. 4
( 7)


However, strict control often tipping over into forms of violence is
not uncommon among the diaspora communities which have resulted
from later waves of migration. In Britain and north America, where
South Asians are by the end of the twentieth century more educated
and have been longer exposed to ideas of gender equality, there is com-
pelling evidence that in South Asian families wives and daughters are
often subjected to treatment which the host societies would consider

32 On Indian women in Natal see J. Beall, ˜Women under indenture in colonial Natal,
1860“1911™, chapter 2 of Clarke, Peach and Vertovec (eds.), South Asians Overseas; on
indentured women in Fiji see B. V. Lal, ˜Kunti™s Cry™, chapter 11 of his Chalo Jahaji on a
Journey Through Indenture in Fiji (Canberra and Suva, Australian National University and
Fiji Museum, 2000), and J. Harvey, ˜Naraini™s Story™, chapter 11 in the same volume. For
women™s experience in Mauritius (where they were never formally indentured) see the
important collection of women™s ˜voices™ in M. Carter, Lakshmi™s Legacy. The Testimonies
of Indian Women in 19th Century Mauritius (Stanley, Rose-Hill, Mauritius, Editions de
L™Ocean Indien, 1994).
90 Global South Asians

unacceptable. This is particularly the case in Muslim communities from
rural backgrounds; but conservative assumptions about gender roles and
the right of senior males to discipline women affect many girls brought
up in the diaspora, whose expectations in the matter of dress, leisure,
freedom to socialise, and relationships with young men are more akin
to those of their peers outside the ethnic enclaves where they live. It is
impossible to quantify levels of domestic violence, but scholarly evidence
makes it clear that this is a deep and disturbing demonstration of stress
in diaspora families as they adapt to their new environment.33 The pro-
liferation of websites advising South Asian women who are subjected
to violence, and pointing them in the direction of women™s refuges, is
further evidence of women™s experiences of domestic violence. In the
USA there is, for example, Maitri, founded by Indian women in 1991,
or the South Asian Women™s Network (Sawnet) which links users to the
Of¬ce on Violence Against Women in the US Department of Justice and
to various other resources including refuges, and interestingly spreads
its links to British resources for women suffering violence. In Britain
there are similar websites offering Asian women advice and the where-
abouts of refuges. These include Ashiana in South Yorkshire and Kiran
Asian Women™s Aid in London. A website for women of all ethnic origins
suffering violence (www.refuge.org.uk) directs South Asian women also
to Karma Nirvana Refuge, intended specially for this ethnic minority,
where there are people with appropriate language competence. In mid-
2005 yet another refuge specially for Asian women was opened in Stoke
in the northern Midlands with full backing from the Home Of¬ce. The
British National Health Service has become so concerned with levels of
self harm among young South Asian women that it funded research in
the late 1980s into the stresses experienced by young women growing
up in London. The results showed that South Asian women in the age
range 15“35 are two or three times more likely to harm themselves than
non-Asian women. It is clear that young women in the diaspora carry
a very heavy burden as they are seen as the repositories of family and
community honour, and this in turn brings them under great pressure
from family, community and religion. Self harm seems to be a coping
mechanism for dealing with extreme distress and pressure.34

33 See the evidence of two South Asian scholars, one Hindu and one Muslim, who are
deeply sympathetic to the needs and problems of diasporic South Asians: B. Parekh,
Some Re¬‚ections on the Indian Diaspora (London, British Organisation of People of Indian
Origin (BOPIO), 1993), p. 11 and H. Ansari, ˜The In¬del Within™. Muslims in Britain
since 1800 (London, Hurst, 2004), chapter 8.
34 See an article based on the 1988 report funded by the NHS Ethnic Health Unit, by A.
Bhardwaj, ˜Growing up young, Asian and female in Britain: a report on self-harm and
Creating new homes and communities 91

However, it is clear that growing up as a South Asian girl in the diaspora
is also an invitation to educational possibilities, to expanding aspirations,
and to the possibilities of paid work which in turn gives some economic
independence. Many families support their girls™ educational aspirations,
for the matrimonial and socio-economic doors it opens. (Educational
standards among South Asians will receive more attention in the next
chapter.) Moreover, women™s paid work outside the home, which is
growing in signi¬cance particularly among non-Muslim South Asians,
can serve to empower women, in the workplace itself, in the context of
household decision-making, or in the choice of marriage partner. Paid
work is, however, not always the route to greater independence or to
more equal gender relations. Men can see women™s wages and salaries
as a threat to patriarchal dominance, particularly if they themselves are
lower paid or unemployed; and this can in turn lead to domestic vio-
lence even among younger South Asians. Despite the clear evidence that
in many diaspora households women and girls are subject to strict and
sometimes extreme forms of control, studies of South Asian women in
Britain have shown that, whatever the tensions, many of them are actively
negotiating considerable changes in gender relations and in the status of
women in their families, and are drawing on their new-found resources
from the wider environment in this process. Clearly the experiences of
South Asian women in the diaspora, and even in one country, differ con-
siderably according to age, location, religion and class. It would therefore
be be entirely wrong to assume that there is one stereotype of a South
Asian woman, oppressed and powerless in a patriarichal society.35
Gender often becomes a faultline in domestic relations across genera-
tional boundaries. More broadly the experiences and expectations of dif-
ferent generations are another source of social friction in the South Asian
diaspora. This occurs acutely when parents brought up in the subconti-
nent ¬nd their children diverging from them as a result of their upbringing
in the diaspora. Although most young South Asians grow up in locations

suicide™, Feminist Studies, Vol. 68, No. 1 (2001), pp. 52“67. It is signi¬cant that journals
read by health professionals now have numerous articles on issues such as suicide among
South Asians.
35 Important literature on the changing roles and positions of South Asian women in the UK
include A. Brah, ˜Women of South Asian origin in Britain: issues and concerns™, South
Asia Research, Vol. 7, No. 1 (May 1987), pp. 39“54; 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 Van der Veer (ed.), Nation and Migration; F.
Ahmad, T. Modood and S. Lissenburgh, South Asian Women and Employment in Britain:
The Interaction of Gender and Ethnicity (London, Policy Studies Institute, 2003). On the
very slow challenge to Muslim patriarchy, even when young women are earning, see
chapter 8 of Ansari, The In¬del Within.
92 Global South Asians

where they are surrounded by their ethnic peers, they are powerfully in¬‚u-
enced by the systems of state education in the countries where they live,
and by the media which penetrate the intimate domestic lives of diaspora
families. It is not surprising that there develop different attitudes towards
a variety of issues including dress, leisure pursuits, religion, the use of
money, careers and of course relations between young men and women,
and arranged marriages. Such topics generate tension between genera-
tions within families in the host society, but they are greater in ethnic
groups where parents have brought conservative assumptions and stan-
dards from a very different sort of society. At one stage social observers
predicted a crisis for South Asian family life and the erosion of cultural
norms because of the growth of the diaspora-born population, and por-
trayed young South Asians as caught between ˜two cultures™. However,
this is now evidently a far too simple set of assumptions. Despite tension
and occasional breakdowns it is clear that many parents are adapting and
modifying their views on key issues. It is still the case that parents adopt a
double standard in dealing with their children, and girls tend to be more
carefully controlled than sons, indicating the persistence of assumptions
about the connection between gender and family honour. For their part,
young people are more understanding of their parents™ attitudes than
might have been expected, and are often unwilling to push disagree-
ments to the point of family rupture. Case studies of some of the most
conservative Muslim communities in Britain at the end of the twentieth
century have pointed to such patterns of adaptation and adjustment even
among them, while acknowledging the strains between the generations
within families.36
Some disquieting evidence does suggest that at times such strains can-
not be controlled or diffused even within families and kin networks, and
spill over into the wider society. In Britain, for example, there is a marked
incidence of drug abuse among young Muslim males, and they repre-
sent a higher proportion of the prison population than their presence in
the population at large would warrant, with one-quarter of those inside
being there for drug-related offences. Between 1990 and 2005 the num-
ber of Muslim prisoners had risen sixfold, bringing the total to more
than 4,000: they are mostly of Pakistani background and make up 70 per
cent of prisoners from ethnic minorities. By contrast, few people from
India or Bangladesh are in prison in the UK.37 The condition of young

36 See Ansari, The In¬del Within, particularly chapters 7 and 8; Shaw, Kinship and Conti-
nuity, particularly chapter 6; J. Jacobson, Islam in Transition. Religion and Identity Among
British Pakistani Youth (London and New York, Routledge, 1998); also M. Anwar,
Between Cultures.
37 The Times, 30 July 2005; Ansari, The In¬del Within, p. 218.
Creating new homes and communities 93

Muslim men will concern us in several places later in this study, but in the
context of generational strains these ¬gures indicate a clear breakdown
in shared moral standards between generations and a collapse of parental
and kin control. Similarly stresses between parents and children, partic-
ularly daughters, over arranged marriage come into the wider public and
legal arena where girls run away from home, where there is con¬‚ict over
forced marriages which often involves taking young girls forcibly back to
Pakistan, or in the most extreme and rare cases where there are so-called
˜honour killings™, where family members kill a female relative rather than
have her enter a sexual liason or marriage with someone not deemed suit-
able by the family. Clearly in such cases the social networks created by
migrants have collapsed under the strain of generational differences, but
these are most unusual and outside the experience of the vast majority of
South Asians in the diaspora.

3 Constructing religious networks and institutions
We turn ¬nally to the task of constructing religious networks and insti-
tutions in the diaspora, a vital part of making the new place of residence
home. All South Asian migrants leave their original homes with a sense
of identity powerfully in¬‚uenced by religion. This is not unique, and
migrants from Europe before the rapid secularisation of European society
in the twentieth century carried with them a profound sense that religion
was a core aspect of their personal and group identity. Irish and Italian
Catholics, for example, established their own religious institutions and
social worlds in their diaspora experience. British people migrating within
the Empire rapidly built Anglican churches and cathedrals as markers of
identity, often replicating architectural designs redolent of public space
in Britain, and as places of shared worship and group social reinforce-
ment. Just as nineteenth-century European emigrants were embedded in
a culture powerfully moulded by religion, so are South Asians in their
modern diaspora communities.
The nature of South Asian religion in the diaspora is very signi¬cant
for a number of reasons. In the ¬rst place religion is a powerful determi-
nant of linkages and divisions within the diaspora, as has already been
shown in the earlier discussion of social networks. Shared religious belief
and observance can add another dimension or layer to the rich social
life built up in the diaspora as it reinforces kinship and neighbourliness:
but of course religious difference, in the same way, divides South Asians
from each other outside the subcontinent, as on it, though not in any
absolute or all-encompassing sense. South Asian societies both on the
subcontinent and in the diaspora have not experienced the degree of
94 Global South Asians

secularisation visible in the western world, though they are not immune
to the forces which have undermined religious belief and observance
elsewhere. Consequently some understanding of attitudes embedded in
South Asia™s religions is also important in constructing a picture of the
diaspora experience. But it is even more widely signi¬cant. The presence
of South Asian communities in the diaspora, particularly in Europe, north
America and Australasia, has created for the ¬rst time genuinely multi-
religious societies. Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism are now present and
highly visible in societies which were once largely Christian by religion
or at least deeply in¬‚uenced by the Christian inheritance. This creates
opportunities and problems, some of which will be considered in the
next chapter. But the emergence and growing rootedness of South Asian
religions in these societies means that no one can study them seriously
without some understanding of the beliefs and dynamics of minority reli-
gions. It is impossible, for example, to understand British society without
some knowledge of British Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs. It took the tragic
bombings on the London transport network in July 2005, in which young
British Pakistanis from northern England were involved, to wake many
British people to this fact, and exposed the depth of ignorance even in
government circles to the issues confronting many British South Asian
The religious experience of South Asians overseas also raises fasci-
nating questions about the way religious traditions adapt to changing
situations, and ¬nd the resources within their beliefs, practices and insti-
tutions to cope with rapid social and intellectual change, and the multi-
ple challenges of a changing external world. This is perhaps particularly
interesting in the case of what is loosely called Hinduism. This is not a
tradition based on a clear creed or set of religious texts, which are by def-
inition easily exportable; it is a cluster of traditions and practices which
vary greatly and are held together by some shared assumptions and tra-
ditions, but particularly by the way of life developed on the subcontinent
over centuries. It therefore seems likely that the export of Hindu prac-
tices and sensibilities may be more dif¬cult than the practice of Islam
or Sikhism, for example, which is based on belief and text, even if the
actual practice of these religions is powerfully in¬‚uenced by South Asian
social experience over centuries. All religious traditions are at their core
about the discovering of meaning in human existence, and the practice
of lives which draw sustenance from that meaning and try to conform to
the values implicit in it. It is therefore important to examine the extent
to which South Asians in their new diaspora context feel that their tra-
ditions serve and sustain them and help them to manage the changing
world in which they ¬nd themselves, and still give them powerful ideals to
Creating new homes and communities 95

live by. As important are the issues of religious instruction and transmis-
sion. Have South Asians also found ways of transmitting their religious
inheritance to their children and do their children feel that their traditions
provide them with meaning and guidance?38
Before embarking on a discussion of some of these issues it is
worth commenting brie¬‚y on South Asian Christianity in the diaspora.
Christianity has been long established in the subcontinent, its roots in the
south going back to the earliest Christian years. However, with the excep-
tion of parts of south India, such as modern Kerala, Christians were few in
number until several waves of conversion occurred as a result of European
missionary activity, which mainly touched those at the very base of Hindu
society. However, there have been few South Asian Christians in the
diaspora. Small groups of Catholic Goans, from the former Portuguese
enclave in India, went to East Africa and thence to other areas in the
diaspora. Tiny communities of Pakistani Christians left the new Muslim
country for Britain at the same time as their Muslim counterparts. Now
in the latest diaspora wave some of the South Indian IT experts arriving
in America are from the old Syrian Christian community. In the diaspora
itself few South Asians have become Christians. Some Indians were con-
verted in Trinidad and Natal, for example, in the early years of the Indian
presence there; and their contact with missionaries and access to educa-
tion made them a signi¬cant early Indian elite. Among later migrants
there have been even fewer who have become Christian, which is not sur-
prising given the tight social networks formed in the diaspora. Anecdotal
evidence suggests that South Asians who do become Christian either as
individuals or in family groups face considerable social ostracism by those
who remain within their traditions. Very little research has been done on
South Asian Christian groups in the diaspora.39 What there is suggests
that most of the Christian South Asians in the diaspora form distinct
social groups who have little to do with other South Asians, and do not
intermarry with them. Although they come to countries where Christian-
ity is the dominant religious tradition they often have their own churches
where they worship in their own language, particularly in cases where they
do not speak English ¬‚uently, or worship together in particular churches
serving distinct localities. The fact that the Anglican church in Britain
has a Bishop of Pakistani origin at the start of the twenty-¬rst century
does not re¬‚ect the status of South Asian Christians in general in Britain,

38 A good discussion of some of these issues is the Introduction by R. B. Williams to his
edited volume, A Sacred Thread. Modern Transmission of Hindu Traditions in India and
Abroad (Chambersburg PA, Anima, 1992.)
39 One example is Jeffery, Migrants and Refugees; Dr M. Frenz in Oxford is working on a
study of Goans in the worldwide diaspora.
96 Global South Asians

Figure 5. Methodist church, Cowley Road, Oxford, used by a Punjabi-
speaking congregation. This is an example of a church shared between
local people and Christian South Asian immigrants and their descen-
dants, where the latter retain Punjabi as their language of worship for
separate services.
Author™s photograph

as he left his home country as an adult, already an established Christian
leader. Much more work needs to be done on the adaptation of South
Asian Christians to life in an increasingly secularising west, and on the
possible differences between the way they live in the diaspora compared
with their non-Christian South Asian counterparts.
The subsequent discussion draws on the lives of Hindus, Muslims,
Sikhs and to an extent that of Parsis, because they are most heavily rep-
resented in the diaspora. But it must be underlined at the outset that this
discussion cannot do justice to the great variety of religious experience in
the diaspora, partly because of limited space but partly because scholars
often do not have evidence on aspects of the religious life of migrants
which are important but dif¬cult to study and particularly to quantify.
What is offered is an introduction to some of the big issues facing South
Asia™s religious traditions in the diaspora, particularly those which shed
light on the way South Asians have made themselves at home in the
diaspora. The themes include the re-establishment of religious traditions
and practices outside the subcontinent, the way different traditions have
Creating new homes and communities 97

managed change, and the way South Asians represent their religion to
the wider societies in which they ¬nd themselves.

Re-establishing religious traditions in the diaspora
One of the most signi¬cant and visible aspects of South Asian life in the
diaspora has been the re-establishment of religious tradition and prac-
tice. This has involved the physical construction of places of worship, the
practice of domestic and personal religion, and the creation of religious
leaderships. Often there have been subtle changes in the process when
compared with religious practice on the subcontinent. It is appropriate
to consider ¬rst the experience of indentured labourers, not only because
they were the earliest Indians to migrate in large numbers, but because the
battering the processes involved in indenture gave to established Indian
social patterns and moral norms made the renewal of religious tradition
and practice far more problematic than for later migrants. Moreover,
most of them came from poor and unsophisticated backgrounds, where
religious expression was mainly local and popular rather than conforming
to the high theological traditions within their religions.40 The majority
of indentured labourers were Hindu and considerable work has been
done on Hinduism as it was reconstructed and practised in Trinidad
and Natal by indentured Indians and succeeding generations of their off-
spring.41 In both places Hindus put great effort into re-establishing their
religion, even though they started with grave drawbacks, including the
absence of the established social world and structures which on the sub-
continent provided the framework for religious observance and religious
leadership through the presence of Brahmin priests and other religious
In Natal, Hinduism as it began to develop was marked by the fact that
so many indentured Indians recruited for Natal came originally from the
south of India, with two-thirds of the total coming via Madras, more than

40 Scholars of religion in South Asia often use a valuable distinction between the Great
Tradition and the Little Traditions within religious experience and practice. This is
particularly so within Hinduism, where local, popular religion is often only loosely linked
to the world of high Hindu philosophy, theology and social theory, and the worship
of deities within the all-Indian pantheon. This division between Great Traditions and
popular practice also has relevance in the study of Islam and Sikhism.
41 I am greatly endebted to the work of S. Vertovec on Trinidad and A. Diesel on Natal.
See, for example, Vertovec, Hindu Trinidad and A. Diesel and P. Maxwell, Hinduism in
Natal. A Brief Guide (Pietermaritzburg, University of Natal Press, 1993), and A. Diesel,
˜Hinduism in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa™, chapter 2 of Parekh, Singh and Vertovec
(eds.), Culture and Economy in the Indian Diaspora. Both scholars have shared with me
their time and expertise; Al Diesel took me on a memorable tour of Hindu temples in
Pietermaritzburg, and her Hinduism in Natal contains excellent guides to Natal temples.
98 Global South Asians

double the number sailing out of Calcutta, who would have come mainly
from the Gangetic plain. The earliest public manifestations of Hinduism
in Natal were the building of temples and the construction of ceremo-
nials around them. These were in the traditions of Hinduism generally
practised in India in the nineteenth century, and incorporated both Brah-
manical traditions and folk practices. They were physically on both the
northern and southern Indian temple patterns. Among the earliest were
those built on a site bought in 1883 on Umgeni Road, Durban, includ-
ing a Shiva temple built in 1885. This was a wood and iron structure,
but some places of worship were far humbler. Temple-building grew in
pace as Indians ended their indentures and had some disposable income.
Their signi¬cance to succeeding generations was clear when the 1950
Group Areas Act designated Cato Manor as a white area, even though
Indians were established there as market gardeners. Eight temples were
left marooned without the Indian population which had surrounded them
and used them, but even so their worshippers kept them in good repair.
Temple worship for Hindus has traditionally not been congregational in
the sense of Muslim, Sikh or Christian worship. Temples are more the
sites for individual veneration of deities. This has persisted in Natal, but
has been augmented by ceremonies which are rooted in folk tradition
but increasingly attracted large numbers of worshippers and onlookers.
These included worship of the goddess Mariamman, originally brought
by Tamil-speakers from south India, and another southern Indian import,
¬rewalking ceremonies in honour of another goddess, Draupadi.
Some Hindus in the late nineteenth century in India became concerned
about many of the practices conducted in the name of Hinduism and
were increasingly determined to present it to the wider world as a serious
world religion which should take its place in the modern world.42 Numer-
ous reformist movements developed on the subcontinent and it was not
surprising that reformers turned their attention to Hindus abroad, par-
ticularly those lowly folk who as indentured labourers had taken their
own versions of Hinduism with them and were practising what reform-
ers perceived as degraded, populist forms of religion. One major move-
ment which sent missionaries to reform Hinduism in the early diaspora
was the Arya Samaj, noted in Chapter 1, a north Indian reform move-
ment which aimed to purify Hinduism of many popular practices (such
as ¬rewalking), to encourage communal worship and to emphasise the
Vedas, the earliest Hindu scriptures, as the most authoritative religious
sources. They saw themselves as akin to the Protestants of the Christian

42 See K. W. Jones, The New Cambridge History of India III.1. Socio-religious Reform Move-
ments in British India (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989).
Creating new homes and communities 99

Figure 6. Preparing for ¬re-walking in Pietermaritzburg, Natal. The ¬re
pit is prepared in the grounds of the Mariamman temple, and devotees
are circumambulating the temple in the background. Fire-walking was
a folk practice that more orthodox Hindu missionaries tried to prevent
in the early twentieth century.
Courtesy of Dr A. Diesel

Reformation in the sixteenth century. Although the missionaries to Natal
in the early twentieth century never rooted out what they saw as degraded
practices, their version of Hinduism added another layer to Hindu prac-
tice in Natal, the building of further temples, and the elaboration of Hindu
organisation with new voluntary associations for religious education and
social work. The earliest of these was the Veda Dharma Sabha, founded in
1909, and an umbrella organisation for all the Arya Samaj organisations
in South Africa was formed in 1925. Further reformist movements which
have taken root among Natal Hindus have been grounded in the more
intellectual path of neo-Vedanta, which stresses ¬nding God in the depths
of human beings, and has little time for more populist forms of worship
and celebration. The Ramakrishna Movement, which follows the teach-
ings of Swami Vivekananda, noted in chapter 1, became strong in Natal
from the 1940s, and created several ashrams, or religious communities
and centres, including one specially for women, which has done much
to help women socially as well as to provide for their religious needs and
100 Global South Asians

Figure 7. Devotee ready for ¬re-walking ceremony, Pietermaritzburg,
Courtesy of Dr A. Diesel
Creating new homes and communities 101

help them to understand the meaning of many Hindu rituals.43 Towards
the end of the century other movements loosely grounded in Hinduism
such as the Hare Krishna movement have also added to the complexity
of South African Hinduism. This continued ¬‚owering of Hindu activity
and its development in ways which provide meaning and comfort for its
followers, often in profoundly dif¬cult external situations, is, with the
continued building of new temples, a sign that the distinctive amalgam
which is Natal Hinduism is not only vibrant among Indians born outside
India several generations after the arrival of their indentured ancestors,
but has been constantly adapting to sustain them in a rapidly changing
In Trinidad, too, indentured labourers and their children very rapidly
started to construct a religious environment in which they could observe
what was possible and what was remembered of Hindu tradition on the
subcontinent. Among the earliest manifestations were the building of
shrines and temples from at least the 1860s, and the observance in the
home of the domestic lifecycle rites which lie at the heart of daily reli-
gious observance for Hindus. Over time Trinidadian Hinduism became
somewhat simpler than the hugely diverse traditions found on the subcon-
tinent, observances were homogenised and standardised in a particular
Caribbean form, with a particular emphasis on individual and commu-
nity devotional worship. One reason for this development was the activity
of reformist Hindus, among them again the Arya Samaj, and the simulta-
neous in¬‚uence of Christian missionaries with their pattern of communal
worship in church. Later, Hindu temples were even built on the pattern
of churches, and designed for congregational worship. Other forms of
Hindu organisation also developed in the early twentieth century, includ-
ing a revived Sanatan Dharma Association, designed to teach Hinduism,
to inculcate morality, temperance and social welfare, and to seek rights
from the government.
Among Trinidad Hindus religion is seen as a cultural marker of their
particular group. Far from being a declining force, when Trinidad expe-
rienced a temporary oil boom from 1973, Indians invested heavily in
religious activity and family-based rituals such as pujas, and readings of
the Ramayana proliferated, including lengthy ceremonials lasting days
called yagnas, including puja and the recitation of sacred texts, which
reinforced local Hindu communities and brought merit and prestige for
the sponsoring family. Even when the boom ended and individuals could
no longer sponsor such grand religious ceremonies, groups came together

43 A. Diesel, ˜The Ramakrishna Sarada Devi Ashram for women in South Africa™, Journal
of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 11, No. 2 (1996), pp. 169“184.
102 Global South Asians

to sponsor them instead, and they have become a permanent and core
activity of Trinidad Hinduism as they mark the Hindu religious calendar.
Clearly religion and culture are intertwined in such developments, but
they do suggest that Trinidad Hindus have found ways to perpetuate and
reinvent their religious traditions which provide them with personal and
group meaning.
In this context it is worth noting how important the Ramayana has
become in the diaspora in general, and not just in Trinidad. There are
many signi¬cant Hindu texts and key stories and myths, rather than one
core scriptural text as in Islam and Christianity. At different times Hin-
dus have drawn on particular parts of this inheritance to suit their present
purposes and needs. Reformers, such as those in the Arya Samaj, con-
sidered the ancient Vedas to be the true source of authority for reformed
Hinduism. Gandhi and others among his contemporaries relied heavily
on the Bhagavad Gita as a guide to behaviour and to the nature of man™s
relationship with the divine. Hindus in the diaspora seem particularly to
have drawn strength and inspiration from the story of Prince Rama. It is
a text which seems to have universal appeal, rather than speaking to any
speci¬c social group, and many of its key themes touch on areas of life
where migrants feel anxiety and seek guidance. It talks of exile, suffering
and struggle, and of loss. It also offers moral certainties and guidance to
inter-personal relations. The popularity of its public reading, from the
wretched barracks of indentured and contract labourers to the wealthy
homes of recent migrants to Britain or America, suggests that it is one
of the ways in which Hindus have found part of their religious tradition
that speaks powerfully to them in changing situations and enables them
to manage the challenges of a new environment far from their original
Later migrants from the subcontinent have reached their new homes
with their religious culture and social forms intact compared with inden-
tured and contract labourers, and they have also had more disposable
income with which to establish religious space and religious activities.
They have proceeded to do this wherever they have gone outside the sub-
continent. The most public demonstration of the establishment of reli-
gion in the new home has been the building of places of worship. Wher-
ever they have gone Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Parsis have acquired
premises for worship and where possible have built new ones, not only to
provide for the needs of worshippers but also to demonstrate publicly the
signi¬cance of their religion in the diaspora environment. The gurudwara

44 On the Ramayana as a ˜central text™ of the Hindu diaspora, see Parekh, Some Re¬‚ections
on the Indian Diaspora, pp. 17“20.
Creating new homes and communities 103

for Hong Kong Sikhs was dedicated as early as 1902, and Sikhs and Hin-
dus shared the premises for worship until Hindus built their own temples
after the Second World War. Early Sikh migrants to Canada similarly
built gurudwaras such as the one opened in 1935 in Hillcrest, Vancouver
Island. By the last decade of the twentieth century it was estimated that
there were just over 200 gurudwaras in the UK, 75 in Canada, and 60 in
the USA, these being the three countries where three-quarters of over-
seas Sikhs live.45 Parsi communities abroad, however tiny their numbers,
have also established prayer halls, but these are unlike the temples in
Bombay which are the heartland, as it were, of Parsi religion, where there
are full-time priests, a permanent sacred ¬re, and the physical provision
for full Parsi rituals. Hindu temples have proliferated in the diaspora. A
pan-Hindu website for British Hindus lists nearly 200 temples af¬liated
to it, including those in many different sectarian traditions. But the total
is far higher than this. The Swaminarayan temple in north London, com-
pleted in 1995 at a cost of £12 million, is one of the latest in this creation
of very public Hindu sacred space. It is the largest Hindu temple outside
India, modelled on one near Ahmedabad, Gujarat, a glittering edi¬ce in
white stone, for which much of the carving was done by over a thousand
craftsmen imported from India. In America, too, Hindus have built tem-
ples in many traditions, and, as in the case of the Swaminarayan temple
in London, they are demonstrations both of devotion and of increasing
levels of disposable income, as well as symbols that Hindus are ˜at home™
in their new diaspora locations. The Srivaisnava Temple in Penn Hills
near Pittsburgh, USA, consecrated in 1977, recreates the sacred space
of similar temples in India and serves a large number of southern Indi-
ans who are part of the surrounding professional population.46 Muslims,
too, in the diaspora, of whom the largest group are in Britain, have built
mosques though often their places of worship are whatever domestic or
other premises they can ¬nd, including redundant churches. In Bradford,
for example, the creation of mosques began early in the modern diaspora,
at the end of the 1950s, and by the end of the 1980s there were 34 in
the city alone, but only two were purpose-built.47 In the ¬nal decade

45 For photographs of the opening ceremony of the Hillcrest gurudwara and of the building
itself, see S. S. Jagpal, Becoming Canadians. Pioneer Sikhs in their Own Words (Madeira
Park and Vancouver, Harbour Publishing, 1994), pp. 75 and 77. Figures for gurudwaras
in the diaspora are in chapter 3 of D. S. Tatla, The Sikh Diaspora. The Search for Statehood
(London, University College London Press, 1999).
46 V. Narayanan, ˜Creating the South Indian ˜Hindu™ experience in the United States™,
chapter 7 of Williams (ed.), A Sacred Thread.
47 P. Lewis, ˜Being Muslim and being British. The dynamics of Islamic reconstruction in
Bradford™, in Ballard (ed.), Desh Pardesh, pp. 58“87, and Islamic Britain. Religion, Politics
104 Global South Asians

Figure 8. Building places of worship: Glen Cove Gurudwara, NY
11542. An example of a Sikh gurudwara built in the USA to serve the
needs of the diaspora.
Courtesy of Rekha Inc.

of the century there were probably about 500 mosques in Britain as a
South Asians not only brought their major religious differences with
them in the contemporary diaspora. Most of the major religious traditions
were also split by sectarian division, and these, too, were represented in
the use of these places of worship. Not only was the shared use of buildings
between the major traditions abandoned as the diaspora became estab-
lished but religious buildings now are increasingly rarely for all Hindus,
Sikhs or Muslims, but for distinctive sectarian traditions within them,
and/or for social groups with different linguistic and regional origins.
Swaminarayan temples, for example, cater primarily for Gujaratis. Gurud-
waras function for particular social groups among Sikhs (Jats rather than
Ramgharias for example). While mosques and temples increasingly oper-
ate as distinctive sectarian institutions. Even heterodox traditions can be
found in the diaspora where they represent powerful local traditions in
the localities from which signi¬cant groups of migrants came.48

and Identity among British Muslims: Bradford in the 1990s (London and New York, Tauris,
48 See the example of a heterodox tradition imported from Punjab into the UK Midlands.
The folk cult of Baba Balaknath is strong in the Jullundur Doab and is now present in
Creating new homes and communities 105

Figure 9. Building places of worship: Sri Venkateswara Temple, Penn
Hills, PA 15235. A new Hindu temple in the USA, built on the South
Indian pattern, which has become a vibrant social and religious centre.
Courtesy of Rekha Inc.

Within Hindu places of worship in Britain there have also been dis-
tinct changes in the performance of ritual, indicating how Hindus have
been able to reinterpret their traditions and to adapt their patterns of
worship to suit their social situations in the diaspora. Moreover, in some
congregational worship is developing alongside the use of the temple for
personal worship, which is the more usual pattern on the subcontinent.
Evidence from America similarly shows how Hindus have modi¬ed and
reinvented their patterns of worship to suit the needs of busy people
who only have the weekends for public religious observances.49 A fur-
ther development in the diaspora among Hindus has been the expansion

three temples. It is popular among Sikhs and some Hindus, and draws on both Hindu and
Sikh traditions: R. A. Greaves, ˜The worship of Baba Balaknath™, International Journal
of Punjab Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1998), pp. 75“85.
49 On the USA see Narayanan, ˜Creating the South Indian ˜Hindu™ experience in the
United States™, chapter 7 of R. B. Williams (ed.), A Sacred Thread; I. Y. Junghare, ˜The
Hindu religious tradition in Minnesota™, in Jacobsen and Kumar (eds.), South Asians in
the Diaspora, pp. 149“160. On a Leeds Hindu temple in the UK see K. Knott, ˜Hindu
temple rituals in Britain: the reinterpretation of tradition™, chapter 9 of R. Burghart
(ed.), Hinduism in Great Britain. The Perpetuation of Religion in an Alien Cultural Milieu
(London and New York, Tavistock Publications, 1987). See also Vertovec, chapter 6 of
his The Hindu Diaspora, on the changing roles of Hindu temples in London.
106 Global South Asians

Figure 10. Building places of worship: new mosque, Cowley Road,
Oxford. An example of the ongoing construction of new sacred spaces in
the diaspora, this mosque was completed early in the new millennium.
Author™s photograph

of the role of the temple. Sikh gurudwaras in India are social centres as
well as places of worship, but Hindu temples have rarely been such cen-
tres for community interaction. In the diaspora by contrast some temples
have developed into places of worship which are the core of a wider
range of social and educational activities, which further con¬rm ties of
sociability and shared identity among adherents. This is particularly the
case within the well-organised network of Swaminarayan temples in the
UK which give Gujarati Hindus a distinctive form of public religious
space, with special provision for the needs and activities of women and
young people, and engages them with charitable work among India™s
South Asian religions are not just manifested and experienced in the
context of sacred buildings. For many South Asians the heart of religious
experience and observance lies in the patterns of domestic worship, and
the cycle of rites to mark key changes in individual lives, such as birth,
marriage and death. Many of these persist and are full of vitality in the

50 R. Dwyer, ˜The Swaminarayan movement™, in Jacobsen and Kumar (eds.), South Asians
in the Diaspora, pp. 180“199. The website of the Swaminarayan temple in London
(www.swaminarayan-baps.org.uk) gives an excellent insight into its many activities.
Creating new homes and communities 107

diaspora. Muslim women in Britain have maintained and even expanded
domestic Islam, as we noted earlier, as they rarely attend mosque worship
or other public rituals. Domestic Hinduism is still vibrant, particularly
among British Gujaratis, who are present in Britain in suf¬cient numbers
to sustain the cycle of rites, and have elaborated them with new forms of
domestic devotion such as shared singing of hymns.51 However, in the
USA there is some evidence that among such a busy professional popula-
tion, which is comparatively young and has few of the grandparental gen-
eration permanently present in the household, the observance of domestic
rituals is becoming more dif¬cult.
In some ways the more modern circumstances of diaspora South
Asians, particularly the ease of travel, have contributed to the estab-
lishment of religious tradition and its elaboration outside the subconti-
nent. Religious leaders of sectarian traditions such as the Swaminarayan
movements among Hindus, and devotional cults, such as the Su¬ cults
which develop around pirs, or holy leaders, in the Muslim tradition, can
visit their followers and sustain their beliefs and practices in different
countries; while adherents can in turn go on pilgrimage to sacred sites
and institutions back in the subcontinent. Membership of such voluntary
devotional groups can give status, a network of co-devotees and mean-
ing in a changing world. However, people who act as non-institutional
religious leaders and exemplars, and are foci of particular types of reli-
gious activity, are not only generated by the Great Traditions within
South Asian religions. There is also some evidence of far more local
˜holy men™ who heal and exorcise and are representative of a particular
form of exported folk religion.52

Managing change
Despite the evidence that South Asians have successfully constructed
religious institutions and networks in the diaspora, there remain dif¬-
cult issues of the transmission of tradition to the diaspora-born, and the

51 See M. Michaelson, ˜Domestic Hinduism in a Gujarati trading caste™, and M. McDon-
ald, ˜Rituals of motherhood among Gujarati women in East London™, chapters 2 and 3
of Burghart (ed.), Hinduism in Great Britain.
52 The emergence of localised Little Traditions in the diaspora is noted in footnote 48.
Further evidence of folk religion is the study of two Babas or holy men among British
Punjabis: S. S. Chohan, ˜Punjabi religion among the South Asian diaspora in Britain:
the role of the Baba™, Jacobsen and Kumar (eds.), South Asians in the Diaspora, pp. 393“
414. For the more routinised phenomenon of the Su¬ cults in Islam, see P. Werbner,
˜Murids of the saint: migration, diaspora and redemptive sociality in Su¬ regional and
global cults™, chapter 11 of I. Talbot and S. Thandi (eds.), People on the Move. Punjabi
Colonial and Post-Colonial Migration (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2004).
108 Global South Asians

nature of religious leadership and the authority to modify practice and
reinterpret tradition for new situations. Unless South Asian religious tra-
ditions can come alive in the experience of the younger generations, the
physical importation and reconstruction of the outer manifestations of
religion by older migrants will be insuf¬cient to sustain these religions in
a new environment. Older people in virtually all these religious traditions
are aware of this problem and worry about the signi¬cance of religion in
the lives of their children and grandchildren. On the subcontinent itself
there were traditionally few means of religious education for most people
outside the home. Children learned their traditions and ritual practices by
watching particularly older women in the household, and there was none
of the formal religious education to be found in Christian traditions as
the precursor to such rites as con¬rmation, which mark the entry into full
institutional membership of the church. There are signs in the diaspora
that among many South Asians there have developed new modes of trans-
mitting tradition to younger people, and “ equally important “ of allowing
communities of belief to discuss their practices and beliefs in quite new
ways, often in order to adapt them to the new situation. The Parsis of the
diaspora, often bereft of trained priests, and having no central authority
to legitimise change, have engaged in pragmatic adaptation of ritual. But
another development has been an elaboration in the diaspora of expla-
nation of ritual and belief for the younger generation. In north America,
for example, this has taken the form of booklets and newletters.53 Some
Hindu groups in the diaspora have also tackled seriously problems of
religious education, transmission and discussion. In Britain, for exam-
ple, the Swaminarayan devotional sect, which originated in Gujarat in
the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, not only encourages
adult lay discussion and development, but has particular programmes
for the young which are reminiscent of an older Christian tradition of
Sunday schools for children. Its British website also suggests how it has
taken hold of this new means of communicating with the educated to
explore and propagate its understanding of Hinduism. In the USA the
Penn Hills southern Indian temple referred to above acts for its adherents
in a similar way. It is not just a centre for worship, but enables enquiry,
discussion, religious publications and the education of the young. Both
help Hindus in the diaspora to see their tradition as a world religion with
a core philosophy, a bearer of transcendental meaning and a guide to
behaviour in the modern world, and exclude from the notion of Hinduism
many of the diverse traditions and rituals visible on the subcontinent as

53 Hinnells, ˜The modern Zoroastrian diaspora™, chapter 3 of Brown and Foot (eds.),
Migration: The Asian Experience.
Creating new homes and communities 109

well as the worship of many minor deities which are increasingly seen as
superstitious. Sikhs, too, are increasingly engaging with issues of trans-
mitting and reinterpreting tradition, though this often generates consid-
erable con¬‚ict about what it means to be a Sikh. Sikh elders try to reach
their young through a variety of techniques, including Sikh camps in the
USA, through gurudwaras, and particularly a vibrant Punjabi press in the
Muslims in the modern South Asian diaspora are predominantly to
be found in Britain. Sensitive studies have found that British Muslims
have particular problems when it comes to transmitting Islam to their
children, and to interpreting Islam in the often problematic situations in
which they ¬nd themselves. Unlike many British Hindus or Sikhs, British
Muslims come mainly from rural Pakistan or Bangladesh, have little edu-
cation and lack sophisticated intellectual tools for debates about religion.
Children learn their religion in the home, where their mothers are rarely
educated and can often not converse with their children in English, which
increasingly is becoming the preferred language of younger South Asians.
Boys go to the schools attached to mosques which are speci¬cally for
teaching the recitation of the Koran, but, as in rural South Asia, this is
done by rote learning and recitation, and does not involve textual study
or intellectual discussion. Even more problematic is the lack of Muslim
leadership external to the family which could take up the task of religious
education for the new environment, enabling young Muslims to study
their religious tradition in an open and intellectual manner. In most of
the mosques attended by South Asian Muslims the Imams who pray and
preach come directly from the subcontinent, do not speak English, and
lack the conceptual tools and training to engage with young enquiring
minds or to help their congregations cope with the wider world. Nor,
indeed, are they expected to do so by the older generation of Muslims.
It is signi¬cant that Muslims in the Deobandi tradition among the small
group of Indian (as opposed to Pakistani or Bangladeshi) Muslims have
recognised this problem and have been trying to train young Imams who
can engage with wider political and socio-economic issues, reach out to
the large group of young people in their community, and take up public
roles in the wider society. As a result of their particular backgrounds,
and the deeply conservative manner in which Islam is presented to them,
most young Muslims face a deeply confusing world. Islam is important
to them, but how it might be a guide for life in a complex environment,
and as they increasingly leave the sheltered world of the ethnic enclave for
education and work, is deeply problematic, as they have little guidance
from those who should lead them and interpret their tradition for them.
This opens them to radical and often violent understandings of Islam, as
110 Global South Asians

we shall see in the next chapter, preached by leaders who target a bewil-
dered younger generation. Or it leads them to abandon Islam as a guide
to living, with many of the consequences referred to earlier, including the
fact that the Muslim prison population is nearly three times as large as
the Muslim proportion of the population as a whole.

Representing South Asian religion abroad
One ¬nal aspect of South Asian religion in the diaspora is the awareness
by people of most traditions that they need to represent themselves to
their host societies, in order to establish their signi¬cance in the religious
spectrum, and to protect their interests. This has led to the emergence
of a number of umbrella organisations which claim to speak for Hindus,
Muslims or Sikhs in particular national settings. At town level these have
included in the UK the Bradford Council for Mosques, set up in 1981
with a grant from the city authority to articulate Muslim interests, and
also to enable local authorities to deal with Muslims who might be con-
sidered representative. At national level there have also been a number
of Muslim organisations, often in rivalry with each other. These include
the Union of Muslim Organisations established in 1970, and the Imams
and Mosques Council and the Council of Mosques, both set up in 1984.
In 1997 representatives of 250 Muslim organisations came together to
form the Muslim Council of Britain, with the aim of achieving a con-
sensus among British Muslims on signi¬cant issues, and of working on
Muslim concerns in the context of the wider society. But again many
British Muslims would say that this does not represent their interests or
views. Hindus have also set up national organisations such as the National
Council of Hindu Temples, but only about one-tenth of all temples are
af¬liated to it. This council in turn set up the Hindu Council of the
UK in 1994, one of the aims of which was to provide a national body
for UK Hindus and their organisations, which could formulate a con-
sensus in order to deal with other religions and the laws of the British
state, in order to uphold Hindu cultural values. Yet again by no means all
Hindu temples or organisations are af¬liated to it. The history of most of
these umbrella organisations is one of con¬‚ict and faction, displaying not
only personal rivalries but the huge diversity of religious identity present
among South Asians. Similar patterns are visible in north America indi-
cating the sense of a growing need to have national organisations which
can deal with the state in a particular diaspora location on issues related to
South Asian religious traditions, and can represent those traditions to the
wider society; but also demonstrating the near impossibility of achieving a
Creating new homes and communities 111

consensus even among adherents of a particular tradition in one area of
the diaspora.

This chapter has studied the way in which South Asians in the many
strands which make up the modern diaspora have made themselves at
home in their new environments. Despite the poor bases from which
many of them started, most have made a considerable success of the
multiple processes of migration, particularly the key tasks of establishing
an economic base, fashioning dense and supportive social networks, and
maintaining and handing on to their children their religious heritage. In
the process they have fashioned no single South Asian identity in the
diaspora. Their very diverse origins mean that in their new homes they
possess a whole range of identities which mark them off from each other “
those of national and regional origin, of language, religion and socio-
economic status. These can be deployed to underline difference or to
forge new unities as new situations require. Yet another aspect of their
lived experience is the awareness for many of belonging to a transnational
world, where families and kin groups may live in different parts of a global
diaspora, and yet maintain close contact and sociability. This suggests a
very different way of understanding oneself and one™s location in one™s
new home and in a global perspective “ when compared with the self-
understanding of their ancestors on the subcontinent or the majority in
the societies in which they now live. How South Asians perceive their
host societies and relate to them will be the theme of the next chapter.
4 Relating to the new homeland

This chapter shifts our discussion of the South Asian diaspora from the
complex processes of putting down roots and establishing new homes and
communities, to the way South Asians relate to the state and society in the
places where they have made their homes outside the subcontinent. As
this new relationship with a new homeland is forged over time, both one-
time immigrants and the host societies acknowledge that South Asians
are permanent residents and citizens in their new homes, particularly as
their children and grandchildren grow up in the diaspora, knowing no
other homeland. The approach is again thematic, as I highlight central
issues rather than attempting any total history of the many elements in
the diaspora. What becomes clear is that there is still much research to
be done on the detail of how many of these issues are worked out in the
very diverse strands of the diaspora. In general there is less evidence on
the older South Asian communities overseas and more relating to those
areas where South Asians have more recently migrated to modern states
with developed economies and a much larger commitment to greater
knowledge of their citizens, and provision of state services for them.
Re¬‚ecting this understanding of the appropriate relationship of state and
society it is striking, in relation to Britain for example, how scholars and
researchers from so many different disciplines, as well as from government
agencies, have felt a need to understand the dynamics and problems
of South Asian groups in contemporary society: they include histori-
ans, political scientists, sociologists, geographers, health professionals
and people interested in remedying profound inequalities. The result
has been an abundance of evidence on the diaspora experience in Britain
compared with many other areas. I focus here on some key problems
and also contributions in relation to their new homes in the South Asian
diasporic experience: but the previous chapter has of course touched on
other themes in this evolving relationship, particularly the economic role
of South Asians in the diaspora, their demographic impact on the places
where they go, and the changes they bring to the public manifestation of

Relating to the new homeland 113

1 Ethnicity and national identity
One of the most important themes in this broad area is the relationship
between national identity and ethnicity. Some knowledge of this under-
lines just how dif¬cult it has often been for South Asians to establish home
˜abroad™, not just in an economic sense, but in terms of reactions in the
host society to the South Asian presence. Migrants and their descen-
dants have experienced a whole spectrum of negative reactions, ranging
from verbal comments and acts of petty discrimination to overt hostil-
ity, and even wholesale eviction. The ambiguities of their position are
also demonstrated where immigration controls prevented their arrival in
some places for lengthy periods, as we saw earlier, or, as in the UK, after
an initial period of easy entry, curtailed immigration drastically often as
a result of hostility in the host society. However, these problems also
have to be set against the fact that understandings of the nation and
of national identity are neither static nor objective. They are senses of
belonging, created in the hearts and minds of both insiders and outsiders,
by shared experiences and inheritances. They are also deeply contextual,
and can vary greatly over time according to lived experience. Conse-
quently, South Asians overseas can ¬nd themselves included or excluded
from host understandings of national identity at different times; while
their own senses of belonging can also alter.
It is important at the outset to remember two major variables which had
a considerable impact on the degree to which South Asians were made
to feel welcome and part of a national community and polity. Firstly,
the societies where they have made their homes in the diaspora vary
greatly. In particular they vary in their degree of homogeneity. We need
to know whether a receiving society was diverse and open, accepting that
migration was a necessary and positive way of building up the nation, as in
the case of the USA in the later twentieth century. Alternatively, was the
receiving society more homogenous, where ethnicity, language, religion
and shared history reinforced a distinctive and restrictive view of national
identity? Britain for much of the twentieth century probably falls into this
category, despite the long history of migrations which have gone to make
up modern Britain, because many of those earlier waves of migrants came
from Europe where there were fewer differences of ethnicity and religion
to mark them out as in-comers. (It should be remembered that Irish and
Jewish migrants, for example, have faced real problems of acceptance
and even overt hostility at different times in recent British history.) The
variable of homogeneity has had a considerable impact on whether South
Asians are seen as a welcome part of the developing national community
114 Global South Asians

or are viewed as threatening or diluting a particular vision of national
The second major variable was the difference between South Asian
migration into a free, democratic polity, and movement into areas under
colonial control which then struggled to become independent nation
states in the mid-twentieth century in the decades when the European
empires were dismantled. In such colonial and post-colonial polities
ethnic pluralism often became extremely problematic. As local colonial
nationalisms developed in Africa and Asia, ethnic minorities, particularly
those seen as having been imported, encouraged or protected by imperial
rulers, were often despised or feared. They were seen to be separate from
ethnic majorities with their developing senses of national identity, where
ethnicity and shared culture and religion were proclaimed as the markers
of belonging to an emergent nation which claimed its own national polity.
The prospect of an independent nation state offered not only ideological
ful¬lment but more material prospects for people newly liberated from
imperial control. The leaders of such states often publicised an exclusive
rather than inclusive notion of the nation as a way of bonding their fol-
lowers, while exclusion from key jobs of ethnic outsiders (even if they had
lived in the area for several generations) opened up positions and incomes
for followers and supporters, cementing political parties and attracting
voters. In such situations South Asians who had been secure under colo-
nial control, often ¬nding jobs or economic positions which sustained
colonial rule, were now dangerously vulnerable.
Several different patterns developed as South Asians overseas related
to the societies and polities in which they established themselves and con-
fronted issues of ethnicity and national identity. One prominent pattern
was the experience of South Asians who migrated into colonial areas,
with the encouragement of colonial authorities, and often initially took
their place as very lowly labourers at the base of the local socio-economic
hierarchy. Often they lived apart from local indigenous people and were
disliked or feared by them. As they established themselves as free men and
women, reared the next generations in their new home, and as articulate
elite groups emerged among them, they engaged in a series of strug-
gles with the colonial authorities to better their conditions in many areas
of life and to claim membership of the colonial polity with clear rights
as British subjects. One area of contention was the recognition of non-
Christian marriages. In many places in the British empire Hindu, Muslim
and Sikh marriages were not initially recognised outside the subcontinent,
and this placed Indian women in the category of concubines, and ren-
dered any children illegitimate: understandably this was considered a
great slur on Indian respectability, particularly where the status and
behaviour of women was seen as fundamental to the honour of men
Relating to the new homeland 115

and of the family and kin group. Gandhi, for example, made the status of
Indian marriages one of the planks of his ¬nal campaign in South Africa
in 1913“1914. Indians in Trinidad had petitioned for the recognition of
Hindu and Muslim marriages since the 1880s, and as some raised their
socio-economic status and began to organise themselves they began lob-
bying the colonial legislature at the same time as Gandhi was campaigning
on the issue half a world away. But internal divisions among them slowed
down change and Muslim marriages were only recognised in 1936 and
Hindu marriages in 1945. Yet another issue was that of voting rights,
as colonial authorities began to liberalise the political arrangements in
most colonies in the early twentieth century. Just as Indians at home
were campaigning through the Indian National Congress for changes in
the colonial political system, for more consultation with Indians, and for
an expansion of the franchise whereby Indians were elected into local
and all-Indian legislatures, so were Indians overseas, in many colonial
areas where they had settled. The outcomes varied from area to area,
as colonial authorities juggled the pressures from Indians, white settlers
and indigenous populations. In many areas Indians were separated out
and given special seats in colonial legislatures, rather than being admit-
ted to a common electoral role which would have been symbolic of their
status as British subjects with white settlers. Indians in Trinidad, one
of the most constitutionally advanced areas of the British Empire, apart
from the self-governing Dominions, gained universal suffrage in 1946,
alongside the rest of the population, after campaigning against a pro-
posed barrier to enfranchisement of those who, like many of them, did
not speak English. Indians on the subcontinent did not gain the universal
right to vote until after independence, in the general election of 1952,
the ¬rst under the new constitution for the Republic of India.1 Another
area of experience where Indians increasingly became aware of their poor
conditions and lack of equality was the world of work. In many colonies
they began to campaign for better working conditions, particularly dur-
ing the 1930s under the impact of depression, whether as tenant farmers
of the Colonial Sugar Re¬ning Company in Fiji, as estate labourers in
Mauritius, or in Natal as they organised to protect their jobs from African

1 A detailed discussion of Indian campaigns for political rights is H. Tinker, Separate and
Unequal. India and the Indians in the British Commonwealth 1920“1950 (London, C. Hurst
and Co., 1976). On Fiji, and growing Indian awareness of their political inequality there,
see chapter 7 of K. Gillion, The Fiji Indians. Challenge to European Dominance 1920“1946
(Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1977).
2 For Indian labour organisation and protest in various areas see Gillion, The Fiji Indians,
chapter 8 on labour issues in Fiji in the 1930s; K. Hazareesingh, History of Indians in
Mauritius (London and Basingstoke, MacMillan, revised edition, 1977) on labour unrest
leading to a Commission of Enquiry in 1937; B. Freund, Insiders and Outsiders. The
116 Global South Asians

However, as the component parts of the British Empire achieved inde-
pendence, following the example of India in 1947, the position of Indians
became even more ambiguous. No longer could they claim rights as
British subjects and seek to in¬‚uence British colonial authorities. Instead
they had to deal with governments of newly-independent states, which
were in turn wrestling with major social and economic problems as they
tried to set their countries on new paths of development, and create new
and cohesive polities. The 1948 British Nationality Act gave many Indians
and Pakistanis in the diaspora citizenship of Britain and the Common-
wealth, and the right to enter Britain. Britain had campaigned for the con-
cept of Commonwealth citizenship which would recognise shared rights
without denying citizenship of the component countries of the Common-
wealth. Independent India for its part constituted its own citizenship, but
did not extend this to Indians overseas and encouraged Indians in the
diaspora to take the citizenship of the countries where they lived. But
as different colonies attained independence it became clear that in many
places Indians would suffer from more restrictive views of national iden-
tity and belonging. In Burma and Ceylon many Indians were effectively
denied local citizenship because of strict regulations requiring lengthy
prior residence in the country. Even where Indian migrants and their
descendants applied for local citizenship, as many did, this was no lasting
protection as so many East African Indians discovered at the end of the
1960s. As we saw in Chapter 2, many thousands fell victim to a vision of
nationhood in Africa which had no place for ethnic South Asian minori-
ties, particularly when they were thought to be “ or could be presented
as “ taking jobs from indigenous Africans, and were forced to leave and
look for yet another country which they could make their home.
Even though physical expulsion was rare and at the most violent and
coercive end of the spectrum of treatment received by South Asians
in the context of decolonisation, in many newly independent countries
long established South Asian communities fell foul of ethnic nationalisms
which worked to discriminate against visible ethnic minorities. This was
the case in Malaysia, as the new government pushed for Malays to take
over the civil service, which had been a prime channel of upward mobility
for middle class Indians. In Guyana after Forbes Burnham seized power
in 1968, Creoles came to dominate the government and the state™s repres-
sive apparatus at the expense of Indians, even though they made up about
half the population. In Fiji at independence in 1970, Indians were just

Indian Working Class of Durban, 1910“1990 (Portsmouth, N.H., Pietermaritsburg and
London, Heinemann, University of Natal Press and James Curry, 1995) chapter 4 on
labour segmentation and militancy in Natal.
Relating to the new homeland 117

under half the population and outnumbered ethnic Fijians, though their
percentage of the population was dropping. For nearly two decades it
had seemed that the complex arrangements of the independence con-
stitution had contained ethnic con¬‚ict, though Indians were aware of
profound anti-Indian sentiment among Fijians, particularly when the
Fijian Nationalist Party founded in 1974 called for the expulsion of all
Indians from the country. Fijians dominated the government apparatus,
the armed forces and the police. That the Indian position was grievously
threatened, despite their numbers, was clear in 1987 when two coups
overturned a newly elected coalition government led by a Fijian but
dominated by Indians, who had 19 out of the 20 positions in it. This
and a further attempted coup in 2000 were accompanied by widespread
anti-Indian violence. It was no wonder that so many Fijians decided to
leave the country to become ˜twice-migrants™ (see Chapter 2), joining
a ¬‚ow of Indians who chose to leave the places to which their parents
and grandparents had come, for fear of what might yet happen to them
as a visible ethnic minority in the context of strident ethnic majority
nationalism. This ¬‚ow included ˜voluntary™ migrants from East Africa,
Surinam, Guyana, and a Sri Lanka engulfed by civil war between Tamils
and indigenous Sri Lankans from the 1980s.
One long-established Indian diaspora community, which originated
mainly in indentured labour, experienced a very distinctive relation-
ship between ethnicity and national identity. This was the South African
Indian community in the years of apartheid. Natal was joined with the
other three areas of white settlement in South Africa to form the Union
of South Africa in 1910, as a self-governing dominion within the British
Empire. As we saw earlier, Indians faced discrimination by the white pop-
ulation and hostility from the black population. Their position as inferior
citizens was dramatically displayed and solidi¬ed with the implementa-
tion of a system of apartheid in the early 1950s, whereby the Nationalist
Party, which had come to power in 1948, began to implement a vision
of white national identity which involved white dominance of the state
structures and the political system, and draconian control of the non-
white peoples of South Africa, including spatial segregation and separate
social facilities. Among the provisions which hurt Indians the most was
the 1950 Group Areas Act which forcibly redrew the social geography of
Durban, the Indian heartland, as by then over three-quarters of the Indian
population were urban rather than the rural labourers they had been at the
start of the century. However, their position was deeply ambiguous. They
were indeed inferior citizens, excluded from the vision of a white national
identity, but increasingly the apartheid regime offered them incentives
for cooperation with and co-optation into the apartheid state which
118 Global South Asians

recognised their permanent position in the country and enhanced their
socio-economic and political opportunities. Politically they were given
their own Council in 1969 and then their own Chamber in the tri-
cameral Constitution of 1983. In 1977 an Indian Industrial Development
Corporation was set up; and further opportunities for Indians to enhance
their skill base were provided with the introduction of compulsory edu-
cation for Indians in 1973 and the foundation of a separate Indian uni-
versity, Durban-Westville, which was to focus on practical subjects such
as engineering. It was not surprising that Indian political responses were
fragmented. Some chose to ally with black resistance while others felt
that cooperation and compromise with the regime was the best option in
a profoundly dif¬cult situation. Although Indians undoubtedly welcomed
the end of apartheid in the ¬nal decade of the century, their relationship
with the emerging sense of national identity is still far from clear. Despite
Nelson Mandela™s initial insistence on the importance of building what he
called a ˜rainbow nation™, in which all ethnic groups could feel secure and
equal, it remains to be seen whether pressure from black voters, frustrated
at the lack of material change in the lives of so many of them, rebounds
on Indians in similar ways to the impact of emerging ethnic nationalisms
in the earlier period of decolonisation.3
The experiences of South Asians who have migrated to well-established
democratic societies in the western world have been very different from
those of migrants into the British Empire and its successor states. How-
ever, even here there are divergences in the way their distinctive ethnic
backgrounds have interacted with pre-existing senses of national identity.
In the United States, South Asians only began to arrive in signi¬cant num-
bers after the change in immigration law which was itself a spin-off from
the civil rights movement. In effect they arrived after America had fought
its own deepest battle over equality and national belonging in relation
to its own black communities, and at a juncture when national identity
was seen as emerging from a ˜melting pot™ in which people of all ethnic
backgrounds could participate and fashion a new shared identity which
still recognised distinctive cultures of origin. A common national iden-
tity beyond ethnicity and rooted in shared political values was powerfully
reinforced in schools through the teaching of civics and the constitu-
tion. Moreover, South Asians who were admitted to America were just
those who shared many of the same qualities and aspirations as did white
Americans: they were mainly urban and middle class in background, well
educated, and cosmopolitan in outlook. They came from places in the

3 See Freund, Insiders and Outsiders, chapter 6; A. Lemon, ˜The political position of Indians
in South Africa™, chapter 6 of C. Clarke, C. Peach and S. Vertovec (eds.), South Asians
Overseas. Migration and Ethnicity. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990).
Relating to the new homeland 119

subcontinent where rapid socio-economic change was already occurring,
and were adaptable and upwardly-mobile in aspiration “ just the sort of
people who could buy into ˜the American dream™. This is not to say that
South Asians in America do not suffer discrimination. Professionals feel
that there are glass ceilings which they cannot penetrate. Ignorance and
fear have led to anti-Indian violence, as in the case of Sikhs who were
attacked after the 2001 bombings in New York, just because they wore
beards and turbans and bore some resemblance to the Muslim advocates
of holy war against the USA who were prominently visible on television.
Pakistanis particularly have felt that since ˜9/11™ they have born the brunt
of suspicion and increased vigilance by of¬cials in the visa and home
security parts of the administration. But in broad terms South Asians
have taken their place in American society alongside Chinese, Japanese,
black Americans and very diverse groups of people of European ancestry
with relative ease; and their ethnicity is not seen by other Americans as a
threat to American national identity or as a source of inferior status.
By contrast South Asians in Britain have a far more ambiguous rela-
tionship with the host society and the dominant ideas of British iden-
tity. Original migrants from the subcontinent in the 1950s and 1960s
came at a time when British identity was still powerfully moulded by atti-
tudes which had underpinned the British Empire, including ideas of racial
superiority and inferiority. Being British was still associated with being
ethnically Caucasian, having roots in one of the regions of the country
(and local loyalties persisted right through the century generating deep
atavistic senses of belonging, of being an insider or an outsider), sharing
a Christian, and mainly Protestant, culture even if individuals were not
personally believers, and bearing a proud political heritage symbolised
by the monarchy. The Second World War had, if anything, deepened
some of these views, reinforcing myths of a distinctive British character
and superiority. Such a vision was manifested in a great variety of ways,
ranging from the suspicion of American soldiers based in Britain during
the war (˜over-paid, over-sexed and over here™, as the saying went), to the
celebrations of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and talk of
a new ˜Elizabethan era™, or the profound reluctance of many to consider
Britain to be part of Europe. Even the emergence of the idea of a new
Commonwealth in place of the old Empire fed on this idea of Britain as
distinct from the other countries of Europe, destined still to be a world
power and a senior partner in a new multi-national community. Into this
situation came South Asians, preceded by an earlier wave of migrants
from the Caribbean colonies, whose arrival had already generated eth-
nic anxiety and hostility, even though their labour was badly needed.
Moreover, South Asians, unlike West Indians, were not Christian, nor
did they often speak English ¬‚uently. They dressed differently from the
120 Global South Asians

local population, their women folk adopted patterns of modesty quite
alien to that of most English women, and their cuisine was different and
pungent. Senses of cultural difference reinforced visible ethnic difference,
and these were in turn deepened as South Asians settled in large num-
bers precisely in areas where they lived and worked alongside a white
working class who increasingly felt that the incomers constituted a threat
to their culture and livelihoods. Racial tension, outbreaks of anti-black
violence and voters™ concerns about a coloured ˜in¬‚ux™ soon penetrated
the world of the politicians, leading eventually to the immigration con-
trols noted in Chapter 2. Although much of the extensive public debate
about immigration was couched in terms of the social ˜problems™ caused
by migrants, underlying this was a concern among many that non-white
immigration was threatening British national identity and the British way
of life. National identity and ethnicity were thus bound together in a
highly emotive discourse.4
If ethnicity was so profoundly implicated in ideas of British national
identity widely espoused in the host society, how did South Asians,
who hurried to Britain in even greater numbers as immigration con-
trols became imminent, fare on a daily basis, and did prevailing notions
of national identity expand to include them and their British-born
descendants? In formal terms Britain espoused a policy of multi-
culturalism, permitting distinctive groups to retain their own cultural
forms and ways of life (except in very speci¬c cases as we shall see in the
next section), extending citizenship to those permanently established in
Britain. Immigration control went hand in hand with state attempts to
manage relations between ethnic groups in Britain in order to prevent the
sort of race violence which had been visible in the USA. The 1960s saw the
emergence of legislation banning discrimination on grounds of race, and
the development of policies designed to integrate minorities into main-
stream British life in areas such as housing, education, social services and
employment. By the mid-1970s it was clear that little fundamental change
had occurred and that ethnic minorities continued to suffer considerable
4 There is a large literature on the many interlocking issues which contributed
to racial intolerance in Britain, and to the way ethnic minorities have been dealt
with. A helpful basic introduction is J. Solomos, Race and Racism in Contem-
porary Britain (Houndmills and London, MacMillan, 1989). An account of cit-
izenship and immigration built on detailed archival research which takes issue
with Solomos on the degree of racism among politicians and civil servants is
R. Hansen, Citizenship and Immigration in Post-war Britain. The Institutional Ori-
gins of a Multicultural Nation (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000). R. Karatani,
De¬ning British Citizenship. Empire, Commonwealth and Modern Britain (London
and Portland, Or., Frank Cass, 2003) focuses on the evolution of ideas of citizenship
rather than on perceived identities, but is an important contribution to the understand-
ing of the development of legal understandings of national belonging.
Relating to the new homeland 121

discrimination on a daily basis and persistent disadvantage. The problem
was spelt out in a White Paper of 1975, entitled bluntly, Racial Discrimi-
nation. A year later a Race Relations Act sought solutions, by broadening
the de¬nition of discrimination to include both direct and indirect dis-
crimination, and setting up a Commission for Racial Equality, which was
to work to eliminate discrimination, to promote equal opportunities and
good relations between ethnic groups, and to keep under review the work-
ing of the Act. At the start of the new century it is still the most powerful
administrative weapon in the battle for equality among British citizens,
having power to investigate organisations, help individuals with their com-
plaints, and issue codes of practice designed to eliminate discrimination.
As its mission statement proclaims; ˜We work for a just and integrated
society, where diversity is valued. We use both persuasion and our pow-
ers under the law to give everyone an equal change to live free from fear,
discrimination, prejudice and racism.™5 Despite a ¬rmly established cul-
ture of ethnic monitoring in recruitment and employment, particularly in
institutions which are publicly funded, there is still evidence of persistent
discrimination on grounds of ethnicity and of institutionalised racism in
a number of areas in British life, and even where this is ebbing it dis-
courages ethnic minorities from trying to take up new roles. The police
service is one example, and the small numbers of South Asian police has
in turn considerable effects on how young South Asian men in particular
view policing and its impact on them.
Government policy and public rhetoric is extremely important in de¬n-
ing the place of ethnic minorities in state and society. However they do
not provide the whole picture. It is clear that despite the passage of four
decades since the earliest legislation promoting ethnic harmony in Britain,
the reality of lived experience is very different in the experience of some
South Asians and other minority groups. There is still a vocal strand on
the far right of the political spectrum which is overtly ˜white national-
ist™. Its earliest manifestation was the British National Front, founded in
1976, which brought together the League of Empire Loyalists, the British
National Party and the Racial Preservation Society: the names of its com-
ponent parts alone indicate the ¬‚avour of its agenda. It opposed British
entry into the European Economic Community and argued for the com-
pulsory repatriation of immigrants from the New Commonwealth, that
is, those of non-European ethnicity. It organised noisy demonstrations,
but its political base was tiny, probably never more than about 20,000,
who came from among the self-employed and blue-collar workers who

5 See the Commission for Racial Equality website which gives an excellent insight into its
range of work: www.cre.gov.uk.
122 Global South Asians

resented immigrant competition in the labour market. Its place at the
far right of the political spectrum was taken in the 1980s by the British
National Party (BNP), founded by a former member of the National
Front. Among its policies are the repatriation of all illegal immigrants,
the introduction of a system of voluntary repatriation of existing legally
settled immigrants, and the repeal of all equalities legislation. It is openly
racist and only admits as members those of ˜British or closely kindred
native European stock™. Its hostility to ethnically mixed marriages “ as
destroying a white family line “ echo South Africa™s apartheid legislation
and Nazi concern for Aryan racial purity. The former leader of the British
Conservative Party, Michael Howard, once claimed that the BNP was ˜a
bunch of thugs dressed up as a political party™, and it is true that some
members of the party™s leadership have records of violence. However,
its electoral success is very limited. It has no MPs and in the 2005 gen-
eral election put up 119 candidates who between them polled just under
200,000 votes or 0.7 per cent of the total. Its success is mainly in local
council elections, and in late 2003 it had 17 local councillors in the whole
of England. Despite the condemnation heaped on it by all mainstream
political parties it re¬‚ects a persistent element in British life and popular
discourse, and its members and supporters are implicated in sporadic
outbreaks of anti-minority violence.
More signi¬cant for the lives of South Asian citizens in Britain is the
daily and personal experience of harassment and discrimination. The
dimensions of this are impossible to quantify and it clearly differs both by
socio-economic status and by region within Britain. Early migrants suf-
fered considerably as they went about their daily business, attempted to
get jobs and to ¬nd housing, as a recent study of the experiences of ¬rst-
generation migrants to the Manchester area has indicated. This could
range from verbal abuse to harassment at work or damage to property.
When asked why it had taken South Asians so long to become a more
integral part of British society they cited several factors such as poor
English, the fact that they had not been through the British school sys-
tem (unlike their children), problems of unemployment as local textile
mills closed, thus closing off workplace friendships across ethnic bound-
aries, the closed lives and primarily domestic roles of most women, and
the lack of private transport. Interestingly, even these problems did not
prevent many of these ¬rst-generation diaspora South Asians from feeling
strongly that Britain was home.6 Among younger South Asians, born and
educated in Britain, there is still experience of prejudice and a sense of

6 A. Thompson and R. Begum, Asian ˜Britishness™. A Study of First Generation Asian Migrants
in Greater Manchester (London, Institute for Public Policy Research, 2005).
Relating to the new homeland 123

being excluded by many from an understanding in the host society of what
it means to be British. For them it is the more painful because they have
no other home and do not see themselves as immigrants, for the simple
reason that they are not. It is particularly marked in the experience of
young Muslims as a result of the rise of Islamophobia in the western world
towards the end of the twentieth century. This was initially as a result of
the reporting of Muslim politics in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but
latterly because of ˜9/11™ in the USA, and the 2005 attacks on London™s
transport system by groups of South Asian and African Muslims who had
been resident in the UK after being admitted as asylum-seekers or had
been born here to long-settled Muslim families.7
However, understandings of national identity change over time, and it
is also true that as young South Asians progress through the British edu-
cational system, mix with their young white British peers, speak the same
language, enjoy the same leisure pursuits, and watch the same television,
there develop shared identities and experiences which go far to bridge the
stark ethnic gulfs of their parents™ generation. Symbolic is the young Amir
Khan, aged 17 in 2004, who won a silver medal for boxing for Britain in
the Athens Olympic Games. His family live in Bolton in north-west Eng-
land, having come from Pakistan in 1970, but he proudly stood wrapped
in the Union Jack and declared that he felt ˜English through and through™
and hoped he would be a role model for young Asians in British sport.8
Boxing has been his route into mainstream British society. However some
sports in the UK are also sites of exclusion as experienced by South
Asians. Football is one example. Although many young South Asians
keenly follow football and play in local or ethnic teams, they do not seem
to play in those where talent scouts seek young recruits to the professional
game.9 For many other young South Asians the route towards affective
British identity and acceptance in the wider society comes through educa-
tion and professional employment. Differential educational achievement
between different South Asian groups is signi¬cant, however, and this will

7 For Young Muslims™ experiences see chapter 4 of J. Jacobson, Islam in Transition. Religion
and Identity among British Pakistani Youth (London and New York, Routledge, 1998).
Further evidence of cross-generation South Asian experiences of prejudice is in chapter 6
of M. Stopes-Roe and R. Cochrane, Citizens of this Country: The Asian British (Clevedon


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