Raising awareness in countries across continents has been one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most significant political achievements. During his visits abroad, Modi never misses an opportunity to reach out to the Indian community abroad and bond with them on a common heritage and shared aspirations as members of the one of the richest and oldest civilizations. To this end, several cabinet ministers have also traveled to distant countries where India has hitherto had a rather limited presence.
As one of the most popular destinations for Indians abroad, Taiwan is carving out a place for itself. Even though Indian migration to Taiwan is limited and relatively recent compared to the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, it is beginning to be felt in terms of the contribution of the Indian community in certain critical sectors. However, this remains limited and undervalued due to the extensive unofficial ties between India and Taiwan.
Taiwan is home to at least 5,000 Indian citizens and some members of the diaspora community. The Indian community in Taiwan is made up of businessmen, restaurateurs, scholars, engineers, artists, students and thinkers. Most Indians in Taiwan work in white-collar jobs and are considered to be among the highly educated in the expatriate community. Considered an affluent, closed-mesh society, Indians have made significant progress in Taiwan.
Regarding the evolution of the Indian community in Taiwan, Indians settled in Taiwan in five waves. First, in the 1970s, Indians, mainly Gujarati Sindhis and Marwari traders, settled in Taiwan and started exporting “made in Taiwan” products to different parts of the world. It was the time when Taiwan was emerging as a major manufacturing center and its economy was booming.
Second The wave took place in the 1980s, when Gujarat gemstone traders entered the gemstone markets and established back-and-forth links between source and commodity market through processing industries. often based in Surat.
The launch of MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) by Indians has contributed to the economic transformation of Taiwan. Growing prosperity naturally brought more stability and consequently led Indian families to find it viable to settle in Taiwan.
next wave of Indians moving to Taiwan dates back to the 1990s. These Indians were mostly expatriates employed in multinational corporations and only came to Taiwan for a shorter duration. During the same period, another group of Indians who made Taiwan their home were the ethnic Chinese Indians. Chinese Indians were classified as Overseas Chinese and had a unique opportunity to apply for Taiwanese citizenship. Some of the Chinese-Indians took advantage of the offer and became Taiwanese citizens. The 1990s was also the time when interracial marriages between Indians and Taiwanese became normalized.
The nature of Indian residents really changed in the 2000s when several Indian engineers and technicians began to look to Taiwan for better work opportunities. Most technicians and engineers came to Taiwan with their short and medium term plans.
Fifth, it was not until the 2010s that Taiwan began to see an influx of academics, scholars, and students – mostly language scholars and PhDs, post-docs in the sciences. This was mainly the result of the signing of three MoUs: MoU on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (2007); Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation between ROC (Taiwan) Academia Sinica and Indian Academy of Sciences (2012); and Memorandum of Understanding between Taiwan Foundation for International Cooperation in Higher Education and Association of Indian Universities (2019). This explains why more than 50% of the Indian community in Taiwan now consists of students pursuing higher and professional studies.
The Indian community has played a distinct role in not only being part of Taiwan’s economic boom, but also contributing to the Indian economy. Taiwan is home to more than 50 Indian restaurants – owned by Indians – which employ a significant number of Indians and Taiwanese, creating employment opportunities for locals and establishing a more harmonious bond.
Established only in 1995, India’s de facto embassy in Taiwan, the ITA (India Taipei Association) has a mandate to focus primarily on trade and consular matters. Prior to the ITA, an Indian-led association, the Indian Association of Taipei (IAT), was active in helping the Indian community, and even hosted incoming parliamentarians on several occasions. Several other registered associations representing Indians from different states have emerged. Three important but unnoticed examples include the Taiwan Tamil Sangam, the Taiwan Telugu Indians Cultural Sangam and the Taiwan Malayali Sangam. While most Taiwanese are only familiar with North Indian cuisine and culture, these associations also showcase the diversity and culinary experience of South Indian states. There are a few online groups such as “Indians in Taiwan”, which provide a helpful platform, with a people-centered approach, to Indians living in or planning to come to Taiwan.
If members of the Indian community are considered cultural ambassadors abroad, this is even more true for the Indian diaspora in Taiwan. Indian community members have been organizing Indian cultural festivals and events for decades. In 2021, during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, several Indians got together and sent oxygen cylinders and concentrators along with other medical equipment to India.
While India-Taiwan relations are dominated by three factors – trade, China and culture – the Indian diaspora in Taiwan is trying to broaden the horizons of Taiwanese understanding of India. However, most of the time, the contribution of the Indian diaspora in Taiwan is underestimated by India. Although the Indian Diaspora scenario is dominated by American Indians or the Canadian and UK based Diaspora, this should not overshadow the excellent contributions made by the Indian community in Taiwan. It’s time we recognized the beauty of this little wonder called the Taiwan Indian community.
READ ALSO | Why India must engage Taiwan even if it ruffles some Chinese feathers
Sana Hashmi is a Visiting Scholar at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation. She tweets @sanahashmi1. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
The author thanks Dr. Priya Lee Lalwani, first Indian student in Taiwan and long-term resident, for her insightful interview for this article.
Read all the latest IPL 2022 news, breaking news and live updates here.