A Friendship Between Nations

The Indian community in Indonesia, comprising expatriate or non-resident Indians and ethnic Indians, has a population of less than 100,000, most of whom are concentrated in Medan, Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung.

However, their visible presence and influence in their chosen country of residence is significantly larger. Indians in Indonesia form a very dynamic group of people, generally highly skilled and qualified, at the forefront of almost every major field from financial, engineering, marketing, information and communication technologies to advertising, media and entertainment, education, trading, etc across the range of industries.

The Indian community is generally well regarded, prosperous and well integrated in Indonesia. This can largely be attributed to the warm and friendly environment provided to them in Indonesia. The similar family, moral and ethical values enable people from both countries to understand and relate to each other easily and also work and interact together amicably.

Indians are social people with strong community ties and tend to group together for functions around events and religious festivals such as Deepawali, Holi, etc. Temples provide a great venue for these community events and the Shiva temple in Pluit is popular for Monday evening prayers to Lord Shiva. Other temples frequently visited are the Sai Mandir and Gurudwara in Pasar Baru, and the Hare Krishna Temple in Bogor. Followers of Sri Sri Ravishankar run the Art of Living Foundation, and those of Sadhu Vaswani and Swami Chinmaya have centers as well.

Indian grocery stores in Sunter and Pasar Baru supply all the basic needs of Indian cooking and offer home delivery services. Many Indian restaurants have become very popular and enjoy a multinational clientele. Pasar Baru in Central Jakarta has traditionally been the hub for ethnic Indian-owned stores, many of which sell clothes and textiles. With their numbers in Jakarta burgeoning, more Indians are now setting up shop in Kemang, South Jakarta, with many selling sports goods, household products and accessories.

Cultural exchange between the two nations is provided by the Jawaharlal Nehru Indian Cultural Center (JNICC), which has regular classes for classical dance, music and yoga in Jakarta and Bali. Regular cultural performances are also organized in Indonesia by other Indian associations. Bollywood movies can be viewed at Pasaraya and are popular fare on local TV stations, which sometimes also show Indian soap operas. Cricket, the national sport of India, is slowly finding acceptance with Indonesia becoming an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 2001 and has a group of passionate supporters here.

There are many social and professional organizations of the Indian community in Indonesia of which there are six main associations in Jakarta. Gandhi Seva Loka is a charitable institution run by the Sindhi community and is engaged mainly in educational and social activities. The India Club is a social organization with a large member base and regular events.

The Indian Women’s Association brings together spouses who undertake charitable activities. There is also a Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee in Jakarta associated with Gurudwara activities. The Economic Association of Indonesia and India (www.ecaii.org) brings together entrepreneurs and professionals from the Indian community with the objective of promoting bilateral economic relations, and finally, there is the Indonesian Chapter of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).

The economic crisis in 1997 was a severe blow to the Indian expatriate population in Indonesia but it has bounced back to greater numbers and now there is an influx of entrepreneurs and Indian companies setting up plants and offices here, taking advantage of the stronger bilateral ties between the two nations. Indian President Pratibha Patil on her recent visit to Indonesia said, “India and Indonesia share a common commitment to democracy, pluralism and unity in diversity. As we seek to realize the aspirations of our peoples, we face similar challenges and opportunities.” She also mentioned that Indian companies were showing a renewed interest in making new investments in Indonesia in the textiles, steel, automotive, banking and resources sectors. One very visible example is to see the old bajai has give way to green bajai and, also to bajaj and TVS two wheelers on Jakarta roads.

The Java Jazz Festival in March this year features “Sounds of India” with five Indian bands, Festival of India 2009 – a cultural extravaganza in the planning, and exhibition of “Indian influence in Indonesia” at the national museum are just a few of the public events planned to showcase India in Indonesia.

As published in The Jakarta Post

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