Indian Diaspora In Southeast Asia

  • India’s cultural interaction with Southeast Asia is visible even today in language, literature, religion, philosophy, art & architecture of Indochina, Myanmar and South-East Asia.
  • Large scale Indian emigration took place in 19th – 20th centuries because of colonialism through indenture or Kangani system, and by free emigration of traders, clerks & professionals.
  • Thousands of Indians were mobilized to fight in Indian National Army in Malaya and to contribute to Indian independence.
  • After Independence Indians continued to migrate to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia in search of employment, with pace picking up from 1970s onwards.
  • While opportunities in these booming economies were diverse and ranged from blue collar jobs in construction, hospitality industries to employment with Indian companies, international (mainly UN) organisations, multinationals, banks, consultancy and financial institutions and recently IT sector, those in countries of Indochina & Myanmar declined because of strife in the region, while economic instability has had an impact on their presence in Indonesia.
  • In Malaysia they have not yet overcome the legacy of plantation times while in Singapore they are represented at highest levels of civil services, judiciary, business and politics.
  • Indians roughly constitute about 8% to 9% of total population in Malaysia & Singapore.
  • While in Myanmar & Indonesia, they are only about 4% & less than 0.5% of total population.
  • In Indonesia, traditionally Sikhs, Sindhis & Tamils are engaged in various small businesses like sports goods, textiles & construction etc.

Recent trends indicate that present Indian migration includes professionals holding senior positions in local and multinational companies in the fields of IT, education, and technology etc.

New Economic Policy of 1970 adversely affected Indian community in Malaysia. Only a small group of Indian businesses with political patronage has prospered by venturing into services, construction and related activities.

Some prominent persons of Indian origin include former President S. R. Nathan & S. Rajaratnam, an influential personality in public life of Singapore, etc. State ideology has been based on meritocracy which rejects ethnic privileges. This is one of the most important reasons indicating success of Indian community.

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