Why Are Migrant Histories Not Written?

Most migrants are focused on earning a living, however the issue is that even middle classes and trade diasporas do not write their stories. If it was not my interest in history and museums, I would not not known that there are Indian trade communities in Oman since the past four hundred years from Kutch. These histories are not seen in national museums in the GCC, neither in India where diasporas are not considered mainstream enough apart from when it comes to enjoying remittance riyals.

There are hardly any contemporary work on trade or migrant diasporas of the Gulf. There are documents available in the vernacular within communities, but scholars are more interested in mainstream archives. British Historian James Onley confidently writes of hardly any written archives of Indian communities in the Gulf, which may be the case in English. What about Kutchi, Gujarati, Sindhi and other south Asian languages?

Such because it is not available in English does not mean it does not exist.

Upon researching up an article on Omani Bania last month for the American Gulf State Institute in Washington DC, I could hardly find one book by Prof Fahad Bishara in recent literature which talks about the community, based on documents reviewed from the Ratansi Purushottam clan and a paper by Sandhya Rao and well James Onley again.

I partially count Deepak Unnikrishnan’s Temporary People although it’s deceptively termed as fiction.

I am happy that migrant workers in Singapore and Malaysia write their own stories and poems, in Bangla, Tamil, Bahasa and Tagalog. If we don’t write the histories ourselves some western academic will write in for us, on a Routledge contract. The book which will cost a hundred quid.

History writing is too important to leave it to academics or the state. There are good non fiction writers researching through the popular publishing route such as Manu Pillai, Anam Zakaria or Aanchal Malhotra.

If one cannot write much, take photos, archive them and create digital spaces, on Instagram such as Gulf in South Asia page. Instagram is a digital museum from the ground up.

I write sans any formal training in history or politics. Read up. Collaborate. Soon the time will evaporate, and the stories will be lost.

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