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Steve Raymer's Images of the Indian Diaspora

March 2008
Steve Raymer's Images of the Indian Diaspora

When veteran photojournalist Steve Raymer, now a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, decided to learn more about the Indian diaspora, he embarked on a journey that took him to fifteen countries on four continents. He saw high levels of achievement and found the attachment to Indian culture noteworthy, but there were also unexpected discoveries along the way. Indians weren’t assimilating enough, Raymer felt, in countries where they’d settled in large numbers. And he was surprised to see that affirmative action policies for native populations in Malaysia and South Africa, to give two prominent examples, had turned many Indians into second-class citizens. In the United Arab Emirates, he realized, tens of thousands of Indian laborers work under harsh conditions with little or no rights.

In North America and Britain, on the other hand, Indians have been much more fortunate, and though they continue to flourish in these societies, Raymer was sometimes caught off-guard by what he saw. “Even the problems that Indian doctors face here in the United States was something I didn’t fully understand until I started making hospital rounds with doctors in New York and talking with a large cross-section of physicians of Indian origin,” he says.

With its sumptuous, artfully conceived photographs that capture a range of experiences and emotions, Raymer’s Images of a Journey: India in Diaspora will appeal to Indophiles or anybody who’s curious about the Indian diaspora. And it’s not just for the coffee table. The association with academia—Indiana University Press has done a commendable job—adds weight, and the book’s value also comes from being a well-researched perspective of an outsider who, though sympathetic, is judicious rather than dewy-eyed.

There are sections on Britain, the Middle East and Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and North America. Raymer, whose undertaking was partly self-funded, couldn’t make it to Australia, New Zealand, and the Fiji Islands because he ran out of money. Every section, including the epilogue which focuses on the ‘reverse diaspora’ in India, has a useful introduction, with interviewee comments expertly weaved in. “In fact, if there is one country to which I am committed, it’s India,” Raymer notes. “It is an enormous, on-going story that needs to be intelligently reported. There is so much hype about India as it takes its place on the world stage. I see myself trying to get beyond that.”

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