The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora

Prof Brij Lal, Prof Peter Reeves and Dr Rajesh Rai

"For those of us who have been involved in this project – whether as contributors, research assistants or editors – this became a moving experience because we found ourselves involved in a highly meaningful attempt to depict the diaspora over time, to measure its contribution to the modern expansion of India's influence, to give a voice to the Indian people of the diaspora and, in the process, to make a world-wide audience conscious of the importance of the diaspora's influence."

Since early times, diasporic Indian communities have made contributions both to their host countries and internationally, in areas as diverse as cuisine, dress, religion, science, culture, sports and political life. In recent times, the creative literature from and about the diaspora has held a distinctive and distinguished place in the world's literary imagination.

"The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora brings together well-researched and authoritative accounts by scholars who specialise in the study of the Indian diaspora… It is a story that is worthy of attention, especially in today's globalised world, in which the diaspora has come to play a significant and ongoing role wherever it has settled, creating for itself a niche in most of the countries it calls home."

The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora co-edited by Brij Lal (General Editor), Peter Reeves (Executive Editor) and Rajesh Rai (Assistant Editor) studies the worldwide spread of communities that set out to maintain their 'Indianness' in a range of ways. The 'portmanteau' volume, includes questions of origins and their importance; the factors that lead to movement and 'dispersal'; the nature of community building among Indians in the diaspora; the economic outcomes for those Indian communities and their 'host' societies; the political outcomes of Indians within their new societies, and their continued connection with their societies of origin.

A Multi-dimensional Project

  • The historical dimension takes into account a long historical process of movement that fall into discrete periods. Movement from the Indian sub-continent prior to the advent of European intervention-'The Age of Merchants'-is concerned overwhelmingly with Indians who traded across the Indian Ocean and over the Asian landmass from the earliest times. Also highlighted during this period is the 'haj' to Mecca and Medina and the involuntary movement of Indians to Europe or the islands of the Indian Ocean as slaves and bonded labourers. 'The Age of Colonial-Capital' accounts for the forced movement of Indian people as convicts; the movement of indentured and other forms of labour from India to all parts of the British colonial empire, particularly those with plantation economies. 'The Age of Globalisation' looks at the postcolonial movement of people to countries such as Britain, UK, US, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Cultural outcomes of the movement of Indians is a key focus of the volume. The development of the Indian diaspora gives wide-ranging evidence of the sustainability of Indian languages, religious values and cultural norms. At the same time, it demonstrates flair and creative ability in developing popular culture (music, dance and cinema), skilful management in the promotion of Indian fashion and cuisine, and determined adaptability and prowess in a wider range of sports derived from other cultures. It is in these efforts to preserve as well as to adapt that the diaspora plays the important role of representing India as a major cultural force in the global village.
  • Literary 'voices' from and about the Indian diaspora hold a distinctive and distinguished place in the world's literary imagination. The works of V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie amongst others of considerable sophistication, designate the complex experience of the Indian diaspora.
  • The demographic dimension deals with very different total numbers in each of the broad phases outlined and has to comprehend different regional origins, different gender balances, different caste and communal balances. What is more the size and the nature of the Indian 'communities' that grow from these movements mean that there are very different effects presented and explained.
  • The geographic dimension is world-wide and varies at different periods and phases: the Indian Ocean littoral, Southeast, Central and East Asia; the colonial plantation outposts in the Caribbean, Malaya, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Mauritius and Natal; commercial outposts with opportunities for trade and labour such as Singapore, Hong Kong and East Africa; Britain and the USA and other former settler colonies such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada; and in more recent times the movements into the Gulf of labourers in search of funds for remittance.
  • Illustrating the Encyclopedia - the volume includes hundreds of maps and archival and modern photographs of people, costumes, buildings, cultural traditions and economic activities that convey a sense of period and of place, enforcing the themes that emerge from the text.

Professor Peter Reeves

Peter Reeves, Emeritus Professor of South Asian History at Curtin University and former Head of the South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore.

He has taught at Sussex, Western Australia and Michigan. He specializes in the modern political and socio-economic history of South Asia. His current research concerns the history of fisheries in colonial South Asian, and fisheries and aquaculture in post-colonial South Asia.

Dr Rajesh Rai

Rajesh Rai, Visiting Fellow at the South Asian Studies Programme completed his PhD in history at the University of Birmingham in 2001.

He has published several scholarly articles on aspects of the South Asian diaspora. His research interests are in the fields of diaspora studies and transnational identities, nationalism and the post-colonial history and politics of South Asia.


Prof Peter Reeves and Dr Rajesh Rai can be contacted by:
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The South Asian Studies Programme website can be accessed at


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