Early Presence: In the early 20th century, Kuwait was a small trading port that was primarily engaged in maritime trade with the Indian sub-continent through the ports of Karachi, Mumbai, Cochin, etc. The Kuwaitis used to carry Arabian horses, dates and pearls on wooden dhows to India and came back with timber, spices, textiles etc from India. Consequently, Indian traders also started arriving in Kuwait, drawn by the opportunities presented by the bustling trade activities. These traders were involved in various businesses, including textiles, spices, foodstuff, and other goods.
Economic Boom: The 1970s and 1980s marked a significant period of economic growth for Kuwait due to its oil reserves. This period saw a rapid increase in infrastructure projects, and the Indian community played a vital role in this development. Many Indian professionals and skilled workers were employed in the construction of buildings, roads, and other projects.
Gulf War and Its Aftermath: The 1990-1991 Gulf War had a major impact on the Indian community in Kuwait. This led to a mass exodus of the Indian community from Kuwait, including evacuation by Government of India of over 1.7 lakh Indians through seaport as well as by air-lifting from Jordan. However, after Kuwait's liberation, most members of the Indian community gradually returned. While the Palestinians constituted the largest expatriate community in Kuwait pre-liberation war, their numbers decreased post-liberation war and gradually the Indian community became the largest in Kuwait.
Present profile of the Indian community:
- The Indian community is the largest expatriate community in Kuwait of 9.78 lakh (9,77,897 as per statistics released by Ministry of Interior of Kuwait on 27 March 2023). The domestic sector workers (house-maids, houseboy, home-driver, home-cook, gardeners) is around 3.6 lakhs and are not allowed to bring in their dependents. The private sector workers constitute around 4.7 lakhs (construction workers, technicians, company drivers, engineers, doctors, nurses, chartered accountants, IT experts etc.). The next big category is that of dependents of people on work visa (1.08 lakhs), out of which, there are about 40,000 Indian students studying in 26 Indian schools in the country. The government sector has approx 25,000 Indian nationals (mainly engineers, doctors, paramedics, nurses). The gender ratio of Indians in Kuwait is highly skewed with males being 3 times of females.
- The maximum numbers of Indians are from the following States in descending order – Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, UP, Maharashtra, Gujarat. Most of the nurses are from Kerala whereas female domestic workers are from Andhra Pradesh / Telangana. A large number of construction workers are from Rajasthan. The Bohra community (approx 20000-25000) is largely from Maharashtra. There is a small community from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Among the north-eastern states, there is again a small community mainly from Assam. There are some mebers from Punjab and Haryana as well (mainly farm-workers).
- The Indians remain the most preferred community in Kuwait as they are considered to be hard-working, trust-worthy, tolerant and non-interfering. There is currently a negative sentiment against the Egyptian community (second-largest of around 6 lakhs) as it is entrenched within the government sector of Kuwait, including Supreme Court judges. The Egyptians are involved as consultants in many Ministries, hospitals, oil companies etc and therefore play a role in decision-making. The biggest back-lash currently is against the Filipino community because of continuous tensions between Kuwait and Phillipines with respect to legal rights of Fillipinos in Kuwait. The murder of a Fillipino national in January 2023 has resulted in hard-ball between both sides and Kuwait has stopped issuance of new work visas to Fillipinos. Kuwait is, therefore, exploring new work force from African countries like Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan etc. In terms of work-force, the Bangladeshis, Nepalis and Pakistanis constitute the major work-force after Indians, Egyptians and Phillipines.
- The policy of Kuwaitization is having an impact on the growth of all exptraiate communities in Kuwait, including the Indian expatriate community. "Kuwaitisation" refers to the policy of prioritizing the employment of Kuwaiti citizens in the workforce of Kuwait, particularly in the public sector and certain industries. This has led to difficulties being created for Indian engineers in Kuwait, family visas for dependents (for all expats), less opportunities in other public sector jobs for expatriates etc.
- The Indian community in Kuwait has established various social, cultural, and religious organizations to promote a sense of unity and support among its members. At present, there are over 200 associations, including reputed professional associations, various cultural associations and alumni associations of reputed educational institutions, registered with the Embassy. However, they are not registered as societies as per Kuwaiti law or under Indian Societies Act.
- Most of the Community Associations are engaged in Philanthropic activities. They also organize several cultural activities and celebrate festivals which bind them to the root of India.
- The Embassy had formed an Indian Community Support Group (ICSG) during the Covid pandemic comprising of prominent Indians in Kuwait . The iCSG was the main coordinator of relief efforts in Kuwait for the Indian nationals during the pandemic and more importantly, for mobilizing the large shipments of LMO from Kuwait to India. Many of the ICSG members as well as other members of the Indian community contributed a large amount of funds for sending LMO and providing food and other necessary things to the needy Indians in Kuwait.
- Many professionals in Kuwait have formed associations of Engineers, Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics, Chartered Accountants etc. These include the Indian Doctors Forum (IDF); Indian Business and Professional Council (IBPC); Indian Dental Associations (IDAS); IIT-IIM Alumni Group; Indian Nursing Federation of Kuwait (INFOK); etc. There are an estimated 8000-9000 Indian engineers in Kuwait and over 1000 doctors. The nurses, in Government and private sector including home-nurses, together may constitute anywhere between 50,000-75,000.
- Some of the big Indian business-men who have made name and wealth include those of NBTC (K.G.Abraham); Royale Hyatt Hospital (Pradeep handa); KITCO (Dhiraj Oberoi); Samara Group (S.K.Wadhawan); Al Mailem (Kuldeep Singh Lamba); Mughal Mahal restaurants (Ashok Kalra and Jatiner Suri); Al Zahem &Malhotra (Dharam Malhotra); OBTC (Jagdeep Sahni(; Rajpal Tyagi (International Interiors) etc. Most of them have carved a niche in the Kuwaiti market in retail as well as distributorship. Some of the business houses have been present in Kuwait for two to three generations. One such example is of the Jashanmal store (for high-end franchise products), which was a house-hold name among Kuwaitis for foreign brands before opening of the new-age malls.
- A number of Indian businesses are related to hyper/super-markets such as Lulu Hypermarket (Lulu International) and CentrePoint (Landmark Group). Many of the large super-markets have Indian CEOs like City Centre (Ajay Goel); Oncost (Ramesh) etc.
- Most of the Indian jewellery brands are present in Kuwait – Kalyan, Malabar, Joy Alukkas, Senco etc.
- A number of Indians are also involved in the Exchange houses which are the primary conduits of sending remittances from Kuwait to India. Approx USD 5 bn is remitted to India annually from Kuwait.
- Kuwait based NRI businessmen Sri Rajpal Tyagi and Indian Doctors Forum have been bestowed with Pravasi Bharatiya Award in the past.