The Indian diaspora worldwide played a big role during India’s struggle for independence.
By Rajesh Mehta and Uddeshya Goel
Today, the Indian diaspora comprises approximately 31 million people, spread across 146 countries. The United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Myanmar, the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Canada host an Indian diaspora population of at least one million each. In the circles particularly in India and United States, there is a lot of talk of the rise of Indian Americans or the great role Indian diaspora is playing. Kamala Harris and the Rise of Indian Americans, a recent book edited by Indian journalist Tarun Basu, provided fascinated insights about the community across a wide range of domains from politics to administration. In this 75th year of Indian Independence, one should also acknowledge the contribution of the Indian diaspora in India’s freedom struggle. The diaspora played a key role also in influencing freedom movements across various countries and continents.
After the battle of Plassey in 1757, the British government assumed control over the Indian bureaucracy, leading to wealth and human resource-draining in India. To facilitate the growth of their colonial empire, the British Indian government sent many Indians to various countries as indentured laborers. With time, these overseas Indians became economically strong and gained a say in the local governments. Many freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru or Rabindranath Tagore channelized their energies towards democracy and freedom through ideas attained during their education and experiences abroad.
Swami Vivekananda, who is considered the father of Indian spiritual nationalism, travelled across Asia, America and Europe to spread the lessons of peace and spirituality. He delivered his renowned lecture in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago and continued to stay for more than three years in the United States and England to direct the world and the Indian diaspora towards the freedom struggle. Vivekananda provided the moral and spiritual base to the Indian national movement which connected the strings of heterogeneous Indian diaspora groups.
Shyam Ji Krishna Varma was also one of the most important leaders among members of the diaspora who were contributing to the freedom of India from abroad. He led the Indian freedom struggle from Europe from 1893 to 1914 and founded the India House in London, which became the center for several Indian revolutionaries. Shyam Ji Krishna Varma also published a monthly magazine named Indian Socialist in 1905, which included critical writings against the British government in India. It acted as a catalyst in spreading nationalist feelings among the Indians residing in Europe.
Lala Har Dayal got his higher education from Oxford University and got settled in California, where he decided to lead Indians in the United States for the freedom of India. He was of the view that Indians were facing problems in different countries because India was under the control of the British Empire. Indian people accepted his suggestions and formed the famous committee, Ghadar Party, and published a newspaper Ghadar. The newspaper published revolutionary news and poetry from across the world. The remarkable aspect of Ghadar was that it cultivated linkages between Irish, Egyptian and Indian freedom movements.
The Ghadar movement inspired leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and even the great freedom fighter Ram Prasad Bismil, who wrote Mera rang De Basanti Chola. Lala Lajpat Rai founded the Home Rule League, based in New York, and advocated for home rule in India. He spent around five years in political exile in the United States in 1915. Another organization that played an important role was the “Friends of Freedom For India,” run by Sailendranath Ghose and Agnes Smedley, which tried to present a case for independence of India and also helped in asylum for political refugees.
In 1906, Mahatma Gandhi started the satyagraha movement in South Africa against Black Act, in which every Indian had to be registered and successfully forced the colonial government to give relaxation to the Indians from Black Act. Gandhi formulated certain principles and new methods in his political life such as satyagraha, ahimsa, and non-cooperation for the first time in South Africa. These ideologies acted as the foundation stone for the Indian freedom struggle after 1920.
Another such leader, Subash Chandra Bose, went to Singapore in July 1943 to free India from colonial rule. He revived the Indian Independence League along with Rash Bihari Bose and led the Indian National Army popularly known as Azad Hind Fauj with the help of 13,000 army personnel. One of the interesting facets of INA was an all-women regiment named after Rani Lakshmibai.
Today, as we celebrate the 75th year of Indian Independence, Indian people look towards its prosperous diaspora not only for remittances or philanthropy but for help in setting up best universities, manufacturing units and start-ups in India. India looks to its diaspora to bring innovation and knowhow so that India can lift itself from problems of poverty and unemployment. If this happens, India would become stronger, prosperous, democratic and inclusive. This way India can became a beacon of light for the world.
(Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant & columnist working on Market Entry, Innovation & Public Policy. Uddeshya Goel is a financial researcher with specific interests in international business and capital markets)