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India and overseas Indians in Ceylon and Burma, 1946-1965: experiments in postimperial sovereignty

Khan, Raphaëlle and Sherman, Taylor C. (2022) India and overseas Indians in Ceylon and Burma, 1946-1965: experiments in postimperial sovereignty. Modern Asian Studies, 56 (4). 1153 - 1182. ISSN 0026-749X

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0026749X21000263


Despite the existence of a large Indian diaspora, there has been relatively little scholarly attention paid to India's relations with overseas Indians after its independence in 1947. The common narrative is that India abruptly cut ties with overseas Indians at independence, as it adhered to territorially based understandings of sovereignty and citizenship. Re-examining India's relations with Indian communities in Ceylon and Burma between the 1940s and the 1960s, this article demonstrates that, despite its rhetoric, independent India did not renounce responsibility for its diaspora. Instead, because of pre-existing social connections that spanned the former British empire, the Government of India faced regular demands to assist overseas Indians, and it responded on several fronts. To understand this continued engagement with overseas Indians, this article introduces the idea of 'post-imperial sovereignty'. This type of sovereignty was layered, as imperial sovereignty had been, but was also concerned with advancing norms designed to protect minority communities across the world. India's strategy to argue for these norms was simultaneously multilateral, regional, and bilateral. It sought to use the United Nations, the Commonwealth, and the 1947 Asian Relations Conference to secure rights for overseas Indians. As those attempts failed, India negotiated claims for citizenship with governments in Burma and Ceylon, and shaped the institutions and language through which Indians voiced demands for their rights in these countries. Indian expressions of sovereignty beyond the space of the nation-state, therefore, impacted on practices of citizenship, even during the process of de-recognition in Asia.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors
Divisions: International History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Date Deposited: 21 May 2021 09:06
Last Modified: 13 Jul 2022 07:00

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