SPAIN. Madrid: An exhilarating smell of curry spices and delicious sweets wafted through the air as people garbed in traditional Indian wear joyously sang and danced under glowing lights across Madrid, Spain, which was decked up for the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali.
Diwali is a universal celebration of light over darkness, of good over evil. It is celebrated with great fanfare, including meticulous decorations of lights and rangoli (coloured powders drawn in beautiful patterns), lighting of diyas (earthen lamps) in the home, and exchanging sweets with neighbours for good fortune.
This year the Diwali celebrations were held in several cultural centres across Madrid with the usual glory as the Indian community continues to thrive in Spain.
Spain celebrates the ‘Festival of lights’
The Masala Center in Madrid, a famous Bollywood dance school, organized this year a free program in the emblematic Tabacalera building. For many years, this well-known cultural institution has offered free events and Indian celebrations like Diwali to honour long-standing cultural customs.
The organizer orchestrated popular Bollywood dances, the classical Tamil dance form of Bharatnatyam, DJ sessions with pomp, and distributed Indian snacks. People were seen wearing Indian clothing like sarees and enjoying the festival with firecrackers and music.
The restaurant Curry Masala collaborated to bring the flavours, spices, smells, and sensations of home to Spain. The Indian Sindhi Association of Madrid (ISAOM) also participated in the event by making the traditional pooja (offering) to Goddess Lakshmi.
Despite being a minority in Spain, the Hindu community has been present in the country for more than a century.
Their ancestors migrated to the Spanish lands during times of severe crisis in Indian history, including the infamous 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan, and in the mid-twentieth century in search of free ports to establish marketing businesses.
The emergence of Indian community in Spain
According to the vice-president of the Indian Associations of Barcelona, Murli Harjani, there are two different types of immigration- the old and the young.
The “old immigration” resulted due to the Indian subcontinent’s territorial division in 1947, when Pakistan was born out of India, leading to a great carnage of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.
The new immigration generation was in the mid-twentieth century, which fled to the Canary Islands, Ceuta, Melilla, Tangler, and later Andorra as the first settlements, in search of free ports, to set up import and marketing networks.
It was mostly the Sindhi community from the neighbouring regions of Muslim-centric Pakistan, rigorous, hardworking, and business-like who thrived in Spain as part of the “new immigration” generation.
The Sindhis, with an inherent knack for business networking, began to expand their operations in Spain, dealing with goods manufactured in the east.
However, the Indian community in Spain is tainted by a considerable disparity in gender proportion. Despite being one of the most balanced Asian communities in terms of the presence of men (51.5%) and women (48.5%), it is one of the most masculinized at the labour level, since 86% of work permits work is in the hands of men.
The Indian diaspora has established its footing in the Spanish land, by maintaining close ties with other mutual immigrant families in the region, forming a close-knit community, and celebrating important cultural events and festivals to keep the cultural bond strong.
However, it would be incorrect to say that Indians have completely walled themselves off from the Spanish domain and refuse to incorporate or introduce Spaniards to their culture.
Indian workers are easily integrated and accepted into Spanish companies, both as skilled and unskilled labourers. However, the situation is not the same everywhere in Spain, as Indians do struggle to secure employment at Spanish companies and eventually fall back upon cultural centres for work.
“Now that these business vestibules have increased manifold, Spaniards or natives no longer identify the nationality of foreigners. They attempt to speak to them first, which generates fears among the Indian diaspora, ” according to Murli.
Colourful festivals like Diwali or Holi are golden opportunities for the Indian community in Spain to involve and integrate native Spaniards into the cultural narrative so that the immigrational rhetoric gains clarity in the society, to dispel xenophobic fears and anxieties.
A healthy exchange of food, music, tradition, and culture, along with cuisine, is an excellent way to congregate and enjoy cultural diversity.