Long journeys, transit lounges, and homeland touchdown: Homeland visits of the Indian diaspora’s youth
The Indian diaspora maintains links with the homeland through various networks and platforms. Young second and third-generation Indian diasporans become acquainted with the homeland through stories passed on to them by elders; through the customs and traditions practised at home; through various forms of media; and through visits to the homeland, either yearly or once-in-a-lifetime. The Indian government also has initiatives that foster a better understanding between India and its diaspora. There are official programmes that cater to young Indian diasporans, such as the Know India Programme (KIP) and the Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children (SPDC). The homeland journeys occupy an important place in the lives of young Indian diasporans because these journeys provide them with first-hand experiences of the homeland and contribute to their identities as diasporans. Homeland journeys are one of the ways through which young diasporans gain an understanding of the journeys and displacement that their parents or ancestors experienced in the past. This article focuses on the crucial role the homeland visits play in constructing the diasporic and transnational identities of young Indian diasporans (between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four), and explores how the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions to travel might play a significant part in impacting feelings of belonging.
The act of travelling to the homeland through several transit points is one of the ways through which young diasporans become transnational in a globalised world. The long and tedious journeys become part of their memories of the homeland. The long wait to reach the destination, the feelings of belonging and unbelonging in the homeland, and the disillusionment of their expectations can in some ways leave the young diasporans with an understanding of their parents’ experiences of becoming diasporans. The homeland journeys form a part of the process of constructing and reinforcing one’s identity as a diasporan. Young diasporans use their agency to decide which identities to retain and which to shed. The Indian diaspora is heterogeneous and not all younger generations of the diaspora in different host nations are able to undertake regular journeys to India. The homeland journeys also signify the diasporic networks and links that a family in the diaspora has retained with the homeland. A discontinuation of the tradition of visiting the homeland by a young diasporan could lead to changes in the ways that links are maintained with the homeland. Therefore the decision to visit the homeland or not is usually a critical one for them.
The Know India Programme (KIP) is a unique initiative by the government of India, in which forty young Indian diasporans are selected to experience the homeland through various activities spanning 25 days. The Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children (SPDC) offers an opportunity for young Indian diasporans to pursue higher education in the homeland. These programmes make it possible for young Indian diasporans who have never visited India to gain first-hand knowledge of the homeland. These initiatives implicitly acknowledge the importance of homeland experiences for young Indian diasporans.
Dual or multiple belongings define young Indian diasporans, and the visits to the homeland provide them with newer perspectives of the homeland and their identities. With these transnational travels, the young diasporan unpacks their belonging to two or more cultures and communities. They leave behind the land where they live as an ethnic minority and, for a few days, become a part of the homeland, where they might be a majority. Yet, their diasporic identities are carried with them to their homeland, and they find themselves occupying a unique position, acting as a bridge that connects the homeland with the host nations. This diasporic identity can sometimes lead to a state of confusion for the young diasporan, or it can be a transitory phase before they feel comfortable with their dual/multiple identities and belonging.
Homeland journeys offer an opportunity for the young diasporan to become acquainted with the ways in which the homeland has changed from the stories they have heard from their parents and grandparents that tend to remain frozen in the past. Their ideas of the homeland which they might have built through mediated sources stand deconstructed by a trip or regular trips to the homeland.
The COVID-19 pandemic could lead to unprecedented changes in the ways in which borders are controlled and the way migrants currently travel through different nation-states. Restrictions to travel in the future could lead to an increase in the cost of journeys and therefore limit or even end visits to the homeland by young diasporans. They would miss out on the positive aspects of the homeland trips – stronger ties with the kith and kin in India; a lived experience of the homeland; an exploration of one’s dual or multiple belonging; and the transnational journeys that form an integral part of their diasporic identities.
Anindita Shome is a PhD candidate at the UGC Centre for the Study of Indian Diaspora, University of Hyderabad, India. Her research interests lie in the literary and socio-cultural aspects of the South Asian migration and diaspora. She takes a keen interest in the areas of Youth Studies, Digital Humanities, and Transnational Studies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @Anindita1089.