India’s recorded history is rich and dynamic, and dates back over 5000 years. It has seen its share of conquests, wars, strife, and migration. The amalgamation of people with different ethnicities has enhanced the unique cultural diversity of India.
Migration has been the key to our survival and is a huge factor for economic growth. How does immigration affect the economy, you ask? With the transfer of human capital, we are able to exchange ideas, learn new skills, and strengthen our gene pool.
As we celebrate the 73rd Indian Independence Day this August 15, it is essential to reflect on the social, economic, and cultural effects of migration. We have always followed the adage atithi devo bhava (Guest is God) and welcomed people of all ethnicities and religions with open arms into Indian culture.
Here are some communities that have significantly impacted our landscape as they prospered and made India their home.
The Emergence of Wealthy Communities
The story of Sindhis post India’s partition in 1947 is one of determination, a strong sense of community, and a resolve for a better life. The province of Sindh was left intact during partition in the belief that life will continue there as usual. But when the time came, many from the Sindhi community migrated to join the other side of the invisible border.
A prosperous community of landlords, businessmen, and hakims became homeless overnight. Some had to leave all their worldly possessions behind and escape to save their lives. As the country celebrated Indian Independence Day in 1947, Sindhis started arriving in droves. They had absolutely nothing, having lost their independence and financial stability. They had to spend their initial days on the streets and railway platform,until the government allotted military barracks. Those who had relatives in India were able to live with them.
From such despair, the community rose like a phoenix from the ashes. Prominent people from the community took charge and helped families settle down. They undertook cleanliness and health drives to ensure the military camps were disease-free. They welcomed new people arriving every day. The people united as a community and helped each other set up small businesses. Sindhis, known for their sharp business acumen, were quick to identify opportunities and grab them.
Today, Sindhis are one of the most prominent and prosperous communities in the country. This has only been possible because of the strength of the collective. Sindhi trusts run some of the best colleges in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. Some of the best hospitals have been started by this community. Some iconic businessmen that have played a tremendous role in India’s economic development, such as Niranjan Hiranandani and Gopichand Hinduja, are from the community.
Like sugar in milk
The Parsis, belonging to the Zoroastrian community, migrated to India over a thousand years ago from Persia (modern-day Iran). The migration was a result of the Arab conquest of Persia. In the hope of preserving their religious identity, a small group fled their homeland and arrived in Sanjan, Gujarat.
Legend has it that when they first came to India to seek asylum, an Indian ruler Jadi Rana sent them a glass full of milk. This was to indicate that the kingdom was full of local people, and there was no room to accommodate refugees. In response, the Parsis put sugar in the milk and sent it back. Their message was humble and simple. They indicated that just as sugar completely dissolves and mixes with the milk, the Parsi community will too assimilate with the locals and add sweetness to the cultural diversity of India. This gesture was reputedly instrumental in their gaining sanctuary in India.
The remaining Zoroastrians that stayed back in Persia started arriving in India in the 19th century. Though they have the same origin, these new arrivals (known as Iranis) are culturally distinct from Parsis.
Despite the community facing dwindling numbers due to interfaith marriages and a low birth rate, it has contributed significantly to India’s growth. The country’s first cotton mill, first steel plant, first institute for fundamental research in science were all started by Parsis. India’s largest hospital for cancer research and treatment (Tata Memorial Hospital) was also founded by a Parsi.
The community also brought art and culture to India. It brought in musicals that are today synonymous with Bollywood. The community has given us pillars of India such as Jamsetji Tata, Bhikaiji Cama, Homi Bhabha, and Ratan Tata, to name a few.
Conquerors of the high seas
Unlike the Sindhis and Parsis who were refugees, the Portuguese who came to India were traders. It was Vasco da Gama who first discovered the sea route from Europe to India in 1498. He landed near Calicut and was well received by the Zamorin (as the Malabar king was called). After staying for three months, he returned with a cargo full of Indian goods that he sold in the European market for 60 times the cost of his voyage. This was just the beginning of trade that would eventually begin between Europe and India, and the settlement of the Portuguese in the country.
As the trade of the Portuguese began to flourish, it created tension with the Arabs, who earlier had a monopoly. With increasing hostilities, a fight arose between the Portuguese and the Zamorin, leading to the latter’s defeat. Thus did the Portuguese come into power.
The Portuguese predominantly focused on controlling the Indian Ocean and all the trade via it. They made Goa their headquarters, and subsequently captured Daman and Diu and Salsette as well. As stories of their success reached Europe, the British, French and Dutch too began to make inroads into India.
In their 450 years here, the Portuguese created a huge impact and contributed to the cultural diversity of India. Apart from opening up the world market for Indian goods, they also made strides in medical science. They extensively wrote about medicinal plants in India and spread awareness. They also influenced architecture. Even all these years after Indian Independence Day, you will see majestic Portuguese-era buildings in Goa, Daman and Diu, Kerala, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli that inspire historians and architecture enthusiasts. India has evolved to be a rich tapestry of myriad traditions, arts, cultures, cuisines, religions and languages which have been intricately woven together to form its rich heritage that we see today.