Desis in Europa / Desis in Europe

People marked as 'South Asians' in Austria

by Urmila Goel

Austria like Germany was early an aim for young Indian men. In 1933 the Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose came to Austria to cure his health. Being in exile he stayed involved in Indian politics. He sought contact to other Indians living in the country and joined forces with them. At the same time he was able to enter Vienna society, finding friends and supporters there. He met his later wife, who became his secretary. Bose stayed till 1936 and came back in 1937.

One of Bose’s followers was Sarma, who came in the 1930s to Vienna to study chemistry. There he became secretary of an Indian students association. His father sent him money via the British embassy until the second world war cut this link. Sarma missed the last train out of Austria, stayed with the family of his Austrian girl-friend and was then able to get a scholarship for a Ph.D. in Berlin. His girl-friend and an Indian student of medicine followed him there. In Berlin they stayed involved in Indian student activities. After the war Sarma was not allowed to return to Austria, his girl-friend got hold of a visa for Germany and there they married in 1947. A year later they returned to Autria. Sarma worked some time in Switzerland and later in Indian diplomatic services in Austria. Without ever returning to India he died 1980 in Austria.

Sixty years later still Indian students come to Austria. Weikmann (1995, 97) describes the live of a Ph.D. student who followed his father’s foot steeps to the University of Graz, while his wife and child stay in India. Also in Graz Weikmann (1995, 99-101) finds a Sikh, who came 15 years ago to Austria, worked in restaurants and hotels and now owns his own restaurant. In total Weikmann (1999, 94-96) counts about 70 Indian citizens in Graz (students, businessmen and researchers), who have little contact among themselves. Hasnanin (1994) in contrast reports of Diwali celebrations in Vienna with festivities at a Hindu Mandir and activities of the Vienna’s Indian Women Association. Hutter (2001) gives an overview over Hinduism in Austria.

Today a small number of well established South Asians seem to live in Austria rather individually. Most of them seem to have come as single young men, who have either married Austrians or have not yet had an opportunity of joining with their families. In the year 2000 also the numbers of South Asian asylum seekers to Austria seem rather small . Up to 1990 the figures were negligible. After a sudden peak of entry especially of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in 1990 the numbers have reduced and stay stable on a considerably higher level than in the 1980s. In comparison to other European countries there are surprisingly few Tamil asylum seekers.


For statistical material click here (pdf-file).

© Urmila Goel, / Europa or english / europe 2002/2007/2010