Lead story







The Indian Diaspora in the
Netherlands is the largest population
of Indian origin living in any
continental European country. The
estimated size of this community is
about 200,000. There are two distinct components
of the Indian Diaspora. First component is of about
30,000 persons of Indian origin who have come to
the Netherlands either directly from India or via
other countries after India’s Independence. The
second component is of about 170,000
Hindustanis of Indian origin who have come to the
Netherlands from Suriname immediately before
and immediately after the independence of that
country from the Netherlands in 1974. Their
forefathers had gone to Suriname about140 years
ago starting in 1873.
The arrival of Indians in the Netherlands directly
from India is a post Second World War
phenomenon. Before India’s Independence in
1947, hardly any Indians resided in the
Netherlands. This may be partly due to their
unfamiliarity with the country and its language.
Diplomatic relations between India and the
Netherlands were established in the early 1950’s
and Indians started coming to the Netherlands in
small numbers. These Indians were either working
at the Indian Embassy or studying in the Institute of
Social Studies in The Hague. Their stay in the
Netherlands was of short duration, lasting mostly
one to three years.
The spontaneous flow of Indians from India to
the Netherlands started in a trickle in the 1960s,
gathered some momentum by the end of the decade
and continued in 1970s. These early pioneers were
doctors, engineers, university scholars, researchers
and a few entrepreneurs. Most of them were invited
to the Netherlands either by various Dutch
educational institutions and government agencies
or by major Dutch companies like Philips, Shell and Unilever. They were highly educated and
professionally qualified persons. The Dutch
language did not pose a serious challenge for them
as the Dutch were happy to speak to them in
English. This greatly facilitated their stay and work
in the Netherlands.
The next major wave of Indian immigrants to the
Netherlands started coming in early 1980s and
continued for the next 15 years. This involved the
migration of a few thousand rural workers mostly
from the Indian state of Punjab. They came
primarily in search of better economic prospects.
Most of them had low level of education and
limited professional skills. Their language skills
were also limited. In spite of these big handicaps
most of them have found reasonable jobs or started
small businesses and are now well settled. Most of
them are diligent and law abiding residents of the
new country. Many of them have switched
nationality from Indian to Dutch.
Knowledge workers are the latest group of
emigrants from India to the Netherlands. They
started coming about ten years ago and their
migration is still continuing.
It is estimated that currently there are about 6000
Indian knowledge workers in the Netherlands.
They are highly educated and have the professional
skills needed by the Dutch economy. They are
invited by the Dutch business concerns which need
them and consequently facilitate work and resident
permits for them. Initially they are invited for a
period of two to three years but given the Dutch
economy’s strong need for their skills they are
likely to stay on.
Second generation persons of Indian origin are
another distinct group. One or both of their parents
came from India. These young persons were born,
brought up and educated in the Netherlands. They
are fluent in Dutch and are familiar with core Dutch
values and social norms. Most of them are well
educated and well settled and are highly placed in
Dutch society and have Dutch spouses. Most of
them are fully integrated in the Dutch society and
are likely to remain in the Netherlands.

All these components of the immigrants from
India have done remarkably well. Their achievements,
particularly of the first two components, are
note worthy. Starting from almost nothing many
Indian immigrants have risen to the highest levels
in their chosen fields of activities within 25 to 30
years of their arrival in this country. This is true of
advocates, doctors, scientists, university professors
and businessmen. A number of businesses started
by the immigrants from India have flourished
against all odds. The number of millionaires
among the Indian Diaspora is out of proportion
with their numbers. Their average per capita
income in the Netherlands is most likely equal to or
higher than the average of the host community.
Some of them have been honoured by the Dutch
Royalty and the President of India for their
outstanding achievements.


The successes achieved by the second
generation of the Indian immigrants in the
Netherlands are equally impressive. Many of them
have become doctors, engineers and highly
successful professionals in other fields. They are
making a very useful contribution to the Dutch
economy and their visibility in the Dutch society
will become more pronounced in the years to


I shall now turn my attention to the Hindustani
community. Most of them came to this country in
mid 1970s in exceptional circumstances relating to
the Independence of Suriname. Many of these
migrants came from a rural background with low
level of education. Some of them of them were
highly educated. Almost all of them had the
advantage of speaking the Dutch language. It is
remarkable that in spite of all the odds against
them, they have established themselves well in a
single generation. The rate of unemployment
among them has decreased remarkably. The
educational level of their children is increasing.
The Hindustanis are active in all parts of the Dutch
economy. Among them there are professional
accountants, doctors, judges, inspectors of police,
surgeons, university professors and small and mid
level businessmen, even a millionaire included in
Top 15 young Dutch millionaires named by Quote.
Their political participation and achievements are
mostly at the municipal level and marginally in the
national and European Parliaments. The members
of their second generation are working in
multinationals, banks, care institutions etc. The
Dutch social scientists regard them as the most
successful immigrants in the Netherlands.


To meet their socio-cultural and economic needs
both these communities have also created a
number of institutions which have acquired
national significance in relation to India and or the
Netherlands. It is clearly evident and widely
accepted that both the Indian immigrant and
Hindustani communities in the Netherlands have
succeeded remarkably well in their own ways.


How can we explain the outstanding successes
of the Indian Diaspora in the Netherlands and
many other countries? There must be something
about the Indian character, Indian heritage and or
Indian way of life which contributes to their
remarkable success. I believe that their successes
and achievements are due to the following
characteristics: strong desire to succeed;
willingness to work very hard to achieve success;
single minded focus on education as an instrument
of financial and social advancement, propensity to
save and invest; strong commitment to personal
and family relations and enabling environment in
the host country.


The Indian immigrants and Hindustani
communities have common cultural, social and
religious roots and have lived together in the
Netherlands for more than 35 years. Their physical
features are similar; they enjoy same music; watch
same Bollywood movies; eat somewhat similar
food and sometimes pray in the same temples or
mosques. It would be natural for both these
communities to cooperate with each closely. But
the interaction and cooperation between these
communities is very limited. There seems to be an
invisible wall between them. What is the reason for
this phenomenon?


Although both of the communities have common
roots in India, yet their experience and or memories
of India are totally different. Hindustanis have a
perception of poor, rural, stagnating, uneducated
and colonial North India which their fore fathers
left about 140 years ago. The perception of the
Indian migrant community of India is of
independent, rapidly progressing and urbanizing
and robust India. Language is another possible
barrier between these two communities. The first
generation Indian immigrants mostly like to
communicate in English whereas most of the
Hindustanis like to communicate in Dutch.
Sarnami language spoken by the Hindustanis is
based on Bhojpuri with some Dutch influence and
is very different from modern Hindi which is
spoken by most of the Indian immigrants. The only
common factors between the India related
perceptions of these two communities, is the Indian
culture, traditional values and religious traditions.
Based on these common factors can we create a
common Indian Diaspora community? Is it a
worthwhile and achievable objective? It is certainly
worth making a determined effort.


The importance of uniting these two
communities and blending them into one
community cannot be over emphasized. Their
interests are not mutually antagonistic. In fact their
interests are mutually complementary. Because of
their long association with and experience of the
Dutch people and Dutch language the Hindustanis
have a better grasp of the Dutch culture and Dutch
way of doing things. They also have the critical
mass in numbers to make an impact on the Dutch
economy and Dutch polity. The Indian immigrants
have a closer and better understanding of modern
India, proficiency in English language, modern
professional skills and global connections particularly
with Indian Diaspora in other countries. There
is a clear synergy and combining their forces and
pooling their resources can be a win-win situation
for both communities. We need to expand contacts
and interactions between these two communities at
many horizontal levels in many fields including
dance, music, sports and common celebration of
cultural, social and religious festivals. We need to
encourage the socio-cultural organizations of these
communities which have similar objectives to
organize joint programs.


Apart from connecting the two communities, we
also need to connect different generations of these
communities within the same community and also
between the two communities. This is very
important for preserving the time tested core Indian
values which have helped in preserving the Indian
culture outside India and which have contributed
greatly to the success of the Indian Diaspora.
Connecting the different generations will also
contribute to better understanding and more
harmony among the different generations and will
be a win – win situation for all concerned.


These two communities have lived together in
the Netherlands for more than 35 years without
really understanding each other and without
achieving the full benefits, which can result from
their mutual cooperation and solidarity. Strong
cooperation between the two PIO communities in
the Netherlands is a worthy goal which needs to be
pursued vigorously. This message needs to be
spread to the members of the two communities at
all levels and through all means. Before the two
communities can cooperate with each other
effectively, they have to understand each other
better. This task is not going to be smooth and easy.
We must realize that although we have a common
heritage and we share some common values yet we
are products of different social environments which
have shaped our perceptions, tastes and other
values. The two communities have strengths in
different areas. We should leverage these different
strengths instead of trying to convert each other to
our way of thinking… Therefore, to promote better
understanding, we have to encourage and promote
more frequent and deeper interactions between the
two communities at various levels.


(Author of this article is the Chairman of the
Netherlands India Chamber of Commerce &
Trade (NICCT), Secretary of the World Forum for
Ethics in Business (WFEB) and President
Emeritus of the Foundation for Critical Choices
for India. He was the first Chairman of the
Global Organization of people of Indian Origin
(GOPIO). )


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