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Steve Raymer
IU School of Journalism

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, October 15, 2007

Images of a Journey: India in Diaspora

IU professor's book shows the most successful migration of a people in modern history

Images of a Journey

Photo by: Steve Raymer

Hare Krishna devotees, like Ms. Suci Rani of London, celebrate "Rathayatra," or the Carnival of Chariots.

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Many Americans see India as the world's fastest-growing democracy or as a destination for outsourced jobs. But another story, about perhaps the most successful migration in modern human history, often gets overlooked.

While India has a population of more than 1 billion, the sun never sets on its people, who also include between 20 million and 25 million in more than 100 other countries. It was their story that Steve Raymer, an associate professor of journalism at Indiana University and a former photographer for National Geographic magazine, set out to tell and photograph.

His expansive new 228-page book, Images of a Journey: India in Diaspora (Indiana University Press), is the first photographic record of a migration which began 200 years ago. It documents the struggle of Indian immigrants to survive and succeed wherever they have settled.

His earlier books, Living Faith: Inside the Muslim World of Southeast Asia (AsiaImages, 2001), Land of the Ascending Dragon: Rediscovering Vietnam (United Publishers Group, 1997) and St. Petersburg (Turner Publications, 1994), similarly set out to show the real lives of people in those areas of the world.

India's Diaspora began in the 19th century with Great Britain's need for cheap labor after the abolition of slavery in Europe. This and a second wave of immigration about 100 years ago took Indians to the sugar plantations of Trinidad and Tobago, the railways of East Africa, and dockyards and municipal offices in Cape Town, South Africa.

Starting in 2003, Raymer circled the globe, researching and photographing the Indian Diaspora in 15 countries. They included Singapore, where the president is of Indian descent; South Africa, where Mohandas Gandhi's granddaughter serves in parliament; and one of the most unlikely of places, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, where 60,000 Indian Jews have settled.

"In the beginning, I was looking at the geographic dispersal of Indians and feeling fairly overwhelmed," acknowledged Raymer, who traveled across Asia as a National Geographic staff photographer for nearly 25 years. "I tried to divide the world up into places where I would see different aspects of the Diaspora because it is not a black-and-white story. It's far more nuanced than I'd imagined.

"Certainly in the United States, we can point to some major contributions in medicine, information technology and the arts -- to mention just three areas -- of people of Indian origin," he said. "When we look at other parts of the world, Indians have built, largely with their own labor and sweat, the infrastructure."

Images of a Journey

Photo by: Steve Raymer

Indian families join the rush hour procession of water taxis, called "abras" in Arabic, crossing Dubai Creek, a traditional seaport crowded with traditional wooden ships, or "dhows," that trade with Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and India.

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In addition to teaching photojournalism, media ethics and international newsgathering in the IU School of Journalism, Raymer also is on the faculty of IU's Russian and East European Institute and its India Studies Program. Before coming to IU in 1995, Raymer directed the National Geographic Society News Service. He has received a citation for excellence in foreign reporting from the Overseas Press Club of America and in 1976 was named the magazine photographer of the year by the National Press Photographers Association.

His book highlights the contributions of successful Indian immigrants worldwide who are CEOs, artists, software engineers, physicians, diplomats and journalists. Among those he photographed were Raj Gupta, the first Indo-American to lead a Fortune 500 company; Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, and CNN correspondents Sanjay Gupta and Zain Verjee.

Raymer's journey took him inside religious sites, to farms, merchants' shops and many private homes. He photographed Indians at America's top hospitals, the Singapore Stock Exchange and Silicon Valley, where they have contributed to success and innovation. The book also depicts Indians working on the margins of societies worldwide, including some of the three million workers in the Persian Gulf. Raymer discreetly photographed construction workers now building Dubai for wages of $175 to $300 a month, who he calls "the foot soldiers of globalization."

"It's easy to be seduced by Dubai and its wealth and opulence," Raymer said. "But it was built on the back of these pretty anonymous people. The UAE government may not want my book at Borders, but the more I got into the story, the more I thought that it was a remarkable story of the success of Indians, because of the adversity that they have faced outside the U.S."

Another story Raymer found was the continued migration of Indians from one country to another.

"The further I got into the book project, the journalism got better, because there was a different story to tell in different parts of the world," he said. "There may be as many Indians on the move from one country to another, looking for acceptance or a better life, than there are actually Indian emigrants leaving India and going abroad today."

For example, the expulsion of much of East Africa's merchant and professional classes in the 1970s and 1980s in part led to the United Kingdom's being "colonized in reverse" by Indians resettling there. Indians today are the largest non-white ethnic group in Great Britain, making up 1.2 million of the total population of 60 million. Many settled in the blue-collar Midland cities of Birmingham and Bradford.

They helped to transform Leicester -- a former textile mill center -- into a knowledge-based economy featuring new two universities, service industries, and successful insurance and banking companies. Leicester is on track to have an Indian majority by the year 2012.

Images of a Journey

The cover of Raymer's book features an American Icon, the Statue of Liberty, welcoming tourists, visitors, and immigrants, including South Asians on a sightseeing tour boat.

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Images of Journey concludes with an epilogue on the "reverse disaspora," the return of many successful Indians to places such as Delhi and Bangalore, a city being transformed into an Indian version of Silicon Valley.

While the geographies, climates and social environments of the Indian Diaspora differ greatly, Raymer said he saw one constant -- strength of culture.

"To the passing eye, we could say in many parts of the world that Indians appear to be unassimilated. But it's a real strength of the culture, their maintaining strong cultural ties to India, to the various religions, whether it's Hinduism, Islam, Jainism or Christianity," Raymer said.

"That was a conflict for me as a journalist to try to write about and photograph," he added. "How much emphasis do you place on the strength of culture? I think the strength of their culture and the maintaining of their cultural ties is one of the things that really helped people to survive and prosper."

Editors: Other photos from the book are available for use with stories about this project. Many can be seen at the Digital Journalist Web site at Raymer will be available for interviews in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 24-25 and in New York on Nov. 7-8 in advance of Diwali on Nov. 10. He also can be interviewed on-camera via the IU Video-Link to Bloomington. For more information, please contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or

To request a media copy of the book, contact Valerie McClanahan or Patricia Hoefling at IU Press at 812- 855-8818 (voice), 812-856-0415 (fax) or or