. 3
( 7)


the high levels of female incomes among Indian women compared with
white women. Well over half of Indian males were professionals of some
kind or working at an administrative or managerial level, with particu-
larly high concentrations in engineering and medicine. At the start of
the twenty-¬rst century there were over 38,000 physicians of Indian ori-
gin in the USA, amounting to one in every twenty doctors practising
medicine. Among those who were commercial entrepreneurs there was a
high concentration in two areas which could be built up with low capital
outlays and hard work by family members, thus favouring Indians “ the
hotel and petrol trades. Here Gujaratis were predominant, and given the
common Gujarati surname, Patel, led to the joke, ˜Hotel, Motel, Patel™.
Towards the end of the twentieth century there were signi¬cant changes
in the patterns of Indian migration. The explosion of the IT industry led
to the in¬‚ux of thousands of young IT experts from India, particularly
from the south of the country, re¬‚ecting Indian investment in technical
education through a series of prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology
(IITs). Many of these clustered in Silicon Valley in California and did
extraordinarily well ¬nancially. Clearly the levels of education and quali-
¬cations distinguish the American Indian immigrant pattern from many
others who had left the subcontinent. This in part helps to explain the
wide regional span of origins of Indians now living in the USA. Whereas
in the history of many other migration ¬‚ows out of the subcontinent there
have been clear problems in the region of origin encouraging people to
leave and try to fashion new lives abroad, the American pattern has been
migration from regions of prosperity and high skill levels “ including
Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.33
By contrast some were by the end of the twentieth century ¬nding it
harder to enter and work in the USA, in part because of the tightening
of security and visa controls after the catastrophe of ˜9/11™ in 2001, when
Muslim terrorists ¬‚ew planes into the World Trade Centre in New York

33 J. Lessinger, ˜Indian immigrants in the United States: the emergence of a transnational
population™, chapter 8 of Parekh, Singh and Vertovec (eds.), Culture and Economy in the
Indian Diaspora; R. Daniels, ˜The Indian diaspora in the United States™, chapter 4 of
Brown and Foot (eds.), Migration: The Asian Experience. An account of Indian migration
into the USA which focuses simply on ˜success™ is A. W. and U. M. Helweg, An Immigrant
Success Story. East Indians in America (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press,
Making a modern diaspora 57

and the Pentagon, Washington DC. This clearly affected the ability of
Indian doctors to enter the USA after medical training at home, unless
their spouses held Green Cards. Further barriers were the elaborate and
expensive procedures necessary to prove clinical skills before admission to
a residency in a university or teaching hospital, which is the precondition
of practising in the USA. By contrast, entry to practice medicine was far
easier in the 1970s“1980s when foreign doctors were actively recruited to
help support the Medicare system for health provision.34 There was also
evidence of serious problems experienced by Indian students anxious to
study abroad as visas became more dif¬cult to obtain. Such young people
are natural recruits for the next generation of permanent immigrants and
before ˜9/11™ the USA had been the most preferred foreign country in
which to study among South Asians.
However, not all Indians in America achieved ˜the American dream™,
despite the high pro¬le of the successful. There are considerable numbers
in what would be called urban working-class jobs “ taxi drivers, hotel
and restaurant workers, factory workers, store clerks and the like. Such
people are often poorly paid and lack the security of the professions or
self-employment. Often they, too, have high levels of education and little
in their backgrounds distinguishes them from those who go on to be
successful. They seem often to have been slightly more provincial in origin
or to have attended somewhat less prestigious colleges. Their numbers
may also have been swelled by the opportunities for family reuni¬cation,
as was the pattern visible in Canada, enabling relatives of lower skills to
migrate to join their families. Poorer Indians can sometimes be found in
rural areas such as the Punjabi orchard farmers of rural California, who
grow peaches and kiwi fruit. They often arrived as unskilled people and
have raised their economic status by hard manual work, which has over
time lifted them out of welfare and even into the ranks of home-owners.35

This descriptive chapter has provided fundamental information about
the diverse ¬‚ows of people out of the South Asian subcontinent since
the early nineteenth century. On this basis we can begin in subsequent
chapters to examine the tasks which have to be done once migrants have
arrived in their new places of residence, as they set about creating for
themselves new homes; for migration is an ongoing process which lasts
34 S. Raymer, ˜Doctors help ¬ll US health care needs™, YaleGlobal Online, Yale Center for
the Study of Globalization, 16 Feburary 2004, www:yaleglobal.yale.edu.
35 J. Lessinger, ˜Indian immigrants in the United States™, chapter 8 of Parekh, Singh
and Vertovec (eds.), Culture and Economy in the Indian Diaspora; M. A. Gibson,
˜Punjabi orchard farmers: an immigrant enclave in rural California™, International Migra-
tion Review, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring 1988), pp. 28“50.
58 Global South Asians

well beyond the journey to a new homeland. What the evidence presented
here has suggested is the development of a truly global but very diverse
South Asian diaspora by the start of the twenty-¬rst century. The diversity
includes regional and later national origins, language, social status, reli-
gious background, gender and kinship patterns, and available skills and
resources. The diversity re¬‚ects and has its origins in the very different
strands in the migratory movements. What uni¬es the diaspora is not just
the fact of origin in a particular part of the world, and the assumptions,
social structures and cultural patterns migrants often bring with them;
but also the sense of being in some way still connected with South Asia as
well as belonging to their new homelands. At the same time almost all of
them are conscious of being global people in a way that was impossible for
indentured labourers in the nineteenth century, for example, whose hori-
zons were curtailed by illiteracy and the lack of mass communications.
Many contemporary South Asians outside the subcontinent have trav-
elled to different places where they have encountered other South Asians
in the diaspora, or have heard about them or seen them through new
forms of media. Perhaps most important of all many, particularly among
the more educated, now belong to what are truly transnational families,
with kin spread around the globe from South Asia through Europe, Aus-
tralasia and north America as a result of the processes described here. A
friend of mine in New Delhi, for example, sits at her computer and talks
electronically to her daughters in Europe, New Zealand and Canada. I
take a taxi in Calcutta and the driver, a Sikh patriarch himself far across
the subcontinent from the Sikh homelands in the Punjab, tells me of his
daughter married to a doctor in Vancouver.
Like many who will read this book the evidence of the range of the
diaspora is present in many areas of my domestic and professional life. My
local corner shop in an Oxford suburb is run by a Gujarati who reached
England by way of East Africa. Near neighbours include a Gujarati doctor
and a retired Bengali Professor of History. A distinguished graduate of my
college, the son of a Gujarati who had gone to Tanganyika in the 1940s
but left in 1968, has become one of Britain™s youngest Queen™s Counsels.
A colleague is an Indian from Mauritius, with forebears there and in
Natal; while another international colleague, now Professor of History
at the Australian National University, is the grandson of an indentured
labourer who travelled to Fiji at the turn of the twentieth century. My
graduate seminars have at times included South Asians born in Britain,
Trinidad, America, India and Pakistan. They are just a few examples of
the extent and diversity of the South Asian diaspora in a global age.
3 Creating new homes and communities

This chapter turns from charting the histories of migratory movements
among South Asians to the task of trying to understand the experience of
these migrants in the places which were to become home at a very deep
level of perception, alongside a sense of remaining connected to South
Asia. The approach is thematic rather than portraying any total picture of
the many and diverse diaspora groups which have developed over the last
century and a half. It looks at crucial issues facing migrants as they have
sought to create new homes and communities, put down roots in new
countries, and raise new generations of offspring born outside the sub-
continent. Much of the rich literature on particular groups in particular
places to which readers may subsequently progress should then fall into
place within this issue-orientated framework, rather than overwhelming
them in its detail and diversity.
Before embarking on our analysis there are several preliminary obser-
vations which are important for a proper historical understanding of the
diaspora experience. Although from the perspective of the start of the
twenty-¬rst century the many strands of the South Asian diaspora seem
permanent and settled, for those who journeyed from the subcontinent
this was rarely seen as a permanent departure, as a fundamental uproot-
ing. For most of the ¬rst generation of migrants there remained a powerful
˜myth of return™, a vision of South Asia as the place to which one would
eventually return after a sojourn abroad, as one™s real and ¬nal home. This
was as true of bewildered and desperate men and women who chose a
contract of indenture in the nineteenth century as it was, for example, of
ambitious rural folk in the mid-twentieth century who saw Britain as a
source of work. Only gradually did this assumption about a ¬nal return
give way among ¬rst generation migrants to a gradual acceptance of per-
manent migration, of learning to be at home abroad. This change of per-
spective grew with the birth of a new generation in the diaspora, the wish
to give children the best prospects in life, and eventually a powerful urge to
stay in old age nearer to children and grandchildren rather than return
to a village or town thousands of miles away where much would have

60 Global South Asians

changed in the intervening years, and where there would be decreasing
numbers of contemporary friends and family members. Symbolic of this
growing sense of belonging to a new homeland was the decision among
many South Asians in the diaspora to take the citizenship of their new
country of abode. Among Muslims in particular another powerful sign of
belonging in the new homeland was the decision to be buried or to bury
one™s loved ones outside South Asia. Earlier it had been the custom to
send bodies rapidly back to South Asia for burial, often in family burial
plots in a natal village; and for this reason burial societies had been some
of the earliest organisations among Muslims in the diaspora.
Although the term diaspora is a useful shorthand to denote the com-
plex processes described in the previous chapter, it is always important to
remember that these resulted in no single South Asian community over-
seas, nor even in any one country of destination. Politicians and journal-
ists often refer to ethnic and/or religious ˜communities™ when referring
to South Asians but in every country where they settled they were highly
differentiated rather than belonging to a homogenous and self-conscious
community. In Britain alone South Asians are divided by country of ori-
gin, regional and linguistic background, and religion, as well as socio-
economic status. Their senses of who they are in turn are formed by these
differences and their distinctive experiences of living in Britain.1 More-
over it is also important to remember that the phenomenon of migration
and of creating a diaspora is not a single event, not just a matter of making
the journey. It is an ongoing process that continues long after stepping
off a boat or plane in a new country. Migrants confront a large number
of new tasks if they are to establish new homes and social networks, to
arrive at a new sense of identity and to feel at ease in the diaspora; and
often these tasks have to be undertaken over more than one generation.
We now turn to some of these key tasks as a way into understanding the
dynamics of South Asian life in the diaspora.

1 Finding a place in the host economy and creating
an economic base
The ¬rst and most fundamental task facing any South Asian migrant was
the search for a means of livelihood. This meant that males as individuals
or as heads of family groups had to look for paid work or self-employment.

1 See discussions of identity in G. Baumann, Contesting Culture. Discourses of Identity in
Multi-ethnic London (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996), which draws on
evidence from Sikh experience in Southall, London; and more theoretically A. Brah,
Cartographies of Diaspora. Contesting Identities (London and New York, Routledge, 1996).
Creating new homes and communities 61

Women in South Asia had always contributed fundamentally to the fam-
ily economy in many ways, but paid work outside the home or the family
farm was less usual and often felt as demeaning to family honour. Increas-
ingly in the new situation abroad women also became involved in paid
work of various kinds. For most migrants a primary motivation behind
migration was economic improvement for self and family, whether they
were indentured labourers travelling to sugar plantations or a later gen-
eration of highly skilled information technology (IT) workers moving to
America. It is important to start our analysis with the business of ¬nding
a place in the host economy, not just because economic aspiration was
at the root of these particular migratory movements, but also because
any successful migration, leading to investment in a stable future in a
new home, depends to a considerable extent on constructing an eco-
nomic base. Work and the income ¬‚owing from it were the foundation
for so much else which migrants desired “ the establishment of homes,
purchase of houses, education of children, investment in cultural and
religious practices, and the building up of individual and family prestige
and honour in the eyes of other migrants and often of relatives back in
South Asia.
To understand the very diverse South Asian experience of attempting
to establish themselves in host economies we have to recognise two very
signi¬cant variables. In the ¬rst place, the nature of the host economies
to which South Asians moved over this considerable period of time were
very different. The indentured worker on a Caribbean plantation faced a
very different situation from the Indian trader in East Africa at a similar
time, or from the Pakistani who came to industrial northern England
half a century later, or the Indian professional who sought a career in
the USA or Canada at the end of the twentieth century. The different
strands of the diaspora were established in economic situations which can
broadly be categorised as agricultural, industrial and post-industrial. But
the differences do not stop there. The host economies with which South
Asians engaged were rarely static, and as they changed migrants also had
to adapt in order to hold their own economically and to continue investing
in their new lives. Sometimes radical change occurred in the life of one
generation of earners, offering new opportunities or eroding the base
they had ¬rst established for themselves. More often economic change
occurred over a couple of generations, requiring the younger generation
to strike out into new economic activities. A further important variable
was the very different skills base and socio-economic standing of different
groups of migrants. There was clearly a very close correlation between
initial socio-economic status and skills at the time of migration and the
degrees of success in the new home. This led to very different experiences
62 Global South Asians

and trajectories over time. Low-skilled labourers and their descendants
took much longer to establish themselves and their families and to achieve
upward mobility than did those possessing at the outset more education
and capital of different kinds. This variable accounts for major differences
in the experience of different groups going to the same country even at
the same time, such as Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the UK
in the later twentieth century, as well as groups going to different places
at very different times.

Different economic trajectories
It is perhaps helpful to offer initially a basic and very broad typology of
the ways South Asian migrants tried to establish themselves economi-
cally in their new homes. Three distinctive types of economic trajectory
are clear from the historical evidence. Each of these was the result of a
particular out¬‚ow from the subcontinent to a particular receiving econ-
omy, where the possession at the outset of a distinctive resource and
skills base interacted with the opportunities and challenges of different
types of host economy, whether agricultural, industrial or post-industrial.
The ¬rst trajectory was that of indentured labourers and their experience
when their indentures ended. The second was that of South Asians who
moved to post-war industrial Britain. The third was the experience of
those who moved later to northern America and Australasia into com-
plex, post-industrial economies. Such a typology does not of course cover
the experience of all migrants from the subcontinent; for example, it does
not include the Indians in colonial East Africa. However, it suggests the
different kinds of economic situations but similar issues all faced as they
became part of a global diaspora striving not only to establish itself out-
side the subcontinent but to achieve upward socio-economic mobility for
themselves and their descendants.
The ¬rst type of trajectory was the hard one followed by indentured and
contract labourers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who
went to the Caribbean, Natal and South East Asia and other plantation
economies, equipped only with their physical capacity for hard agricul-
tural work. What kind of life did they face once they had completed their
indentures and contracts and were free to leave the harsh conditions
of the barracks and the often cruelly regulated life of the plantations?
The majority stayed in the places to which they had travelled, rather than
returning to an even more uncertain future in India, and tackled the busi-
ness of establishing themselves as free Indians. They had arrived with few
skills and resources, given their backgrounds in India; and this left them
with a very restricted base from which to make a new life post-indenture,
Creating new homes and communities 63

as few had been able to increase their resources and skills in the years on
the plantations.
In most places Indians moved off the plantations where they had been
allocated as soon as they were free to do so. Where land was available,
they began to set up homes and villages as independent agricultural-
ists, engaging in forms of free peasant agriculture. Where no land was
available for purchase they would rent plots. Many engaged in their own
small-scale agriculture while still working partly for their former masters
on sugar plantations, but now as free paid labour. Trinidad was a prime
example of a place where Indians started to own land, because of the
colonial government™s policy of selling Crown lands to them from 1869,
or giving them lands in lieu of the passage back to India which was avail-
able at the end of indenture, in a policy of encouraging the growth of
Indian villages. They grew food crops for themselves and for local sale,
and also, more commercially, produced paddy, cane and cocoa. So came
into being a settled, rural Indian community which no longer thought of
itself as ˜migrant™ and resented this description. By the beginning of the
twentieth century only just over 20 per cent of Indians still lived on the
sugar estates, and less than 10 per cent were still indentured. Nearly half
of the Indian population were by then born in Trinidad itself.2 Similarly
in Mauritius, ex-indentured labourers began to buy land and set them-
selves up in peasant cane farming. By the start of the twentieth century
their presence had transformed the demography of the island and the
large settled Indian population was over half the total population.3 By
contrast, in Fiji, land was not available for purchase because of the of¬-
cial policy of retaining lands in the ownership of native Fijians. The gov-
ernment also discouraged racially mixed settlements, so, as in Trinidad,
the ex-indentured Indian population remained largely rural and isolated.
Indians rented land, often from the major sugar companies, and grew
cane and later rice. By the 1940s Indians occupied, but did not own, 94
per cent of the land under cane. Their numbers as a settled, permanent
population also grew as they began to catch up with the existing native
Fijian population.4 In Natal, the trajectory of ex-indentured labourers
and their children was more complex. Here, too, most preferred to stay
when their indentures had ended, and by the late 1880s two-thirds of

2 See B. Brereton, A History of Modern Trinidad 1783“1962 (Kingston, Jamaica and London,
Heinemann, 1981); C. G. Clarke, East Indians in a West Indian Town. San Fernando,
Trinidad, 1930“70 (London, Allen and Unwin, 1986).
3 K. Hazareesingh, History of Indians in Mauritius (London and Basingstoke, MacMillan,
revised ed., 1977).
4 A. C. Mayer, Peasants in the Paci¬c. A Study of Fiji Rural Society (London, Routledge,
1988; reprinted and augmented 1961 edition).
Figure 1. A former indentured labourer in Fiji and his wife, taken c.
1960. He was the grandfather of Professor B.V. Lal (see Chapter 5) and
came from the United Provinces district of Bahraich to Fiji in 1908 on
a ¬ve-year indenture to work on the sugar plantations. He died in 1962,
probably aged nearly 100.
Courtesy of Professor B. V Lal
Creating new homes and communities 65

Figure 2. Indian workers on sugar plantations in Fiji, c. 1960. Free
Indians were still working on sugar plantations into the second half of
the twentieth century, in the employment of the Colonial Sugar Re¬ning
company, whose overseer stands in the photograph in a clearly dominant
Courtesy of Professor B. V Lal

the Indian population were free men and women. Although they were
vastly outnumbered by the local black African population, they rapidly
overtook the white settler population, outnumbering them by 1904. In
this situation white settlers tried to control Indian numbers by the impo-
sition of a tax on ex-indentured labourers and their offspring, but this
was abandoned in 1914. This encouraged free Indians to branch out into
diverse sorts of agricultural pursuits “ particularly cultivation of sugar
cane, maize, beans, and tobacco, rearing cattle, goats and poultry, and
increasingly market gardening on rented land to supply a complex indus-
trialising economy. In the early twentieth century Indians in Natal were
still predominantly rural, but this changed rapidly in subsequent decades
as Indians took advantage of the multiple work opportunities offered by
a rapidly developing economy and society; and by 1971 under 5 per
cent of the Indian population was still involved in agriculture.5 Contract

5 B. Freund, Insiders and Outsiders. The Indian Working Class of Durban, 1910“1990
(Portsmouth, NH, Pietermaritzburg and London, Heinemann, University of Natal Press
and James Curry, 1995). The problems faced by Indians trying to establish themselves as
a free community in the face of whites™ fears and opposition was the context for Gandhi™s
66 Global South Asians

labour on the rubber plantations of South East Asia was a somewhat later
phenomenon than indentured labour on sugar plantations, and here the
importance of rubber kept Indians as plantation workers far longer. It
was not until near the end of the century that they began to move off the
plantations “ many decades later than Indians had moved off the sugar
plantations in so many places “ and began to take up urban labouring
and blue collar work. But often they were still at the base of the socio-
economic scale and lived in squatter communities.6
The histories of Indians who had been indentured or contract labour-
ers shows the great dif¬culties they faced in establishing themselves as
free Indians and lifting themselves out of poverty, low status and often
degradation imposed on them by their earlier conditions of work. In their
experience their lack of skills and capital interacted with the external
economic environment to limit their options. Almost everywhere the ¬rst
step in this process of socio-economic settlement and self-improvement
was a rural one as peasant farmers, and even where they succeeded in
this enterprise, movement into urban areas and into business of various
kinds and the professions came very much later. In Trinidad, for exam-
ple, the earliest urban Indians tended to be a small elite of Christian
converts for whom doors were opened by the education provided them
in Christian mission schools. It was only in the second half of the twen-
tieth century other Indians began to move into towns, as the history of
San Fernando indicates, as milk vendors, stall-holders, labourers and
shop-keepers, and later as professionals of different kinds.7 The quickest
trajectory towards upward mobility, urbanisation and economic diversi-
¬cation came in Natal, where Indians were quick to seize the particular
opportunities of a neo-Europe, where there was a rapidly expanding and
modernising economy. Those who had diversi¬ed into market garden-
ing, particularly in the vicinity of Durban, were able to use this as a step
towards urban work of various kinds. Towards the end of the twentieth
century the free Indian peasantry was fast disappearing as Indians took
up work in construction, transport, and services of many kinds. They
were still predominantly a working class and would remain so during the
apartheid era.8
In an interesting contrast, the other great out¬‚ow of low and unskilled
South Asian labour in response to the needs of the international economy,
that of labour into the Gulf area in the later twentieth century, did not
legal work and development of direct action at the turn of the twentieth century: see
his An Autobiography. The Story of My Experiments with Truth (London, Jonathan Cape,
6 See R. K. Jain, ˜Culture and economy. Tamils on the plantation frontier in Malaysia
revisited, 1998“1999™, chapter 3 of B. Parekh, G. Singh and S. Vertovec (eds.), Culture
and Economy in the Indian Diaspora (London and New York, Routledge, 2003).
7 8 Freund, Insiders and Outsiders.
Clarke, East Indians in a West Indian Town.
Creating new homes and communities 67

lead to another permanent strand in the South Asian diaspora. Here,
too, South Asians were vigorously recruited for their labour as the Gulf
economies modernised on the back of pro¬ts from oil. But there was
no permanent place for such migrants and no chance of upward social
mobility because of local social attitudes and political policies as well
as the nature of these host economies. Moreoever, modern modes of
transport enabled contract workers to return home to South Asia with far
greater ease than their indentured counterparts in the nineteenth century;
while improved communications meant that they never lost touch with
their homes and relatives.
It is helpful to portray as a particularly early and rural type of socio-
economic trajectory this one, in which unskilled ex-indentured and
contract labourers began to make their way in host economies, where
opportunities were available for free rural workers. However, this leaves
out those fairly small numbers of Indians who went at the same time to
places in the British Empire as imperial auxiliaries in civil government
and the security professions, as well as those ˜passenger Indians™ who
penetrated the hinterlands of East and southern Africa as traders and
shop keepers. For some, this was the foundation for permanent settle-
ment and upward mobility in the professions and business, as in Hong
Kong, for example. But for the majority this potential trajectory was cut
short by politics. As the previous chapter showed, in the new polities of
eastern Africa that emerged from the processes of decolonisation, Indi-
ans were either made to feel unwelcome or forcibly ejected, thus eroding
the prospering urban Indian communities which had established them-
selves by the 1960s. Such people then became twice-migrants, forced to
uproot themselves yet again. They became part of the second great type
of socio-economic trajectory discernible among South Asians, those who
strove to make good in the industrial economy of the UK in the mid to
later twentieth century.
The trajectory of those who migrated to the UK from India and the
new countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh in the decades after the Second
World War was very different. Here again the differences in the host econ-
omy and the skills base and resources of migrants are crucial in under-
standing how South Asians have fared in Britain, compared with those
whose migration began with indentured labour; they are also important
in understanding the differences which have opened up between different
groups of South Asians in Britain as they have established themselves in
the British economy and society. Migrants into Britain were all free peo-
ple, who chose to move in anticipation of socio-economic improvement
for themselves and their families who were with them or still resident
in South Asia. They were not from the base of rural society as inden-
tured labourers had been, but often from reasonably prosperous rural
68 Global South Asians

backgrounds in regions where for different reasons agricultural prospects
were being curtailed. They had to pay their own fares and ¬nd work for
themselves, re¬‚ecting the possession not only of some capital and credit
but also a broad and dynamic world view which saw international migra-
tion as a possible option for individuals and families. Some were also pro-
fessionals such as doctors who had educational and personal links with
Britain. The number of those with good education, professional quali¬-
cations and other non-labouring skills was greatly enhanced by the arrival
of East African Indians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as shown in
the previous chapter. South Asians arrived in a Britain which was initially
hungry for industrial labour in the processes of post-war reconstruction
but which gradually slid into industrial decline from the 1970s, while
offering other opportunities for those with entrepreneurial and profes-
sional skills and good levels of education. How South Asians fared in this
changing economic situation was a complex process.
The earliest migrants™ economic strategy was single male migration,
often by related kin, and it was geared to sending home remittances rather
than establishing permanent homes in the UK. Single males initially took
whatever work was available, often informed of opportunities by kin and
friends. Young men from Pakistan, for example, often went into industrial
work in northern England and the Midlands, or into the clothing indus-
try in northern England, which they had ¬rst penetrated as peddlers and
market stall holders. Indians tended to go into more diverse occupations
and industries, such as the Sikhs who gravitated towards the paper mills
and engineering works in Gravesend, Kent, or those who went into the
rubber and food manufacturing industries of west London. Gujaratis
tended to have a more business orientation and to go into different types
of business and self-employment. Single male migration was a temporary
phase as the politics of immigration control persuaded South Asians from
the early 1960s to bring their families over while this was still possible.
However, the early phase had led to a particular geographical pattern of
settlement which persisted right through the twentieth century. South
Asians in Britain have become urban people, regardless of their origins in
South Asia; and even at the start of the twenty-¬rst century it is rare to see
an ethnically South Asian person in the countryside, either as a resident or
a visitor. Indians have concentrated in the south-east and the Midlands,
with a high presence in suburban rather than inner London. Pakistanis
are much less concentrated in London and are to be found prominently in
the west Midlands and in the northern textile towns such as Manchester,
Blackburn, Bradford and Leeds. Bangladeshis, by contrast are concen-
trated in inner London, and at the end of the twentieth century as many
as a quarter of them lived in the one borough of Tower Hamlets.
Creating new homes and communities 69

In the half century since the ¬rst post-war arrivals gained a toe-hold
in the British economy an increasingly large and self-perpetuating South
Asian population has established itself in Britain. But the place of different
groups of South Asians in the economy has begun to diverge widely,
indicating varying patterns of success in establishing, maintaining and
improving their economic base. In broad terms Indians have prospered
the most, including those who came directly from India and particularly
those who were later twice-migrants from Africa. Pakistanis have done less
well, particularly where they have become stranded in declining industrial
areas; while people from Bangladesh are among the poorest. Figures for
1991 indicate that Indians had the highest proportion of men in the top
three socio-economic categories (professionals and white collar workers)
and fewer in the categories of skilled manual, semi-skilled and unskilled
compared with the other two groups, while Bangladeshis have by far the
highest proportion of semi-skilled and unskilled males. Pakistanis occupy
a middle position with a sizeable group of skilled manual men. Among
Pakistanis and Bangladeshis there were also high levels of unemployment,
double the national average, and very low female participation in the
workforce.9 Unemployment among males in these two groups did not
only affect older men made redundant by economic change, but was
worryingly high among young males in the 16“24 age group: among
Pakistani men of that age, who should just be entering the workforce,
nearly 41per cent were unemployed in 1991.10 South Asians are now to
be found in many more types of work than when they ¬rst arrived in the
UK, particularly as the British-born and educated diversify their families™
economic base. (Levels of educational achievement are clearly important
here and again the British-educated Indians achieve higher standards
than Pakistanis or Bangladeshis “ an issue which will be considered in
the next chapter. Higher educational achievement of course feeds into
even greater Indian socio-economic success as it does in the experience
of any social or ethnic group.) But there is still evidence of a strong South
Asian presence in particular ethnic economic niches or enclaves which
have sustained particular groups and enabled them to accumulate capital
often to break out into wider economic activity. Notable are the Indian-
run corner shops which are sustained by family labour, so-called ˜Indian™
ethnic restaurants which are often run by Sylhetis from Bangladesh, and

9 See ¬g. 4.1 in A. H. Halsey and J. Webb (eds.), Twentieth-Century British Social Trends
(Houndmills, London and New York, MacMillan and St. Martin™s Press, 2000), p. 132.
See also V. Robinson, ˜Boom and gloom™, chapter 12 of Clarke, Peach and Vertovec
(eds.), South Asians Overseas.
10 See M. Anwar, Between Cultures. Continuity and Change in the Lives of Young Asians
(London and New York, Routledge, 1998), p. 60.
70 Global South Asians

Figure 3. South Asian ˜corner shop™: Oxford. Typical of convenience
stores of this type, selling ˜Indian curries™, spices, pickles, chutneys, and
˜Home Made Samosas™ as well as British foods: note also the provision
of cheap international phone cards.
Author™s photograph

the Pakistani-dominated garment industry of the north-west.11 How long
such enclaves will persist is another matter, given the rising standards
of education among ethnic minorities and the aspirations of a younger
generation to participate in the wider economy on equal terms with their
white contemporaries.
What lay behind the broadly different economic experiences of these
three groups of South Asians and the marked difference in their achieve-
ment of economic security and upward mobility? Their particular origins
and the skills they brought with them were certainly signi¬cant. Indians,
even from rural backgrounds, tended to come from more prosperous
backgrounds in well-irrigated agricultural areas and consequently to have
better educational standards and other skills. There were also signi¬cant
numbers of Indian professionals, and their number was greatly increased
when they were joined by Indians who ¬‚ed from East Africa and brought

11 See P. Werbner, ˜Renewing an industrial past: British Pakistani entrepreneurship in
Manchester™, chapter 5 of J. M. Brown and R. Foot (eds.), Migration: The Asian Experi-
ence (Houndmills and London, MacMillan, 1994).
Creating new homes and communities 71

with them experience of urban residence and employment, high levels of
education and literacy in English, and professional skills. By the end of
the century Indians whose origins lay in East Africa accounted for about
one-third of the total UK Indian population. Social attitudes and struc-
tures also had a profound in¬‚uence on the capacity of different groups to
adapt to life in England and to succeed in establishing an economic base.
For example, attitudes to kinship, and particularly a preference for close
kin and cousin marriage among some Pakistani Muslim groups, meant
that their socio-economic focus was for a considerable time the home vil-
lage in South Asia, and family reunion and investment in making good in
the UK came later than for many non-Muslim Indian groups; while con-
tinuing marriage ties with the Pakistani home inhibited the development
of well-educated, English-knowing family groups.12 Particularly signi¬-
cant have been attitudes towards women™s paid employment outside the
home. This has been most unwelcome to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis
from Muslim societies with particularly strict conventions about appro-
priate female behaviour and appearance in public. Hindus and Sikhs are
much more accepting of women working in a range of paid employment,
as they have increasingly been in India itself; and women™s incomes have
consequently contributed to family capital and the capacity to invest in
many of the strategies of upward mobility such as home-buying and edu-
cation, as well as disposable goods. By the end of the twentieth century
over half (53 per cent) of all Indian women aged 16 and over were in the
formal workforce, while the ¬gures for Pakistani women (27 per cent)
and Bangladeshis (22 per cent) were far lower. East African women had
a particularly strong tradition of non-manual labour, re¬‚ecting their high
levels of education. But many other less educated Indian women also
slotted easily into the British workforce.13 As a result of this pattern of
increasing paid employment Indian women have also on occasion found
themselves at the forefront of major industrial disputes, in contrast to
the popular image of South Asian women as meek and submissive. The

12 See particularly the work of Roger Ballard, who has explored the ongoing implications
of differences in marriage patterns between people even from the one broad area of
the Punjab, Sikhs from Jullunder (India) and Muslims from Mirpur (Pakistan). See
his ˜Migration and kinship: the differential effect of marriage rules on the processes of
Punjabi migration to Britain™, chapter 10 of Clarke, Peach and Vertovec (eds.), South
Asians Overseas.
13 Halsey and Webb (eds.), Twentieth-Century British Social Trends, p. 154; P. Bhachu, ˜New
cultural forms and transnational South Asian women: culture, class, and consumption
among British South Asian women in the diaspora™, chapter 9 of P. van der Veer (ed.),
Nation and Migration. The Politics of Space in the South Asian Diaspora (Philadelphia,
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).
72 Global South Asians

¬rst of these was the famous Grunwick strike which lasted a whole year
from August 1976 to August 1977, as workers, who were mainly Indian
women from East Africa, protested against their working conditions and
to win recognition for unionisation at the Grunwick photo processing
laboratories in the London borough of Brent. More recently, many of the
employees of a catering company, Gate Gourmet, providing airline meals
for British Airways, who went on strike in protest against their treatment
in 2005 were Sikh women alongside their menfolk, and it was the ties
of South Asian kinship that brought out many other airport workers in
protest, causing the national airline to lose millions of pounds as its planes
were grounded.
Although it is possible to describe broadly different socio-economic
trajectories of the three groups of different national origin among British
South Asians, it is important to note that over time and the emergence
of a second and third generation of those who are British-born, there
has been increasing differentiation and polarisation within each group.
The incidence of unemployment, particularly among Pakistanis and
Bangladeshis, has pulled down some families, while others have steadily
bettered their position by paid work, increasingly self-employment, and
rising educational levels in the younger generations. At the most success-
ful end of the spectrum some South Asians, particularly Indians, have
done very well through participation in such professions as medicine,
accountancy and law, and particularly in business. The so-called ˜Asian
Rich List™, prepared each year by an Asian radio station in the UK, gives
some insight into those South Asians who made it right to the top in
¬nancial terms. In 2004 the combined wealth of the top 300 was £14.3
billion, a ¬gure which was £6 billion more than in the previous year. The
two biggest sectors in which such wealth was generated were fashion (41)
and food (33), although the really huge wealth was generated by indus-
trialists in sectors such as steel. Of these really rich, 10 per cent had come
as refugees from Amin™s Uganda or Kenya. Many of those listed were
comparatively young “ with 53 under 40 years old and three under 30;
while 25 were women, three of them in their own right and 22 as part-
ners of family members. (Several women made their fortunes through the
provision of ready-made Indian foods, such as the Patak brand, though
in 2005 one new entrant had made her wealth through the travel indus-
try.) Hindus topped the 2005 Rich List, with Lakshmi Mittal, the steel
magnate, coming in top for the ¬fth successive year, worth £13.5 billion.
He was born in Rajasthan into a steel-making family, struck out on his
own in his thirties, and at the age of 54 in 2005 had become not only
the richest Asian in the UK but the third richest person in the world,
Creating new homes and communities 73

riding on the back of rising world prices for steel and a strategy of global
acquisition of steel mills.14
The third broad pattern of socio-economic establishment by South
Asians in the diaspora can be seen in the last decades of the twentieth
century and beyond. Here again both the nature of the migrants and the
type of economy they encountered was crucial. Those who migrated in
this much later phase were almost all Indians directly from India or from
other places where there were existing diasporic communities, such as
Fiji or the UK. Immigration policies in the USA, Canada, Australia and
New Zealand meant that most of these migrants were highly skilled or
were family members of existing migrants, and this favoured Indians
rather than people from other parts of South Asia. By contrast with
Britain, where primary immigration stopped by the 1970s, in this later
phase immigration continued by new individuals and families, with the
result that far more were India-born, ¬rst-generation immigrants than
in Britain or of course in the diaspora communities resulting from nine-
teenth century labour migrations. Later migrants entered complex mod-
ern economies which can be called post-industrial, where the work oppor-
tunities were more likely to be in the professions and various service
industries rather than in heavy industries of the sort which had originally
attracted many South Asians to Britain. Not surprisingly Indians in all
these countries tend to be heavily urban in their patterns of residence “
Sydney in Australia, the urban East Coast in the USA, Toronto and
Vancouver in Canada. Unlike the ¬rst South Asian migrants to Britain,
many of them had professional quali¬cations before they arrived and often
went straight into the professions; where this was not the case their chil-
dren did. By 1987, 78 per cent of Indian men and 53 per cent of Indian
women in America held college degrees. Not surprisingly, by the last two
decades of the century, Indian men were earning more than their white
counterparts, as were Indian women. Over two-¬fths of Indian male pro-
fessionals were engineers and over a quarter doctors; while among Indian
women professionals over three-¬fths were in health-related occupations.
As the IT industry boomed at the end of the century young men and
women from South India entered the USA in large numbers, working
particularly in California, forming another professional strand in the dias-
pora in the USA. Indians were also prominent in certain areas of business,
and the number of Indian businesses escalated in the 1980s. Among them
were Indian restaurants, motels and petrol stations, and stores supplying

14 The Asian Rich Lists are available on the internet by subscription; but brief analyses of
them can be found on the South Asian website, www.redhotcurry.com.
74 Global South Asians

Indian goods to the diaspora population, all of which allowed migrants to
draw advantage from family solidarity and labour in the same way as the
corner shop had in Britain from the 1960s. It is thought that nearly 30
per cent of the country™s hotels and motels are operated by Indians, and
a higher percentage of petrol stations in some areas of the East Coast.15
Although the success of Indian migrants in the late post-industrial
economies of the later twentieth century is well documented, as is the
experience of those who settled earlier in Britain, there was some differen-
tiation in the migrants™ trajectories over time, and it must be remembered
that some Indians never achieved professional status or the wealth which
enabled social investment for the next generation. Evidence from America
and Australia suggests that there is a sizeable group of less fortunate
Indians who work extremely hard in more lowly service jobs and essen-
tially form an immigrant working class, particularly in the larger towns
and cities, and do not share the trajectory of growing quali¬cations and
prosperity so publicly lauded by their more fortunate fellow immigrants.
Probably many of these arrived as relatives of existing immigrants, rather
than on the strength of their own quali¬cations: one group who fall clearly
into this category are Sikh fruit farmers in rural California, who arrived
without any of the skills that distinguished most of their compatriots. But
even some with considerable education still ¬nd it hard to break into
the professional or business world.16 It is clear that even where a post-
industrial society offers great opportunities to Indians with much-needed
skills, the route of migration is never an easy one, and creating a stable
economic base for oneself and one™s children, on which to build a new life
in the diaspora, still takes much thought, commitment and hard work.

2 Constructing social networks
While the establishment of an economic base is essential for migrants, a
parallel task is the construction of a range of social networks which enable

15 Daniels, ˜The Indian diaspora in the United States™, chapter 4 of Brown and Foot (eds.),
Migration. The Asian Experience; A. W. Helweg and U. M. Helweg, An Immigrant Success
Story. East Indians in America (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990);
M. S. Khandelwal, ˜Indian immigrants in Queens, New York City; patterns of spacial
concentration and distribution, 1965“1990™, chapter 7 of Van der Veer (ed.), Nation and
16 See C. Voigt-Graf, ˜Indians at home in the Antipodes™ and J. Lessinger, ˜Indian immi-
grants in the United States: the emergence of a transnational population™, chapters 7
and 8 of B. Parekh, G. Singh and S. Vertovec (eds.), Culture and Economy in the Indian
Diaspora (London and New York, Routledge, 2003). A case study of a rural working
class Indian group in America is M. A. Gibson, ˜Punjabi orchard farmers: an immigrant
enclave in rural California™, International Migration Review, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring 1988),
pp. 28“50.
Creating new homes and communities 75

comfortable individual and family life. This task of social construction
is vital if the new place of residence is to become home at any deep
emotional level, rather than just a place of transient residence as it was for
the bachelor South Asians who ¬rst came to Britain and lived in spartan
boarding houses which were little more than places to sleep and eat.
This was particularly important in the longer term for migrants from the
subcontinent, for they came from societies which placed great importance
on extended ties of family and kinship as essential to maintaining a good
and honourable life. Of course this social commitment to family and kin
was not peculiar to people from South Asia, although among Hindus
the notion of caste reinforced kinship networks in a unique way, and
the extent to which this persisted outside India will concern us later.
However, this familial orientation, embedded in social experience and
ideological assumptions, did mark out South Asians socially, particularly
when they moved into societies where many older social networks and
loyalties had been eroded among the existing population by processes of
industrialisation, urbanisation and individual spatial and social mobility,
and where family size had begun to drop markedly as a result of women™s
growing levels of education and paid work and the choices enabled by
Given these assumptions about the essential nature of family and kin
ties it is not surprising that migrants invested heavily “ in material and
emotional terms “ in rebuilding and maintaining kinship networks on
arrival in the places they were to make their homes. For those who left
the subcontinent under indenture or contract the problems involved in
such a project were immense. Indentured labourers often left as individ-
uals rather than as married people or family groups. On arrival life in
plantation barracks was cruelly disruptive of any existing relationships
between men and women, while the small numbers of women com-
pared with men militated against stable, monogamous unions. However,
as soon as they left the restrictions and abnormal social conditions of
indenture Indians began to reconstruct family life, drawing as far as pos-
sible on what they remembered of family relations in India, particularly
the patriarchal family where wives and daughters are carefully monitored
and controlled, and senior men make crucial social and economic deci-
sions. Over time the growth in the number of women and girls and the
emergence of a more even sex ratio in the emerging free Indian popula-
tions, often only by the twentieth century, enabled the growth of stable
marriages and families. In some places, such as Trinidad, the efforts of
Christian missionaries reinforced this process, and they tried to train girls
who came into their educational institutions to be what they conceived
as good wives and mothers. By contrast immigration patterns and laws
76 Global South Asians

in the later twentieth century were more favourable to family reconstruc-
tion. The early chain migrations of related males into Britain in search
of work strengthened kinship ties, and subsequently immigration con-
trols quickened the pace of family reunions, leading to the rapid expan-
sion of the female migrant population. As soon as women arrived in
the UK with existing children and began bearing British-born children
there was a marked change in immigrant life and the re-establishment
of South Asian family norms and relationships.17 Later still, as Indians
migrated to north America and Australasia at the end of the century, fam-
ily preference immigration regulations reinforced family ties in the new
There were several distinctive aspects of South Asian family life, re¬‚ect-
ing life on the subcontinent. One was the assumption of male dominance
over female family members, particularly strong where migrants were
closest to more traditional village life in South Asia, and also among
Muslims, but persistent even among highly educated Indians in America,
for example. (More will be said about this later when we consider the
strains on close social relations caused by migration.) Another was the
assumption of marriage as the norm for all South Asians, and an abhor-
rence of divorce. The latter expectation of stable and lifelong marriage is
embedded in South Asia™s religious traditions, as it is in Christianity, but
it also re¬‚ects the investment in socially signi¬cant marriage networks,
considered later. Divorce in such situations disrupts not only individual
lives but far wider circles of kin and friends, leading to personal distress,
the breakdown of important social connections and the erosion of family
prestige. Even where migrants have over several generations lived in
societies where numbers of people in the host population remain unmar-
ried for all or long stretches of their lives, and where marriages often
end in divorce, South Asian patterns persist. At the end of the twentieth
century among South Asians in the UK, for example, there is a far higher
proportion of households containing married couples than among the
white population; and cohabiting persons, one-parent families and single
households are most uncommon among South Asians. By contrast in
British society generally the number of single person households is rising
sharply and has (in 2005) reached 48 per cent of the total adult popu-
lation. In America the South Asian commitment to family life is clear:
over 90 per cent of Indian households contain both husband and wife,
and over 90 per cent of all Indian children under 18 live in two-parent
17 An excellent description of this process is found in A. W. Helweg™s study of Sikhs in
Gravesend, Sikhs in England. The Development of a Migrant Community (Delhi, Oxford
University Press, 1979), chapter 5.
Creating new homes and communities 77

Finally there is the question of family size “ which involves both the
number of people in a household and the number of children born to each
couple. In South Asia family groups have tended to be far larger than in
the contemporary western world. Not only have women had many more
children “ partly for sound economic reasons in an environment where
children are security for the continuation of the family and for parents
in old age, and partly because of lack of knowledge about contraception.
Families have also tended not to be nuclear but to be extended to incorpo-
rate signi¬cant numbers of family members on a temporary or permanent
basis. Much scholarship has been devoted to the nature of the so-called
joint family in India and the various forms it has taken, but in practical
terms most South Asians in the subcontinent until very recently in urban
areas have not lived in nuclear family groups consisting solely of parents
and children. Some of these trends persist in the diaspora, particularly in
areas such as Trinidad where Indians were rural people for such a long
time, and socially isolated from the rest of society.
Where South Asians have had to adapt to living in societies moulded
by western norms and economic situations there are obvious changes.
South Asian women have tended to have more children than their white
counterparts in the UK, though the numbers per woman have dropped as
educational levels have risen. This is most marked among Indian women,
whereas women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin still tend to have
more children than their white contemporaries. In America, where levels
of female education and skilled employment are particularly high, Indian
women have fewer children than the national average. Household size
is also increased by the presence of grandparents and non-nuclear kin,
either on a permanent or temporary basis. Among wealthier South Asians
there is developing the phenomenon of peripatetic grandparents, who
travel between their children™s households in the worldwide diaspora for
visits and to help out as further grandchildren are born. Where houses
are small, as in the UK, family arrangements lead migrants to invest
in neighbouring houses so that close kin and family members can stay
physically close together. The broad pattern is that the higher the levels
of education, the lower the family size and the more likely the family is to
be the nuclear group. Again, to take the well-documented UK example,
in the 1990s the average household size was 2.4 people, that of Indian
households 3.8, while Pakistani households averaged 4.8 and Bangladeshi
households 5.3.18
In the maintenance of preferred family structures and the establish-
ment of more extended social networks residential patterns are also very

18 Halsey and Webb (eds.), Twentieth-Century British Social Trends, p. 154.
78 Global South Asians

important. Almost everywhere in the diaspora South Asians have set-
tled near kin and others from their regions of origin, in a similar way to
patterns of urbanisation on the subcontinent itself, when work oppor-
tunities and existing kinship ties led groups from the same place and
social group to settle near to each other when they moved into towns.
This preference in the diaspora has generated ethnic areas or enclaves,
where distinctive linguistic and social groups cluster together, rather than
areas which are pan-South Asian, including people of different national,
linguistic and religious backgrounds.
Such clustering occurred where South Asians were primarily rural folk,
coming off the plantations where they had initially worked, and taking up
the opportunities of agriculture, as in Trinidad or Natal. It was equally
clear where South Asians were urban people, whether in colonial East
Africa, the UK, North America or Australia. In East Africa Indians in
the professions and business tended to cluster residentially in urban areas,
often bound together by a particular regional and linguistic connection
originating in the subcontinent. Goans in Kampala, for example, clus-
tered together, feeling distinct from other Indians, as they came from
a very distinctive area of India under Portuguese control, and worked
mainly in government and different kinds of services, whereas many other
Indians in the region were Gujarati Hindus in businesses.19 It is not sur-
prising that Indians forced to leave Africa in the 1960s and 1970s headed
mainly for towns and cities in the UK where they had existing social con-
nections, even when government policy was to disperse them. First-time
migrants direct from the subcontinent to the UK also chose to live in
ethnic enclaves. The broad pattern of South Asian settlement in Britain
has already been noted in the discussion of the impact of work oppor-
tunities on migrant settlement. But within these broad patterns, smaller
sub-groups of people linked by regional background and often extended
kinship have chosen to live close together, often replicating some of the
features of life brought from the subcontinent. Case studies of groups of
Pakistanis in Manchester and Oxford, of Sikhs in Gravesend and Southall,
London, or of Gujarati Jains in Leicester, have shown the distinctive ties
which bind particular small groups together in the diaspora.20 A study

19 See J. Kuper, ˜The Goan community in Kampala™, chapter 4 of M. Twaddle, Expulsion
of a Minority. Essays on Ugandan Asians (London, Athlone Press, 1975).
20 See, for example, A. Shaw™s excellent extended study of Pakistani families in Oxford,
Kinship and Continuity. Pakistani Families in Britain (Amsterdam, Harwood Academic
Publishers, 2000). Another study shows how Christian Pakistanis in the British city of
Bristol deliberately chose to settle where there were few other Pakistanis, seeing them-
selves as a distinctive social and religious group, and have few ties with those Muslim
Pakistanis who also live in the city. P. Jeffery, Migrants and Refugees. Muslim and Christian
Families in Bristol (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976).
Creating new homes and communities 79

Figure 4. South Asian shops in the ethnic enclave of Southall, West
Courtesy of Peter J. Diggle

of the district of Queens in New York City has shown how in the 1970s
Indians effectively refashioned the area, making it their own urban space,
for residence, business and for religious observance. As in many inner-city
areas in Britain where South Asians settled in tightly-knit groups, much of
the pre-existing white population moved out over time, and where some
older people stayed behind they tended to feel marooned and ill at ease.21
Some movement out of ethnic enclaves is visible where South Asians have
been established long enough for second and third generations to be born
outside the subcontinent. As educational levels improve and children and
grandchildren become socially and economically upwardly mobile, so
they often wish or need to move to homes nearer their new types of work
or to areas which re¬‚ect their new status. One most obvious pattern is
where the children of owners of corner shops, on reaching adulthood, no
longer wish to tie themselves to long hours in a service industry with little
status, but break away spatially as well as economically from the family
base which sustained their immigrant parents.

21 M. S. Khandelwal, ˜Indian immigrants in Queens, New York City: patterns of spatial
concentration and distribution, 1965“1990™, chapter 7 of Van der Veer (ed.), Nation and
80 Global South Asians

Although opportunities for work often pulled immigrants to live in sim-
ilar areas, the social and emotional bene¬ts of living in an ethnic enclave
were also considerable. Close clustering of people with similar lifestyles
and expectations sustains particular ethnic consumption patterns, recon-
structing a sense of home in daily life. Ethnic areas can support businesses
which import and supply all manner of desired goods, from saris and sal-
war kameez, jewellery, kitchen implements, South Asian spices and other
cooking ingredients, to travel agents specialising in travel to South Asia.
Just as there are Chinatowns in many western cities, so many towns and
cities have their roads and localities which are like shopping areas and
markets in South Asia. (Ethnically South Asian restaurants, by contrast,
tend to be in other parts of town as they cater almost exclusively for
the wider population™s taste and expectations of ˜Indian food™.) Ethnic
residential enclaves can also support speci¬c cultural patterns whether
in the use of leisure time or in the maintenance of religious patterns of
observation “ most obviously in the building of temples, mosques and
gurudwaras, as we shall see later. At a deeper emotional level living near
people like oneself gives immigrants social support and security, and they
have often bought homes to reinforce this. In Britain where there has been
a tradition of ˜council housing™ provided by local authorities for families
who cannot afford their own homes, it is notable that Pakistanis and
Indians have preferred to avoid this type of housing and have invested in
home ownership as soon as possible, becoming home owners in higher
proportion to their population than the white population. (By contrast
less than half of all Bangladeshis own their own homes and their living
conditions are the most cramped and poor.) Often housing available for
purchase by immigrants is small and run-down, as in the case of the Vic-
torian terrace housing stock bought by many British Pakistanis. But kin
groups buy houses near each other where individual properties cannot
contain large extended families, thus maintaining familial connections. So
kinship reinforces ethnicity, religion and regional background, creating
multiple and criss-crossing connections within ethnic residential enclaves.
Residents can call on neighbours for support in all kinds of situations and
crises, particularly where these are kinsfolk as well as residential neigh-
bours. This is particularly important for women in communities where
women have traditionally lived secluded lives, rarely venturing out into
the public space, and for women who have little command of English.
The ethnic residential enclave can to an extent provide safe and semi-
domestic space for such women. Moreover, the presence of neighbourly
and related women means they can help each other out, accompany each
other on errands which imply exposure to a wider society, and draw on the
Creating new homes and communities 81

linguistic services of children who through state schooling are acquiring
a ¬‚uency in English.22
However there has been one incidence of forced residential cluster-
ing which was deeply disruptive to the domestic lives of South Asians
involved “ that produced by the 1950 Group Areas Act in South Africa
which controlled Indians™ lives until 1991. A study of Durban, where
Indian descendants of indentured labourers were becoming a substantial
working class by the middle of the century, shows how this act of racial
segregation by the apartheid government set up of¬cial Indian areas.
This forced segregation battered older Indian social networks and family
life, uprooting Indians from areas where they had established themselves
and built temples. Indians were increasingly divided by class, and older
extended families were broken up as new houses were designed for nuclear
families only.23
This brief discussion of South Asian patterns of settlement in the
diaspora has begun to hint at the many types of social networks gen-
erated among migrants over time. It is worth contemplating some of
these networks in more detail to begin to understand the richness of
South Asian life in the diaspora, and the way in which migrants have
constructed homes in the broadest physical, social and emotional mean-
ings of this term. Although I shall sketch three types of network below, it
must be remembered that often these intersect, reinforcing relationships
and making them muti-dimensional. A cousin or brother/sister-in-law,
for example, may be a neighbour as well, and a member of a shared eth-
nic cultural association or a worshipper at the same temple or mosque. A
local shopkeeper may be the friend of someone in the extended kinship
network, while his wife may be a member of a shared devotional group.
So networks of support, expectations of care and patronage, considera-
tions of honour and repute, are built up and reinforce each other in dense
sets of social relationships, creating societies which can be ˜home™ in the
best sense of being welcoming and supportive, but which can also be
claustrophobic, over watchful and for some deeply controlling.
At the simplest level there is the supportive network of the neighbour-
hood with its concentration of people who share much of the same back-
ground, often including language, religion and place of origin. Ties of

22 For insights into the support systems available to women who live in ethnic enclaves see
Shaw, Kinship and Continuity; and P. Werbner, The Migration Process. Capital, Gifts and
Offerings among British Pakistanis (New York, Oxford and Munich, Berg, 1990). A novel
portraying the experience of a new Bangladeshi bride in London is Monica Ali™s Brick
Lane, published in 2003.
23 See chapter 5 of Freund, Insiders and Outsiders.
82 Global South Asians

neighbourliness are often reinforced by actual kinship ties created by
patterns of migration and subsequent marriages. (Marriage networks are
considered below.) Studies of particular cities have shown how signi¬cant
these neighbourhood social networks become. Two British urban stud-
ies of Pakistanis have shown how families build up supportive networks
including kin and ˜¬ctive kin™ through elaborate processes of gift giving
managed by the womenfolk. The idea of reciprocity among kin, friends
and neighbours is elaborated through a complex system of gifts between
connected families, and families which aspire to connection, which can
often extend back to Pakistan itself. Gifts range from sweets to clothes
and money on a carefully calibrated range of value. They act to enhance
and maintain a particular family™s prestige in the community, to cement
social bonds, and to provide insurance in times of emergency when neigh-
bourly help is needed to deal with local domestic crises or to enable an
unforeseen trip back to South Asia.24
Among the Muslim women who invest heavily in such gift-giving net-
works, social ties are reinforced by religious activities such as the reading
of the Koran together. For most South Asians, whether Muslims, Hindus,
Sikhs, Christians, Jains or Parsis, there is an intimate connection between
religion and the culture they bring with them from South Asia, and religio-
cultural activities form another web of connections, creating a sense of
home. As Muslim women rarely attend mosques, domestic devotional
worship in the home is a common pattern of shared activity, often cen-
tering on reading the Koran to mark special events and concerns, followed
by a special meal. In Hindu traditions much worship is family based, and
life cycle rites in the experience of migrant families are again occasions for
inviting kin and friends. People will travel great distances to share in such
ceremonies as marriages and funerals, to reinforce social solidarity as well
as, in the case of marriages, for the great pleasure of shared festivities as
well as the opportunity to meet kin and close friends whom one might
not see on a regular basis. Even in the earliest phases of the diaspora, as
in Trinidad, religious celebrations in the family, the village and beyond
the village, were “ and still are “ important expressions of neighbourli-
ness and sociability. Formal community readings of scripture, followed
by shared meals, were often sponsored by particular families and involved
women™s cooperation, shared religious ritual, and for the sponsors con-
siderable prestige among neighbours. Similarly performances of the great
Ram Lila plays staged by particular villages would attract Indians from
surrounding parts of the island. As Indians in Trinidad gained in wealth

24 See Shaw, Kinship and Continuity, and Werbner, The Migration Process.
Creating new homes and communities 83

and status there was no erosion of these religio-cultural practices but,
rather, their reinforcement and elaboration.25
For Hindus the experience both of religion and of social life has been
in¬‚uenced by the institutions of caste and its ideological underpinnings.
Much scholarly attention has been paid to caste as a hierarchical ordering
of society, based on notions of ritual purity and pollution and associated
social status, the degree to which it was immutable or ¬‚exible, and the
extent to which it was the dominant form of social ordering of difference
and status among Hindus in India. Increasingly, earlier ideas about a
total hierarchical ordering of society have been undermined as evidence
has indicated patterns of group mobility, the emergence of new ˜castes™,
the signi¬cance of other foundations of social in¬‚uence, and the likeli-
hood that the more rigid caste society of the later nineteenth and earlier
twentieth centuries in India was a very recent phenomenon connected
with British colonial anxiety to settle and order Indian subjects. In India
itself in the later twentieth century caste has decreased in social and pub-
lic signi¬cance for a variety of reasons, including personal mobility, the
development of new occupations and, of course, the pressures of urban-
isation. Similar patterns are discernible in diaspora groups. Only rarely
have caste groups migrated in suf¬cient numbers to enable them to repro-
duce a complex caste-based society; and of course among indentured
labourers many aspects of caste were obliterated by the totally abnormal
life they were forced to live on the estates. But there persist throughout
the diaspora broad understandings of ritual and social status, even among
Sikhs and Muslims, and particularly strong is the wish to construct mar-
riage alliances for one™s family within one™s caste or at least within one of
similar status. Moreover, where caste groups bring with them particular
patterns of religious observance, these, as well as the kinship networks
embedded within caste, are important sources of social connection and
support. Gujaratis in Britain from India and via East Africa have per-
haps the strongest caste networks in the modern diaspora, and among
them religious observance and sociability networks reinforce each other,
as does the foundation of caste associations.26 Caste and cultural associ-
ations often bring together religion and culture and have been prominent
forms of social organisation among the diaspora in virtually every part of
the world where South Asians have settled.

25 See S. Vertovec, Hindu Trinidad. Religion, Ethnicity and Socio-Economic Change (London
and Basingstoke, MacMillan, 1992).
26 See S. Warrier, ˜Gujarati Prijapatis in London. Family roles and sociability networks™,
in R. Ballard (ed.), Desh Pardesh. The South Asian Presence in Britain, (London, Hurst,
1994), pp. 191“212.
84 Global South Asians

However, by far the most important forms of social network among
migrants were those constructed by the ties of marriage. As we have
already noted, marriage has long been considered a fundamental and
often sacred social institution among South Asians, and, as on the sub-
continent, so in the diaspora, great care is taken to ensure that marriages
are stable relationships between compatible individuals, and that they are
so organised as to enhance and buttress a family™s prestige and networks
of kinship. It is still very rare to ¬nd South Asian marriages across eth-
nic boundaries. Even in Britain, where South Asians have lived (to the
extent that residential patterns permit), worked and been educated along-
side the white population for two to three generations, mixed marriages
are most uncommon. For example, in 1990, among married Indian men
91 per cent of their spouses were Indians, while just over 93 per cent
of female spouses of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were from the same
ethnic group. By comparison all other groups of non-white immigrants
were far more likely to marry outside their own ethnic group.27 Moreover
South Asians have tended to restrict their marriage choices within reli-
gious as well as ethnic groups, so Hindus virtually never marry Muslims
or Christians but sometimes Sikhs (with whom they have had kinship
links in India), and Muslims marry only other Muslims. One of the only
well-documented examples of South Asians marrying across ethnic and
religious boundaries was in California in the ¬rst half of the twentieth
century, when Indian male migrants who arrived as much-needed agri-
cultural labour found they could not bring in Indian women and chose to
marry local women, most of whom were Roman Catholic Hispanics, as
California™s anti-miscegenation laws prohibited Indian marriages to white
women. These unions produced a unique Punjabi-Mexican community
who increasingly did not see themselves as South Asian and found new
arrivals from the Punjab in the later twentieth century very disturbing to
their particular sense of American identity.28 The very strong tendency
elsewhere in the diaspora for intra-ethnic, intra-religious marriages has
served to maintain clear boundaries between groups within the diaspora
as well as stark social and ethnic division from the rest of the host soci-
ety. Where inter-ethnic unions have taken place these tend to be among
the very highly educated who share similar lifestyles and values and are
outside the constraints of ethnic enclaves.
The ability of groups in the diaspora to maintain such ¬rm sexual and
social boundaries lies partly in the existence of ethnic enclaves as the core
27 Halsey and Webb (eds.), Twentieth-Century British Social Trends, pp. 168“169, table 4.9,
panel 2.
28 K. I. Leonard, Making Ethnic Choices. California™s Punjabi Mexican Americans (Philadel-
phia, Temple University Press, 1995).
Creating new homes and communities 85

of much sociability. Young South Asians of marriageable age are more
likely to meet other South Asians just because of where they live and the
circles in which their parents and older relatives move. The exceptions are
those (increasing numbers) who leave home to go to university, and even
for them there appears often to be a clear understanding that although
friendships and sometimes sexual relationships between young men and
women may occur across ethnic boundaries, few of these are likely to lead
to marriage because of parental expectations and controls. Parental con-
trol of marriage is an even more important factor in maintaining intra-
group marriages. On the subcontinent marriages were all arranged by
parents at least until the later twentieth century, on the understanding
that marriages were alliances between whole families and should only
take place between families of similar standing, and from the same reli-
gion and region. Boys and girls were married as they reached their teens
or sometimes even earlier, before the gradual raising of the marriage age
from the end of the 1920s. Mahatma Gandhi was married at the age
of 13, for example. This caused him considerable social embarrassment
when he came to England as a student in the 1880s, and an end to child
marriage was one of the key aspects of his campaign of social reform. Not
surprisingly such young people had no say in the matter of their marriage,
and often had not even seen their prospective spouse before the marriage
ceremony. When Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India™s ¬rst Prime Min-
ister, was married in 1916 his experience was exceptional; for he was in
his late 20s, and though his parents chose his bride the young couple were
permitted to meet and get to know each other before their marriage. The
tradition of arranged marriage persisted throughout the diaspora, for the
same reasons as on the subcontinent, whether among children of inden-
tured labourers in Trinidad, for example, or in the great industrial cities
of northern England. However, changes have taken place, just as they
have on the subcontinent in recent years. South Asian adolescents are of
course subject to and somewhat protected by the laws relating to the age
of marriage in the countries where they live, and by the age of compulsory
schooling as well as increasing parental understandings of the signi¬cance
of secondary education for girls as well as boys. More normal now is a
form of attenuated arrangement of marriages, whereby potential brides
and grooms are allowed some in¬‚uence in the choice of marriage part-
ner, and often a veto; and they are increasingly permitted to meet and
socialise before marriage to get to know each other.
Studies of marriage strategies in the diaspora indicate how deeply
parents care about choosing the ˜right™ partner for their children, for the
happiness of the child as well as the long-term standing of the family
and the maintenance of its status and connections. Moreover, children
86 Global South Asians

born and brought up in the diaspora recognise to an extent that their
parents are trying to do their best for them, even if there is tension in
their life experience between family norms and the wider world of sexual
partnerships and chosen marriages. Parents will normally seek to arrange
marriages within a broadly similar status group, and for Hindus this
means consideration of caste. Increasingly there is awareness that marry-
ing a child educated in the diaspora to a more traditional, less educated
partner directly from the subcontinent is a recipe for misunderstandings
and tensions. In such unions levels of education, social skills and habits,
expectations of marriage and spousal behaviour, and language itself
may be real sources of division. However, as the diaspora has grown by
natural increase there are of course far more suitable marriage partners
available in each country where there are South Asians, or, in the case
of those who belong to the emerging group of transnational families,
with friends and extended kin networks in diaspora communities in
other countries. There is evidence that some people, even among the
educated and professional, in the diaspora, ¬nd it dif¬cult to ¬nd suitable
spouses: hence the phenomenon of internet matrimonial advertisements
extending the practice of newspaper advertisements in the Sunday
papers in India. Caste and other markers of social standing are displayed
in these as the criteria for suitable marriage partners.
An exception to this growing pattern of inter and intra-diaspora mar-
riage are South Asian Muslim communities who practice very close kin
and often cousin marriage, compared with Hindus and Sikhs who prac-
tice marriage outside the close kinship group. The search for appropriate
Muslim marriages for children leads many UK Pakistani parents, for
example, to consider not only kin among the Pakistani groups in the UK,
but also back in Pakistani villages where siblings and cousins still feel they
have prior claims in marriage and see such arrangements as a route to
mobility for their children. To deny these claims is, for an immigrant fam-
ily, to risk family honour and solidarity. Shaw™s study of 24 marriages of
children of ¬rst generation immigrants in Oxford showed that 76 per cent
were with kin and 59 per cent were with cousins.29 Even though this is
the extreme end of the spectrum in marriage patterns, the matrimonial
strategies of most South Asians in the diaspora con¬rm the strong social
links within its multiple groups and their continued social distinctiveness
from the host society.
However, there is one tiny religious group within the diaspora for whom
marriage strategies have proved deeply problematic. These are the Parsis,

29 Shaw, Kinship and Continuity; see also note 12 for the work on marriage patterns by
Roger Ballard.
Creating new homes and communities 87

who are among the most westernised and successful of diaspora groups
and are to be found throughout the world, generally in big cities where
they have become wealthy and often well integrated into their host soci-
eties. Both the size of the group and its success mean that its very sur-
vival is in doubt. Parsi women tend to be highly educated, and as with
all educated women, family sizes are smaller than those of their unedu-
cated sisters. Moreover many Parsi men and women marry out of their
community “ not surprising given the small numbers of Parsis and the
fact that they are just the sort of people who would wish to make their
own choices according to perceived emotions and senses of compatibility,
and have opportunities to do so. Conventionally in India, only children
born to the marriages of two Parsis, or to a Parsi male who married a non-
Parsi woman, are counted as Parsis. This has held down numbers and the
group™s ability to reproduce itself, and has led to great contention among
Parsis worldwide as to whether offspring of mixed marriages where the
Parsi partner is a woman should be accepted as full community mem-
Despite the apparent solidarity and strength of many South Asian dias-
pora communities, when viewed by onlookers from outside them, there
are social stresses which stem from the experience of migration and the
demands on migrants for social adaptation to the new situation. Stresses
and tensions are an inevitable repercussion of rapid social change in any
social group, South Asian or not, and it is not surprising that migration
has generated unease, tension and con¬‚ict in many diaspora commu-
nities. South Asians bring to their new homes highly developed under-
standings of honour and esteem, as well as ¬rmly established patterns of
what is considered good or appropriate behaviour in most types of social
interaction. These are often tested by the experience of migration over
time, particularly along the fault lines of gender and generation, when
older assumptions about the good man/woman or the good son/daughter
are challenged and undermined. When considering these areas of stress
it is important to remember that many South Asian families are not only
concerned with their repute and honour within their immediate dias-
poric community, but often also have in mind their extended kin back in
South Asia. What more conservative relatives in the old homeland might
say or think is often still vitally important, particularly among migrant
Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, because it affects family esteem and also
the marriage prospects of the next generation. News of the actions of an

30 J. R. Hinnells, ˜The modern Zoroastrian diaspora™, chapter 3 of Brown and Foot (eds.),
Migration: The Asian Experience.
88 Global South Asians

˜undisciplined™ wife or an ˜errant™ son or daughter spreads quickly when
kin are in touch by phone and by frequent travel.
Issues of gender are a particularly sensitive area in South Asian social
life. This is not peculiar to those who live in the diaspora. From the mid-
nineteenth century on the subcontinent, there was profound and often
bitter controversy in India about the role of women as society began to
change, and as social reformers argued that change in the place and treat-
ment of women was vital if India was to take its place in the modern world.
Women were seen as the repositories of family honour, and changes in
their behaviour were considered potentially dangerous to patriarchal soci-
ety. Women™s sexuality was thought to be particularly dangerous and
was thus carefully controlled by early marriage and social conventions of
seclusion. Purdah, or more extreme forms of seclusion, was primarily a
Muslim practice, though it had spread to other Indian groups. But even
where women were not con¬ned to domestic space, there were widely
practised customs of women covering the head and face in public and
in particular among non-related and older males. Only gradually was it
deemed respectable for women to come out into the public sphere, par-
ticipate in public education, and eventually take their part in public life
and in paid work outside the home. (For some female groups of course
external work had been an economic necessity but this was considered
dishonourable and was in strong contrast to the later paid work under-
taken by women on the subcontinent which was increasingly considered
appropriate and desirable).31 Changes in India in social attitudes have
been faster among Hindus and Sikhs, while Parsis and Christians were
for different reasons much more westernised. But among rural Muslim
groups from Pakistan and Bangladesh there still persist very conservative
attitudes towards acceptable female behaviour, dress and social relations.
These differences have been exported into the diaspora. Any considera-
tion of gender relations in the South Asian diaspora must, therefore, take
account of the timing and nature of the different migratory ¬‚ows out of
the subcontinent. Later migrants, particularly at the end of the twentieth
century, came from homes where processes of social change had been
under way for several generations in South Asia itself, while those who
came from urban backgrounds were also much more likely to have nego-
tiated many changes in family relations before they migrated. Indeed, as
the history of the diaspora unfolds, and as the pace of social change on
the subcontinent quickens, it may become the case that South Asians

31 For the many complex issues relating to change in the lives of women in the subcon-
tinent see G. Forbes, The New Cambridge History of India IV Women in Modern India
(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1996).
Creating new homes and communities 89

there will prove more ready to change than their diaspora relatives and
counterparts, who feel the need to retain distinctive social values in the
face of the wider society.
In the matter of gender relations the experience of indentured Indians
was a particular case. Not only were indentured labourers among the ear-
liest migrants, from rural backgrounds untouched by processes of social
reform which were initiating change in Indian towns and cities, but they
were also exposed to a life in the barracks which shattered their older
social norms and relationships, and where the gross imbalance in the sex
ratio exposed women to violence and sexual exploitation. Scholarship on
Indian women during the period of indentured labour in many places
con¬rms the misery of their existence, the violence they experienced
from Indian and white males alike, and the breakdown of stable sexual
unions.32 However, as Indian women became free from the particular
problems caused by indenture, they did not become free in any modern
understanding of the term. As labourers began to establish free Indian
communities once their indentures had expired, they began to reconstruct
families according to norms remembered from South Asia. For women
this meant tight control of their lives by senior males within patriarchal
families, often accompanied by psychological, verbal and physical vio-
lence, even though “ and in some ways because “ the reproductive and
physical labour of women was central to the processes whereby Indian
men could establish themselves as free men in their new homes. The
very fact that women were so valuable in the reconstruction of Indian
domestic and economic life, and took on new roles outside the home,
such as marketing, made men more anxious to control their labour and
their reputations.


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