For more information on the author and her research in Germann: urmila.de and in English: urmila.de/english.
In the year 2014 76,093 Indian citizens lived officially in Germany (Schulze Palstring 2015, 136). Their numbers had risen continuously from 2,789 Indian citizens in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1961 to 36,023 in 1993 (Punnamparambil 1995, 11) and then stayed more or less constant with 35,183 Indian citizens in the year 2000, before rising again in the 2000s. At all times the number of Indians was small in comparison to other non-German citizens in the Germanies: In 2014 there were 8,152,968 foreign nationals registered in Germany (with a total population of 81,197,537).
The number of Indian citizens, however, is only one approximation for Indians in Germany. It does not include all those, who have another citizenship, but might be considered Indians, and it only includes those officially registered. Gottschlich (2012a, 3) thus argues that it is "very difficult to measure the overall strength of the Indo-German community exactly". He (2012, 3) refers to estimates of Persons of Indian Origin, which range from 10,000 in 2001 to 25,000 at the time of his writing, as well as to a World Bank figure of 67,779 migrant stock from India in 2010 (in contrast to 48,280 Indian citizens in that year). Schulze Palstring (2015, 129) quotes census data from 2011, which counted 68,920 people with migration background from India. Of these 47.1% had the Indian citizenship (although only 40.9 % had migrated themselves) and 52.9 % were German citizens (23.8% had migrated themselves). All these different approximations rely not only on different statistical data and estimates, but also on different definitions of who counts as an Indian.
At first glance it seems obvious, what is meant by Indian. But when looking closer, it becomes much less clear (cf. Goel 2007). How is Indian defined? By citizenship, birth place, ancestors, culture or physiognomy? How is each of these defined? Does Indian refer to today's Indian Republic, to a region, to a culture? Who defines who is an Indian? Who decides when Indianness is contested? (Cf. Goel 2008a) Depending on the answers given to these questions it differs what is meant by Indianness and how Indians can (not) be counted. Indianness is a construct and its precise definition depends on the interests of those, who construct it. Following Brubaker's (2004) criticism of groupism, I question the notion of an Indian community (Goel 2007). Thus, this article rather looks at different migration movements from the region, which today is more or less the Republic of India, to the Germanies than to make claims about the Indians in Germany.
Looking at the existing literature about Indian migration to Germany and its consequences, one can see different practices of categorisation and focus. While some write about Indians in Germany (Cf. Punnamparambil 1995, Oesterheld 1996, Günther and Rehmer 1999, Goel 2007, Meine Welt 2008, Gottschlich 2012a and b and Schulze Palstring 2015), others refer to people from South Asia (Cf. Brosius and Goel 2006, Roy et al. 2011). Some are interested in Hindus (Cf. Dessai 1993, Dech 1999), in Sikhs (Cf. Nijhawan 2006 and 2016, Blaschke 1988) or look at the migration of Christian nurses from Kerala (Cf. Goel 2008b, 2013). There exists quite some literature on the migration before 1945 (Cf. Oesterheld 1996, Günther and Rehmer 1999, Roy et al. 2011) and many non-academic publications (Cf. Punnamparambil 1995, Dessai 1993 and Meine Welt 2008). There are several autobiographical publications ( Cf. Lodh 1991, Arickal 2002, Ogale 2003, Bhate 2010, Punnamparambil 2014), some community journals and a few novels (Cf. Puri 1993, Sircar 2006). Some look at family structures (Cf. Pandey 1988, Goel 2013), several deal with the second generation of Indians (Cf. Klein-Zimmer 2015, Goel et al. 2012, Goel 2008a), occasionally also touching the topic of adoption. So far only few deal with the migration since the year 2000 (Cf. Oberkircher 2006, Schulze Palstring 2015, Gottschlich 2012a and b). Currently, there is much interest in issues of transnationalism (Cf. Butsch 2015, Klein-Zimmer 2015).
Much of the literature refers to non-academic texts, when referring to the history of migration from India to the Germanies. Thus this article aims to fill this gap in the academic literature and to provide an overview over different forms/ phases of migration. It will begin with a short summary of the migration up to 1945 and then differentiate between independent migration for study and work, the recruitment of nurses and priests, the incoming of asylum seekers and irregular migration and finally the recruitment of highly skilled professionals since the year 2000. These categories are not mutually exclusive, they partially overlap, but given the particular history of migration from India to the Germanies they capture some of the specifities.
Already in the early 18th century people from India were brought to Germany for missionary purposes. In 1733 there are indications that a first Indian student attended the university in Halle (Günther und Rehmer 1999, 31). The first confirmed enrolment of a student from India in Germany, however, was recorded in Leipzig in the year 1870 (Günther und Rehmer 1999, 31). A few years later in 1875/76 students also registered in Berlin (Oesterheld und Günther 1997, 11). This was also the time when ethnological expositions (Völkerschauen) began in Germany, of which at least three exhibited Indians in the following decades (Thode-Arora 1996, 110).
With the establishment of the Indian Independence Committee in Berlin in 1914 (Cf. Günther und Rehmer 1999, 53-57) self organisation and systematic political activism of Indians in Germany began. The Committee's aim was the coordination of activities of independence activists abroad (Oesterheld 1996, 333), it was supported by the German authorities and encouraged many Indians to come to Berlin (Oesterheld and Günther 1997, 13). The Committee was active during World War I (Cf. Günther and Rehmer 1999, 57-60) and addressed also the prisoners of war (Oesterheld 1996, 333). At the end of the war the German authorities withdrew their support, the living conditions for Indians in Germany became difficult and the Committee was dissolved (Oesterheld 1996, 334).
However, in the Weimar Republic the numbers of Indians rose again considerably (Oesterheld 1996, 335). Many came as students (Cf. Günther und Rehmer 1999, 76-97) because Germany and its universities were attractive for well-educated Indians (Weidemann 1996, 239). From 1928 to 1931 an Indian Students Information Bureau existed in Berlin(Oesterheld 1996, 339). By now it were more academic than political motives, which brought young people to Germany.
In 1933 there were 1800 Indian students enrolled in German universities(Weidemann 1996, 240). But already in the same year after the national socialists came to power house searches, imprisonments and evictions of those Indians, who were considered socialists, started (Günther and Rehmer 1999, 98-99). In the following years the Indian presence in Germany declined drastically (Oesterheld 1996, 341). In September 1939 in the whole of Germany only 100 Indians were still registered (Oesterheld 1996, 344) and at the end of World War II only a few dozen remained (Weidemann 1996, 241).
In contrast to this development stood Subhas Chandra Bose's activities (Oesterheld 1996, 341). He came to Germany in the year 1942 to gain support of the German authorities against the British colonisers (Oesterheld 1996, 342). To some extent he was successful: an office, a magazine and a radio station Azad Hind were founded in Berlin (Oesterheld 1996, 343). In late 1942 recruitment for an Indian Legion was started among Indians resident and prisoners of war interned in Germany (Oesterheld 1996, 343). This Indian Legion was finally stationed in France and engaged in military activities there.
Soon after the end of World War II Indian migration to Germany started again. At the beginning it was comprised mainly of individual migrants, who had come on their own to work and/or study.
Student migration to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) started from 1959/60 onwards and was based in contrast to the migration to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) on an intergovernmental agreement (Günther and Rehmer 1999, 145). From 1960 to the end of the GDR in 1990 approximately 1000 Indians moved there for education (either academic or vocational) (Oesterheld and Günther 1997, 39). They had to return to India after obtaining a degree, nonetheless, they established associations and networks (Cf. Oesterheld and Günther 1997, 34-35, Khan 2003). However, there seem to be only very few publications, which deal with this particular aspect of migration.
The migration of individuals to the FRG is somewhat better documented, even though there do not seem to exist academic publications focussing particularly on this group. In the following I will thus rely mostly on (auto)biographical narratives.
Dessai (1993, 1) argues that the Hindu population in Germany was comprised in particular of those, who came in the 1950s, 60s and 70s as students or trainees, and were by the 1990s well established (Cf. Punnamparambil 1995, 5). Among the (auto)biographical narratives in Dessai (1993) and Meine Welt (2008) those of male migrants, who came in the early 1960s to the FRG to work and/or study dominate. Both also show that most came on their own without former contacts to Germany. They came from very different regions in India (and the Indian diaspora), although as Dessai (1993, 5) claims the proportion of men from West Bengal seems to have been rather high. The share of women was relatively low and Dessai (1993, 5) argues that most of them came through arranged marriages.
The reasons for coming to the FRG seem to have been as diverse as the migrants themselves: Some complained that it was difficult for academics to find suitable positions in India, which provided them with sufficient potential to develop (Cf. Punnamparambil 2014, 20-21, Sarkar 2008, 41). At the same time the economy in the FRG was booming and in need of skilled labour (Cf. Dessai 1993, 64, 74 and 94). Others stated that in Germany they could pursue the field of study they preferred or that they wanted to do their PhD abroad (Cf. Kripalani 2008, 91). It seems that most migrants applied at many different places in Europe and the US and came to Germany by chance rather than choice (Cf. Sarkar 2008, 41). Furthermore, several had been living in other parts of the world, before they came to the FRG (Cf. Barooah 2008, Bhat-Sperling 2008).
Some of the migrants were financed by their families (Cf. Dessai 1993, 43), but there were also several, who had to work hard to save the necessary funds for travel expenses (Cf. Lodh 1991, 13). Most seem to have financed their studies in Germany through working part-time and in the holidays (Cf. Arickal 2002, 6-7). Some seem to have started in the FRG as unskilled workers (Cf. Dessai 1993, 69 and 85) and only later were able to register in universities. The most usual starting point was to send applications to companies in the FRG from India, to apply for a passport and to start collecting the travel expenses once a positive reply came and then to travel to Germany (Cf. Lodh 1991, 9, Kripalani 2008, 91-92). Some worked for several years before enrolling in an university (Cf. Kripalani 2008, 95-96), others only conducted a short traineeship (Cf. Sarkar 2008, 41, Dessai 1993, 97). Some were able to attain scholarships, either from Indian (Cf. Kripalani 2008, 95-96) or German authorities (Cf. Goel 2006, 129). While engineering, physics and medicine seem to have been the most common fields of study for the migrants, there were also some who came as business persons (Cf. Dessai 1993), studied economics (Cf. Arickal 2002, 5, Sarkar 2008, 41) or received training as journalists (Cf. Punnamparambil 2014, 24, Sundaram 2008, 25, Dessai 1993, 85).
In the 1950s and 60s it seems that obtaining a visa was not a problem for migrants from India, at least the narratives do no mention any. This stands in contrast with Schönwälder's (2001, 257-277) analysis that the German authorities were issuing restrictive policies against labour migration from Africa and Asia from 1962 onwards. This happened although companies were asking for more workers also from outside Europe (Cf. Schönwälder 2001, 274) and it stands in contrast to the narratives of many migrants, who emphasise that they were welcomed by the majority of Germans. The high proportion of migrants, who started with a traineeship, might have its cause in the restrictive rules. Schönwälder (2001, 258) mentions that a small number of trainees were permitted as an exception. In any case at the end of the 1960s the number of non-European migrants in the FRG had grown considerably and one of the biggest groups of these were Indians (Schönwälder 2001, 276-277). A major change in the migration politics of the FRG came with the ban of recruitments in 1973, which had a huge influence on migration flows (Schönwälder 2001, 631). Nonetheless, the number of Indians in the FRG rose until 1981, in particular from 1977 onwards and only declined in the 1980s (Punnamparambil 1995, 11 and 15). The official policies of the FRG thus do not seem to have influenced migration from India directly, even if the authorities were not very welcoming to independent Indian migrants, who wanted to settle.
In spite of this many of the former students found good employments in the FRG, settled down, married women either from the FRG or India and founded families. Thus a well established segment of Indian migrants (Dessai 1993, 1) within the German middle class and with high educational aspirations developed (Cf. Punnaparambil 1995, 5-6). Most of the Indians lived scattered in the FRG, not having much contact with other Indians in their everyday lives. Many, however, got involved in (German-)Indian associations or networks and organised at least annual meetings (eg. Divali or Durga Puja). They thus laid the foundations for today's Indian infrastructure in Germany, in which they were the dominant forces until recently.
Also after the 1970s individual migrants came to work or study in the FRG, but the numbers seem to have gone down (Cf. Oesterheld and Günther 1997, 37, Punnamparambil 2003, 74) until the year 2000.
Not all students came on their own. At least since the 1960s Indian theological institutions have sent students to Europe for further education (Cf. Arickal 2002, 11, Lokhande 2008, 211, Thondipura 2008, 165). Some of these did not return to India, but rather stayed in the FRG working as priests (Cf. Thondipura 2008), for other church institutions (Lokhande 2008, 218-219) or changing their career (Cf. Arickal 2002, 4-5). Punnamparambil (1995, 4) estimated that there were 100 Indian priests in Germany. By now the number might have risen considerably, because in Germany few young men choose this career and thus Catholic priests are recruited from abroad. Most of these priests work in German congregations, a few look after Indian congregations of different denominations in Germany (Cf. Goel 2011).
Besides priests Indian church institutions also sent members of religious women orders to work as nurses in Catholic hospitals and homes for the elderly in the FRG (Cf. Punnamparambil 2014, 63-65, Fischer and Lahotia 2006, Thennattil 2008). They were needed because in the 1960s German orders lacked novices (Punnamparambil 2014, 63). In total Punnamparambil (1995, 4) estimated that there were 800 nuns from India living in Germany. However not all, who came as members of an order to the FRG remained within it. Like some of the students of theology also some of the nuns left the church and pursued another career (Cf. Vithayathil 2008, 110).
Many of them joined the profane nurses, who had also been recruited from the Christian population in Kerala (Cf. Punnamparambil 2014, 58). Punnamparambil (1995, 3) estimated that these were about 6000 young women between the mid 1960s and the mid 70s. In this time the health sector in the FRG experienced a serious shortage of staff, since the working conditions for nurses were very unattractive to local women (Cf. Schuhladen-Krämer 2007, 301-302). Thus not only Catholic hospitals looked for suitable staff in Asia and successfully fought for an exemption on the ban of recruitment from outside Europe. Recruitment in the Indian state Kerala was conducted through private channels (Punnamparambil 2014, 58), mainly through church representatives. Many nurses came in small groups and were taken care of by the hospitals. Their employers organised their training and accommodation, they provided theological and social infrastructure, employed social workers and published magazines for them (Cf. Goel 2008b, 2011 and 2013). Thus the Keralese became the largest and best organised group of Indians in the FRG (Cf. Dessai 1993, 5).
Most of the nurses came from rural middle class families, who were dependent on their children migrating to other parts of India or abroad to pay for the education of their siblings as well as the maintenance of the parents (Goel 2008b, 61, Goel 2013, 256). The narratives of the nurses, nonetheless, show that even though many were not yet 20 years old, when they came to the FRG, the decisions were not made solely by their families and the church. On the contrary it seems that many actively sought the chance to go abroad (Goel 2013, 257). After they had lived several years in the FRG many of the nurses had arranged marriages in Kerala (Goel 2013, 257-259). Most of the husbands were highly qualified, but those who joined their wives in the FRG were not eligible for a working permit for the first few years of their stay (Goel 2013, 259-260). This resulted in a change of gender roles in the families with the wives being the bread winners and the husbands looking after the household and the children (Goel 2013, 260-264). For the husbands it was difficult to get jobs according to their qualification once they got a work permit, thus many had to join the labour market in a less skilled sector than their wives (Cf. Thadathil 2008, Nazareth 2008). They partly compensated this loss in status by establishing sports and theatre groups, founding Malayalam schools for their children as well as engaging in cultural associations and the church (Goel 2008b, 63-64).
The official policy towards labour migrants became more repressive in the beginning of the 1970s (Schönwälder 2001, 630). Work permits were no longer extended by the authorities. This occurred to the nurses in the mid 1970s, when the shortage of staff in the health sector was over (Schuhladen-Krämer 2007, 302). Like the Korean nurses (Choi and Lee 2009, Berner and Choi 2007) also the Indian nurses fought against the refusal to extend their work permits (Meine Welt 1977), but with less success. Many had to leave the country. When in the mid 1990s there was again a shortage of nurses some of those, who had been sent back to India in the late 1970s, were re-recruited.
In the 1980s a growing number of Indian citizens applied for asylum in the FRG. Dessai (1993, 179) speaks of 52,593 applications in the time between 1980 and 1993, of which only 16 were successful. Blaschke (1988, 113) claims that most of them were Sikhs from the Punjab. In 1988 it still seemed unclear, whether their claim to asylum would be accepted (Blaschke 1988, 117), several years later it is clear that while the FRG authorities accepted that there were legitimate reasons to flee from the Punjab, they argued that Sikhs could find refuge in other parts of India and thus were not eligible for asylum in the FRG (Cf. Nijhawan 2005, 279).
Michael Nijahwan seems to be the only academic, who has worked on Sikhs/ Punjabis in Germany (Cf. Nijhawan 2005, 2006 and 2016). He (2005, 278) differentiates three different phases of Punjabi migration to the FRG: Firstly, some were part of the independent migration to study and work and thus could legally enter. Secondly, due to the conflict between the Khalistan movement and the Indian government many asylum seekers came in the 1980s. Thirdly, in the mid 1990s there was an increase of undocumented Punjabi migrants. These were considered in public debates as economic refugees and many had to work irregularly in the service sector (Nijhahwan 2006, 116). Nijhawan (2005, 278) estimated that 5000 to 8000 Punjabis were living in the region of Frankfurt/Main. The living conditions both for those in the asylum process and for the undocumented migrants were very precarious (Cf. Nijhawan 2016). They were not allowed to work legally, had to fear police controls (also in their Gurdwaras (Nijhawan 2006, 117)) and could not develop any middle-term perspective, since deportation was a permanent threat.
Because asylum applications from Indians (whether Sikhs or others) were hardly ever successful, many asylum seekers used the time of their asylum process, which could last many years, to earn as much money as possible (Dessai 1993, 179). One of the few possibilities of regularising their residence in the FRG was marrying a German citizen. Thus there were also some marriages, which were formed for legal purposes (Dessai 1993, 179-181). Interviewees of Dessai (1993, 182) complained that lying to the authorities was the only way of obtaining a residence permit. In contrast to the earlier migrants, the asylum seekers and undocumented migrants were barred from attaining a secure residence permit and thus could not establish themselves as well. They might have differed from their predecessors also in coming from less privileged parts of the Indian society. Both factors made the more established migrants reject them (Dessai 1993, 180-181).
There do not exist any reliable statistics of undocumented migrants in Germany (Cf. Schulze Palstring 2015, 159), but the Report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora (2004, 152) estimates that 2000 to 3000 irregular Indian migrants lived in Germany. Gottschlich (2012a, 3) states that "one has to assume that the number of irregular migrants […] today still amounts to several thousand people".
In the year 2000 a major change took place in the migration from India to Germany. When the German industry experienced a shortage of IT professionals, the government decided to recruit these from abroad (Cf. Gottschlich 2012a, 6-7, Gottschlich 2012b, 163-165). The campaign around this focused very much on Indians, establishing the image of Computer Indians and giving rise to the racist counter campaign "Kinder statt Inder" (children instead of Indians) (Cf. Pethe 2006, 161, Goel 2000).
Although less Indians were interested in coming to Germany than the public had feared, about a quarter of all Green Cards for IT professionals were issued to Indians (Kolb 2005, 2, cf. Gottschlich 2012a, 16). 3.926 IT professionals came between 2000 and 2004 (Schulze Palstring 2015, 125). Within 15 years the number of Indian citizens in Germany more than doubled (Cf. Schulze Palstring 2015, 136).
While the IT professionals and other new migrants can be compared in many aspects to the earlier independent migrants, the environment in which they have come and the options they have are quite different. Among other things they seem to be much more mobile than their predecessors, developing a more cosmopolitan attitude towards migration and thinking less about settlement. This is illustrated by the fact that not only immigration but also emigration of Indians from Germany has tripled between 2000 and 2012 (Schulze Palstring 2015, 126). Furthermore, there are many more Indians coming at the same time, who can easily connect among each other and with people in India through advanced communication technology. Thus it can be noticed that own networks of the new migrants are established and contact with the older generation of migrants develops only slowly. In the German public meanwhile the image of Indians has changed. While up to the year 2000 India was associated primarily with poverty and spirituality, beginning with the Green Card debate Indians became to be considered high skilled computer nerds (Cf. Schulze Palstring 2015, 124, Goel 2008c).
The recruitment of IT professionals from India went along with a growing number of Indian students in Germany (Schulze Palstring 2015, 152). In 2014 13.7% of all Indian citizens in Germany, i.e. 10,425 young persons, are studying (Schulze Palstring 2015, 149). The huge increase in numbers has been caused probably by the transformation of the German university system in the last decade, which has not only introduced the Bachelor/Masters structure, but also introduced many English language courses. Thus students in 2015 can benefit from much more internationally comparable courses than their predecessors in the 1960s. Observations of social media networks of the new migrants suggest that most of them (again) study technical subjects. As before there are, however, also individuals, who deviate from the image of the Computer Indian.
The immigration of the last fifteen years considerably changed the nature of Indian migration to Germany. It remains to analyse, what effects this will have on the family structures as well as on the social, political and economic activities and positions of migrants from India in Germany. In any case the new migration gives rise to new imaginations of community and new potential for ethnic entrepreneurs (Brubaker 2004, 31-32) to mobilise Indianness for their purposes.
In this article I have focused on those forms and phases of migration, which so far have been dominant in the migration from India to the Germanies. Some of the specific blanks and gaps within the existing research have become apparent. So, for example, little attention has been paid to the migration to the GDR. Furthermore, one could look closer into the migration for family reunion in all the different phases and places. One important form of migration almost totally ignored in this article is migration through adoption (Cf. Bach 1994, Goel 2008a). It could also be argued that one should include Sinti and Roma in this article, since they descend from early migrants from India.
Telling the history of Indian migration to Germany is not straightforward. This is not only so, because so far it has hardly been researched and it is difficult to compile material, but also because it is not obvious what does (not) counts as part of Indian migration. Writing an article like this one is always part of constructing Indianness.
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