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The Gujaratis by Lavina Melwani

Almost one in five Indian in the United States is Gujarati. Here's why.

It is one of the stranger stories of immigration: rooted to their land, their soil and their animals, they nevertheless boarded ships and left for unknown destinations. Yet for all their struggles and prosperity in far-off lands, it was if the Gujaratis had never left their village, their town or their country, for they transported all that they held dear - their way of life, their extended families, their cuisine and their culture into the New World.
You call it having your dhokla - and eating it too!
The Gujaratis comprise a mere 5 percent of the population of India, yet are a force to be reckoned with in the Indian Diaspora, from Africa to the United Kingdom to Canada to the United States. Without a doubt, the Gujaratis constitute the largest ÈmigrÈ group from India. In the United States, they account for an estimated 20 percent of the Indian American population, nearly four times their proportion in India. Their economic clout extends into billions of dollars and they are key players in retail businesses, the diamond industry, and of course the motel industry.
Gujaratis are just about everywhere: If you've ever stayed the night at a chain motel or hotel - an ubiquitous part of the landscape from Alabama to Texas to New Jersey-- there was probably a Gujarati behind it. The Gujaratis are overwhelmingly dominant players in the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, whose members have a $ 40 billion stake in the hospitality industry, owning more than 17,000 hotels, with one million rooms representing over 50 percent percent of U.S. economy lodging properties and nearly 35 percent of all hotel properties.
If you've ever bought a pair of diamond solitaires or a wedding band for a loved one, then there was probably a Gujarati behind it. The Gujaratis are a multi billion-dollar force in the diamond industry. The Indian Diamond and Color Stone Association began 17 years ago with just 65 companies and today the total export of gem and jewelry to the United States tops $6 billion and the membership at 265 companies. Indian goods account for over two-thirds of the total volume of jewelry sold at retail level in the United States.
If you've ever had the sniffles or the flu, there's a good chance that the doctor you saw hailed from Gujarat. There are thousands of Gujarati physicians across America in almost every medical specialty.
Indeed the sheer number of Gujaratis ensures that they have infiltrated every profession from accounting to filmmaking in America. You most certainly must have bought your gum or a pack of cigarettes or newspaper at a Gujarati-operated newsstand or candy store. And if you've bought garments made in India, it is once again very possible that the manufacturers, the shippers and the wholesalers are Gujarati too!

Dancer Sonali Vyas performing in New York.
In fact, according to some estimates, Gujaratis constitute almost 400,000 of the total Indian population in the United States, and out of that at least a 140,000 go by the name of Patel, a Gujarati name that is as ubiquitous as Smith or Brown in the west. Open a telephone book in New Jersey and you can scroll through pages and pages of Patel.
The story of Gujarati success is repeated in countries around the globe from Africa to England to Canada. What is it in their blood or their history that gave them this spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship to leave their moorings in such vast numbers and set out for foreign shores? Why did they pack up and leave while others stayed? In the thousand villages of Charotar in Gujarat, there is probably not even one from which at least one Patel family has not migrated, and there are some villages where more than half of the Patel families have emigrated.
And having packed up and left, how is it that they - more than any other community of India - keep alive their customs and their traditions, their cuisine and their social values even in alien lands with vastly different mores? The answers lie in the land they left behind.
Gujarat is the birthplace of Dadabhoy Navroji, the grand old man of the freedom fight, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the architect of a united India, and Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Nation. For Gujaratis, the Mahatma and his ideals hold special place and of course, he was also the most famous NRI of all times, having spent several years in South Africa and leaving his imprint there of nonviolent revolution.
One of the more prosperous states of India, Gujarat with its strategic ports has a long tradition of overseas trade. Gujarati businessmen have been active in Africa since the 13th century, as bankers and moneylenders, and even in the Mughal times Gujarat was a bustling trade center.
The entrepreneurial Gujaratis have been the dominant figures in the Indian populations of Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, as well as Britain even in colonial times. Although tens of thousands of Indian laborers were bought into East Africa to build the railroads, most returned home except for the Gujaratis who stayed on to become small traders.

The Navratri celebrations are a must stop for New Jersey politicians. Here New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey and his wife in the Navratri tent with Peter Kothari and Gulshan Grover.
A fascinating history of the Gujaratis can be found on the Matiya Patidar Samaj website, written by the late Ramanbhai Prema, with research from books kept by the Baroths and Vahivanchas. Foreign invasions around AD 1000 had compelled the Kanbi from Leava and Karad villages of the Gujaranvwalla district (presently in Pakistan) to leave Punjab for Gujarat. At that time the Solankis were ruling Gujarat and the land in the taluka of Patlad was uncultivated and granted to the newcomers.
The Kanbis were hard workers and cultivated the land, giving a twelfth portion of the crop to the king. Each village had a headman who collected the crops for the king and kept records of the kingdom on the pat - a log book - and the person who kept these records was known as Patlikh, a name which was shortened to Patal and then to Patel.
The emigration of Patels began in the late 19th and the early 20th century, first to east Africa and then to the rest of the world. Scholars like David Pocock attribute the migration of this agricultural community to factors like famine and plague, as well as the rules of inheritance whereby the property is equally divided amongst all the sons. As the land was divided and subdivided amongst successive generations, the shrinking pie made it necessary to find other means of sustenance for the increasing family in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
At that time there were many work opportunities in East Africa, where most of the migrants initially worked in railways and other civil services, while others became traders. In fact, there were so many Patel employees in the East African railways, that it became known as Patel railways! When the east African countries became independent, many of the Patels moved to the United Kingdom.
Most of the Patels, settled in the UK in the 1960s and the 1970s, are twice-migrants. First they went to the east African countries and then they migrated to the UK. They came to Britain in two major waves, in the mid-1960s from Kenya, and in the early 1970s from Uganda, after being expelled by Idi Amin. And now of course, many of them are thrice-migrants, having moved from Britain to America.
In Migrations and Cultures, Thomas Sowell observes, "Throughout East Africa, the Indian operated on a very small profit margin, lived extremely cheaply, took the risks of selling on credit, and worked long hours under what would be impossible conditions for Europeans." He quotes a British observer in the 1920's commenting that the Indians were driving their trucks,'"without lights, without brakes, apparently without tires, and with an engine which looks like conking out at any moment, pushing trade through the most inaccessible places."
It is this can-do attitude that the Gujaratis have carried with them to different parts of the globe. In fact, as Sowell observes,""The economic role of the Indians in Uganda can perhaps best be appreciated by considering what happened after they left. The economy collapsed."

India still throbs in the hearts of these Gujarati seniors
One reason for the proliferation of the Gujaratis in America is their strong sense of family unity. There can never be just one successful Patel, because he'll always share his good fortune with otherPatels. The fastest-growing organization in the U.S. hospitality industry, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) has a membership base of more than 7,000 members, a majority Gujarati, many of them Patels. Together they own 17,000 hotel properties, more than 35 percent of all hotel properties in the United States.
That is a mind-boggling figure when you consider that Indians are under 1 percent of the U.S. population. The market value of hotels owned by AAHOA members totals nearly $40 billion, and gives employment to 800,000 people. This does not include many independents who are not members of AAHOA, and so the figure is much higher.
Dhansukh ''Dan' Patel, the president of AAHOA, was born in Gujarat, grew up in England and came to the United States at the age of 21. He started out with one small motel and now owns 11 of them in Tennessee and Kentucky encompassing Holiday Inn, Hilton Gardens, Days Inn and Best Western.
His story is that of many other Patels, who relied upon family connections to succeed in the hospitality industry. "When I came here 20 years ago I bought a property because my father-in-law owned a hotel in San Francisco and helped me. After I came, my family members knew that if they came and got into the hotel industry, there would be so many people to back them up that they would never fail. Our Gujarati folks are very hard working and they put their heart and soul into any business that they buy. They do a lot of the work themselves and so they see a good saving at the end."
As he points out, "What better business is there than operating a hotel? Not only do you find your residence there and revenue generating system, but family support. It's very tough to get a job here, but with a down payment and owner financing, it's easy to get into the hotel business."
Dhansukh Patel says AAHOA is working to educate the motel and hotel owners to streamline their businesses: "We cannot operate a hotel the way we used to 20 years ago. Today technology is in, franchises are in and so education is necessary to help people learn how to use the technology to bring the customers to their hotel. We educate them to become better hoteliers."

The Swaminarayan Sanstha, a socio-spiritual organization, is very prominent among Gujaratis.
The thriving Gujarati community has three newspapers, Gujarat Samachar from India, Sandesh published from Chicago and Gujarat Times from New York. It also has scores of regional organizations including several Gujarat Samajs across America. The Gujarat Samaj in New York is the oldest Gujarati organization established in 1974 and is the only one with its own building.
According to Chandrakant Patel, the secretary of the New York Gujarat Samaj, it has 2500 family members and a membership base of 10,000 people. There are Gujarat Samajs in various states, including Illinois, California, Texas, North Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut. Chandrakant Patel, an engineer working for the U.S. department of defense, also serves as the editor of Kalam, the magazine of Gujarat Samaj.
The Gujarat Samaj provides networking and cultural activities including katha, spiritual chants from well-known gurus, kavi samelan with Gujarati poets, and folk dance. Gujarat Din, a celebration of Independence Day for the State of Gujarat, is celebrated on May 1. Every year either a Satyanarayan Katha or Gayatri Yagna is performed to launch the year off to an auspicious start.
Perhaps the Gujarati community has managed to keep its culture intact because of the close-knit kinship of different groups such as Brahmins, Patels and banyas. Organizations of these various clans exist even in America. Marriage meets are arranged in New Jersey and North Carolina to find suitable life partners within the caste. Says Chandrakant Patel: "It's a way to get an introduction to a life partner. I think this is the best way in this country." He points out that times are changing and in America Gujaratis are marrying not only Gujaratis of different clans, but also from different communities of India.
Rajesh Patel, an electronics engineer based in North Carolina, is the president of the North Carolina Triangular Gujarat Organization. He himself did his B,Sc. in Baroda but was invited to the United States by his wife's uncle. After completing his masters in Rutgers, he brought his family over. Today there are 180 people from their extended family in the United States. Says Patel, "It's all about family unity."
There are nearly 1000 Gujarati families in North Carolina; when the organization started 13 years ago, there were just a handful of members. Says Rajesh Patel, "Our goal is to preserve Gujarati values and culture here and we don't want to forget our roots. We also collected money for Gujarat earthquake and sent it through Share and Care. We observe all Gujarati functions and festivals - Holi, Navrati and Diwali."

Why does he think the Gujaratis have succeeded so well?""There is always the feeling 'Yeh apna admi hein' (this is our own); we help each other real well. There is a good unity amongst us." There is also the work ethos, be it in the candy stores or the hospitality industry. They are willing to work from morning to evening and are extremely resilient. And in bad times they can expect support from the tribe.
The website maintained by the Patels of Greater London explains the reasons for the solidarity of the community: "The village life in India had a profound effect on the first generation migrants, and the social identity of the Patels is deeply embedded in village life which was highly intimate, co-operative, intense, and amicable. The religious and cultural bonds further cemented those ties with village people, which they remember with nostalgia. Therefore, for the first generation migrants the ties with their relatives, villages, and country have romantic value and hence are quite powerful. They consider themselves British citizens and yet they think they are the self-appointed ambassadors of India to the UK.
"The most remarkable peculiarity of the Patel community, however, is that though they are ever willing to adapt to the constantly changing external economic environment, they maintain strong internal integration with reference to their social life. Therefore, they have retained their identity by organizing themselves in terms of their ancestral villages of origin and marriage circles. They have formed the associations based on their villages like Bhadran Bandhu Samaj, Karamsad Bhandu Samaj, etc. And some of them have also formed associations based on their marriage circles ('gols') such as Shree Sattavis Gam Patidar Samaj."
While the system is more entrenched in England, even in the United States organizations such as these exist and organize marriage melas where young Gujaratis from the same caste can find life partners. Bit in the melting pot of America, where everyone is from somewhere else, young people are often finding their own matches.

AAHOA's Dan Patel.
In the United States, Gujaratis have maintained their food habits and cultural celebrations and the rest of the Indian community has them to thank for the proliferation of ethnic groceries, vegetarian restaurants and temples in America. Navratri is celebrated in a very big way with garba performances held in many locations, from huge tents in New Jersey with thousands of participants, to small gatherings in school auditoriums. Gujarati homes are studded with furnishings from back home, including the wooden swing, which is a feature of almost every home in the old country.
One important organization which provides a visual roadmap and blueprint of a code of conduct and living for its many followers is Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a socio-spiritual organization with its roots in the Vedas. Many Gujaratis follow its message of spirituality and social service, and involve their children from the very beginning.
The Gujarat based organization has branches in the United States and helps the overseas Gujaratis keep their balance between two worlds with its mix of spirituality and social service. Its International network has many devoted volunteers with thousands of centers and 495 BAPS temples worldwide.
Many in the community take the social service message seriously, and there are several nonprofit organizations, including notably Share and Care, which coordinates donations as well as volunteer work from the community. After the devastating earthquake in Gujarat last year, many organizations including BAPS and Share and Care mobilized the community into action. Physicians flew in to offer their services.
Major organizations like AAHOA, Gujarat Samaj and AAPI donated large sums for the rehabilitation of Gujarat. Dhansukh Patel, chairman of AAHOA, is currently in Bhuj working with BAPS and Habitat for Humanity in Gujarat. He says the goal is "to rebuild our Gujarat back, to rebuild and give those folks their lives back."
Indeed, the economic clout of the NRIs is increasingly seen in their home state and Gujarat might be the only state that has instituted special perks for its foreign-based sons. The Non Resident Gujarati Bhavan (NRG Bhavan) in Ahmedabad provides hospitality and support to visiting NRIS. The Gujarat State Non-Resident Gujarati's Foundation (NRG Foundation) is issuing a Gujarat Card to the Non-Resident Gujaratis outside India, which will give them special considerations during their visit, and the state even boasts a minister for NRI affairs.

While many Gujaratis are physicians, hoteliers and diamond merchants, there are just as many in business, engineering and other professions. Arun Bhatia is probably the only Gujarati developer, taking on the traditional calling of his family in Bombay. Over half-a-dozen skyscrapers built by him are silhouetted against the Manhattan skyline and scores of properties in the city have been rejuvenated or managed by his company. His latest offering"- the Capri - is a $60 million luxury 47-story tower in prestigious Sutton Place. Over the past two decades Bhatia has built several noted residential complexes valued at $400 million.
The Gujaratis may have followed traditional paths when they ventured into new lands but the young Gujaratis, the ones born in America, are certainly treading off the beaten path. There may be many doctors, accountants and engineers, but now there are also writers like Suketu Mehta, artists like Siddharta Joag, and dreamers galore. At the age of 21, Sandy Dalal became the youngest fashion designer ever to receive the prestigious Perry Ellis Award for Menswear as the best new talent in 1998 by the Council of Fashion designers of America (CFDA). Last year he bagged the Fashion Group International's 2001 4th Annual Rising Star Award for Men's Apparel.
Dalal's collection can be found in the creme de la creme stores, including Neiman Marcus, Barneys and Bloomingdale's, and his suits, starting at $1000, attract a whole range of celebrities including members of A Tribe Called Quest, Third Eye Blind, the Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes, John Cusack, and Aerosmith.
The emerging crop of Indian American filmmakers includes a number of Gujaratis, who instead of going in for medicine or engineering have embraced the ephemeral world of cinema instead. Gitish and Piyush Pandya are the two brothers behind the year's biggest hit American Desi which has done well in the England too; Krutin Patel directed the critically acclaimed ABCD, which was produced by his sister Naju. Here too the legendary closeness of the Gujarati community played a hand: when it came to raising funds, Krutin found he had willing backers among the many kin his father had helped when they first came to this country.

As the new generation of Gujaratis born and brought up in the United States comes of age, they are a blend of India and America. Attorney Parag Patel, whose parents came from Ahmedabad in 1960 to pursue graduate studies, is representative of this new generation. Born in Belleville, NJ, he chose to go into government and serves as Councilman in Edison, NJ.
He says, "It is clear Indian Americans are individually excellent on a professional and academic basis. But collectively Indian Americans have been below average and marginalized in mainstream U.S. politics and, as result, have been impotent."
He believes that Indian Americans can become empowered by real political involvement through local political service in zoning boards, school boards, municipal councils, and local political parties, not necessarily only federal political activism and fundraising. Asked if he knew of many second generation Gujaratis who are attracted to politics, Patel observes,""Simply, no. But I believe - and hope - that the lack of second generation Gujaratis is a natural immigration phenomenon. They are now maturing and have nearly graduated to a level of comfort and sophistication, which allows for political involvement. Other ethnicities, including Jewish Americans and Irish Americans, have taken longer periods of time to mature and graduate into political involvement."

Indeed, the second generation of Gujaratis is taking on just about every field. Even when they go into the traditional ones initiated by their parents, they are bringing their own individualism and a new sophisticat-ion to the workplace. In the old days their parents might had problems with English as they toiled at small, rundown motels but now gone are the days of mom and pop motels!
AAHOA hosts youth conferences and provides internships and mentorships to help the younger generation get into the hospitality industry. Says Dhansukh Patel, "We have built a solid foundation in the hospitality industry and now the youth must build on that foundation." A new sophistication is coming in to the dealings and special seminars are held for young hoteliers, including women. A recent conference attracted 850 women from across the United States.
Mike Amin, a third generation hotelier from California, is the vice chairman of AAHOA and the future face of this powerful organization. At the University of San Francisco, he studied economics and business with concentrations on new venture management, feasibility analysis, financial management for development firms, and real estate law and analysis. He earned a B.S. in Finance and Marketing and serves as the managing partner of The Amin Group, a family-operated commercial management and development firm.
As vice chair, he has introduced new strategies, creating alliances with state associations, advocating political awareness and grassroots activism and ongoing education for independent hoteliers. An intrinsic part of America, this third generation Patel hotelier is a member of non-profit panels including Catholic Charities and the Mayor's Action Committee on Homelessness. For a people that could drive through the African bush in a truck "without lights, without brakes, apparently without tires, and with an engine which looks like conking out at any moment"- it will be interesting to see how far this amazingly intrepid community can go with all the advantages of a topnotch American education and their Gujarati entrepreneurial genes.


Racism and the truth about the Ugandan Asians 26 August 2002

Yasmin Alibhai Brown

Like all racists, we fantasised that Africans wanted our women. Rumour was that 'our' girls were being raped by black Ugandans. 

It is exactly 30 years today that Doctor Idi Amin Dada, His Excellency, Life President of Uganda, life Field Marshal, Al Haj, Conqueror of the British Empire and the Last King of Scotland, stood in his pyjamas and announced to his army cronies that Allah had instructed him in a dream to expel all Asians from his country and to confiscate their homes and their businesses by 9 November 1972. If any Asians were seen in Uganda after that date, he warned: "I will make you feel as if you are sitting on fire. Your main interest has been to exploit the economy for years and now I say to you all - Go!". That famous laugh gurgled up darkly, and his big face beamed.

Most Asians thought he was just rattling them. The UK government was unruffled - after all they had supported his coup in 1971. Although things had soured, Amin was felt to be a man the British could manipulate, trained by our soldiers, a chap who loved the Queen. They were wrong. Amin may have been a little mad, but he was ruthless and a clever populist who meant to carry out this expulsion.

Ugandan Asians were a small minority - about 60,000 - but we were the visible middle class, descendants of indentured labourers (enslaved men, only with a little money promised at the end of their long tenure) brought over by the British, later followed by desperate landless farmers, small shopkeepers and, in the early fifties, professionals from India and Pakistan.

The imperial plan was to create a racially defined commercial and professional class and we happily obliged, making good and keeping our heads down. We didn't much care for independence when it came in 1962, and we did what was necessary - bribes, public demonstrations of support for this minister or that - anything that could keep us living enchanted lives in a natural paradise.

I remembered all this with a jolt last week, on a boat going down the Nile towards Aswan in Egypt, halfway through the best holiday I have ever had ( an apology: last year I said I would not go to Egypt because I feared hard-line Islamists. I was wrong. The people were exceptionally warm and open-minded). I sobbed without being able to explain why. Looking at the densely packed banana trees and small huts, tethered goats, wandering cows, fishermen and the huge dam, I now think it was just a surge of memory and loss, that knowledge that there is no going back.

This river meanders up from Lake Victoria where I swam and picnicked, even trod on a crocodile once thinking it was a log, and these were the pictures I drew as a small child. It is still hard not to miss your homeland, although I love London now and would never give up all that I have slowly built over the decades. Many Ugandan Asians have similar ambiguous views - that so much was lost and even more gained when Amin banished us from a country that we had helped build.

Some older people have been unable to talk about the humiliation they went through. Their grief lingers on, with a sense of terrible injustice. In a searing essay, Paul Theroux, who was in Uganda in 1967, wrote: "I believe the Asians to be the most lied-about race in Africa; the reactions of most Africans and Europeans in East Africa to the Asian presence are flagrantly racist." Trevor Grundy, the white editor of the Kenyan newspaper The Nation, was also well known for his support of Asians in the face of some hideous black and white prejudices.

We have since become one of Britain's fables. Idi Amin is seen as the big, black, demonic monster; we are his heroic victims saved by graceful and fair Britannia who received us into her soft bosom. Nurtured thus we rose again to become frightfully good millionaires. Jean Cocteau said that history is facts that become lies in the end, and that legends are lies that become history in the end. These are legends and lies that have become history. Never forget that when we came here in 1972 Enoch Powell was at his most powerful, although there were thousands of people who did welcome us and the mood was not as hysterically anti-immigration as it is today. Nor was Idi Amin as wholly demented as people believe.

I met him in 1968. He was head of the army and I was staying in State House barracks with 40 other young people, taken there to spend three months with the then President of Uganda, Milton Obote, and his family. Obote was worried that the student revolts in Europe would spread to Uganda, so he wanted us to see how his government worked, but more importantly he hoped to identify possible troublemakers. Several students disappeared from our group. I remember thinking even as a schoolgirl that Amin was both charming and cunning. When he threw us out he knew it would be a popular move among Africans, and it was.

Envy was only part of the reason. A small racial minority obviously more wealthy than the majority obviously created resentment, sometimes among people who didn't understand how much work and thrift had gone into the success they saw. (Although another lie is that we were all rich. We were not, but we were never as poor as Africans). In the last years we spent there, we were made to feel insecure and terrified, much as the white farmers of Zimbabwe are now, and that was wrong. Some Africans and Asians were developing friendships and a new destiny, but they were a minority.

We Asians did not share our wealth and skills as much as we should have, and we did illegally send out money - both accusations levelled by Amin. And most Asians were deeply racist, unable to imagine marrying Africans and living with them as equals. Like all racists we fantasised that Africans wanted to possess our women. So rumours spread that hundreds of "our" girls were raped by black Ugandans, unsubstantiated wild allegations that were repeated in a newspaper only this week.

My father died without speaking to me three years after I had played Juliet in a school production. My school had started admitting black children and our Romeo was black you see, too much even for my "egalitarian" father. I wonder how many of my schoolfriends will recall this scandal at our first reunion this month. Some of my family - not my mother - shared these attitudes, and when I described these in my book No Place Like Home, several stopped speaking to me. No great loss. Asian papers also condemned me because they too want to forget the wrongs we did

They prefer self-pity or distasteful triumphalism ("See, they could do nothing without us!"). A few years ago I went to Neasden Temple where the present President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, was on a reconciliation mission. Eight thousand Asians gathered to hear him announce that properties and homes were being handed back. Priests anointed, garlanded and blessed him. Then came his fierce speech where he reminded us that only 10 (if that) of us were killed: "When I was in the bush fighting, you were in Shepherd's Bush. I got rid of Amin. Half a million of my people died. So come back to your country, help us rebuild, but remember the truth." Yes, remember the truth, especially today.

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Blunkett ends passports injustice, 34 years on

Alan Travis, home affairs editor Wednesday July 3, 2002 The Guardian

Some 35,000 overseas British citizens who were left stateless when the 1968 Labour government closed the door on the entry of east African Asians are finally to be given the opportunity to take up full British citizenship.

The home secretary, David Blunkett, is to announce the change tomorrow in an amendment to the immigration, nationality and asylum bill. He said last night the change would "right a historic wrong" which had left stateless tens of thousands of Asian people who had worked closely with British colonial administrations.

The 35,000 people involved were given British passports as a result of the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act passed by the Labour government in three days on the back of a wave of anti-immigration racism led by Enoch Powell and protesting Smithfield meat porters.

But as Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi became independent from British rule the passport holders discovered that their status as "British overseas citizens" was worthless because their passports did not give them the right to live in Britain.

The 1968 decision has long been regarded by senior Labour figures, including Roy Hattersley, as one of Labour's most shameful episodes. White people in similar circumstances were given full British passports while those with an Asian background were given worthless second class status.

"We are righting a historical wrong which has left a num ber of overseas citizens without any right of abode, either in the UK or elsewhere," Mr Blunkett said.

"Overseas British citizen status is a legacy of decolonisation, when some overseas citizens were treated unfairly, which was then compounded by the 1968 Immigration Act and the 1981 Nationality Act. The government is acting to put right those wrongs. We have a moral obligation to these people going back a long way."

Most of those involved were Indians living and working outside India on independence in 1948. They were mainly in civil service and commercial jobs in British colonies in east Africa. After the rise of Idi Amin and other repressive east African regimes many went to live in Malaysia.

Fiona Mactaggart, the Labour MP for Slough, who has long campaigned for the change, said it rectified one of the biggest injustices in British post-war immigration policy: "It has created a lot of bitterness because the divide in citizenship was specifically racial. British overseas citizenship was created to give second class status to those whose heritage was Asian while those whose heritage was white were allowed to settle in Britain. As a result, that racial division has been inherent in British immigration and nationality laws for 30 years."

The British high commission in Malaysia has estimated there are up to 12,000 British overseas citizens in that country, mainly elderly people of Indian descent who were unlikely to want to go to Britain.

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Once was Uganda: Exiled Indians remember August 11, 2001

Ajit Jain in Toronto Indo-Asian News Service

A history of pain rolled out as people of Asian origin, mostly Indians, gathered in Toronto to recount the days of 1972 when they were expelled from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin.

"To some extent, 30 years later, the nostalgia of Uganda has been poisoned by the rude exile we had to undergo," said Dushyant Yagnik, a resident of the Canadian province of Quebec.

He was one of 240 people -- all former students and teachers of the Government Secondary School, Kololo, in Kampala, Uganda -- present at the conference at Alliston, north of Toronto.

The participants at the first international reunion came from all parts of Canada, the United States, Britain, Latin America and even Uganda, 30 years after General Amin expelled them on August 4, 1972.

The reunion was a microcosm of India: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Catholics from a former Ugandan society.

Many of them recounted their experiences of how families were uprooted and forced out of the country and how Uganda-born Asian children were declared non-residents, tearing apart many families.

"It was a mini-Partition," said N K Wagle, director, Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, who chaired the conference, referring to the division of India in 1947.

Amin had issued a decree allocating "shops, factories and properties of Asians/Indians to political favourites without considering the capacity of the persons to carry on business", said Mumtaz Kassam, advocate and solicitor in Kampala, who was the keynote speaker at the reunion.

"Consequently, factories closed down and businesses came to a standstill by 1978. The unskilled Africans did not know how to run these assets," she remembered. "Most properties were placed in the hands of the Departed Asians Properties Custodian Board and many were rented out at nominal rates," she added.

Kassam quoted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as acknowledging that "our [Uganda's] ability to attract new investment from abroad depends on how we handle the return of Asians' properties".

Kassam said she herself had handled 60 per cent of cases dealing with repossession of properties of Asians. Of the 8,000 that were expropriated, 4,012 have been returned to their rightful owners, 1,300 have been offered for sale in public auctions and there is a residue of outstanding claims.

But few of the other speakers seemed inclined to go back to Uganda as they had all settled down and succeeded in businesses and professions in the West.

Zulema de Souza, who was a teacher at the Kalolo school, said emphatically, "I won't go back and my reason being I lived in fear in Uganda. I came from India where I lived in freedom. I went to Africa without knowing what they would do to you and I never felt attached. I always felt I was in a foreign land."

"I won't even go back to visit Uganda," said this leader of the Goan community, "forget about going to live there."

"After being uprooted, they worked very hard and almost all of them have succeeded and their story is an Indian story of success: how they have succeeded against all odds," added Toronto University's Wagle.


Story of Ugandan family in America

My family migrated to East Africa as traders and businessmen, and the trade was handed down, and eventually it came into my hands, and Idi Amin took it away . . . But after I had settled down here, one day I was talking to my children, and I said that whatever comes is for the better. The best part of our resettlement in America is that my children got the best education. The best, really." A successful business leader of Indian descent, whose family had lived in Uganda for two generations, Gulam Raza Hassanali, 69, left Uganda in 1972 to escape the dictatorship of General Idi Amin. Hassanali was forced to give up ownership of several companies, including factories and a tourist hotel, when Idi Amin nationalized Uganda's economy, abruptly seizing property from East African minority members. 

Despite the danger emerging under the rule of Idi Amin, Hassanali initially resisted leaving Uganda. "Idi Amin announced that all non-citizens would have to quit. I was a citizen there, so I thought they would allow me to stay." As it became clear that his Ugandan citizenship was fast becoming meaningless in the new political climate, he realized that he had no choice but to leave. "They said that only the 'son[ s] of the soil' -- these are the words I shall never forget -- would be allowed here to stay and do business." One day soldiers appeared at the door to his home and demanded the keys to his factories. Fearing for the safety of his family, Hassanali sent his wife, Rubab, and their three children to stay with family in Tanzania while he applied for an American visa at the United States embassy in Kampala. On the day he left Uganda, the family was reunited, flying first to Rome, then joining ninety-nine other Ugandan families on a flight to New York. 

Hassanali's brothers fled to England and Sweden. Despite poor health -- including Polio that left him without the use of one leg -- Hassanali refused to apply for public assistance when he arrived here. "All that I want is a job and to educate my children," he said at the time. The New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) helped Hassanali find employment as an accountant. NYANA also helped the Hassanali family to locate and furnish their first apartment in Queens and to prepare for the citizenship examination. A religious Muslim, Hassanali discovered there was no organized community of Muslim Asians who had immigrated to New York from Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. He began organizing the community. Soon, Hassanali's Queens apartment became an ad hoc community center for religious practice, social events, and even several marriage ceremonies. Saying he wished to give the kind of assistance to his community that he had received from New York's Jewish community, Hassanali helped newly arriving East African immigrant families coming to the United States, letting them stay in his home and helping them to find employment. Working through the congregation, he says he patterned his efforts after NYANA's services. Five years ago, he helped raise over $1.8 million in a worldwide appeal to build the community's first mosque in Queens. Now retired, Hassanali continues to be active in a number of community services, despite serious health problems, and teaches Sunday school each weekend in the Queens mosque that he helped build. Twenty-four years since his family resettled in the United States, Hassanali's three children have all graduated from college and excelled in their careers. His oldest son has carried on his father's public service ethic. A doctor with a medical practice in Buffalo, New York, Riyaz Hassanali has volunteered his assistance in international medical relief programs for refugees in Bosnia and around the world.

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Ismaili Community in Canada

In early August 1972, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin announced that 80,000 Ugandan Asians would be expelled from the country they had called home for generations. These people, with few or no possessions, would become stateless. While the majority held British citizenship, it was uncertain how many people that country could adequately resettle. As a result, an international appeal went out for assistance. Shocked by reports of escalating violence in Uganda, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau offered to accept any "expellees" with nowhere else to go. Canadian immigration officials were dispatched to Kampala to process as many people as they could in a relatively short span of time. In the end, 6,175 Ugandan Asians made the journey to a new life in Canada. These newcomers were well educated and generally, they integrated quickly into Canadian society.

The Ismailis have come from predominantly urban backgrounds and have been part of a clearly defined sociological group. They have lived in distinct residential areas which had specific parameters. Within Canada, the Ismailis have settled in urban areas with large concentrations of clustered family groupings. They move as quickly as possible from rented apartments to homes which they purchase just as they had done in Uganda and other cities of East Africa. Ismailis of Canada maintain close ties with other Ismaili communities throughout the world via a network of councils, which provide explicit instruction regarding appropriate behavioral patterns.

The heads of the councils have discouraged smoking and drinking but encourage western styles of dress. The local mosque functions as an important center of community activity and perpetuates the cohesiveness of the group. Weekly prayer meetings are a regular part of religious tradition as in daily prayer at home and festive congregational celebrations in observance of special holy days.

Many Ismailis have stepped right into the free enterprise system of Canada with successful ingenuity. Young Ismailis are being trained to pursue careers in commercial businesses. There has been very active involvement of religious leaders in the lives of young businessmen so that both the religious and the business heritage of the Ismailis is preserved. The Ismailis appreciate the freedom and the opportunity to practice their traditional life-styles within Canada and seek to identify themselves as patriotic citizens. Challenges of economic opportunities within recessionary business climates are confronting young Ismailis who seek good jobs and positions of responsibility. The tensions of resettlement do not appear to threaten the identity or strength of the Ismaili community. Economic hardship poses major problems. The skills, ingenuity, and commitment are keeping the Ismaili community vibrant and growing together to face the future.

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The Ugandan city of Jinja sits at the headwaters of the Nile River on Lake Victoria. It is where the source of the river Nile is located. This geographical fact led to the ascent of Jinja from small fishing village to Uganda's industrial heart. By the mid-1950s, the town had a hydroelectric dam, a developed service infrastructure, and a communication system fed by boat, rail, air, and road.

Jinja lies on the shores of Lake Victoria and is chockablock with old Asian-style buildings, reflecting the days when the town had a sizeable Asian community. The town was virtually owned by Asians until Idi Amin unceremoniously kicked them out of the country. Many of them have started to return and the town is once again becoming prosperous. Jinja is also one of the spots on which Mahatma Gandhi chose to have his ashes scattered. A statue commemorates Gandhi at a Hindu temple near town. Jinja is close to the Owen Falls Dam, a hydroelectric station which supplies Uganda with the bulk of its electricity. The main Kampala to Jinja road runs across the top of the dam, and the railway line crosses on a bridge close by. Before the building of the Owen Falls Dam, the Source of the Nile was Ripon Falls, where the Nile left Lake Victoria on its way to the Mediterranean. The falls were inundated by the waters of the dam, but you can still make out where they used to be from the turbulence. Jinja is about 60km (37mi) north-east of Kampala and is easily accessible by bus, taxi or train.

Despite this affluent base, Jinja could not escape the decline triggered by Idi Amin's expulsion of the Asian community from Uganda in 1972 and by civil war. By the end of the decade, the economy and industry were devastated, and investment nearly non-existent. Although new investment has flooded into Uganda since President Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM) took power in 1986, most of it has gone to the capital, Kampala.

The same infrastructure that served Jinja in the 1950s is coming under further pressure as villagers move to town in search of work — swelling the already high numbers of unemployed. Even when services are available, many people — with an average per capita income of only US$215 — cannot afford them.

Environmental degradation

Poverty has had far-reaching effects on the environment. The council has not built public pit latrines because there is running water available. Yet many people with access to water cannot afford to pay for the service, which means they are forced to dump their waste in public places.

Even the search for extra cash has burdened the environment. Many people have turned to rudimentary agricultural practices as a short-term generator of revenue, and have begun cultivating the wetlands that border the town. This practice, in turn, threatens the fish breeding grounds of Lake Victoria. 

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Hindus Return to Uganda

After 22 years of Exile, Asians Return to a Different Uganda Sub Government and People Extend Warm Welcome As Country Recovers from Vicious Civil War In 1972 President. Sub Government and People Extend Warm Welcome As Country Recovers from Vicious Civil War. By Prabha Prabhakar Bhardwaj, Nairobi, Kenya as part of the HinduSpirit Web Network

In 1972 President Idi Amin gave the 80,000-strong Asian community of Uganda ninety days in which to leave the country, after which their businesses and homes would be handed over to native Ugandans. The shocked Asians numbly packed amidst sporadic violence and looting and quietly departed for the United Kingdom or India. The few who stayed behind, numbering less than a hundred, sent their families away. Asians, 65% Hindu, had been settled in Uganda since 1920.

Amin (who once remarked that "human flesh is more salty than even zebra") held onto power for seven years, during which hundreds of thousands of native Ugandans died in political strife. His successor, Obote, led a similar reign of terror. It was only when President Musevani gained power in 1986 and ended years of civil war that any sense of normalcy returned.

Musevani's 1992 offer for the Ugandan Asians to return was met with skepticism. But Asians were pleasantly surprised by the congenial treatment meted out to them by Musevani. Government records had not been destroyed. Just by locating the title deeds and confirming the original owner's identity, confiscated properties and businesses were handed back. Five thousand proper-ties, including several Hindu temples, have been reclaimed. The time allotted to reclaim the properties expired in 1994 and the unclaimed balance (20%) was auctioned off. There are approximately 2,500 Hindus now in Kampala, the capital city.

The New Immigrants to Uganda

The present population of Asians are not the same people who fled in 1972. Those people established themselves and are prospering in other parts of the world. They do not wish to give up that life and return to live in a not entirely stable Uganda. In their hearts, there is a fear syndrome. Except for a few, the original residents are repossessing their properties, selling them to newcomers and returning to wherever they carved a niche for themselves for the last two decades.

Some who are staying now are like Mr. Rajni Bakrania. He left in 1984 and became a British citizen. He returned to Kampala in 1993, not as a citizen but as an expatriate, and is working with a construction company. He has always been a social worker and is a staunch Hindu.

 Good Race Relations

Hindus I spoke with credited Musevani with creating a climate for them to work and prosper in. The majority feel that the local population approves of the Asians' return, because Asians have brought a new prosperity to the war-racked country.

Bakrania has not encountered racial discrimination. According to him, Uganda is a thousand times better than neighboring Kenya which is full of violence and insecurity especially for Asians [see Hinduism Today, September, 1994].

I could not initially accept all the good things Asians said in connection with race relations. Then I myself talked to several Africans and did not get any negative feedback. The animosity which is rampant in Kenya is absent among the masses in Uganda, Tanzania and other African countries I have visited. I traveled alone through Uganda by car all the way. I interacted with many people and was pleasantly surprised at the positive and healthy attitude of the locals.

A major factor in the race relations is that the original tribes of Uganda are sensible, educated and mild people, unlike the more hot-headed Kikuyu of Kenya.

If there is any resentment, it is felt by landlords who have been removed from businesses and houses. But they also admit that properties were neglected once Asians were gone. The majority of locals also resent the fact that only Amin's clan and a handful of Muslims benefited from the expulsion. They sympathize with the Asians as having received unjust treatment.

The family of Bharat Gheewala, Hinduism Today franchise owner in the UK, was established in Uganda and ejected along with others in 1972. Bharat, who has been back to Uganda several times recently, said the local's attitude was "very warm, cordial and encouraging. There has always been a large section of Africans who appreciated the Asians. They could see the prosperity of Kenya resulting from Asian business development."

The popular sentiment expressed by black Ugandans is that they never felt comfortable with these properties and businesses. One lady teacher said, "It was like living on borrowed land, we never felt the sense of belonging. The fear was always lurking that one day Asians shall come back and claim what is rightfully theirs." Maybe this explains the lack of maintenance and general deterioration of buildings and factories.

One development worker expressed his joy at the new face for Kampala where hotels are now renovated and the tourist flow has started. Many do not care who owns what, as long as the country's economy is stable and the living conditions for the average Ugandan are good. Mr. Samuel Mpimbaza Hasakha, a broadcast journalist with Radio Uganda, respects Indians and is very happy with the visible progress made after their return. He said, "I like their style. They manage well on a small profit margin. I am overjoyed on their return."  

Those Who Stayed Behind

About one hundred Asians never left the country. Mrs. Sharda Nandlal Karia, present Head of Religion of the Sanatan Dharma Mandal temple in Kampala, is one of them. She says, "We had no problems of any kind after the majority left. There were no restrictions of any nature. We could travel and exchange money freely. The life was very good after the initial turmoil. There were no robberies or violence of any type [the civil war took place largely in the countryside]. This is a proof that there was no racial hatred." She felt safe, but sent her teenage daughters away for their education. Mrs. Karia never felt the need to abandon her ancestral home, and the authorities never bothered her.

Babhubhai Ruparel, a third-generation Ugandan, also stayed back in 1972. He says a vacuum was created after the exodus. Survival was difficult, but the Africans were sympathetic. Things improved after business licenses were issued in 1975.

 The Hindu Temples

Only two temples remained in Hindu possession after the 1972 exodus. All others were taken over by the local people and the authorities. In Kampala, one temple was left with Hindus. The second, the Swaminarayan Temple just a few hundred yards away, was occupied and used as a hall. It has been repossessed and is under renovation, but not yet open.

Remarkably, the temples were not destroyed. "They preserved the temples after 1972," Gheewala reports. "The temples were never disrupted by Amin's soldiers, even though there was a lot of destruction all around. I do not know of one murthi which was damaged."

The other major towns of Jinja and Torro each have an active temple. The temple at Entebbe has been repossessed, but it will take some time before it becomes functional. The Vishvakarma Temple in Jinja has been occupied by the Muslim Tablic sect. They are refusing to vacate the premises. However, the Satya Narayan Temple in Jinja has resumed normal functioning with a full-time priest, Pandit B.R. Bhat, in residence from July, 1994.

When I visited the temple in September, 1994, large-scale renovations were taking place. There is a temple committee in place under the chairmanship of Mr. Jayantibhai Daliya which is receiving good support from the 250 local Hindus. The Madhwani family is instrumental in the restoration of this temple.

Pandit Bhat is the first priest after more than twenty years to conduct the prayers at the Jinja temple. Only four or five Hindus were left behind in 1972, thus the temple could not be functional. The temple's shrines to Ambaji, Shankar Bhagwan, and Shitla Mata were unharmed. The local people used the hall for gatherings and general evening activities such as disco dancing. The large compound of the temple premises was used for habitation.

In the outer compound, there is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi where the community celebrated Gandhi Jayanti on October 2nd in a big way. Significantly, it was not damaged at all. Part of Gandhi's ashes were placed in the Nile River in Uganda.

Present and Future Trends

The present government of Uganda is secular, and there is freedom of religion. Uganda is 66% Christian (half Catholic, half Protestant), 15% Muslim and 19% of tribal religion. The government is supportive of all the Hindu celebrations.

Great saints and gurus such as Morari Bapu, Swami Satyamitranand and Pramukh Swami Maharaj visit regularly. In the recent past Gayatri Pariwar from Haridwar held a very successful ashwamedha yajna.

Priest Trambaklal Harishankar Bhatt is from Rajkot, India. He has been serving the SDM temple in Kampala for the last two years, during which the Hindu population has doubled. Four to five hundred Hindus regularly attend the temple.

The returning Hindus come straight to the temple from the airport to prayfully thank God for their safe return. Priest Bhatt remarked, "The Hindus have faith, but are materialistic. That is why they are coming back. There is a need to provide more religious motivation. I am constantly working towards that goal."

The faith of most Hindus is intact. They went to the UK as paupers, and are now thriving. Some people were shaken up for a while and thought, "Oh God, why has this happened to me?" They prayed for strength to recover from the shock of being thrown out of their homeland. Their prayers were answered and they recovered. In reality, their suffering caused them to pray with increased fervor and devotion.

Currently children are being brought up with all the rituals and traditional value system intact. Earlier, there were community activities to teach children about the religion and vernacular languages. As yet there is no organized religious or cultural institution. The families teach the children at home. Overall the future for Uganda's Hindus looks very bright indeed. 

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Why Amin Kicked The Asians Out

Idi Amin offered several justifications for forcefully expelling the Asians. Regardless of their validity, it is indisputable that the exodus made Amin an instant hero all over East Africa. Only later did the locals conclude it was misguided-first because of the disastrous impact on the economy, and second because the only ones to gain were Amin's soldiers.

Just a few days before he announced the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, Amin detailed his complaints: "Asians have always wanted to make the biggest possible profit with the least investment. They milked the cow, but they did not feed it to yield more milk. They prevented African farmers and businessmen from learning their skills and sabotaged the economy by profiteering, hoarding currency, frauds and similar offenses."

"You cut your community off completely," he went on a few days later, "You do not cooperate or join together with the Africans in social activity either here or in Nairobi, or in any place. You are sabotaging the economy by violating the income tax laws. You keep two sets of books-one in Gujarati or Hindustani which tax officials cannot read. You are smuggling goods out of the country and sending money illegally out of Uganda to the UK and other countries."

Asians sent overseas for training doctors, lawyers and engineers at government expense never returned, or joined private practice or business when they did, he claimed. He spoke with bitterness about the Asian doctors who refused to take any posts in the up-country.

In December, 1971, Amin's rhetoric took a decidedly personal tone. "There is the question of your refusal to integrate with Africans in the country. It is particularly painful that in the seventy years which have elapsed since the first Asians came to Uganda, the Asian community has continued to live in a world of its own to the extent that the Africans in this country have, for example, hardly been able to marry Asian girls. There are only six mixed couples in Uganda. The matter becomes even more serious when attempts by Africans within Uganda to fall in love and marry Asian girls have in one or two cases even resulted in the Asian girls committing suicide when it was discovered by their parents that they were in love and intended to marry Africans."

It is widely known in Uganda itself that Amin was interested in an Asian woman from a very prominent family (Madvani), and had proposed marriage to her-even though he had four wives already. Amin took the impossibility of this arrangement as a personal affront-and it became a major motivation for his historic dismissal of Asians.

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Class, Not Colour, Makes An Exploiter

From The East African, August 11-17, 1997  By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Last week, August 4, was the 25th anniversary of the expulsion of Asians from Uganda by Gen. Idi Amin. Amin announced that he had a dream while in Tororo in which God, or someone like that, told him to chase away the Asian exploiters and hand over the economy to Ugandans.

The Guiness Book of Record reports that Tororo has the world record for the highest number of thunder days. An average of 251 days of thunder days per year was recorded for the 10-year period 1967-76. It is likely that this had more to do with the heavenly signs that appeared to Amin in connection with the Asians, than God himself (or as evidence now being discovered by feminists suggests, God herself).

The nearly 80,000-strong Asian community was given 90 days to leave the country. What Amin's government called the "Econonic War" had began. In 1982, with Amin gone, a law to compensate the Asians and restore their stolen property was passed. The economic war formally ended; and the Kenyans were the victors.

The economy collapsed under Amin's misrule. Uganda became an appendage of the Kenyan economy. Factories moved to western Kenya to better feed Uganda's needs.

The Asians have returned and are beginning to dominate the economy again. But Ugandans are also coming to terms with Amin. One of Amin's many wives, Madina, returned and lives in Kampala. She found her estate had been stolen, much like that of the Asians her husband chased. When the story appeared in the newspapers, President Yoweri Museveni called offering to help her get her houses back. Amin's kids play basketball at the YMCA grounds. Apart from journalists, no one bothers them.

Nevertheless, many people, particularly those who took over Asian property during Amin's time, notice the Asians and speak out against them. While the majority of Ugandans condemn Amin for the murder of anything up to 500,000 during his tyranny, very many people still hail the former dictator for kicking out the Asians.

Ugandans hated the Asians because, they claimed, they were exploiters who siphoned the country's wealth abroad. They were racists who treated the owners of the land badly, and didn't mix with the indigenous communities. This resentment is still very much alive. Inspite of the hostilties, it is doubtful that the Asians can again be expelled like in 1974.

Over the years a sizeable indigenous pro-Asian constituency has developed. It would oppose such action. Many people have learnt that rich people tend to behave the same, no matter their race. The Ugandan rich class which followed the Asians didn't behave different. They too cheated; stashed money in foreign accounts; treated poor Ugandans badly; and retreated to the wealthy suburbs where they lived walled off from the ordinary folk.

And because the economic war was an unmitigated disaster, many Ugandans came away with a lot of humility from their failure. Wealth is no longer the great mystery it used to be for the native Ugandans at the time Amin gave them a taste of it. Unlike in the past, today many of them own substantial properties in the city and towns up-country. The rich class is multi-racial, not exclusively Asian.

Amin's ways, however, somehow live on. To be called an "economic saboteur" in Idi's time was to be condemned to death. Last week, Vice President Dr Specioza Kazibwe was warning "rinderpest vaccination campaign saboteurs." Minister of state for Education Brig. Jim Muhwezi was again condemning "UPE [universal primary education] saboteurs. President Museveni has been threatening to arrest the same UPE saboteurs since July last year. He hasn't yet done so. But a "polio vaccination saboteur" was arrested in Mbale. Mbale is a very short drive from Tororo. Perhaps Idi actually saw something there in 1974.

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Indian PM unveils Gandhi statue at source of Nile

MENU Express your views on issues in the news. Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral unveiled on Sunday a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the source of the Nile in Uganda. Gujral travelled 80 km ...

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UGANDAN PRESIDENT TO WOO BACK ASIANS by Sanjay Suri, India Abroad News Service London, Sept 2 97

The Ugandan government is launching a major appeal aimed at Ugandan Asians settled here to return to the east African nation 25 years after they were thrown out by President Idi Amin. President Musevini will address a meeting at the Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden next month to offer a series of incentives to Asians to return and bring back investment, skills and their business acumen, diplomatic sources said. Thousands of Asians, mostly Gujaratis, are expected to attend the meeting. Many Asian businessmen are also expected to attend a dinner to be hosted for them by the President in a bid to start a process of obtaining substantial new investment. The sources said that President Musevini will offer incentives to businessmen to return. About 60,000 Asians were expelled by President Amin from Uganda twentyfive years ago and many of them came to Britain. Only a few hundred remained. The return now stops well short of a reverse exodus, but those going back are undeniably giving a major boost to the Ugandan economy. An estimated 2,000 Asians have already returned to Uganda. "The flights to Uganda are half full of Asians returning to Uganda," Mr Danny M. Ssozi, Uganda's Deputy High Commissioner in London, told India Abroad News Service. Their number is expected to grow rapidly over the coming months and years, he said. The Madhvani family alone, whose business interests range from agroprocessing to power production and tourism, accounts for eight per cent of the total annual tax income of Uganda. The group employs more than 15,000 people in the African nation. "Many other Asian businesses have put in a lot of money recently to build the Ugandan economy and its image," Mr Ssozi said. The Asian input has helped stabilise the economy. Uganda's inflation rate is down to less than five per cent now from more than 300 per cent during the days of Idi Amin. Coming to power in Uganda on January 25, 1971, Idi Amin ruled up to April 9, 1979. He ordered Asians out in August 1972 and they began to leave in thousands in September that year. "The government is making sure that all Asians who were unfairly expelled can go back to Uganda," Mr Ssozi said. "That is their birthright," he said. "Idi Amin was a mad man, he had no right to expel them." For many who left, he said, "their hearts are still in Uganda and we welcome them back." Mr Ssozi said the Ugandan government would like also to invite investment and business interest directly from India, not just from Ugandan Asians living in Britain and elsewhere. Trade between India and Uganda is also picking up, he said. Liecester-based Nick Travels has launched a special tour programme for the rest of the year called Uganda Revisited. "We are seeing a great number of Ugandan Asians now wanting to return to Uganda," he told IANS. Many of those returning are second generation Ugandans, he said. "Many of them are combining an interest in their parents' home with exploration of business possibilities," he said. The Ugandan schilling is fully convertible and earnings can be freely translated into dollar earnings. The Ugandan government is still offering repossession of property to Asians expelled 25 years ago. The Asians have the right to sell and take away their money, or invest it in Uganda. Increasingly, the more business minded Asians are beginning to invest in the African country where they find the returns better than in Britain.

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Well done, Ugandan Muslims! Posted By Krishnakant Udavant - 1997 July 

Amar Bharati (Journal of Bharatiya Swayamsevak Sangh, East · 

In the wake of the exodus of Hindus from Uganda in 1973, the Vishwakarma temple in Jinja was occupied by local Muslims. They did not demolish the temple. In stead, they elected a makeshift structure of corrugated sheets in the foreground of the temple for their daily prayers. This went on all these years. Now they had handed over the temple to its rightful owners, ...

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Files May End Disputes over Asian Properties

3 September, 1997 -- The Authoritative Regional Newspaper 


Ownership: The government fears that some of the claimants may be trying to repossess properties for which they have already been compensated IN WHAT is seen as a breakthrough to resolving disputes involving expropriated Asian properties, Uganda's Ministry of Finance has recovered files that detail transanctions between the government and owners, including compensation paid by the Idi Amin regime in the 1970s.


The government is investigating the repossession of at least 500 properties which appear to have been taken over under suspicious circumstances by some Asian claimants.

The Minister of State for Finance in charge of the properties, Mr Basoga Nsadhu, confirmed that he had traced the man who was the Chief Government Valuer when the Asians were expelled. ``This man fled the country during the 1970s, but he had about 13 files which were later taken to his home by a friend who thought they were personal files,'' the minister said. The files were returned following public appeals for information about officials who were working in the government valuation office at the time. Up to now, the government has been unable to accurately verify compensation and repossession claims.


Mr Nsadhu was planning a trip to India to seek verification of the properties from the Indian government.

``There were fears that some of the claimants may be trying to repossess properties for which they have already been compensated, since we had no means of cross-checking from our own files,'' Mr Nsadhu said.

The Uganda government paid some of the claimants under a settlement programme by the Uganda and Indian government shortly after the expulsion of the Asians, most of whom were of Indian origin. The government has put a caveat on all disputed properties until proper verification is made. ``We were handicapped before these files were recovered, now we keep them securely under lock and key while the verification exercise goes on,'' the minister said. He would not disclose the contents of the files ``because it may be pre-judicial to our case.''_MMore than 70,000 Asians were expelled from Uganda in 1972 by then President Idi Amin. The state took over all their properties, later placing them under the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board.


However, between 1975 and 1976, Amin's government paid the Indian government $1.7 million as compensation.

But the Indian High Commission in Kampala says this was only for moveable properties like bank accounts and jewellery. ``No compensation was ever paid for immovable assets such as land or buildings. Those who claim that all these properties were paid for have their own vested interests,'' Mr Ramesh Chander, First Secretary at the High Commission told The EastAfrican. Several meetings held between the Finance Ministry and the Indian High Commission to resolve the dispute have not found an amicable solution yet.


The repossession has been a thorny issue between the Ugandans who were occupying the premises and the new owners, with Ugandans accusing the Asians of hiking rents beyond affordable levels.

However, Asian owners interviewed said the new rates were justified by the costs incurred during the renovation of the buildings, most of which were in bad state after 20 years of neglect.

The properties were returned to claimants on production of documentary proof of ownership. According to the Indian High Commission in Kampala, out of the 8,500 Indians who have so far lodged claims, 4,000 got their properties back.


However, the exercise has been marred by allegations of fake claims, with some claimants unable to prove ownership and the government's failure to determine who among them was compensated during the 1975/76 settlement.

The problem was compounded by former owners who preferred to stay in their host countries mainly Canada and Britain and file claims through agents.

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From subjects to citizens: British ‘East African Asians’
John Mattausch

Abstract In the 25 years since their expulsion the Uganda Asian refugees, in concert with earlier arrivals from East Africa, have made remarkable economic and cultural progress to become one of Britain's wealthiest minority ethnic communities with a strong cultural presence. The majority of the refugees and migrants are Gujaratis, a people with whom the British have shared a joint history spanning four centuries and three continents.

In this article, I trace this joint history in Gujarat and East and Central Africa, laying emphasis upon the social consequences of the military imperialisms that, for some seven centuries, rendered Gujaratis subjects of foreign powers. It is argued that, as political subjects, certain Gujarati groups were able to prosper economically whilst retaining their cultural traditions. This historically evolved socioeconomic pattern finds expression in the Gujarati 'merchant ideology'. It is suggested that in contemporary Britain East African Asians are no longer political subjects but, for the first time, prosperous and successful citizens of the country in which they live. This transition from subjects to citizens may have disruptive repercussions upon their culture, challenges which are most likely to be met by the rising generations.

(Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies Vol. 24 No. 1: 121-141, © 1998 Taylor & Francis Ltd.)




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