Population movements during British rule and thereafter accounts for more than 30-40 million overseas Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis today. For India alone, the figure is estimated at 20 million.
The peculiar dynamics of the British Empire saw many Indians moving to fulfil functions in Britain's many colonies; these usually fell into three categories: agricultural labour, clerks, and merchants. Interestingly, police constables (mainly Sikhs and Baluchis) were also taken to places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Canton and the Persian Gulf, perhaps because their imposing appearance (and turbans) helped underline their authority.
Agricultural labour was largely taken (on indentured terms) from Bihar and parts of South India, to work on plantations in Burma, Malaya, Fiji, Mauritius, South and East Africa, Guyana and throughout the Caribbean. Clerks went mainly from South India to fill minor administrative positions in many of these societies. Merchants came mostly from the business communities of Gujarat, Bombay and Sindh, and were encouraged to settle in many parts of British colonies in East Africa.
Following independence in 1947, the pattern and direction of migration changed. People continued to migrate from South Asia to already established diaspora communities, but also to new destinations in Britain, Canada, Australia, North America and the Middle East.
This grocer has been running his Bradford store since 1977.
Migration in the 1950s and 60s to Britain was mainly from Punjab (both India and Pakistan), to provide a workforce for textile factories. Professionals initially tended to migrate to the US and Canada, and from the 1970s to Australia.
The mass expulsion of Asians from Uganda and parts of East Africa in the early 1970s led to their migration, firstly to the UK, and sometimes on to North America and elsewhere. Migrations from South Asia of skilled and unskilled construction labour to the Arabian Gulf region have been hugely significant for the economies of Pakistan and parts of South India (especially Kerala) in the past decades.
Certain communities have also migrated in large numbers for a variety of other reasons. The Anglo-Indian community is legally classified as Indians descended from British fathers. Feeling spurned by Britain and India in 1947, many migrated to countries like Australia and Canada, where they found acceptance by immersing themselves in the Anglophone culture around them.
The Parsis or Zoroastrians, mainly settled in Gujarat and Bombay, had been less hostile to the British colonial masters of India, and had prospered through business and industry. Perceiving themselves in an uncertain position when the British left the sub-continent, they migrated to Britain, Canada and Australia.
British Asians today
In Britain South Asians are increasingly finding a cultural voice and have made their presence felt in the social fabric, beyond roles as purveyors of cheap and spicy cuisine, and the basic necessities of the corner shop. The second and third generations of immigrants move more easily between the two cultures than their parents did, and their creative input into the arts and culture grows steadily, enriching British society.