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Photo illustration by John Lyman

The story of diaspora is not one-dimensional. It is a narrative filled with challenges and opportunities, a blend of past affiliations and future aspirations.

“Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts” — a phrase attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, perfectly encapsulates the essence of the term diaspora. Of late, the term has dominated numerous narratives, from strategic policy-making to economic agendas. It has also been imbued with cultural and historical nostalgia and has been appropriated by prominent statesmen to lend momentum to their foreign diplomatic policies. Given this broad swath of interpretations and applications, it becomes crucial to dig deeper and understand the nuanced layers that make up this buzzword.

The term diaspora originates from a Greek word that means “to scatter.” While the term may have recently become fashionable, the concept it encapsulates is as old as civilization itself. It’s a word often steeped in sorrow, born from the blood and tears of separation, from the existential anguish of being cut off from one’s roots. Whether we are talking about the dislocation of Jewish communities from their ancestral lands, the forced migration of Africans via the slave trade, or the recent mass exodus of Syrian refugees, the origin stories of various diasporas often share a poignant beginning marked by grief and loss.

Yet, the narrative surrounding diaspora is changing. Once viewed as communities of victimized, isolated individuals, they are increasingly being recognized as vital partners in economic growth. This perceptual shift has dramatically altered the trajectory of diasporic communities across the globe. Extensive research reveals that diasporas are not merely groups of sufferers; rather, they are dynamic civilizations shaped by their complex interactions with host countries and by their enduring emotional connections to their homelands. The data is startling: according to recent estimates, as of the early 21st century, approximately 10 percent of the global population resides in a diasporic context, a statistic that signifies the incremental growth of these communities, fueled by opportunities in lands far removed from their places of origin.

Focusing on the Indian diaspora, which is currently the largest such community worldwide, the dynamics are intriguing. Over 2.5 million Indians are estimated to migrate globally on an annual basis. This surge in international relocation, especially over the past two decades, is largely fueled by the allure of personal growth and the opportunities offered by foreign citizenship. According to a recent report by The Economic Times, “As many as 87,026 Indians renounced their citizenship till June this year, with more than 17.50 lakh people giving up their Indian citizenship since 2011.” This indicates the enormity of the Indian diaspora. It should also be noted that the majority of these migrants are either students, skilled professionals, or tertiary sector workers whose emigration patterns gained momentum after the technological boom. A smaller, yet significant, portion consists of semi-skilled laborers attracted to opportunities in the Gulf and other oil-rich nations.

The occupational spectrum within the diasporic community is strikingly diverse, ranging from small-scale, semi-skilled workers to entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and executive leaders of global corporations. A headline from 2021 by the Hindustan Times boldly stated, “Over 200 Indian-origin people hold leadership positions globally.” Their economic contributions to their host countries are substantial, and remittances are equally impressive. During his two-day visit to France in July, Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister noted that “India is first country in world where remittance from its diaspora has crossed $100 billion.” The strategic leveraging of the diaspora has played a pivotal role in India’s steady economic ascent.

Yet, what unites these people across occupational, geographical, and cultural divides? It is the delicate interplay of nostalgia for their native land, a sense of pride in their origins, and a hopeful gaze directed toward future opportunities. Their hearts remain attuned to the rhythms of their homeland, while their actions and ambitions are aligned with the prospects offered by their host countries.

As I strolled through a vibrant Indian community in London, enveloped by the aroma of spiced tea and the taste of potato-filled samosas, I was transported back to my own formative years in India. The sense of unity, the shared cultural expressions, and the profound devotion to both their origins and their adopted lands suggest that the story of diaspora is not one-dimensional. It is a narrative filled with challenges and opportunities, a blend of past affiliations and future aspirations.

Therefore, the diaspora provides the best of both worlds: the roots are firmly planted in their native soil, but their branches extend far and wide, reaching for new skies and adapting to new climates. Their tale is one of ultimate duality, a harmonious blend of a nostalgic past and an aspirational future.

Dr. Neetika Lal's expertise includes public policy research, writing, and management consulting. Neetika holds a Global Diplomacy certification from the esteemed SOAS University of London, a Master's degree in Political Science, a Master of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Public Policy, specializing in Center-State Relations. Neetika recently completed a certification program from the International Monetary Fund Institute for Capacity Building in Washington. Neetika is a passionate advocate for positive change. Through her international blogging efforts, she has actively contributed to the global discourse on public policy, bringing attention to critical issues and proposing innovative solutions. Her extensive experience coupled with an impressive educational background, and an unwavering commitment to making a difference has become the driving force for her.