Health & Wellness

Psychology of the Indian Diaspora – Part II

(Last article of Rev.Fr. Amirtha Raj Mannes,OP)
The second-generation diaspora Indians search for a relevant and realistic Identity

Second Generation

The identity of being an Indian in the diaspora, ends with the first generation. But for the second generation of Indians, being an Indian is a concept and not a reality, continuous and constant struggle to identify as an Indian and a search within and without to find Indianness. They are born and brought up in a foreign country which is now their homeland and relatively comfortable environment, and gives them a greater sense of belonging to where they are. They speak the language of the place well and also most of them would communicate in their mother tongue relatively well, but it’s only a very small percentage who cut off completely the umbilical cord of their origin. As children they identify with their parents, but in course of time they begin to feel comfortable with the environment outside their home. There are two identities they struggle with, one at home and one outside their homes. They spend a lot of time trying to find a realistic and relevant identity, which would make them think, feel and act comfortably.

There are many areas they constantly strive to find a relevant identity, and I would like to discuss about five areas – new and local culture; importance of local religion, religion of the majority; struggling to come out of the caste system; the preference of food – Indian or local; and opportunities in life in the here and now.

Having experienced as children a transformed, mutated and micro-mini Indian culture within the family and among the gathering of Indians, the second generation of diaspora Indians are exposed to the local and seemingly a different culture from that of their parents and acquaintances. But fortunately, they are more comfortable with this foreign and local culture than the multi-dimensional and complex Indian culture. Indian culture is obviously diverse, but the new and local culture seem to be easy to assimilate and understand than the Indian culture. They have grown up with this culture of the land in the school, in the neighborhood, among their friends, among the many events they are exposed to as teenagers and adults as well as the natural connection of the language and the culture, the songs and programs, the food and the gatherings, etc. All these would be missing among the many Indian cultures.

Importance of the local religion, the religion of the majority: Most first generation Indians feel comfortable with their religion; but most of the second-generation Indians are comfortable with the local religion, there is a tendency to feel the affinity with the religion of the majority. But in the recent past this reality has gone through a significant change, that is, wanting to identify with the majority – secularism. For Indians the importance of the belief system and the relationship with the divine is unquestionable. That natural tendency, as according to St. Augustine of Hippo, that “our hearts are restless until they rest in [God]”, is no longer true in many countries as secularism has been growing fast and it is no secret that the second generation of Indians are increasingly comfortable with secularism or in some cases with the religion of the majority.

Struggling to come out of the caste system: For Indians the caste system though it began as a fundamental phenomenon of the Hindu religion, it has become part and parcel of the social system for Indians, obviously going beyond the religion to the society and affecting, influencing, conditioning, controlling, monitoring the entire Indian psyche. Every time the caste system is discussed the second generation of Indians feel uncomfortable in contrast to the first generation of Indians who ordinarily feel comfortable about it.

Because it has been deeply ingrained in the first generation, the second generation strives to come out of it, dissociate with it, unable to explain or convince others in the land in which they are and so strive and struggle to look for a new identity without the caste system. When the caste system is removed a significant ‘Indianness’ is also removed. Innumerable caste associated negative experiences and events outside India are shameful.

The preference of food – Indian or local: this is an area where the second generation of Indians struggle to find a relevant identity. As children they would have had enough and more Indian food, and they naturally like it and certainly enjoy it. But as grown ups they would be much more exposed to the local food. In course of time they get more comfortable with the look food. There is this natural struggle whether to prefer and choose the food of their childhood or to like the food of their peers and friends, and naturally the struggle ends in most cases with the preference for the local food. Is it because of peer pressure, because of the easy availability, not wanting to be dissociated from the local community, not ready to be classified as different from the group, etc. This struggle for a relevant and realistic identity with the choice of food is an everyday incident for most of the second-generation diaspora Indians.

Opportunities in life in the here and now: that which gives a definite identity which would be relevant and realistic would be the opportunities in life. A seed of a big dream has been sown in the mind of the second generation Indians. ‘You ought to not only have a big dream in life but should achieve it’ would be the refrain one would have heard many times. The many opportunities in life are occasions to realize those dreams.

Anyone who attains some dream opportunities would find a new identity. Until one realizes the dream opportunities in life, there is this struggle to find a relevant identity. Looking for new opportunities in life, progressing towards the set goals, striving for bigger challenges, dreaming to make a big name, aspiring towards unclear dreams are times and occasions when a diaspora Indian goes through a big struggle to search and to find an identity.

The second-generation of diaspora Indians have a very clear awareness of the country where they are as away from India and as their new-found land. In their emotion there is this constant struggle to find a new identity with the country where they are or with the country of their origin and this remains a prolonged struggle. They strive and strive to have an identity which must be relevant and realistic.

Their struggle between the Indian culture and the local culture; the religion of the local majority and the religion of their parents; the understanding and practices of caste system; the preference for local food or Indian food and the search for opportunities here and now for diaspora Indians are normal and natural. But the question we have is: what is the mindset of the second-generation diaspora Indians……

Amritha Raj George

Amirtha Raj, a Dominican priest living now in Rome. He has a Ph.D. in Counseling psychology, been a Rector of St. Charles Seminary, Nagpur and Professor of Philosophy, Psychology and Spirituality.

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