Rethinking Diaspora

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Anjali Gera Roy


Diaspora, a term used to refer to the dispersal of Jewish people across the world, is now expanded to describe any deterritorialized or transnational population that lives in a land different from that of its origin and whose social, political and economic networks span the globe crossing national borders. Through comparing the Anglo-Indian, the Sikh and the IITian diasporas, this project proposes to deconstruct diaspora as a construct.
How does the Anglo-Indian Diaspora formed by conquest and colonization compare with the Sikh diaspora created in the service of the Empire and the highly skilled IITian diaspora? What are the categories through which the three diasporas constitute themselves and how do they define the homeland? While the Anglo-Indian and the Sikh diasporas have a pre-national history originating in the Empire, the IITian diaspora is intertwined with the history of the Indian nation. The three display a wide divergence in their constitutive categories – race in Anglo-Indian, religion and ethnicity in Sikh and skills in IITian and also vary in their myths of origin. While the homeland is defined through the region and sacral place in Sikh diaspora, the IITian diaspora converges on the alma mater and nation. The constitution of the homeland is far more problematic in the case of the Anglo-Indian diaspora. While the Anglo-Indian and Sikh diasporic movements in the past were those of low-skilled workers characterized by traditional migration chain, the high-skilled IITian diaspora fits the open migration chain pattern.
Yet the three diasporas intersect as communities formed through strong transnational networks that interrogate the link between space, place and identity in the imagined communities of the nation. I argue that both the mixed race Anglo-Indian narrative, the ‘pure’ discourse of the Sikh imaginary and the knowledge/skills based imagining of the IITian community compels us to rethink essential categories of belonging and identity such as race, nation, caste, ethnicity while intensifying or creating new boundaries that are mobilized in their self-fashioning.

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