The Indies or East Indies (or East India) is a term used to describe lands of South and South-East Asia, occupying all of the former British India, the present Indian Union, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and also Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, which was last called the Dutch East Indies prior to independence.
The East Indies also include Iranian Baluchistan, French Indochina, the Philippine Islands, Brunei, Singapore and Portuguese Timor. It, however, does not include Dutch New Guinea, which is a part of Melanesia.
The inhabitants of the East Indies are called East Indians, especially in the Caribbean. Anthropogists also call them Indic.
The extensive East Indies is sub-divided into two sections (from European perspective), called Hither India and Further India. The first is the former British India, the second is modern South-East Asia or the ASEAN Bloc.
These lands began to be explored by European powers in the 16th century and became important sources of trade goods, particularly cotton, indigo and spices after the establishment of European trading companies designed for the specific purpose: the British East India Company and Dutch East India Company, among others, in the 17th century.
The New World was initially thought to be the eastern-most part of the Indies by explorer Christopher Columbus, who had grossly underestimated the westerly distance from Europe to Asia. Later, to avoid confusion, the New World came to be called the West Indies whilst the original Indies came to be called the "East Indies".
The racial designation East Indian once primarily used describe people of all of the East Indies but more recently it has been used as a more precise version of Indian, to avoid the potential confusion as to whether one means people from the country of India or Native Americans. Asian Indian is a similar alternative term.
East Indian is also an ethnic or sub-ethnic group, based in and around the city of Bombay or Mumbai. These people, part of the original Konkani ethnic group, had been evangelized under Portuguese auspices, and had partly Lusitanized. Later the area was conquered by the Maratha Empire, and the Marathi language forced on the people. Under the English government, they were known as Bombay Portuguese, but, when immigrant from Portuguese-ruled Goa began to enter Bombay, in order to distinguish themselves from the Goans (whom the English also called Portuguese), they renamed themselves as "East Indians" purportedly after the British East India Company, in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the British, and as locals of Bombay as distinguished from the Goans.
- Community website of the East Indians of Bombay (http://www.east-indians.com)