The Development of Communalism among East African Asians



The social and ritual exclusiveness of South Asian settlers and their offspring in East Africa has been stressed by a number of writers. None is more outspoken than Prem Bhatia, the journalist-turned-diplomat, in his account of the Indian Ordeal in Africa (1973). There, Bhatia suggests that Punjabis socialized more freely across caste and sect lines than more exclusive Gujaratis, accepting that rich Asians’ rudeness towards African leaders during his time as Indian High Commissioner to Kenya during the later 1960s (as in the account of the rich Asian shouting to him in Punjabi at an African politician’s party not to spend too much time with his host as he had provided the whisky on offer) was balanced by African politicians’ attacks upon poorer Asian shopkeepers in the same country, citizen and non-citizen alike. At the same time, Bhatia outlines the great diversity of Asian social groupings he encountered — Patels, Lohanas, Brahmins and Shahs among Gujarati Hindus; Jats, Ramgarhias and Nandlanis among Punjabi Sikhs; Ahmadiyas, Sunnis and Shias — further subdividing into the Aga Khan’s Ismailis, Ithn-Ashris and Bohras — among the Muslims; Christian Goans; and Parsis. All these South Asian communities had separate places of worship, sports and welfare facilities. This struck Bhatia as being unlikely to encourage greater social contacts with Africans, if the South Asians themselves were divided into such sharply competing communities.


British Colonial Slave Trade South Asian Community Oral Testimony British Official 
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  1. 1.
    Prem Bhatia, Indian Ordeal in Africa (New Delhi: Vikas, 1973) pp. 14–18, 43,57.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Yash Ghai, ‘The Future Prospects’, in Dharam P. Ghai (ed.), Portrait of a Minority: Asians in East Africa (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1965) is a basic text.Google Scholar
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    Robert G. Gregory, South Asians in East Africa: An Economic and Social History 1890–1980 (Boulder, Colo: Westview 1993) p. 25.Google Scholar
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    Several researchers closely associated with Robert Gregory have also written important studies of East African Asians. They include Charles Bennett, ‘Persistence Amid Adversity: The Growth and Spatial Distribution of the Asian Population of Kenya, 1903–1963’ (PhD dissertation, Syracuse University, 1976)Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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