This was an interesting question from an online forum.
Wikipedia describes Non-resident Indian and person of Indian origin – “A non–resident Indian (NRI) is a citizen of India who holds an Indian passport and has temporarily emigrated to another country for six months or more for employment, residence, education or any other purpose.”
Before Indian Independence, the British issued a “British Indian passport – Wikipedia”
“The British Indian passport was a passport, proof of national status and travel document issued to the British subjects of British Indian Empire, British subjects from other parts of the British Empire, and the subjects of the British protected states in India (i. e. the British Protected Persons of the ‘princely states’). The title of state used in the passport was the “Indian Empire”, which covered all of modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma.”
So, technically, NO. The “NRI Status” did not exist before independence.