Oriya Diaspora-A Brief History of Migration and Transnational Networks

Ajaya Kumar Sahoo
Department of Sociology
University of Hyderabad
Hyderabad 500046
Email: sahooajaya@yahoo.com






The present paper deals with the Oriya diaspora, in this transnational world where national boundaries crisscross each other and where the network goes beyond the community relationships. The paper is devided into two parts. The first part deals with a brief introduction about the notion of diaspora and transnationalism, the second part discusses about the history of Oriya migration to other parts of the world, their settlement pattern and their present day transnational networks, with special reference to the United States.

Part – I





The early usage of immigrants or migrants whose meanings are conceptualised in terms of dispersion from one place to another, permanent settlement in host society by adopting new languages, culture and life styles even though its painful, sometimes objectionable, had no longer retain today. Today its meaning has changed as the immigrants developed a different and multiple networks simultaneously with the societies of origin and host society by communicating with their kith and kin. They have experienced a different life that goes beyond the boundaries of one nation-state and brings both the host and mother culture into one single place for interaction. This new type of migrants refers to as ‘transmigrants’ and the process in which they involve is called as ‘transnationalism’. The basis behind this sudden transformation is due to the globalisation, deterritorialisation, intensification of international migration flows, development of communication technology, and the internationalisation of nation states in the modern world.


The concept transnationalism has wider connotation today within the interdisciplinary study such as anthropology, sociology, geography and international migration. Though number of scholars have addressed the concept of transnationalism (see Portes, 1997; Guarnizo, 1996; Basch et al., 1994; Faist, 1999; Vertovec, 1999; Foner, 1997), I used one significant definition here for the effective understanding of what exactly transnationalism means. Linda Basch et al. (1994: 4) for example, defined transnationalism as the processes by which “…immigrants forge and sustain multi-standard social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement”. Through constant mobility of people, labour, money and resources, immigrants now actively construct ‘transnational social field’ that extends beyond the single location, forming a distinct kind of social field in which they maintain familial, economic, political and cultural ties. Although it is true that transnational migration has a long history, and it is also true that earlier migrants also maintained linkages to their homelands, yet there is a element of truth in the debate surrounding contemporary migrants as compared to earlier migrants when we talk about their networks and their imagined or virtual transnational community.


The Concept of Diaspora



The etymological meaning of ‘diaspora’ is derived from two Greek words, ‘dia’ which means through, and ‘speiro’ means scatter. Though the concept has assumed different meanings and interpretations since its early usages, it is currently employed to imply a wide variety of contexts, from dispersion diaspora to trade diaspora and worker/migrant diaspora. These terminologies are increasingly used in the present day transnational studies.


In the present day, the large-scale international migration has given rise to interdisciplinary discussion on the production and maintenance of culture beyond the limits of locally defined boundaries. Concepts like inter-ethnic relations, border culture and especially diaspora have acquired considerable significance in the analysis of the emerging processes in societies where immigrants are allowed to settled. The term once employed to imply the “…meanings of exile, loss, dislocation, powerless-ness and pain is being used today to describe a wide range of dispersions”. For Tololyan (cited in Wahlbeck, 1998. p.10), diaspora communities now serve as “…exemplary communities of the transnational moment”, where the diaspora culture goes beyond and challenge several national borders. As a result of this change a paradigm shift has occurred in the field of diaspora replacing the earlier parameters to what social scientist call today ‘transnational community’.


Transnational Community



The transnational community is a much-debated theme beyond the field of diaspora studies. Transnational community generally refers to the migrant communities, living abroad in the host countries but maintain economic, political, social and emotional ties with their homeland and with other diasporic communities of the same origin. To call a community as ‘transnational’, it should have certain qualities and characteristics. These qualities include the community’s presence in different parts of the world, population percentage and the transactions and transnational relations they have with their kith and kin, and also with their home country at the same time.


Transnational relations have important implication for both the sending and receiving society. According to Tambiah (2000), there are two types of transnational relations i.e., vertical and lateral. The ‘vertical’ relations refer to the “…participation of immigrants in the host country to improve and impact the host nation”. In this form of relationship, the diaspora actively participates in the social, economic and political domains of the country and thus becoming an important social and economic force in the host society. On the other hand the ‘lateral’ relations are manifested in the form of “…maintaining, reinforcing and extending the relation between the emigrant communities and their places of origin”. For instance, sending remittances by the immigrants to their families back home, arranging and participating in marriage and other ceremonies, sponsoring for home festivals and events and so on. The scholars of transnational approach call this relation as ‘Transnational Global Networks’. But when we use the term ‘transnational global networks’, it simply refers not only to the relationship between the diaspora and home state, but also between members of the other diasporic community in other countries.


One of the factors leading to the emergence of this transnational network is the ease and speed of communication network and travel. As compared to earlier dispersions, where immigration often led to isolation from homeland and kin, the contemporary immigrants can easily sustain their kinship network globally. The emergence of transnational networks is also the result of the rise in the activities of a number of International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs). As a result the dispersed people across the globe can easily interact with their families, they promote religious, economic and political activities on a transnational space. They also maintain their cultural identity and linkages with the places and countries of their origin.


Developments in the field of transportation and communication technology have made tremendous changes in the transnational linkages. These developments have made it possible for immigrants to network with each other simultaneously staying at different places. Along with the modern forms of transportation and communication, the processes of globalisation, deterritorialisation and the flow of capital have accelerated the transnational social formation. Further, the continuous circulation of people, money, goods and information between various settlements of immigrant population has given rise to the formation of a ‘single community’ [virtual community]. A person can now feel nostalgic to talk in their mother language wherever and whenever he meets with his community people, and in the process the whole community becomes a ‘global village’.



Part – II

Oriya Diaspora


The diasporic Oriyas constitute sizeable number in several countries around the world. They are significant in number in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Java, Sumatra and Bali and in the European countries such as United States, Canada, Australia and England. Presently Oriyas are found in almost all countries of the globe. They maintain close contact among themselves, with the kith and kin around the world albeit relatives back home in Orissa.


The ethnic consciousness of being an ‘Oriya’ has made them one of the most successful Indian diasporic communities around the globe. Of course, they are regarded as one of the small Indian diasporic groups living abroad, but they must count next to Sikh, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu communities. Their strength and presence in the host society can be discernible through the ethnic associations they have formed in the countries of their residence. Through associations they retain their familial and socio-economic networks with the homeland and other Oriyas around the world. These networks among the Oriyas further become easier as a result of the revolution in the field of information and communication technology, which has tremendously altered the world in this 21st century. Now Oriyas are regarded as one of the ‘Transnational Ethnic Indian Groups’.


The Oriyas, settled abroad, migrated from the state of Orissa, which is bounded by the Bay of Bengal in the east, West Bengal and Bihar in the north, Madhya Pradesh in the west and Andhra Pradesh in the south (Rath 1983: 1-2). The language sopken by Oriyas called ‘Oriya’ which is an anglicised version of ‘Odia’. The word Odia is a modern name for the Odra or Udra tribes who inhabits in the central part of modern Orissa. In India, the language is spoken by over 30 million people, and globally over 45 million speak Oriya. It is one of the official languages of India and the major language of Orissa. Oriya language has spread to the other parts of the globe such as Mynmar, Malaysia, Fiji, Indonesia, Java, Sumatra, the USA, Canada, Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and UAE.


A Brief History of Oriya Migration



Migration from Orissa has a long history. The Oriya merchants had trade links with other parts of the country during the ancient and Middle Ages. Being a coastal region [Orissa], maritime trade played an important role in the development of Oriya civilisation, where cultural, commercial and political contacts with Southeast Asia, particularly southern Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia were especially extensive.


Archaeological evidence from Sisupalgarh in Orissa suggests that the trade contact between ancient Orissa and Rome dates back to the first and second century AD. The trade contacts between eastern India and Thailand date as far as back as the 3rd and 4th century BC. Himanshu Ray’s “The Winds of Change-Buddhism and the Maritime Links of Early South Asia” mentions that at least eight Oceanic routes linked the eastern coast of India with the Malaya country. Around the 7th century AD Kongoda Dynasty from central Orissa migrated to Malaysia and Indonesia. Tome Pires says that, Oriya and the Portuguese merchant traders were active at the ports of Southeast Asia during ancient time.

The chronicles of Huen Tsang refers to Orissa’s overseas contacts in the 7th century, and by the 10th century Orissa’s trade with the east began to proliferate (Rath, ibid.). during the Sailodbhava dynasty through ports, merchants from Orissa reached distant destinations in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Java, Bali, Sumatra, Borneo, Malaya and Cambodia. Historians point out that the links between the Sailodbhavas of Orissa and Sailendras of South East Asia dates back to antiquity. The rituals of Balijatra and Khuduru Kuni Osa in Orissa today are the best example of the great maritime past of Orissa.


During the colonial period, when British ruled Orissa, a significant change took place in the region. The first British factories were established at Hariharpur in Orissa. Subsequently other factories were established in Balasore on the river Burabalanga and Pipil on the river Subarnarekha. These two Orissa harbors formed the bases for maritime trade. In fact, at the same time, the British rule has had a severe impact on the social and economic life of the Oriya people. Numerous categories of craft workers, especially weavers and dyers became bankrupt and were reduced to abject poverty.


The shrinking of the cottage industry, which created large number of unemployed workers along with the abject poverty and severe draughts and famines pushed the Oriyas to the far away lands in search of a better future. Oriyas during these days migrated to East African countries as indentured labour to work on the plantations. They also migrated to Malaya, Burma and Indonesia and Caribbean countries as unskilled labourers. As Sheila Rampersed (1998) in her article Jahaji Behen says “…the migration to the Caribbean took place mainly from northern India, where 90 percent of the people migrate from the Gangetic Plane, the former United Provinces, Central Provinces and Oudh, Orissa and Bhiar”.


Migration of the Oriyas to the industrially developed countries is a recent phenomenon. During the 1960s and 1970s in the state of Orissa, a number of technical and engineering colleges and institutions came up in major cities such as Rourkela, Bhubaneswar, Talcher, Berhampur, Cuttack, and Baripada. These institutions produced large number of engineers and professionals but unable to get employment in India many Oriyas migrated to the United States, Canada and Australia looking for a brighter future.


This period was often called as the ‘Brain Drain’, which pushed large number of engineers, doctors, scientists, and teachers from India to the developed countries. The migration did not stop, further as a result of the developments in the field of transport and communication have led to unprecedented migration of Oriyas since the late seventies. Presently Oriyas are found many parts of the world. Oriyas abroad are now proud of their mercantile tradition. They are not only in business but also are highly educated, having gained professional qualifications in such fields as science, technology, medicine, economies, business management etc. On the threshold of the 21st century, the Oriya community seems to be at the crossroads in every sphere of life. On the one hand, it has become transnational, and on the other hand, it is struggling to retain its culture.


Transnational Networks



When we speak of transnationalism or transnational social network, we generally refer to the sustained ties of persons, networks and organisations across the borders of the multiple nation-state, ranging from weak to strong institutionalised forms (Faist 1999). The most significant relation here is not within the country of settlement rather the deterritorialised social relation with the country of origin, which is maintained through transnational contacts.


The Oriyas are not only successful in maintaining close contacts with the families and relatives back home but also are very much successful in maintaining the transnational networks with their kith and kin around the globe. Thanks to the modern means of cheaper transportation and faster means of communication technology, which has made possible closer networks among the family and community members around the world. The Oriyas continue to keep in touch with their relatives and old friend in Orissa and in other countries. Their personal linkages are maintained through telephone, letters, Internet, Email and through personal home visits where as the socio-economic linkages are manifested through the form of marriage arrangements, kinship networks, remittances and religious ceremonies. They have succeeded in reviving some of the old ideas and values. Further due to the development of Internet it has now become possible to create an Oriya ‘Virtual Community’ where the people of Oriya community all over the world can participate in a community.


Orissa Cyclone: An Instance of Transnational Networks



The super cyclone of Orissa 1999 which made millions people homeless and over 20,000 dead, was the worst in the history of Orissa as well as India. To rebuild Orissa again, the Oriya NRIs and NGOs have played an important role by raising funds from all over the world. In this regard the Oriya associations of America through fund raising and co-ordination of relief and through proper planing of rehabilitation with on site visits have played significant role.


At present marriages among the Oriyas are performed transnationally. The matrimonial advertisements, which are now available on the Internet, facilitate further in searching for brides/grooms, often based on caste preferences. There are certain web sites exclusively made for Oriyas, which include Oriya magazines, newspapers, and matrimonial ads. Among such web sites one reads as follows:


The Sambit.com: – The first transnational Oriya magazine on the web. It locates the Oriya speaking peoples, friends and relatives worldwide. This site also provides an opportunity to the Oriya speaking community of the world in finding suitable marriage alliances. It displays matrimonial ads for Oriyas who are looking for the marriage alliances either for themselves or for their kith and kin. On the web site, one can find matrimonial ads of Oriya speaking community belonging to all castes from all over the world. Apart from the matrimonial site, it also helps Oriyas to search for Oriya people around the world to create the ‘Virtual Community’.



The overseas Oriyas have made their mark in diverse professions all over the world. They spread far from the deserts of the Arabia to the darkest corners of Africa. They are successful in such fields as hi-tech industries and services, experts and tourism. Oriyas in America are particularly distinguished themselves in a wide range of industries and services such as electronics, telecommunication, and computers, power production and banking. They have progressively improved their lot in the United States. Their number is now more than 8000 and is increasing day by day. They are concentrated in most of the important places like California, San Francisco, New York, and New Jersey.


The first thing Oriyas did when they migrated overseas was to form the ethnic associations with the co-operation of other Oriyas. Through the associations they tried to retain the invaluable culture of Orissa. Presently there are two active Oriya associations found in the United States. They extend their boundaries to all the Oriyas of the world. These two associations are Oriya Association of America in Boston and the Oriya Association of Washington DC.


Oriya Culture in the USA



The Oriya immigrants in the United States have remained attached to their invaluable culture, which finds expression in the traditional festivals and ceremonies. They perform the festivals such as Rath Yatra, Holi, Diwali and New Year in which large number of Oriyas participate. The traditional dance and theatre forms of Orissa like Oddissi dance and Chhau dance, drama, stage shows of the story of Ramayana and Mahabharata etc. are also performed in the diaspora. Today specialised dance troupes are invited from Orissa to perform in several special occasions. While watching these performances, the Oriyas, feel a sense of nostalgia of being a member of the great civilisation. Among the well-known performers who have visited the United States are include Bagmi Das, Natasha Rao, Siddhartha Mohaptra, Satish Mishra, Mrunali Das, Rajashri Mishra, Prerana Pradhan, Shashwati Das, Suman Ojha etc.


The Orissa Society of the Americas



The cultural association of Oriyas in the United States is called ‘Orissa Society of Americas’ (OSA), which was founded in 1969 at Boston. It is a non-political, non-profit and voluntary association, in the United States. The association has fourteen regional centres, which operate as a social umbrella for different regions in the United States and Canada. These centres arrange religious festivals, social get together, cultural events and participate in the cultural life of the local community as representatives of Oriya culture.

The main aims of the society are to:

  1. ?


    1. promote activities for a better understanding of Oriya culture and exchange of information between Orissa and the United States and Canada;?


    2. bring all Oriyas together from all over the world;?


    3. bring the people of Oriya origin from different parts of the United States, Canada and Orissa through annual conventions to share the experiences of ethnic living; and?


    4. to rebuild the motherland. 


OSA continues to strive to be a focal point of all Oriyas in nurturing and promoting the Oriya heritage and culture. Through conferences and meetings OSA tries to maintain the culture of Orissa. For example, a small group of young Oriya professional had organised a business symposium last year, they brought together senior administrators from Orissa, including the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary, officials from Banks and private companies in Orissa. The main purpose of that symposium was to provide incentive to the businessmen and entrepreneurs from the United States and around the world with interest in investing in Orissa.


Oddissi, an ancient dance form of Orissa, has received worldwide recognition with its beautiful footwork and theatrics. The associated Oddissi music is also unique in its composition and lyrical style. OSA supports cultural artists on tour to USA and helps in organising workshops and events in association with other sponsoring organisations. Through festivals, OSA participates in ethnic celebrations in various communities in the USA and Canada. The OSA through its newsletter and various educational programmes trying to improve the communication and interaction between Oriya women in Orissa and in North America. Chandrika Mohapatra for instance, the Oriya lady in the USA is now trying to create a newsletter keeping in view the gap between the realities and perceptions of life in the western countries and in Orissa. This newsletter will attempt to bridge the gap between Oriyas in all over the world and in Orissa and to share the best of both worlds.





The Non-resident Oriyas (NROs) now are playing an important role in shaping the future of Orissa. Their knowledge of the new frontiers of science and technology and their exposure to international trade and commerce will be of inestimable value. Orissa has rich natural resources. It has minerals like, iron, ore, manganese, bauxite and chrome, which are in great demand all over the world. Tourism is the other major area in which Orissa’s potential has been exploited only marginally. In 1993 the global tourism market consisted of 500 million tourists of which only 1.8 million visited India. Only a small fraction of this came to Orissa. Tourism can now become a major income generator for Orissa.


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24 Responses to “Oriya Diaspora-A Brief History of Migration and Transnational Networks”

  1. sabita DASH Says:

    hii,,this was exetremely useful as me and my better half are planning to relocate ourselves over to london..hope to meet some oriya people over there…..thank you

  2. vipin saxena Says:

    can u pls help by giving the name n ad of an extremely successful oriya businessman in cambodia.

  3. Surath P Says:

    This is regarding: “Among the well-known performers who have visited the United States are include Bagmi Das, Natasha Rao, Siddhartha Mohaptra, Satish Mishra, Mrunali Das, Rajashri Mishra, Prerana Pradhan, Shashwati Das, Suman Ojha etc.”

    These people are kids and you are right they are very good performers.
    But they are Oriya Americans, not visitors to USA. Here people are very proud of these kids. Even though they are born and brought in USA they still did not forget their own tradition and culture.


  4. Rama Chandra Das Says:

    Kindly let me know the websites to find the odia ramayana,baidehish vilas etc.

  5. saroj Says:

    i wish to know name of some of the oriya movies related to community development and social mobilisation.

  6. utpal pati Says:

    pl. mail the oriya associations existing in various leading countries of world.


    utpal pati

  7. Ramachandi Prasad Says:

    good story

  8. Birendra Das Says:

    Great & commendable effort.
    I was proposing External Publicity Division of Govt of India to commission a film to me on this subject.

    Any idea who else will be interested to fund such a film? A film on this can be like a double edged showrd:thrill Oriyas in Orissa aswell as outside

  9. rengadhar horianaik Says:

    Great history of oriya people and their dynasty i would appreciate someone to visit malaysia and see the malaysian oriya, we are here since the british, but before that oriyas are already in malaysia.Please contact me below:

    rengadhar horianaik@ ringoh
    HP: 6014-6102605
    No:1104,Jalan RJ 2/3, Taman Rasah Jaya, 70300 Seremban
    Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia

  10. Ajit Says:

    This information gives a good insight.

    I am doing research work on Odiya people settled abroad in various countries. I need some deails and profiles of people. Can you please send me the same in my e-mail: ajitbarik21@gmail.com


  11. Ranjit Dash Says:

    Great peice of work by Dr. Sahoo. Oriya have a great past and yet not much is known to the young generation, but thanks to the papers like this, it’s been brought to light.

    Please change the background color or the font color. It’s a pain, literally to read this blog post.
    The information is equally pleasant.

  12. SUREJDEV Says:

    HAI…all,good day,this is my first time to login to this web page.i,am oriya malaysian, where is most of oriya malaysian people live in southern and central region of malaysia.i,am delighted to see this web page which is all about oriya people.it was very good information about oriya history of migration and transnational networks.i glad to see the oriya people from all over the world in this web page and i would be too pleased if this web page developed and extended furthur more by fulfill the request of visitors.great piece of work.go on…

  13. Affiliate Guidebook Says:

    Outstanding post full of useful tips! My site is fairly new and I am having a difficult time getting my subscribers to leave comments. They are coming to the site but I have the feeling that “nobody wants to be first”.

  14. Srikanth Mishra Says:

    Appriciable work on history and information on oriya people.

  15. Birendra Das(of Ajira Odisha) Says:

    I am preparing a TV series on Oriyas-outside-Orissa.
    For this I looking for great Otiya achievers and also
    “face in the crowd” (Bana Malli) type.
    I will be grateful for any useful information,contacts.

  16. jhunu Says:

    i want search oriya people in malaysia

  17. Hi Jhunu, where do u stay in Malaysia? Pls. drop a mail to chittad@gmail.com with your contact details, me too in KL. Chitta Says:

    Hi Jhunu, where do u stay in Malaysia? Pls. drop a mail to chittad@gmail.com with your contact details, me too in KL. Chitta

  18. Manoj Tripathy Says:

    This is a complete work of hardwork and knowledge together.As a researcher on this same subject I can visualise the labour behind the curtains.
    Where the process of migration adding pride to economy and diaspora,same way it is also the reflection of poverty and illiteracy across backward regions of orissa. The emerging trend of migration among tribal adolescents and the increased rate of migration after the riot in Kandhamal is quite an exissting problem as it may result in many unforeseen problems like Ganjam and Bolangir District.
    We are doing a study on such emerging problem to find out the core reason behind the process and find out solution to arrest or decraese the rate of such migration.
    Suggetions and comments are invited

  19. Loithas Gurubaria Says:

    Hi..my oriya, we are in malaysia more than 65 years and all malaysian citizen 90% hindus and others mix with locals.Most of them can speak oriya around 98% mealwhile 100% can speak Tamil and local…Any information about malaysia oriya ? mail me loithas@yahoo.com

  20. Sopna Bidthu Says:

    Why orissa state not take care thee orissa migration people compare with Tamilnadu always contact them or any communication to find out Orissa around the world, for exp:- in indonesia nobody can speak oriya, locals language only.why it is happen ? no points we say we oriya ? cannot save our people far behind from us…help…help…send some books they can read or speak like Dwi language books bcoz all malaysian can speak oriya but cannaot read and write oriya very funny?????I can see some email from malaysia brothers but no action from u all in orissa state…..bye ? sad sister from Malaysia

  21. rowshni guruvadia Says:

    Hello Orissans…i totally agree ..v do speak oriya but not the fluent 1n v dnt have the accent…or shall i say upside down oriya ,smtimes v just translate from other languages like tamil,bahasa malaysia n english 2 xplain smting coz v cant find proper word…wake up people,speak our mother tonque wat is there 2 b shy about?????

  22. Loithas Gurubaria Says:

    Hi…my oriya people pls communicate each n others, make good relationship even u stay in any country. I`m happy there is some reply from oriya girls. It means our oriya girls aware! what happens here…Odia blogs. How about other countrys Boys n Girls….Any how I LOVE MY ORIYA..Proud me a Oriya…like to speak Oriya…. loithas@yahoo.com HP :019-7974195…..

  23. Subrata Kumar Das Says:

    Hello All Odiya of World

    Hope this massage find you all in good health.

    It is glade to inform you that we had register a Trust in the name of Shree Jagannath Cultural Trust in Silvassa. The trust has a commitment to spread the Jagannath Culture and propagate Lord Jagannath’s glory particularly in Union Territory of Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Due and all over India. In addition to above glory we are working to provide free Homeopathy & Ayurveda treatment to needy people of Territory. This trust also is involved in many other social activities directed at the well being of the needy people. As a big step towards fulfilling its cherished objectives, The Trust has undertaken the task of constructing Shree Shree Jagannath Temple and Cultural Center at Silvassa.

    As trusty of the above Cultural Trust I am humble request you kindly arrange some donation from you near and dear in favor of Trust. This will be only possible with the help and donations from all devotees. I am herewith furnishing the bank details of trust for your ready reference. Please feel free to contact me at the address given above or at the email id, info.sjct@gmail.com & das_sk2007@rediffmail.com

    Our Bank A/c Details: Shree Jagannath Cultural Trust.
    A/c No:08232120004095

    Address of Trust:
    Shree Jagannath Cultural Trust,
    Regd No:102/2010 DT,15/1/2010
    Email Id:info.sjct@gmail.com

    Our website is under construction.
    Thanking you.

    Subrata Kumar Das
    Cell No:9998988641

  24. Rengadhar Horianaik Says:

    Nomoskar, I am a Malaysian 3rd generation oriya from Orissa,at present compiling oriya history in malaysia, could anyone assist me in the Malaysian history of oriya people.Please forward any historical records to my address below. Thank you, Bondhu

    Rengadhar Horianaik
    email: ringo.rengadharnaik@gmail.com

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