ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Indian Diaspora

Discrepancies in Population Estimates

The two major population estimates of the Indian diaspora in the 21st century are critically examined. Both estimates were made by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, and appear to be definitive documents on the subject. The article also provides a brief historiography of the population estimates of overseas Indians/Indian diaspora since India’s independence.

The appointment of a High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora by the Ministry of External Affairs in August 2000 heralded a new era in showing the Government of India’s (GoI) concern towards its diaspora. Various path-breaking recommendations apart, the committee in its report also made country-wise population estimates of the Indian diaspora which was also the first major exercise of its kind on the part of the government (High Level Committee 2001). The second major and the latest such estimates were made by the GoI in 2018 (Ministry of External Affairs 2018).

These two documents and their antecedents are the focus of this article, which critically looks into each of them and underlines the Indian government’s somewhat muddled thinking on the subject, especially in regard to South Asian countries. As per the second document, in December 2018, the Indian diaspora population was estimated at around 32.3 million—an increase of about 20 million since 1981 when the first author of this article estimated the overseas Indian population at about 12.1 million (Jain 1982: 300). In fact, the 21st century witnessed unprecedented growth in the population of the Indian diaspora—from about 17 million in 2001 to over 32 million in 2018; and that too, notwithstanding the fact that since India’s independence, the GoI has often underestimated its diaspora size. Before we go further, it would be useful to have a brief account of the historiography of population estimates of the Indian diaspora.

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Updated On : 13th Feb, 2024
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