Here’s the back story. Trace William’s matriliny, via Lady Di, all the way to seven generations back, and you reach Eliza Kewark. Of Armenian-Indian origin, Eliza was the housekeeper of Theodore Forbes, a Scottish merchant who worked for the East India Company in Surat. Thus, dna research has offered reason for Diana and her sons to be smuggled into the bulging pantheon of Non-Resident Gujaratis (NRGS)!
Not that this roster needs any burnishing. The larger story of the high-achieving Gujarati diaspora is one that reaches deep into historical time, with unknown sailors making off from the manufacturing and trading hubs in Gujarat from the days of the Indus Valley Civilisation, and this involved cultural goods like printed textiles, a connection that endures.
Pravasi Gujaratis: The Bhai And Ben Who Have Conquered The Globe
No wonder Gujaratis have had no qualms in crossing the ‘kaala paani’, traditionally proscribed for savarna Indians, and it shows in the lives of many of them. Gandhi’s two decades in South Africa are rather well known. Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of Reliance Industries, spent part of his formative years in Aden, including as an attendant in a gas-filling station. And Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar—a factor of the Gujarati settlements in British-held parts of Africa since the 19th century, being everything from ordinary shopkeepers to trading in gems and spices.
The story of the Gujarati diaspora, in this sense, differs largely from the migratory patterns of other Indian communities. Indian-origin people to be found in the old colonial holdings, especially from eastern UP, Bihar, the Chhottanagpur plateau and parts of south India, were largely taken as indentured labour. Gujaratis, on the contrary, launched themselves into the outside world voluntarily, in the quest for commerce and expansion of mercantile links. “Gujaratis have long been part of the Indian Ocean trade networks and have looked at the global economy as an opportunity rather than a threat, quite unlike their counterparts in the east,” says Devesh Kapur of the University of Pennsylvania.
True, with a 1,600-km long coastline, it’s also natural that these links with the outside world through trade were fostered by local hubs of great importance on the medieval Indian map. The Gulf of Cambay, bang in the centre of flourishing, old sea trade routes that stretched from China at one end and linked up with Persia, Aden and the European civilisations via the Red Sea in the ancient days, allowed the port cities of Lothal, Bharuch, Cambay and Surat to develop over two millennia. A deep Gujarati engagement with West Asia, East and South Africa, and Southeast Asia on the other side, and openness to a certain multiculturalism, was a concomitant development.
But are there special traits Gujaratis have that distinguish them from others in the Indian diaspora? “The very strong family ties and deep cultural roots that helped build trust and networks distinguish Gujaratis and have in turn been critical for their entrepreneurial success,” says Kapur. As a leading expert on the Indian diaspora and author of Diaspora, Development and Democracy, he points out that the provision of access to credit within the network rather than having to seek recourse to the formal banking system also allowed Gujaratis to succeed and sustain business expansion even during times of crises. Other commentators have noted that the community’s global renown in business matters was such that a bill of credit issued by a Gujarati merchant would be honoured as far as 5,000 miles away.
However, there was a marked acceleration in migration from the late 19th century, when Gujaratis began to go to East and South Africa and parts of the Gulf. The destination seemed to change towards the West after World War II and Independence. From the 1960s on, large number of Indians, including many Gujaratis, went to the UK and the US. It included droves of Gujaratis from East Africa, particularly from Uganda when dictator Idi Amin expelled Indians who controlled the country’s commerce.
Experts feel the expulsion from Uganda had an impact on Gujaratis, especially those who went to the UK and later to the US (the Indian government was reluctant to take them back). As they bounced back through sheer resilience and talent, the West allowed Gujaratis to break away from many of their typical professions. Thus, the ‘dukawalas’ or shopkeepers in Africa and UK and, later, the Motel-Patels in the US, tried their hand in other businesses and professions. Now, non-resident Gujaratis are one of the most affluent and influential sections among nris, and many from these sections were actively involved as a strong diasporic element providing momentum (and funds) to the Modi campaign.
“There was a lot of Gandhian idealism in my grandmother’s generation. Then my mother’s generation turned more consumerist. Then came globalisation in our time. It is the most globalised community in India now,” says Vibhuti Patel of Mumbai’s SNDT University. Truly, in a globalised world, the image of the stereotyped Gujarati is challenged by those in politics, arts and entertainment, medicine, information technology etc.
This section constitutes among the strongest Indian lobbies in the US. Their aggressive lobbying during the 1999 Kargil war forced the US to pressurise Pakistan to vacate Indian territory. The irony is that, after the 2002 riots, the Gujarati diaspora lobbied with their governments to deny Modi a visa. Later, a key section supported him in a bid to end his international isolation and did their bit to reach out to Japan, Singapore, China and Russia, peddling the ‘Gujarat model’ as a viable plan to engage with investors.
Many in the Gujarati diaspora will now naturally ramp up their voluble support for Modi and bask in the glory of Gujarati pride, but we should not be surprised if some of them continue to be against his visit to the US. For in 2014, overseas Gujaratis are a disparate lot.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
One sees so much of Meghnad Desai in India, wonder when he finds time to visit the House of Lords !
That photograph of people coming to work amidst alien corn captures a moment in history. They did not look back.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT