As trade between India and Southeast Asia flourished during the early part of the 19th century, large numbers of Indian labourers flocked to Burma, Malaya and Singapore to meet demands in plantations and public works. In addition, more merchants arrived, and Indian convicts were sent to Singapore after the British designated the colony a penal settlement.

Indian Communities in Singapore
Indian labourers laying electric cables,
c 1920s.
Indian Communities in Singapore
Indian family, Singapore,
c early 1920s.

In British-administered areas such as Hongkong and Shanghai, Indian Sepoys served as security forces. By the early 20th century, there were some two million Indians living in East Asia. As overseas Indian communities grew, various social, political and economic interest groups, such as the Central Indian Association of Malaya also mushroomed.

Indian Communities in Singapore
Prominent Indian community leaders, 1946.

Among them were revolutionary groups, such as the Indian Independence League formed by political refugees. However, these groups were not centrally organised, nor were they closely linked to political development in India.


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