At just .001% of the total population of Indonesia, the approximately 300,000 Indian community is like a pinch of sugar in Indonesia, sweetening and enhancing the culture and economy. The Indians in Indonesia, both expatriates and people of Indian origin, are generally well educated, hardworking, and law abiding with high purchasing power. Indonesia is a country where Indians are welcomed and respected for their knowledge, skills, and value they add. Shared cultural roots and interest have linked the two nations for over two millennia, from Ramayana and Mahabharata to Bollywood and TV serials.
The roughly 7000 expatriate Indians are involved in all industries and areas as entrepreneurs, IT professionals, consultants, financial managers, engineers, etc. Most advertising agencies and top positions at major luxury hotels have Indians at the helm. Entrepreneurs of Indian origin, as well as dominating the textile and finance industries, have a big stake in the movie business, from cinema screens to production houses.
“We tend to ignore or worse, undervalue the contributions of ethnic-Indian Indonesians, who have as much claim to the nation as other historical immigrants like the Chinese and the Arabs, and as equally as the majority pribumi or natives. In this era of rapid globalization, we can only benefit from sharing knowledge and information with both Indo-Indonesian citizens and residents and visitors, with whom we have so much in common, culturally and in development terms.” Said Yuli Ismartono, Publisher TEMPO English
Indonesia is very similar to India with it a large diverse, growing population, where traditional family values and ties are important. The spirit of Bhinneka Tunggal Eka or ‘unity in diversity’ resonates with both cultures and demonstrates tolerance and respect for other religions in both countries. Indians like to live in Indonesia. Aarti Garde, the founder of bookmyfit.com shares that ‘As an Indian, I have experienced warmth and friendliness everywhere. Compared to the conditions back home, I find almost no road rage, more politeness and courtesy, safer living conditions, especially for women.’
Indians with strong community ties tend to group functions around religious festivals and events and temples are a great venue for these community events. The Sri Mariamman Temple in Medan and Shiva temple in Jakarta are the most popular. Other temples are the Dewi Mandir, Sai Mandir and Gurudwara in Pasar Baru and Tanjung Priok, as well as the ISKCON Temple in Bogor.
Over 30 Indian restaurants are found just in Jakarta. Indian Restaurants can also be found in most major cities of Surabaya, Bandung, Medan, Solo and even Semarang. Bali has a growing Indian population and to cater to the taste buds of the tourists, there are over 15 Indian restaurants across Bali. The Indian Embassy has established Cultural Centers in Jakarta and Bali, where Yoga, classical music and dance are taught.
A long-term expat from the sub-continent, Rajah, shared ‘In my opinion the expat Indians hardly interact with any other nationalities other or even outside their own language speaking group and the only time they breakout is for supporting the Indian cricket team.’ He also observes that ‘it is a pity that almost 95% of local Indians from Medan that I have met do not want to speak or try to teach their children their ethnic mother tongue and this is not the case with the Indian community from Malaysia or Sri Lanka.’
Put many Indians together and they will resolve themselves into groups based on language, faith or common interests. At the last count, there are 40 Indian associations registered with the Indian embassy which include the India Club, Indian Women’s association, Indian regional associations, religious and faith based associations, social and charitable organizations, schools, alumni associations, and also the Indonesian chapters of Indian associations.
The oldest Indian association is Gandhi Seva Loka (formerly known as Bombay Merchants Association), was founded in 1947 by the elders of Sindhi community with the primary aim of fostering the spirit of love, understanding and brotherhood and providing the best possible education to the children of the community. Gandhi Memorial International School, Kemoyaran, is an international IB school run by the Gandhi Seva Loka.
There is a Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee in Jakarta, and Sindhis as well as Sikhs are associated with Gurudwara activities. The Yayasan Social Guru Nanak has also set up a Punjabi Gurmat School in Ciputat. ‘There are several Indian run preschools, schools and training centers in Indonesia which cater not only to Indians but also to the wider communities here,’ shares Shareen Ratnani, Cofounder Kiddie Planet Montessori.
India Club Jakarta, which has been in existence since 1981, with the purpose of representing the Indian community at large in Indonesia and maintaining, developing and promoting Indian cultural heritage amongst Indian families, children and other nationalities. A calendar of events includes cultural programs, Indian festivals, Art exhibitions, Bollywood movies etc. The 3 main events organized by the club are Holi, Gala Deepawali eve and the Diwali Mela. More at www.indiaclubjakarta.org
Other active associations include the Indonesian Tamil Sangam, Kannada Sangha, Agarwak Samaj, Amhi Maratha. Some are formed for specific occasions such as Navaratri or Ganesh Utsav. Finally, there is the Indonesian chapter of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).
Most associations participate in social work and charitable activities in Indonesia. Sadhu Vaswani center is notable in their artificial limb program. Since 2007 it has provided 11,722 artificial limbs in Indonesia, made indigenously by local technicians in a dynamic venture of transfer of skills and knowledge from ‘The Jaipur Foot technology’.
In sports, Cricket, badminton and golf are the most popular. Jakarta Cricket Association has many teams and Indian players. Badminton groups are close knit and have been playing together for many years, and the golfers have their own group known as bunkers golf club.
An online community initiative, www.indoindians.com, brings together all the dispersed Indian groups and information of interest for the Indians in Indonesia on a single platform. It provides the facility for people to share their expertise and skill at the same time stimulating interaction and connecting them to each other.
With all the positive aspects of life in Indonesia for Indians, it is not a surprise that more Indians are seeking opportunity here. ‘I have learned a lot of patience, smiling, and happiness from this country. With so many traits in common, Indonesia and India should be working together harder than ever to further their mutual understanding,’ thinks Geetika Sainani, a restaurateur.
By Poonam Sagar for Special supplement on Indian community in The Jakarta Post on 26th Jan 2017