Indian communities

Indian communities
   Like other migrant and diaspora communities, Indian communities have substantially redefined the cultural landscape of a post-imperial, postcolonial Britain of new ethnicities. Indian communities have undergone varying processes of hybridization, syncretization and transculturation, reconstructing parallel Indian social, economic, religious and linguistic structures in a British context without relinquishing their distinctive cultural heritages, individual and group identities and links to the homeland.
   In the 1991 census of Great Britain, the 840,255 Indians comprised the largest single ethnic grouping, forming 27.7 percent of the ethnic minority population and approximately 1.5 percent of the British population. Originating from the Indian subcontinent, Britain and as ‘twice migrants’ from East Africa, the intradiversity of identity and descent within Indian communities is further marked by axes of differentiation and crossfertilization based on linguistic-regional, religious, caste, sectarian and kinship divisions. The Punjabi and East African Sikhs, East African, Gujarati and other Indian Hindus and Muslims have established British-inflected extensions of their Indian and East African linguistic—regional communities in Britain; for example, Punjabi Sikhs identify more easily with Punjabi Muslims than with East African Sikhs. Far from an homogenous grouping, loosely corresponding histories of migration, settlement and transculturation nevertheless conceal the variegation of Indian communities.
   Despite a significant Indian presence in Britain from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries onwards, the predominantly male pioneer migrants (ex-seamen, professionals, politicians and peddlars) of the pre-Second World War period established the foundations for Indian communities. The numbers of Indian migrants accelerated rapidly in the aftermath of the war. The permanent settlement of Indian communities was followed by the largescale international migration of the 1950s and 1960s, partly triggered by the acute labour shortages of the postwar British economy. Failed British attempts to employ domestic and then European labour for mainly low-paid, unskilled and semi-skilled employment in the manufacturing, textile and engineering industries led to postwar labour recruitment drives in colonial and excolonial overseas territories. Localized considerations including the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan, resultant land pressures, fragmented landholdings, migratory traditions within densely populated rural regions and affordable air travel coalesced with employment prospects and immediate social and economic amelioration for the joint family household to encourage mass voluntary Indian migration to Britain. Arriving as ‘temporary sojourners’, Indian migrants sought to accumulate sufficient finance before returning to their homelands. The temporary framework suggested by a ‘myth of return’ enabled migrants both to assert their identities by maintaining cultural and value systems and to psychologically resist assimilation and ‘cultural contamination’ so as to facilitate their eventual reintegration into India’s rural communities; processes rendered easier by their negative reception in an often alien, prejudiced and racially exclusive British host culture. Gradually however, the ‘temporary sojourners’ became permanent settlers, the parallel community networks, material prosperity, employment and educational opportunities for future generations outweighing the advantages of return. During the 1950s, active community organizations like the Indo-Pakistan Cultural Society (IPCS) and the nationwide Indian Workers Association (IWA) were established and, along with local gurdwaras (temples), began offering invaluable advice, practical and legal assistance (for example, on immigration, housing and employment), social and cultural activities to Indian members of the community. Early Indian communities settled primarily in Britain’s metropolitan centres and industrial conurbations from the agriculturally prosperous, traditionally migratory regions of the Punjab and Gujarat in India and later from the urbanized, Westernized and professional milieus of East Africa. Among British Sikh communities, the majority descend from villages around the Punjabi Jullundhur Doaba and Hoshiapur regions, while the Gujarati migrants both from Gujarat and from East Africa comprise a Hindu majority and a Muslim minority. Punjabi (with written Gurmukhi as opposed to Urdu) is the most common language spoken among Sikhs, with Hindi, Gujarati and Urdu forming the other primary linguistic communities. More Hindus than Sikhs, however, originate as ‘involuntary’ or ‘twice’ East African migrants. Having migrated to East Africa from India during the earlier half of the century, they were expelled under systematic Africanization policies in Kenya in 1968 and in Uganda in 1972. While Indian migrants arrived as potential workers, East African Asians arrived in Britain as political refugees but as ‘twice migrants’ were better prepared for settlement. Indian communities have settled in areas of specific industry-related labour and areas with strong localized migrant support networks, while socioeconomic limitations including prejudice and racial discrimination in housing and employment have precluded settlement in other areas. The majority of Indians reside in the South East, London, the Midlands and Yorkshire, with clusters of Punjabi communities located in areas such as Wolverhampton, Leicester and Southall and Gujarati communities in Leicester and North London.
   From low-paid, manual work in foundries, factories, bakeries, catering and textiles on their arrival, Indians have diversified into other fields of employment. Following an initial period of migration and settlement, politicized left-wing Indian communities confronted workplace and institutionalized racism in a number of high-profile industrial disputes. Community solidarity and significant political mobilization among Asian women have manifested themselves in disputes such as Woolf’s (1965), Mansfield Hosiery (1972), Imperial Typewriters (1974) and Grunswick (1976), as Indian workers sought equal pay, equal treatment with white workers and union representation. Continuing disputes at Hillingdon Hospital during the 1990s illustrate the racial inequities suffered by Indian communities within the workplace. Having initially confronted exploitative, low-paid manual employment, the burgeoning confidence of Indian communities is illustrated by the traditional status professions such as accountancy, law, medicine, dentistry and science-based occupations. Younger descendants have entered non-traditional professions such as the film, media and entertainment industries. An ethnic market sector was rapidly established as self-employed businesses and services catered for an Indian demographic, circumventing the racial discrimination experienced in standard employment, and now enjoys success in catering for a wider British market. Flourishing Asian restaurants, specialist shops, and Indian film industry and Asian press newspapers and weekly publications like Des Pardes and Punjabi Times enable first generation Indians to maintain communications with the subcontinent. Gujarati and East African Asians particularly demonstrated versatile entrepreneurial skills consistent with the merchant caste/commercial traditions of the Gujarat state and East African Asian involvement in African trade and industry affairs. Compared to Indian subcontinent rural migrants, East African Asians principally occupied the professional, educated middle-class echelons, having worked within administrative, bureaucratic and commercial systems in urban East Africa. Dispa-rities of wealth nevertheless manifest themselves among stratified Indian communities, low wages and high unemployment contrasting with thriving private economies.
   The chain migration of male members of Indian families and village clans created initially maledominated community clusters and migrant support networks. The 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act and subsequent immigration laws ushered in a ‘beat the ban’ stream of female, younger filial and older parental dependants to reconstitute family and community structures in Britain. Effectively considered the preservers of social tradition and as the maintainers of extended familial relationships, Indian female migrants have enforced a domestic authority compounded by their growing economic independence as workers to redefine traditional roles.
   The (agrarian-based) patrifocal joint household and extended family is paradigmatic among Indian communities, also functioning as a microcosm of the community itself. However, increasing Westernization, economic prosperity, moral, social and political factors have witnessed the individualization of kinship networks into nuclear and varied models of the joint/extended structure. Determi-nant factors of age and sex accord relative authority and respect, elder and male members traditionally wielding greater power within the family unit. While many generations cohabit, newly married couples continue to live in the husband’s parents household both to inculcate the daughterin- law with the family traditions and to transfer familial responsibilities to the son, both eventually caring for the elderly parents in a multi-generational household. Specific family roles accord certain values, expectations and responsibilities. Each family member is defined by their matrilineal and patrilineal relations through a complex use of kinship terminology which distinguishes their role and attendant responsibilities within the extended family: for example, while masi is the respectful appellation for a maternal aunt, puah is a paternal aunt. Liberalized variations of the traditional arranged marriage, whereby parents undertook the selection of prospective marriage partners for their children have been gradually superseded by children exercising greater choice in the selection. The basic premise of marriage nevertheless remains the marriage of individuals synonymous with the marriage of families. Although ‘love’ marriages have increased, separation and divorce, once extreme taboos within the Indian community, are also rising as a consequence of the discordance between strictly traditional arrangements and correspondingly incompatible Western sensibilities and loosely fitting traditional roles. Indian kinship structures are based upon the unspoken but inculcated code of izzat (honour, prestige) according to which the individual and family conduct themselves morally, socially and professionally and consolidate their position within family and community networks. A fluid term, izzat functions as the source of personal and familial honour which upholds the integrity of cultural systems, obviating moral dissolution and enforcing continued cultural conformity. It can also be considered as motivational factors for example, in migration, the pursuit of status-enhancing professions, ensuring a girl’s chastity, selection of marriage partners or encouraging competition between individuals and families. While sometimes perceived as a restrictive code by girls and women particularly, Westernization and individualization are seen as threatening forces by older Indians, diminishing the tempering and respectful aspects of izzat by breeding a self-interested disregard for familial and broader structures through the primacy of individual wants and desires.
   Indian communities cultivate strong notions of kinship, religious and caste (jati) identification and belonging among themselves. Hinduism and Sikhism, the majority religious groups, coexist alongside smaller Indian Muslim, Christian and Parsi communities. Similarly, caste endogamy is a prevalent consideration, particularly among firstgeneration Indians who strictly adhere to caste groupings in kinship and community networks and in cultural practices such as marriage and religious worship. The Hindu caste system provides a representative model for other complex and numerous caste systems, with the system of Brahmins (priests, religious teachers), Kshatriya (kings, aristocrats, warriors), Vaisya (merchants, traders), Sudra (servants) and Untouchables or people of the lowest castes still exacting some resonance, but this is subject to regional interchange. Despite scriptural doctrines which emphatically reject the Hindu caste system, Sikhs maintain their own endogamous caste system with hierarchical and occupationally-based divisions of agrarian descent. The Jats (farmers, landowners) are the highest caste followed by the Ramgharias (craftsmen) which also includes the Tarkhan and Lohar sub-castes. East African Asians constitute a large proportion of this group, their significant economic and social power elevating this middleclass group above traditionally lower caste confines. (Sanskri-tization describes this upward mobility of lower castes in Britain, economically or socially usurping higher castes in spite of the traditional caste hierarchies). Following the Ramgharias, the Ravi-das or Valmik castes of Chuhre (sweepers) and Chumar (landless workers) hybridize elements of Sikhism and Hinduism but still suffer from existing intra-caste prejudices as exemplified by caste-segregated gurdwaras and religious committees. Although caste differences are subsumed beneath an encompassing Indian or Asian identity, closer analysis reveals caste as a continued source of affinity and exclusion among first-generation Indians in particular. Rather than a homogenous religious grouping which cultivates the notion of the Sikh panth (brotherhood), Sikhism exhibits caste and sectarian divisions, the latter characterized by pro- and anti-Khalistan (independent Sikh homeland) movements which surfaced during the turbulent Indira Gandhi years of the 1980s. The Gujarati and East African Asians are comprised of an array of caste sub-divisions further compounded by Hindu sects such as the Vaishnava movements of Pushtimarg, Swaminarayan and Shaivites alongside myriad smaller sects and gurus, individually worshipped. Among the strongly mercantile Gujaratis in Britain, the Patidars (equitable descent from India and East Africa) and Lohanas (mainly East African migrants) are predominant alongside other Bani groups and smaller castes like Kanbis (labourers/farmers), Darjis (tailors), Suthars (carpenters), Prajapatis (potters) or Mochis (shoemakers). The Gujaratis also include Muslim, Jain and Parsi Zoroastrian minorities, the Parsis significantly constituting the first and oldest of Britain’s Indian communities. Like the gurdwara committees of the Sikhs and other regional Hindu groups, the Gujaratis have established caste, sectarian and politico-religious organizations such as the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission. Indian religious and sectarian diversity is exhaustive, the visible celebration of festivals like Holi, Diwali, Navratri, Eid and Vaisakhi illustrating their continuing importance for Britain’s numerous Indian sub-communities.
   Where a ‘myth of return’ has largely prevailed for first generation migrants, their Indian and British-born descendants lay claim to multiple identities and both Indian/East African and British heritages. While cultural conflicts between the first generation and their descendants exist, the former perceiving the latter as diluting integral cultural precepts and principles, the younger generation seek to negotiate a dialogue between Indian and Western cultures. However, the conflict ‘between cultures’ analysis of Asian youth (rather than specifically Indian; this generation is not as meticulous in highlighting internal cultural cleavages as their parents) is rejected in favour of highlighting the advantages of cross-cultural exchange. A fluid locationality between their own native, black and Western British culture is manifest in the developing dialogues of music, fashion, art, youth styles and cultural practices of an ascendant generation labelled as ‘British Asian’. From the politicized 1970s, a decade of volatile race relations, the racist murder of Gurdip Singh Chaggar, localized riots and the subsequent formation of organizations like Southall Youth Movement, during the 1990s Indian youth are contributing to altered cultural landscapes as significantly as their parents in permanently settled Indian (British Asian) communities.
   Further reading
    Ballard, R. (ed.) (1994) Desh Pardesh: The South Asian Presence in Britain, London: Hurst and Company.
    Britain’s Black Population (1997) Britain’s Black Population: Social Change, Public Policy and Agenda, Aldershot: Arena.
    Modood, T. and Berthoud, R. (eds) (1997) Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Diversity and Disadvantage, London: Policy Studies Institute.
    Robinson, V. (1986) Transients, Settlers and Refugees: Asians in Britain, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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