India and Indian Diaspora : A Monumental Work by Chit Dukhira

  • [Prof. Dubey, an authority of Indian Diaspora, is an honoured guest in Mauritius for the 180th Anniversary Celebrations, on 2 November 2014, of the Indentureds’ Arrival.]

Wherever Indians go, they carry Indianness with them. The Indian Diaspora, spread across the world, has made India global. India and its worldwide diaspora witnessed different historical, geographical and socio-political settings. The bulk of the Indian Diaspora today consists of the descendants of indentureds who started migrating 180 years ago. Mauritius was the first country where disembarked such workers from India.
Mauritius had no natives. The indentureds soon became its majority population. Their descendants still form a majority there. South Africa, a neighbouring country, hosts the largest number of indentureds in Africa.  They went there after Mauritius. In South Africa, with a large native and European population, the Indian Diaspora constitutes but a small minority. It was marginalised and discriminated by the European settlers and rulers. In South Africa, Indians struggled to preserve their culture, at first from apartheid and subsequently from the massive majority, besides the historically powerful culture of the native Zulus. Contrary to countries like Mauritius, South Africa witnessed the indentureds’ struggle for freedom and fair treatment. Its tiny Indian Diaspora, subjected to the racially segregated socio-political system, underwent confinement. Mauritius and South Africa knew diasporic struggle to protect their cultural, religious and civilian identities. In Mauritius flowered the Indian Culture and the Indian Diaspora, that constitutes a majority community in political, social and national life. On the other hand, South African Indians remained a migrant minority, still constantly negotiating their socio-economic positions within an overwhelmingly huge native population.
Indians of India also had a difficult history during the last 200 years. India resisted colonialism and forced overseas migration of its people under colonial subjugation. It struggled to be freed from the most powerful colonial empire, working hard against the colonisers’ divide and rule policy to set up a common front for liberation. Indians of India also confronted issues for defining, and including the entire population under ‘Indian’ identity. India succeeded in mobilising its diverse people against colonial rule. However, it could not prevent its partitioning, based on religious identity, in 1947 when it became free. Even its struggle after independence to give the ‘Indian’ an inclusive identity had been a constant engagement.

A pioneering task
In his book on “Indians : In India, Mauritius and South Africa” (2014), the Mauritian Chit Dukhira has accomplished the pioneering task of examining Indians from India and the diasporic Indians in a civilisational and historical framework. Researcher, writer and voluntary press-correspondent, his numerous articles and publications have appeared since 1960 and 1973 respectively. He is the first Mauritian to have his book not only printed, but also published in India. In 1992 the All-India Institute of Local Self Government (AIILSG), of which he is a life-member since 1987, after publishing his “Mauritius and Local Government Management,” had it formally launched at its head-office, in Horniman Circle, City of Mumbai. He is also a life-member since 1987 of the New Delhi-based Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA).
Chit Dukhira’s extensive and rigorous research on Indians in three different countries makes a very valuable and unique contribution to understand identity, culture, history and struggles of Indians in their mother country as well in different diasporic locations. The present multi-disciplinary, encyclopaedic work traces the worldwide emigration of Indians along with their trials and tribulations for liberation. It provides a balanced account of the life of Mahatma Gandhi as well as other stalwarts like Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and Nelson Mandela, while tracing a common thread that these leaders have contributed immensely in gaining liberation in their respective countries. It illustrates the multi-dimensional cultures of India, but highlighting the common civilisational unity that India and its diaspora have exhibited throughout history. It is a fair presentation of Indians’ experiences in various countries regarding their attempts to preserve and accommodate cultural and socio-political settings for themselves.

The Indian Diaspora in different settings

Chit Dukhira has taken advantage of his Indian origin. Born and raised in Mauritius, he is an activist in different walks of Mauritian life. All these have contributed in his perception, analysis and understanding about Indians in Mauritius, South Africa and India. His attempt to present a bigger picture of Indians in Mauritius, South Africa and India in the context of the larger historical settings along with its special reference to Indians in these countries is not only admirable, but also very innovative in understanding the Indian Diaspora in different settings. This attempt of the author gives this study an extra edge and originality of the analysis. He applauds the rare qualities, activities and zeal of Indians in Mauritius, South Africa and India, while sympathetically exploring the motives and contributions of leading Indian men and women within their domestic settings. What makes this book important is that it brings a perceptive, engaged and professional diasporic Indian researcher’s views and analysis to reflect on Indians in India, and on diasporic Indians in a broader canvas living in contrasting settings.
The book starts with Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi (pp.29-43). In this section, the author has given a detailed account of Gandhi’s life. Gandhi is seen as a symbolic bridge linking India with the Indian Diaspora in South Africa and Mauritius. Himself being diasporic, he interacted closely with the Indian Diaspora in both South Africa and Mauritius before returning to India to lead the freedom struggle. Since the dispersal of Indians in different parts of the world is the main theme of this work, its history is briefly examined in the Prologue (pp.47-52). It also takes a cursory look at the Indian Diaspora in different parts of the globe. The author has used his ancestral district ‘Baliya/Ballia,’ in UP, for the case study in India. It seems appropriate, since it is the cradle of India’s Bhojpuri belt, the home of the majority of the Indian Diaspora worldwide.
 The larger parts of the book revolve around the theme of the Indian Diaspora. While doing so, the author has taken care to structure the book according to its title. All the three parts of the book are presented in a systematic way which covers mainly the colonial history through the diasporic point of view. In Part II, the author has given a detailed account of the evolving identity of Indians in Mauritius. It deals with the contribution of people of Indian descent in all walks of Mauritian life. Moreover, it discusses how they struggled to gain fair treatment and an independent status. It also traces different aspects of Mauritian life - political, social and cultural – with the Indo-Mauritians now raised to prominence in their long journey over 180 years.

The survival of Indians

In the third and last part, the book deals with South Africa. It begins with tracing the origins of modern South Africa. The author analyses the migration of Indian indentureds to South Africa, and their working conditions. He discusses in detail the discriminatory policies of the South African government against the Blacks and the Indians. In this bigger picture, the author does not fail to mention the journey of the indentured Indian population that slowly emerged from its initial identity, i.e. ‘indentured workers,’ to the historically disadvantaged South African citizen. The chapters in Part III not only present a much better picture of South African history, but also provides details about the survival of Indians, as well as the preservation of their culture and identity, besides their contribution to society.
This overall outlook of the author is based on an insightful perception of the Indian Diaspora’s civilisational identity, i.e. Indianness, which over a period of time shaped, developed and matured in different settings like in Mauritius, South Africa and India. The major contribution of the work lies in the fact that, though presented under different headings, sub-titles and sections, it is successful in maintaining its focus on Indians and their diaspora, as well as the civilisational roots and linkages. The work also emphasises the theme of ‘Unity in Diversity’ which, while explaining the civilisational unity, accepts multiple sub-diversity as part of it. The author argues that Indians are noticeable for their varied sub-cultural backgrounds and physical features.
The presentation of the book with rare picto-graphical details and a well-substantiated narration of about 600 pages, along with highlights of analysis in the margin, make it very readable. It has been divided into three parts over 15 chapters, with 16 appendices and a glossary. Due to its presentation, style, illustrations, maps, tables and footnotes, it is very smooth-reading. It carries abundant references and explanatory notes. They make the book not only academically authentic and rigorous but also very easy reading for anyone interested in indenture, diaspora and its links with the journey of the mother country that is India.
Chit Dukhira, with his active social, professional and family link in India, that he has visited innumerable times since 1969, is the suitable researcher to write on it and its diaspora.