Indian Migration to Chile: A significant contribution in Latin American multiculturalism

This story of multiculturalism dates back to the discovery of Americas and somewhere in mid of the industrial revolution in Europe and its colonies in western sphere of the globe.

It was the time when every ship fording from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Straits of Magellan or around Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn) halted at the city of Punta Arenas, Chile – One of the southern-most cities in the world.

Picture representing glaciers in the way to Puntas Arenas | Image: Visit Chile

It would’ve taken a hard time imagining of the Hindustanis, who didn’t fear to navigate through the giant waves, deadly currents, Antarctic blizzards and icebergs, for a journey half the globe. In the era when the Brits & other European powers were colonising the world, four friends arrived at Punta Arenas, storm-battered, as scurvy-ridden sailors. The Georgian calendar marked it the year 1905.

Puntas Arenas on the Worldf Map | Image: World Atlas

This tale belongs to the global world of the Indian Merchants, the era when Traders of Sindh sailed from Bukhara to Panama making the world realise the true meaning of the word “Vasudeva Kutumbakam” – The World is Home.  Yes, it was the home when four friends from Sindh decided to make their homes half round the globe.

Bhai Haroomal, who reached Chile in 1905, with his 3 friends remained in Punta Arenas in spite of the cold climatic conditions where mercury falls below minus 25⁰ C. They remained there and started a successful business with a chain of 17 stores including in Patagonia (now a part of Argentina) and Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) leaving the stretch of one of the most ancient civilisations of this planet – Mohenjo-Daro which flourished in the Sindh Region as the trade hub of South Asia.

Soon after that, few more Indians migrated to southern hemisphere but they used to work in mining, railroads and agriculture in the early years of 20th century, usually under British- owned organisations.

Dwarkadas, another Sindhi merchant raised a temple and a cultural centre in Punta Arenas, to propagate Indian culture, and Indians yet believe it to be a strong pillar which is guiding the 2000 Indians in Chile till now.

In the year 1920, Tarachand Devandas arrived in Punta Arenas. His son Mario, who now lives in Santiago, was the first Indian scholar to graduate from a University in Chile.

One should credit the Sindhis who paved the path for future Indians to arrive and experience the life in the Antarctic region which is geographically as diverse as India.

A second large wave of Indian immigration occurred in the 1980s with a constant flow of professionals and businessmen from India, working largely in the ICT sector and also in Indian companies represented in Chile. Currently, it is estimated that there are around 2000 Indians living in Chile of which approx. 60% have acquired Chilean nationality.

Santiago- The Chilean Capital | Image:

One-third of them lives in Iquique and the rest are in Santiago, Punta Arenas, Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. From the cooperation within the Indian community, they have established many associations like Indian Association of Santiago, which was established in 1993, by the Indians living in Santiago area. Like this, there are similar associations of Indians in other parts of Chile as well, Suddha Dharma Mandalam is the oldest of such organisations which kept the Indianism alive through-out the century. More of such organisations like Art of Living and Brahmakumaris are reputed names among the Chileans, who with immense interests take part in the cultural and religious Indian events, and encouraging them to visit India and Indians who are open heartedly waiting for them half world around. These associations keep the community united and together.

Recently Chile’s fledgling Sikh community started a campaign by preparing legal documents that described basic information regarding the Sikh religion and its religious values and symbols marking a success in legalising the Sikhism as a religious practice in Chile contributing much to the South Asian diaspora’s multiculturalism.

Jorge Contesse Singh from Chile who is a law professor and advocate, with his faded memory narrates the story of his great-grandfather “I know his name is Inder Singh and he arrived in Valparaiso, Chile on a ship in the early 20th century”, “My mother (who is his grand-daughter) thought that he came before the first world war (WWI) and that the ship was on its way to California.”

With a smile, he recalls his past and describes it as a romantic story when his great-grandfather was travelling on the ship and he met his great-grandmother on the ship (who was Spanish) and once they stopped in Chile, they decided to stay and that was the beginning of his family history, carrying the glorious message of Nanak in the global south. Strange! In the era of no social media, the messages of Indian holiness and peace reached the southernmost point of the planet.

So far away from India, and with their home here for more than a hundred years, the Indians of Punta Arenas still speak Sindhi & various Indian languages and eat traditional Indian food. Making Satsangs as an essential component of life in the diaspora, and they tend to have a syncretic character. In the mandirs, many world religions are represented here leaving the footprint of the secular Indian culture.

Well known Chilean Pablo Neruda – a communist with ideas and a poet, diplomat and humanist by deeds, who was among the most profound voice of a twentieth-century stood with the Indian Freedom Movement while being a counsel of Chile at Rangoon, also, he participated in A.I.C.C meeting in Kolkata (1928). That was a chunk of gesture from him for Indian Freedom Movement. In his memoir, he mentions “In Moscow, I had occasion to sit on the annual Lenin Peace Prize committee, an international assembly of which I was part. When the moment came to present and vote for the year’s candidates, the Indian delegation proposed Prime Minister Nehru’s name. The shadow of a smile crossed my face, but none of the others on the jury understood it, and I voted affirmatively. The international prize consecrated Nehru as one of the champions of world peace.”



*Archana Sinha holds a degree in Migration, Ethnic Relations and Multiculturalism from the University of Utrecht. Her research subject is entitled to the name South Asian Identity which defines migration of South Asian Masses to the world


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team.

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