora Indians had maintained their ‘’Indian culture.’ There was a fair amount of NRI jealousy. NRI’s, instead of embracing the achievements of these early pioneer Indians for maintaining their identity, began a debate about who is a real Indian, and who is not a real Indian. It seems that NRI’s were saying that if you were not born in India, you were not a real Indian. While these NRI’s were debating country of birth as a sign of authenticity, their children were being born in the Americas. If being born in the Americas was somehow not authentic, these NRI’s were giving birth to non-authentic American born children.
This is an old debate. Among Latin American countries, Spain tried to maintain a distinction between people who were born in Spain, and those who were born on the America continent. Those born in Spain were called ‘Peninsularis.’ Those who were born on the American continent were called ‘criollos.’ As way to maintain their Imperial and Colonial hold on Latin America, Spain gave Spanish born Peninsularis extra privileges, because it was felt they would be more loyal to the king of Spain, and disloyal to Latin America. Spain tried its best to ‘breed’ disloyalty among the Peninsularis to keep their support for Spanish colonialism.
In the long run, Spain did not succeed in cultivating the loyalty of the majority of the American born Criollos. This failure was the result of Spain’s desire to rob the wealth of its American colonies. When the desire of foreigners is to steal the wealth of others, it is not possible for them to give recognition to their victims- the colonial born Criollos. At the height of British colonialism, British residents in India, and British leaders did not ever recognize publicly that Indians made any valuable contributions to civilization. When you want to enjoy the wealth of others, you have to deny their authentic contributions to anything worthwhile. British residents in India were at the forefront of denouncing India as a useless country, while enjoying the wealth that hard working Indians produced.
Britain made the same mistake with its American colonies. Britain refused to recognize the contributions of its American colonials as being of equal importance to that of people living in England. Britain mistreated its American colonies, while enjoying a lucrative trade with them. Britain wanted to enrich itself by controlling American trade. In the 1660’s, the British parliament passed The Navigation Acts, which were to regulate trade to ensure that America was a supplier of agricultural goods and an importer of British manufactured goods. This was an attempt to institutionalize a mercantilist relationship between Britain and America. To complement the Navigation Acts in domestic politics, there was an attempt to
reduce the right of Americans to govern themselves. King James II sent Governor Andros to centralize the administration of New England colonies under a super administrative agency that was called the Dominion of New England. It stretched from the Delaware River to Maine. Formerly, the people of each colony had much influence in governing themselves. These rights were to be gradually abolished. When Americans claimed they were English, and therefore they have the same rights as Englishmen anywhere to govern themselves, Governor Andros took a hard-line position to the effect that the colonists had left behind all their rights as Englishmen when they left England. Americans were no longer real Englishmen. Their ‘Englishness’ were to be de-emphasized. Britain’s primary interest was in trade and revenue. Although English American settlers were proud of their heritage, there was a budding sense of America nationalism.
This nationalism eventually led to the American Revolution one hundred years later. To add insult to injury, Britain added the stamp tax to its colonies, while failing to give them equal political representation in the British parliament. History has shown that America has grown into the world’s mightiest superpower, which is the economic and military powerhouse that maintains the safety and high standard of living of the Western world. When I lived in Britain, and whenever I travel to Europe, I always experience a certain unexplainable jealousy on the part of Europeans towards Americans. These same Europeans expect America to protect them, and maintain a world that is safe for European trade and security. I have met many American born: Italians, Irish, and African Americans, who have said that, their cousins from the home countries come to America and enjoy its wealth and success. This America was built by previous generations of immigrants. However, these new immigrants often don’t consider the local American born: Italians, Irish, or African-American as real authentic Italian, Irish or Africans.
Up to the Second World War, Jews used to fight among themselves as to who were the better Jews. German Jews, because of their economic success, considered themselves to be the best. German Jews seldom associated with other Jews. This division between
German Jews and other Jews took place in Europe and America. All the nonsense about who is a real Jew or not a real Jew was put to rest after World War 2. Because of the experiences Jews suffered in the Holocaust, Jews became a united group. World War 2 experiences taught Jews that they were all in the same boat. Today, Israel is successful because all Jews are united in support of their homeland. Jealousy is part of human nature. If jealousy is not controlled, it can divide people into useless debates about who is real or authentic, and those who are not. This pettiness can last for generations. Usually, jealousy arises because some groups are economically more successful than others.
When I visited my doctor in Trinidad; he had employed a refugee doctor from India. This economic refugee from India was very antagonistic towards the economic success of Trinidad. At the same time, this doctor enjoyed a standard of living in Trinidad that he could seldom expect in India. Yet this doctor displayed the utmost jealousy towards Trinidad. I guess it is human nature that many people will bite the very hands that feed them. Instead of embracing the contributions of the local Trinidad Indians, this doctor preferred to compete with them.
NRI Indians fail to comprehend that after 170 years, its’ the Diaspora Indians of Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam, South Africa, the Fijis, Malaysia, East Africa, and North America, who made a place for all Indians outside India. The diaspora Indians are the ones who maintained Indian culture and heritage in this part of the world. We are the ones who have defined Indian heritage and identity for 170 years, in the face of a hostile Christian Eurocentric environment. We will continue to do so in the future.
NRI Indians would be foolish to follow the naïve and silly attitudes of jealousy towards Diaspora Indians. Instead of fighting with us, as to who is real or not real, join with us to build a better future for us all. We must build on what Diaspora Indians have already established. NRI’s should not follow the history of the British in India, or adopt futile attitudes the British and the Spanish had towards their American colonials.
Those attitudes could only lead to disaster. Indians all over the world should embrace each other. There is strength in unity. Follow the example of Jews. Jews all over the world support each other and Israel. Jewish unity is their main strength. As time passes, we will all be diaspora Indians.
By Vassan & Rennie Ramracha.