Indian Organizations in New York City
by Madhulika S. Khandelwal

The main purpose of this brief analysis is to provide basic information about Indian organizations in New York City, which may contribute to a better understanding of this ethnic group.

Indian migration to the United States is a part of a larger group of overseas Indians who historically have emigrated from India to other countries. This discussion is limited to the activities of recent immigrants from India, and does not include Indians who are from other parts of the world, such as the Caribbean. Indo-Caribbeans have their own noteworthy activities, but little networking exists between these two groups. Indians here are also distinguished from immigrants from other South Asian countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, who, to a certain degree, share common social and cultural backgrounds.

The bulk of Indian immigration to the United States has taken place since the 1960s, and consists of large numbers of professional middle-class families with high levels of education. These immigrants bring with them strong identification with their religion, language groups, geographical regions of India, and caste and sub-caste groups. As the Indian population has expanded rapidly in numbers and background, these immigrants have tried to retain their traditions by forming Indian organizations.


Pan-Indian Groups

These comprise some of the earliest New York organizations of the 1960s and early 1970s when the number of Indians was much smaller than today. The professional and highly educated Indians of that time tried to organize all Indians under one banner to represent Indian culture in the US . Among such leading organizations are Association of Indians in America, National Federation of Indian American Associations, and Federation of Indian Associations. Some of these organizations have nation-wide chapters and organize large events and conventions from time to time. However, their platform and membership have remained limited to the affluent community leaders and have not reached the larger Indian population.


Regional and Socio-cultural Groups

Many organizations are based on regions in India which have distinct cultures and languages such as Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Maharashtra, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. The Indian Constitution officially recognizes 15 different languages, most of which use a different writing system and grammar. An Indian living in Flushing, Queens, and another living in New Jersey who share a common Indian regional identity may have closer ties, than with an Indian neighbor who belongs to a different regional group and speaks another language.

Recently, some of these regional organizations have been sub-divided even further. Attempts are being made to revive Indian social groupings, such as the compilation of directories of members of a particular caste or sub-caste. Such ties are strengthened by socializing and marrying within one's group.


Religious Organizations and Institutions

New York City is witness to flourishing religious activity among Indian immigrants. They continue their religious traditions and do not convert to religions of their new country. Some Indian followers of Islam, Christianity and Judiasm have formed groups with people of other nationalities, while others have established Indian religious services in that belief. Indian Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains have built their own places of worship which also serve as social and cultural centers for their populations. New York has a large number of Hindu and Jain temples, Sikh gurudwaras, and Islamic mosques frequented by Indian followers. Many Indian Christian services are conducted in English and Indian languages.


Occupational, Political and Service Organizations

Indians have joined mainstream professional organizations and formed their own ethnic sections under them. Association of American Physicians from India includes Indian medical doctors, and deals with issues of concern to the Indian medical community. Several years ago, the Indian merchants of Jackson Heights in Queens organized themselves to deal with civic and political issues.

Among the few Indian political and social service organizations, Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE) promotes political awareness among Indians. A few Indian women's organizations were founded in the 1980s, such as Manavi which provides social services to women, Sakhi which has a hotline for battered Indian women, and Asian Indian Women in America(AIWA) which deals with various women and family issues.

A number of cultural organizations such as the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Institute of Indian Culture) and Lotus Fine Arts make special attempts to promote Indian culture in the United States. Most religious institutions and regional organizations hold cultural events and activities. For students, many Indian groups exist on university campuses.


Media

Indian press and media serve as institutions which operate as powerful networks and information clearinghouses for Indian immigrants. Two Indian weekly newspapers in English, India Abroad and News India have a substantial circulation and are published in New York City.

Television and radio programs offer entertainment, civic and cultural services, and news as their primary focus. Among television programs, a daily cable channel, International Television (ITV), Vision of Asia (VOA), Eye on Asia (EOA), and India Broadcasting Network (IBN), are prominent. Among the many radio programs, "Bharat Vani" has been airing for a long time and reaches a large group of Indians.

Though these numerous organizations may imply divisions within the Indian population, people are known to transcend these lines and act together in major crises or on an important issue in India, the U.S. or in other parts of the world . While networking between the Indians in the U.S. and other overseas Indians has been limited, an attempt to bring representatives from Indian communities all over the world resulted in the 1989 Global Convention of Overseas Indians organized by the National Federation of Indian American Associations in New York City.

Indian organizational activity in New York has many layers, and Indians often are members of more than one association. A list of all Indian associations is beyond the scope of this discussion, however other organizations can be located in directories such as the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Yellow Pages, (212) 213- 6200, 6678, 8731.


Madhulika S. Khandelwal is a historian and Staff Researcher at the Asian/American Center.
January, 1991



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