- Although there is some disagreement about the term Hindu Diaspora, most members of the world-wide Hindu community use it to describe the millions of Hindus of South Asian origin who live outside India. While the majority of the world’s Hindus reside in India, those living abroad have established Hindu practices and communities in places such as AUSTRALIA, Canada, the CARIBBEAN REGION, the UNITED KINGDOM, Fiji, MAURITIUS, and the UNITED STATES of America. The practices of overseas Hinduism have had a significant influ-ence within India, because of frequent travel and contact between family members and institutions located in India and abroad.While exact numbers of overseas Hindus are difficult to determine, partly because of census restrictions (for example, the United States cen-sus does not record religious affiliation), scholars have estimated the number of Hindus living in particular countries. For example, the sociologist Prema Kurien suggests that Hindus accounted for approximately 65 percent of more than 800,000 people of Indian origin reported in the 1990 United States census. Using the same calcula-tion on the 2000 U.S. census figure of almost 1.7 million people of Indian origin, one arrives at a figure of approximately 1.1 million Hindus in the United States. Mauritius, a small country with a long history of Indian migration, is home to more than half a million Hindus, 48 percent of its total population.Indians have been migrating since premodern times, both inside and outside India. The large-scale migration of the modern period, according to the historian Roger Daniels, may be the result of the British abolition of the slave trade and then of slavery itself during the first half of the 19th century. Without slaves, the British began to rely on indentured servants and contract laborers to work their plantations from Fiji to the Caribbean. The Indian subcontinent provided much of this cheap labor, and the British transported these workers throughout their empire. Some of these laborers eventually returned to India, but most of them remained in these distant colonies. Bhikhu Parekh, a political theorist, estimates that approx-imately three-quarters of the indentured laborers during the period from 1834 to 1924 were Hindu. Many Hindus were among the farmers and skilled laborers from Punjab and merchants from Gujarat who migrated as individuals to destinations such as East Africa and Canada.Because purity and pollution are significant concerns for many classes of Hindus, orthodox Hindus, especially in the early period, were skep-tical of travel abroad. At the least, international travel meant living among people who would be considered polluting. Further, many felt it would be difficult for Hindu sojourners to resist engag-ing in polluting activities such as MEAT-EATING or drinking alcohol. Members of the upper castes did begin to travel abroad, often for higher education, but significant numbers did not settle abroad until the last half of the 20th century.The patterns of global dispersal among Hin-dus have shifted since World War II as members of the middle and upper rungs of Hindu society began settling abroad in increasing numbers. Great Britain faced a labor shortage after the war and immigrants from India filled labor needs in the 1950s and 1960s. At first, these migrants were mostly single men, but women joined them and helped establish families there in the 1970s and 1980s. Although migration directly from South Asia slowed in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s, many East Africans of South Asian origin decided to migrate to Britain when political pressures forced them to leave Africa. Having lived abroad for multiple generations, those Hindus among them had already established Hinduism in the Diaspora and took strong orthodox traditions to Britain.This newer wave of South Asian migrants began to arrive in the United States in the late 1960s. After decades of racist immigration laws that discriminated against Asians, among others, Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration Act of 1965, drastically altering U.S. immigration policy. This act replaced an immigration quota based on national origins with preferences for relatives of residents of the United States and members of certain professions. The new law also increased the limits on immigrants from countries outside the Western Hemisphere. Many of the earliest post-1965 Indian immigrants were well-educated, English-speaking professionals, who tended to be from upper castes. On the basis of the family preferences in the new law, many of their relatives began to join them in the 1980s and 1990s.These different historic immigration patterns affected religious communities in different ways. Parekh notes, for example, that the Hindus in French colonies such as Mauritius faced assimila-tion policies and many adopted Christianity, albeit in a hybridized form. Hindus in East Africa, by contrast, often remained connected to India and lived in more independent, homogeneous settle-ments, retaining strong Hindu traditions. There are, however, some common patterns of Hindu-ism in the sites where Hindu immigrants more recently settled, such as the United Kingdom and the United States.In these countries the home often remains a central site of Hindu practice. Families frequently set aside space in the home for a PUJA (worship) room, in which they install images of the deities. Worship there may range from daily practice to rituals associated with important Hindu festivals and life events. Because religious specialists are harder to find outside India, many Hindus living abroad learn how to perform practices for which they would have hired a priest if they had been living in India.Members of the community often believe that their children need to see people outside the family engaged in Hindu practice. This is one of several reasons why many overseas Hindus regu-larly participate in one or more religious activities outside the home. Some participate in informal groups of families from similar backgrounds who meet to perform the same ritual on a regular basis. Many overseas Hindus also participate in temple activities, which may encompass the traditions of a wider variety of Hindu practices. Transnational religious movements such as the SWAMINARAYAN group have highly developed organizations that tend to the needs of members living both in India and abroad. Other, smaller organizations send gurus abroad to tend to the needs of Hindu householders and their communities. Hindus living abroad often return to India for short peri-ods, most often for visits to family members, but sometimes for religious pilgrimages.It is important to note that the Hindu Diaspora properly speaking includes people who are not of South Asian descent but who have accepted Hindu practices as integral to their lives. This includes, for example, the many members of the INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUS-NESS, popularly known as the Hare Krishnas, who are not of South Asian descent.See also Africa, Hinduism in; Bali, Hinduism in; Europe; Indonesia; Malaysia; Scandinavia; South East Asia.Further reading: Roger Ballard, ed., Desh Pardesh: The South Asian Presence in Britain (London: Hurst, 1994); Crispin Bates, ed., Community, Empire, and Migration: South Asians in Diaspora (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001); H. Coward, J. R. Hinnells, and R. B. Williams, eds., The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000); Roger Daniels, History of Indian Immigra-tion to the United States: An Interpretive Essay (New York: Asia Society, 1989); John Kelly, “Fiji’s Fifth Veda: Exile, Sanatan Dharm, and Countercolonial Initiatives in Diaspora.” In P. Richman, ed., Questioning Rama-yanas: A South Asian Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Madhulika S. Khandelwal, Becoming American, Being Indian: An Immigrant Commu-nity in New York City (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002); Prema Kurien, “Becoming American by Becoming Hindu: Indian Americans Take Their Place at the Multicultural Table.” In R. A. Warner and J. G., Wittners, eds., Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Com-munities and the New Immigration (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998); ———, “Gendered Ethnicity: Creating a Hindu Indian Identity in the United States.” American Behavioral Scientist 42, no. 4 (1999): 648–670; Bhikhu Parekh, “Some Reflections on the Hindu Diaspora.” New Community 20, no. 4 (July 1994): 603–620; Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New York: Penguin Books, 1989); Raymond Brady Williams, Religions of Immigrants from India and Pakistan: New Threads in the American Tapestry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Raymond Brady Williams, ed. A Sacred Thread: Modern Transmission of Hindu Tradition in India and Abroad (Chambersburg, Pa.: Anima, 1992).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.