A map of South Asia.

The South Asian diaspora, also known as the Desi diaspora,[1] is the group of people whose ancestral origins lie in South Asia (the Indian subcontinent), but who live outside the region.[2] There are over 44 million people in this diaspora.[3]


South Asians in the diaspora are often referred to as Desis, a term embraced by many South Asians, though controversial to some.[4][5][6]


See also: History of emigration from India

Ancient era

See also: Kala pani (taboo)

Some South Asians lived in other parts of the world for trade purposes. During the Roman Empire, a few South Asians came to Europe.[7]

Medieval era

Romani people

The Romani, also spelled Romany or Rromani ( or ) and colloquially known as the Roma (: Rom), are an ethnic group of Indo-Aryan origin who traditionally lived a nomadic, itinerant lifestyle. Linguistic and genetic evidence suggests that the Romani originated in the Indian subcontinent, in particular the region of present-day Rajasthan. Their subsequent westward migration, possibly in waves, is now believed by historians to have occurred around 1000 CE. Their original name is from the Sanskrit word and means a member of the Dom caste of travelling musicians and dancers. The Roma population moved west into the Ghaznavid Empire and later into the Byzantine Empire. The Roma are thought to have arrived in Europe around the 13th to 14th century. Although they are widely dispersed, their most concentrated populations are located in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Spain, and Turkey.

In the English language, Romani people have long been known by the exonym Gypsies or Gipsies, which some Roma consider a racial slur. However, this is not always the case; for example, the term is actually preferred by most English and Welsh Romanies, and is used to refer to them in government documentation. The attendees of the first World Romani Congress in 1971 unanimously voted to reject the use of all exonyms for the Romani, including "Gypsy".

Colonial era

A statue commemorating Janey Tetary, an Indian indentured servant who died in an 1884 uprising in Suriname.[8]

During the colonial era, over 1 million South Asians were taken to other parts of the world as indentured servants.[9] South Asians also were brought to parts of Southeast Asia as part of the British Empire.[10]

Diaspora members played a significant role in opposing the British Raj as part of the Ghadar Movement.

Some South Asians, mainly from Punjab, migrated to the West Coast in the United States, and mixed with the local Mexican community.[11]

Post-colonial era

South Asians have emigrated in record numbers since the end of the colonial era in the middle of the 20th century. Many South Asians migrated to the United Kingdom and participated in its post-war economic recovery.[12][13] Some South Asians went to the Middle East for labour opportunities, though some were mistreated in a racist manner and exploited.[14][15] After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that allowed nonwhite immigration was passed, Indian-Americans became the richest ethnic group in the United States, and comprise over 10% of the labour force in computing-related fields.[16]

Because South Asians had already dispersed across the world during the colonial era, a noted aspect of the diaspora is that some of its members' families transited through several countries over generations to reach a final destination (e.g. a person's ancestors may have come from India to Africa, and then a few generations later from Africa to New Zealand).[17]



Some people in the diaspora watch South Asian cinema (mainly Bollywood), and some South Asian films feature diaspora characters. The Hindi-language Bollywood industry has played a significant role in uniting the diaspora around Hindi as a common language for exploring its South Asian heritage.[18] The diaspora's proficiency in English has also led to South Asian media catering to them using Hinglish, a hybrid of Hindi and English.[19]


A member of the diaspora playing cricket in Virginia, America.

South Asians introduced some of their traditional games, such as kabaddi and kho-kho, into countries like South Africa and Malaysia during the colonial era.[20][21][22] In post-colonial times, kabaddi and kho-kho have been brought by the diaspora to some of the Western countries,[23][24][25] with kabaddi used in some contexts to show masculinity in hostile environments.[26]

Cricket has been patronised by the diaspora in North America and the Middle East,[27] with the American Major League Cricket mainly targeting the diaspora audience.[28][29][30]


See also: Asian Underground, Chutney parang, and Desi hip hop

Desi pubs

Desi pub is a colloquial term used in the United Kingdom to describe a public house which is owned or managed by a landlord of Indian origin. These establishments generally serve Punjabi food while maintaining elements of the traditional British pub, such as ale and pub games. The concept of the Desi pub originated during the 1960s following widespread migration from the Indian subcontinent to the UK. Desi pubs have been cited as a successful example of cultural integration between Asian and British communities.

Community relations

Deepavali (Diwali) celebrated in Little India, Singapore.

Within the diaspora

South Asian diasporas represent a wide variety of linguistic, cultural, ethnic, and religious groups from across the subcontinent.[31] There are sometimes tensions between these different groups within the diaspora. For example, the Hindu-Muslim tensions created by the 1947 Partition of India sometimes manifest themselves in divisions among Hindus and Muslims in the diaspora, particularly between those of Indian descent and those of Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent.[32][33] These tensions have been noted more frequently among the diaspora in the United Kingdom since incidents such as the Babri Masjid demolition and the 2014 election of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India.[34][35][36]

Discrimination based on the caste system occurs to some extent primarily within the Hindu diaspora; in America, a non-scientific survey showed 67% of lower-caste Dalits had experienced caste discrimination in the workplace,[37] and in California, there was heated debate within the diaspora as to whether to pass legislation explicitly banning caste discrimination.[38]

The diaspora and South Asia

Diaspora communities have been noted for providing crucial economic support and remittances to countries within South Asia.[39] India has issued diaspora bonds in certain crisis situations, such as the 1991 Indian economic crisis,[40] and has given increasing priority to involving its diaspora.[41] Diaspora graduates from MIT played a significant role in establishing the Indian Institutes of Technology.[42]

Tensions have occurred between South Asian countries and their diasporas over support for separatist movements, as in the case of India and its Punjabi diaspora over the Khalistan movement.[39] These tensions have sometimes boiled over to harming relations between South Asian countries and the host countries of the diaspora, as with the 2023 Canada-India diplomatic row.[43]

The diaspora and its host countries

See also: Stereotypes of South Asians

The Hindu diaspora has come under some scrutiny in its host countries for playing an increasingly significant role in promoting Hindu nationalism, with some diaspora members disapproving of the scrutiny and opposing Hindu nationalism.[44][45][46][47]

Some Punjabis have joined gangs in recent decades in Canada.[48]

In popular culture

North America

Russell Peters, a famous Indo-Canadian comedian.

In the United States, representation of the South Asian diaspora has steadily increased; in previous decades, Apu of The Simpsons had been the most prominent South Asian representation, but now there is significantly more varied representation, with comedians like Hasan Minhaj achieving success.[49]

Video games

Venba is a video game that depicts themes of Tamil-Canadian immigration by exploring Tamil cuisine.[50]

Thirsty Suitors explores romantic relationships involving a South Asian American protagonist.[51]

See also

South Asian sub-diasporas

Other topics


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