What is an Indian (part 1)?

Hi Everyone

First of all, I must thank so much about all comments I got on my article about the “real India”. I will in this article try to follow up and discuss what is really an Indian? When you write about a group of people or a society you will have to in some way compare it with something else. And that comparison will have to be based on your background and your own previous experience. So let me just quickly point out that nothing in this article is meant to show that any group of people is better or worse than any other group. I just try to add some “amateur social anthropology observations” about what Indians are like based on my 14 months or so here.

One way to say it is off course that an Indian is a person from India. But I think already here we will have some issues with the definition. First of all we have what is called NRI (a Non-Resident Indian). This is an Indian citizen who has migrated to another country, a person of Indian origin who is born outside India, or a person of India origin who resides permanently outside India. We also have PIO’s (Person of Indian Origin). This is usually a person of Indian origin who is not a citizen of India. Why does this matter? Well, one reason is that there are more than 24 million of those people! In USA alone there are more than 2.8 million people of Indian origin. Or roughly half the population of Norway. When a lot of people from one place move to another place, they very often settle down in the same area. An example of this is the Norwegians who settled down in the mid-west in USA in the 17th and 18th century. Much of the same happens with Indians now today. I do also sincerely believe that Indians are more concerned about their roots than many others. I remember having discussed this issue with a colleague of mine. She is born and raised in US, with parents who moved from India many years ago. If I remember right, both her parents are now American citizens. This means that they are POI but not NRI. I asked her if she is a POI. She was in India last year, and that time she could not apply for a visa as a POI. She had to apply like any other American. But when I asked if she felt like an Indian, the answer was a bit more mixed. This is something that I have seen among quite a few people here in India. Even if they are born in UK or USA they often tell me that: “Well, I actually belong in India, so I always wanted to go back to there”.

Why is it like this? One obvious reason is probably the strong bound between Indian families. And I do also think that the way Indian treat weddings are also very important here. According to Hinduism a wedding is a connection between two  families, not just between two people. The whole idea about finding the right partner for the children is something that affects the whole family. Arranged marriages are still quite common in India. When you read Indian newspapers, you can see a number of adds where parents are looking for the right partner for their children. In many of these adds you can see statements like “Parents of American born slim boy of good caste seeking candidates for their son…”.

What does this mean to Indians as a people? Well, most importantly, I think that this post shows clearly that Indians is a very international people. Being “Indian” does not even necessarily mean that you are an Indian citizen. I do think that there are a number of people around the world who feel that they are “an Indian” no matter where they live. Indians have managed to take their cultures and traditions with them across the globe. They have got input from all different corners and have put that back into their tradition and everyday life. This is something we can easily see in the language, which is now very much a mix of Hindi and Enligsh.

So what is an Indian then? Well, I’m aware that I have probably not really answered that question. In this article I have just tried to highlight how the international influence has had influence on the Indian culture. In my next article, I will try to look more into my experience about what an Indian is like from an internal Indian perspective.

Talk to you soon!

Karsten

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