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

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Feminisms in the United States Diaspora

With a focus on “Indian” feminisms in the United States diaspora, based on their experiences as academics committed to social justice issues, two types of activism—efforts to challenge violence against women and to address knowledge hierarchies—are outlined.As the work for gendered justice includes the need to challenge mainstream and community forces, the dynamic fissures and coalitions that construct the cadences of Indian–American feminisms in the us diaspora are delineated.

The Indian diaspora in the United States (US) is composed of people of Indian origin who arrived and settled in this country from the late 19th century to 1917, and then again from 1965 onwards. As migrants came from the Indian subcontinent, their arrival was structured through restrictive opportunities and outright bans on migration from this region. At the same time, the changing political boundaries of India, following the Indian partition, further complicate who is Indian in this diaspora. The total number of Indian-origin people today is not large (3.9 million report Indian ancestry, according to the US census, American Community Survey), but the group features prominently in many political discourses. Two prominent racialised discourses about Indians coexist in the US: sometimes Indian migrants are lauded as model minorities whose culture leads them towards high achievement; these model minorities are used as a foil for other racialised minorities, who appear not to work as hard to achieve similar success. Some mainstream American religio-political groups vilify Indian-origin people for their “alien cultures,” including their religions. Within this mainstream context, different sectors of the Indian diaspora are fractured by the extent to which racism, in its intersections with other structures of marginalisation, is recognised, supported, disputed, and challenged. Diasporic feminisms in the US are reflective of these underlying intersections of race, caste, gender, class, sexuality, and religious dynamics.

Following the civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s and 1960s, many explicitly race-based laws and policies were rescinded. As a result, Indian migration, which had been stopped from the 1920s, became more possible from 1965. In 1960, there were about 12,000 people of Indian origin in the US (Migration Policy Institute), but the number has now risen to close to 3.9 million. The 1965 laws allowed highly skilled professionals and their families to migrate; these migrants also had a chance to apply for citizenship after a requisite waiting period. Since the 1990s, this stream has been increasingly restricted to skilled migrants who are willing to come on temporary work visas. For those deemed highly skilled, typically their immediate families can accompany them (though they are not allowed to work for pay); for others, there are no opportunities for family members to accompanying the primary migrant. “Skills” is a gendered definition, and as we discuss later, this sorting on the basis of skill levels resulted in a mostly male stream of initial migrants, followed later by dependent family members (Purkayastha 2004).

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Updated On : 26th Apr, 2019

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