Situating strangers: understanding Hindu community life in Lusaka
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This thesis explores the complex identities of the Hindu community of Lusaka, Zambia. It argues that current theories in migration and diaspora studies are not sufficient for understanding such groups in post-colonial Africa. The thesis proposes that we should revisit ‘forgotten’ literature, on immigrants as ‘stranger’ communities, that originates from Georg Simmel’s 1908 essay, ‘The Stranger’. Such work, which this thesis terms ‘stranger theory’, usefully contributes to more contemporary approaches by enabling a comprehensive assessment of a community’s position and how that position changes over time. Stranger theory is used in this thesis to situate Lusaka’s Hindus (and Zambian Hindus more generally) as ‘organic’ members of the nation, whose relationships with wider society are characterised by both ‘nearness’ and ‘remoteness’. The thesis first describes the emergence of a Zambian Hindu ethnic identity during colonial and immediate postcolonial (post-1964) periods focussing on migration and settlement patterns, immigrant networks and the emergence of cultural associations. A theme running throughout the thesis is that the ‘plural society’ of the colonial era (a society consisting of separate, racially-categorised groups with limited interaction) has persisted in Zambia in a postcolonial form, and that this is a useful way of understanding the position of the Hindu community in Zambia today. Following the historical discussion is an analysis of how the contemporary city of Lusaka is experienced by its Hindu residents, through mapping out spaces, social structures and practices that remain unique to Lusaka’s Hindus. Lusaka’s Hindu community is presented as both cohesive and fragmented; the thesis goes on to analyse the ways in which community identity itself is frequently broken down and reconfigured by its members. Zambia’s Hindus comprise diverse sets and subgroups of immigrants with uneven and ‘flexible’ approaches to, and experiences of, migration, citizenship and belonging, rather than embodying a single, quantifiable ‘diaspora’ entity. Yet, in local terms, Hindus in Lusaka are often treated as part of a general ‘Indian’ group; indeed, the thesis shows how Hindus’ relationships with other groups in Zambia emphasise the ‘stranger’ dimension of the community’s position in society. Finally, the thesis asserts that Zambian Hindu ‘twice migrants’—those who migrate onwards to new destinations—reinforce the existence and identities of the ‘home’ community in Zambia. Indeed, these twice migrants must be considered as African and Zambian transnational migrants as well as part of a South Asian ‘diaspora’. Methodologically, the thesis is driven by situational analysis, and brings two separate versions of this approach (from Sociology and Anthropology) together, drawing on data collected in Zambia between 2006 and 2008.