The contribution of the Indian diaspora in Argentina, the South American country has gone largely unnoticed. Argentina is a country which depends a lot on its immigrants. But since the country has a sizeable number of Spanish and Italian migrants, the contribution of Indians, although significant, is not much known.
The first presence of Indians was noticed in 1895, when the nation’s first census report came out. It was found that there were six Indians who could speak English in the country. Initially, it was learnt they had come to work in sugar plantations and, subsequently, on the railway construction project.
Now, as per the data available from the Indian Embassy, there are 2,400 Indians living in Argentina. Those who belong to Hindu religion lives in the capital city of Buenos Aires, and many of them are professionals working in multinational companies like Tata Consultancy Services, Cognizant Technologies, among others.
Interestingly, the Sikhs from Punjab have settled down in northwest Argentina, especially in the province of Salta. Though they stick to their traditional costume and perform the religious rituals they have smoothly adapted to the local population and have almost become argentine citizens. However, their exact number is not known.
This year, immigrants from India and their relatives are also found in various Argentine cities, such as the Federal Capital, the provinces of Buenos Aires, Salta, Tucumán, Mendoza, Misiones, Neuquén, Córdoba, Jujuy, Chaco, Entre Ríos, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, among others.
The number of Indians in Argentina has been growing gradually and it must have touched the 3,000 mark now. In 1910, 50 Indians, mostly Sikhs, ex-combatants of the Boers War under British authority, arrived at the port of Buenos Aires. Through the British Embassy, some of them moved to northern Argentina, to work on the construction of the railroad and agricultural plantations.
In 1920, two other small groups entered from Bolivia and Brazil. The first one was part of a contingent that was destined for the United States, but the ban on their entry there resulted in their settling down in several countries of central and southern America. Eight of them entered Argentina from Bolivia. The second group landed in Rio de Janeiro, and about a dozen of them arrived in Buenos Aires later after a short stay in San Pablo.
In 1930, a new era began with many Indians joining their relatives and friends already residing here. In the 1970s, some more Indians arrived after being denied entry to the United States and Canada. At that time, Argentina seemed to be one of the most promising of the countries in South America, and it also reminded them of their homeland, the Punjab.
Today, most of the Sikhs reside in the city of Rosario de la Frontera, and it is a place which has the only Gurdwara in entire South America. It was built in 1988. Several Sikhs who are in the cities of Salta Capital and General Güemes, own supermarkets and some of them have also gone for mixed marriages with Catholic Argentines.
This has made them interestingly a mixed group –neither totally Indians nor completely Argentine. Nahir Singh, an active member of the Sikh community in General Güemes, says: “We are a family and our neighbours are very courteous. I am extremely grateful to my parents because it has been hard for them to move here, but today we live very happily in this place”.
The Sikhs in northern Argentina have also taught Bhangra and Giddha to the Salteños (people from Salta province) and the Punjabi folk dances are a huge hit here.
The Sikhs have maintained these customs and celebrate festivals like Vaisakhi as a way of preserving their culture, and have been organized publicly as a way of promoting socio-cultural integration with the community of Argentina.
For example, the Vaisakhi and Guru Nanak Anniversary are being celebrated since 2017 in the streets and main square of Rosario de la Frontera and not merely inside the temple.
Despite being a small community and being aware of it, the Sikhs are quite active and organise various activities in which everyone can be part, especially through the Gurdwara, which is always kept open for all regardless of religion, race or colour.
Relations between India and Argentina
The relations between the two countries have always been cordial and are based mainly on political, economic, scientific, technological and cultural cooperation including investigation in Antarctica.
India opened a Trade Commission in Buenos Aires in 1943, which later became one of the first Embassies in South America in 1949. Argentina had established a Consulate in Calcutta in the 1920s, which was transferred to Delhi as an Embassy in 1950, and then in April 2009, a General Consulate opened in Mumbai.
The Indian Embassy is currently located in Buenos Aires, on Eduardo Madero Avenue. The current Ambassador Mr Dinesh Bhatia is also concurrently holding charge as a representative of India in Uruguay and Paraguay.
In December 1961, the then Argentine President Arturo Francize made a state visit to India and he was the first president of Latin America to visit India and met the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
But in 1984 an important milestone was crossed in the bilateral relationship when the then President of India, Giani Zail Singh, visited Argentina and spoke at the National Congress describing Argentina as “a sister republic on the other side of the planet.” He also went to the province of Salta and met about 100 families from India (basically from the Sikh community).