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.
They form a continuum between two extremes. Between short-term visitors with their homes in India at one extreme; and Indonesians of Indian descent who do not identify themselves as being Indian in any way, at the other extreme.
The relationship between India and Indonesia stretches back to two millennia. Indian traders first came to the Indonesia archipelago in search of spices, fragrant resins, aromatic woods and gold. The first Indian migrants came primarily from Gujarat in India during the first Christian era. Early trade relations were established between India and the islands of Sumatra, called Swarna Dwipa or “the island of gold” and Java Dwipa or “the rice island”. The influx of Indian settlers continued until the 16th century and this period is historically referred to as the Hindu-Indonesian period.
In the 19th century the Dutch brought Indians to Indonesia as indentured laborers to work on plantations located in particular around Medan, North Sumatra where there is today a large Tamil community. A second wave of Indian immigrants, mostly Hindu Sindhi families, made Indonesia their home after the partition of India in 1947. They set up prominent businesses in textiles, garments, entertainment, sports goods, chemicals and general trading. The garment trade is still largely controlled by them in Indonesia.
The inflow of major Indian investments into Indonesia starting in the late 1970s drew a fresh wave of Indian business people to this country. 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. They still maintain their cultural traditions as is evident during Diwali and other festivals. Several social and professional associations serve the Indian community in Indonesia.
This year yet again, the festive season is frantic with ‘Navratri’ Celebrations, ‘Dandiya & Garba’, Diwali celebrations at temples, India Club and bhajans at individual homes. Sizzling DJ dance events with Bollywood beats, fabulous private parties and more. The few Indian restaurants will do roaring business with unending orders for sweets and catering for parties. Diwali indeed will sparkles brightly on the Indian community in Indonesia every year.