The Weekly Quill — Coming of Age Amidst COVID-19

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India: The World’s Fifth Largest Economy Threads a Diplomatic Needle

What’s in a name? Best to ask the recordkeeper. Eager for exertion but exhausted from enduring loss, the Kurmis of Punjab set out for a better tomorrow. Good riddance to the assailants, Kings Saira and Dairas of Iran in 600 and 518 B.C. Adios Alexander the Great of Greece in 300 B.C. Gujarat, here we come. Some 1,700 years later, the road ended in Surat, the southernmost part of Gujarat State. Seeing their entrepreneurship and grit, the rulers of the state, the Solankis, allocated uncultivated land equivalent to one village to each family for cultivation in the fertile region whose chief crops included cotton, millet, pulses and rice. In the interest of keeping track of the tracts, around 1400 A.D., the king appointed a headman, or Patlikh, to maintain records of the crops on a given PAT, or parcel of land.

Being situated on a peninsula with a world class port on the Arabian Sea dictated that peace in the region would not last. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Gujarat was a prized target of European trading companies. The Portuguese dominated for a spell, but it was the Brits who raised colonization to a new level using a ‘divide-and-rule’ strategy to govern India for two centuries. While Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence movement to gain independence was no doubt a factor, the devastation of the British economy expedited the journey that ended with the 1947 Indian Independence Act, an Act of Parliament that partitioned British India into two independent dominions of India and Pakistan.

The two world wars left indelible scars on the new nation, claiming one million Indian soldiers’ lives. Another casualty of war opened the door to what would one day be a different sort of Indian movement. In 1942, three industrious Gujarati farmworkers in California scraped together the funds to take over a 32-room hotel in Sacramento after the property’s Japanese American owner was forced to report to a World War II internment camp. Five years on, one hotel became two with the acquisition of the Hotel Goldfield in San Francisco. By then, strict immigration laws had dwindled the ranks of Indians in America to fewer than 2,500. The Luce-Celler Bill of 1946 changed that. Some 6,000 Indians entered the U.S. between 1947 and 1965. Many immigrants were greeted at the Goldfield’s open doors with eight words of encouragement, “If you are a Patel, lease a hotel.”

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Danielle DiMartino Booth is founder and Chief Strategist at Quill Intelligence

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