Hinduism in South America
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Hindu communities are found in several countries of South America, but they are strongest in Guyana and Suriname. There are about 550,000 Hindus in South America, chiefly the descendants of Indian indentured labourers in the Guianas. There are about 270,000 Hindus in Guyana, 150,000 in Suriname, and some others in French Guiana. In Guyana, Hindus form 35% of the population.
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Hinduism in Argentina
Argentina has 2,030 persons of Indian origin (PIOs) and 1,300 non-resident Indians (NRIs). Some of them still refer to ayurveda, practice yoga, enjoy Indian classical music and speak the Hindi language.
They have established an Indian Association in the northern provinces and organise social and cultural events to celebrate Indian festivals. Unfortunately, there is little interaction between them and those who have settled down in other parts of the extensive country.
A large number of the Indian diaspora living in Buenos Aires are businessmen, doctors, financial or business executives, and employees of multinational corporations. Most of them have retained their Indian citizenship.
Hinduism in Brazil
Most of the Brazilian Hindus are ethnic East Indians.
There are 1,500 PIOs and about 400 NRIs in Brazil.
- First wave of Immigration
A small number of Sindhis that arrived from Suriname and Central America in 1960 to set up shop as traders in the city of Manaus is considered to be the first wave of immigration. The second wave consisted of university professors who arrived in the 1960s and also in the 1970s.
Other PIOs migrated to this country from various African countries, mainly from former Portuguese colonies (especially Mozambique), soon after their independence in the 1970s. The number of PIOs in Brazil has been augmented in recent years by the arrival of nuclear scientists and computer professionals.
There are as many as 1,500 PIOs among the Indian community in Brazil, and only 400 NRIs, since foreign nationals can acquire local citizenship without any discrimination after 15 years of domicile in this country. Brazil has also no bar against dual citizenship. But in recent years, it has been granting immigration visas only in high technology fields. The only exceptions are the Sindhis in Manaus (who have formed an Indian Association with about a hundred members) and the Goans in São Paulo.
Hinduism in Chile
The total number of PIOs today does not exceed 650 persons in a country of almost 16 million people.
Belonging mostly to the Sindhi community, they are usually engaged in trade and are reasonably prosperous.
Many of them have married Chilean women and acquired Chilean nationality, and yet they have largely remained out of the Chilean mainstream. Some members of the younger generation, being Chilean citizens by birth, have however ventured into professions.
A Hindu Temple exists in Punta Arenas.
Besides Punta Arenas, the Indian business community is also present in Santiago, the capital of Chile, and Iquique. The activities of businessmen in Santiago are mainly confined to imports and retail stores.
Hinduism in Colombia
Hinduism in French Guiana
Hinduism in Guyana
About 84% of the East Indian immigrants were Hindus, and their dominant sect was the Vaishnavite Hinduism of Bihar and other places in North India. Some 30 percent of the East Indians were from agricultural castes and 31 percent were labourers. Brahmins, the highest caste, constituted 14 percent of the East Indian immigrants. Vaishnavite Hinduism remains the predominant religion of the Indo-Guyanese. During the indenture period, the East Indian caste system broke down. Hinduism was redefined, and caste-distinguishing practices were eliminated. Christian missionaries attempted to convert East Indians during the indenture period, beginning in 1852, but met with little success. The missionaries blamed the Brahmins for their failure: the Brahmins began administering spiritual rites to all Hindus regardless of caste once the Christian missionaries started proselytizing in the villages, hastening the breakdown of the caste system. After the 1930s, Hindu conversions to Christianity slowed because the status of Hinduism improved and the discrimination against Hindus diminished.
In areas where there are large percentage of Indo Guyanese residing together — Mandirs of various sizes can be found, according to the population. All main Hindu occasions are observed — Basant Panchami in January to Gita Jayanti in December.
Since the late 1940s, reform movements caught the attention of many Guyanese Hindus. The most important, the Arya Samaj movement, arrived in Guyana in 1910. Arya Samaj doctrine rejects the idea of caste and the exclusive role of Brahmins as religious leaders. The movement preaches monotheism and opposition to the use of images in worship as well as many traditional Hindu rituals. Currently the number of Guyanese Hindus is steeply declining because of emigration and conversion to other religions. Approximately between 216,000 and 230,000 identified themselves as Hindus in the 2002 census.
Hinduism in Paraguay
In the 2002 census, it was estimated that about 551 Hindus live in Paraguay. They make up 0.01% of Paraguay's population. Paraguay's ambassador to India, Mr Pappalardo, gave Punjab farmers a high opportunity to invest the country. Most of the Hindus live in Asunción.
Hinduism in Peru
The first ‘Indian Indians’ to have arrived in Peru were businessmen who had gone there in the early 1960s. Later on, the community grew in number marginally until the early 80s, after which many of its members left due to the severe local economic crises and the prevailing terrorism. Those with relatives in other Latin countries joined them.
In the recent past, the size of the community has remained stable. There is a small remnant of the original ‘native Indians’ in this country who still maintain their traditional culture and religious beliefs.
Most members of the local Indian community are Sindhis. They are reasonably well-off, but very few can be regarded as prosperous. Their general level of education is low. Most of them speak only their mother tongue and Spanish, with a smattering of English.
There is also here a small number of professionals from other parts of India. Residence permits are not difficult to obtain in Peru. But citizenship is more complicated and only a small number of Indians have obtained it – not more than 10 out of a total number of almost forty persons. While a few cultural activities are organized by the more enterprising PIOs, in general they maintain a low profile. Considering the vast distance that separates the community from India, its interest in its country of origin is limited to major events, mainly derived from occasional browsing on the internet. But being invariably first generation migrants, many of them do occasionally visit India.
Hinduism in Suriname
The story of Hinduism in Suriname is broadly parallel to that in Guyana. Indian indentured labourers were sent to colonial Dutch Guiana by special arrangement between the Dutch and British. Hindus today comprise some 30-35% of the Surinamese population, or about 150,000 people. The difference is that the Netherlands' more liberal policy toward Hinduism allowed the culture to develop stronger. Examples are the lack of a rigid caste system and the almost universal reading of Gita and Ramayan. Hinduism in Suriname is basically a snapshot back in time of the late 1800s of how Hinduism was practiced in India (Bihar and Bengal mainly). Currently due to Indian television and radio programs being broadcast, many new influences have started to creep into their practices.
Hinduism in Uruguay
There are a few Yoga organizations in Uruguay, which spread Indian thought and philosophy-prominent among them are, Sivapremananda Ashram of the Divine Society. A portion of the beach in Montevideo has been named after Mahatma Gandhi and a bust of Gandhiji installed in one of the parks along the beach. There is a school named after him in Montevideo, a street and another school named after Republic of India. There is a small Indian community in Uruguay consisting of 300 members approx.
Hinduism in Venezuela
During the oil-related high-income years of the 1970s, there were around 400 NRIs in this country. There are also several thousand of Indian origin persons from Trinidad, Suriname and Guyana in the cities of Ciudad Guayana and Caracas.
The Indian community consisted of personnel from the petroleum and petrochemical sectors, as well as a large number of traders. Many of them had taken their families with them to Venezuela, whether from India or elsewhere. Most of the traders belonged to the Sindhi community but there were also some persons from Gujarat, Punjab and the southern Indian States.
When the oil boom ended in 1982, followed by devaluation of the local currency, many of the NRIs decided to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Currently, the Diaspora has been whittled down to half its former size. There are now only about 45 Indian families in Venezuela who are mainly engaged in retail trade. There are also a small number of experts in high tech. industries such as telecommunications.
All of them have adapted themselves very well to their country of residence and are generally held in high regard by the local people on account of their hard work, expertise and non-political nature.
The Venezuelan Constitution guarantees equal rights without discrimination to all expatriate personnel. This has facilitated the Indian community’s life.
Another interesting feature is that many local persons are interested in Indian religions and spirituality.
Some members of the Indian community also attend their functions. Most of the NRIs are well educated. However, given their small numbers, they have not formed themselves into an active representative body. But they remain in touch with one another and with the Indian Embassy in Caracas. Even though they have little time to engage in numerous cultural activities, they do get together to celebrate Indian festivals like Diwali.
On the whole, the Indian community in Venezuela is quite prosperous and has a per capita income that is above the national average that is itself as high as US$8,300 in terms of PPP. They take an active part in mobilising donations to help in alleviating distress at times of national calamities in India.
- This article contains public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Study on Guyana (1995).