SARITA SHANDILYA captures the Indian diaspora’s journey so far which has been the saga of trials and tribulations. Being the world’s largest, the Indian diaspora, who Prime Minister called India’s Brand Ambassadors, serves as a vehicle for India’s soft power and even influences the country’s foreign policy
In this materialistic world. every subject, be it money or power or glamour, holds significance and tries to seek media attention. Of late, Indian Diaspora has overshadowed everything and emerged as the focal point. In light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden state visit to the United States, it became vital to explore the multifaceted impact of the Indian Diaspora in bolstering India’s power. Furthermore, the diaspora has now become an integral part of India’s foreign policy, deserving the spotlight it receives today.
Modi’s visit to the United States demonstrated the mutual dependence between India and its diaspora in fortifying bilateral ties and fostering diplomacy with the West. Of late, engagement with the diaspora has become a consistent theme during various Indian dignitaries’ visits. The Government of India proactively celebrates the achievements of Global Indians and actively engages with this community like never before.
The Government of India established a high-level committee on the Indian Diaspora to analyse the location, situation, and potential role of approximately 20 million non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs). This initiative eventually led to the creation of the Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs in 2004, as well as the Indian Council of Overseas Employment. Their mandate was to develop and implement medium to long-term strategies that would enable Indian emigrant workers and professionals to progress in terms of value and position and for India to be perceived as a preferred source of skilled and qualified human resources across various sectors. The focus was on understanding the role of the diaspora, identifying their constraints, and formulating political, cultural, and economic strategies, including the facilitation of economic remittances.
It all began with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, constituting a committee on the Indian Diaspora under the chairmanship of late L. M. Singhvi, an eminent jurist in 2000. This committee was entrusted with conducting a comprehensive study of the global Indian Diaspora and making recommendations for improving relations with them.
The response from the diaspora community varied worldwide, reflecting their diverse capacities and interests. The established diaspora, who were citizens of their respective countries, displayed limited enthusiasm. Accurate estimation of the economic potential and investment capabilities of global Indians was crucial as economic growth did not necessarily reflect the human element. While the diaspora and development initiatives showcased India’s soft power, it is imperative to go beyond remittances and their size and conduct a more profound analysis of policy drafts, incorporating a human touch. The goals of such policy drafts or decisions must be specific and well-defined.
Descendants of yesteryear’s Indian laborers hog the limelight today globally
The descendants of those who left India as laborers are now in the limelight, equally sought after by all. The roots of our culture and upbringing run deep, with strong family ties and a focus on education and the well-being of children. While we can take Indians out of India, we cannot take India out of Indians. The Indian diaspora is a diverse community, representing various economic, social, and political backgrounds, speaking different languages, and practising a multitude of regional and cultural traditions. However, their Indian origin holds great power for them. Post-COVID-19, there has been a significant mobilisation and utilisation of the diaspora’s social, political, and technological influence for the benefit of India. Education has become the source of power for global Indians, with both Prime Minister Modi and other political leaders including Rahul Gandhi seeking their patronage. It is not just their numbers that make them important; it is their deep attachment to the motherland that resonates across the globe. Even the third or fourth generation of Indians visit India, and the Government of India fully recognises this. India fully acknowledges the importance of its diaspora and the benefits of engaging with them. Precisely the reason, India takes a proactive approach towards its diaspora and holds them in high esteem.
From indentured laborers in the mid-1800s to highly qualified professionals today, Pravasi Indians have made remarkable progress and come a full circle. The history, geography, and psychology of Indian expatriates go back around 150 years. As exporters of talent, they send back significant remittances and therefore have gained increasing clout in India. Spread across the globe in nearly 120 countries, they have become an integral part of India’s soft power, influencing political, social, economic, and technological matters as is evident from the fact that several countries like the UK, Ireland, Portugal, Mauritius, Guyana, Surinam, and Seychelles have heads of states belonging to the Indian origins. Many scientists and IT company leaders are also of Indian origin. Precisely, Mauritian historian-poet Vishwamitra Ganga Aashutosh lauded the Indian migrant workers’ commitment, stating, “Every stone they touch, it turns into solid gold.” The Indian diaspora strengthens political ties and drives economic growth through trade, investments, technology transfer, and cultural diplomacy. Being the world’s largest and oldest diaspora, it enjoys a significant impact globally. Some countries like Malaysia even have six generations of the Indian diaspora, serving as a strong bridge between India and the countries where they reside.
The Indian diaspora broadly refers to individuals who currently reside outside India, temporarily or permanently and those who trace their origins back to India. In terms of development, the growth of an economy depends on its ability to acquire and apply new knowledge. In today’s globalised world, this requires integration with the larger international community. The free movement of goods and capital across borders promotes savings, investment, and demand and facilitates the transfer of knowledge, talent, and skills for learning and development. Given its size and influence, the Indian diaspora plays a vital role in these dynamics. As per the United Nations’ world migration report, India’s diaspora consists of 32 million people, making it the largest country of origin for the global diaspora. From ayahs/nannies and lascars/sailors to blue-collar workers, the Indian diaspora has risen to become key political leaders and successful businessmen.
As per another United Nations report, India has the largest diaspora population in the world with 18 million people from the country living outside their homeland in 2020, which says the UAE, the US, and Saudi Arabia host the largest number of migrants from India.
The Ministry of External Affairs records, however, say that there are 280 million migrants worldwide, with India contributing the largest share of 80 million and making it the largest diaspora in terms of size.
The migration of a significant number of laborers from India to various countries resulted from an agreement between British rule in India and nations like Mauritius, South Africa, Fiji, Trinidad, and Tobago. Seven major famines in India between 1857 and 1900 also facilitated this large-scale migration. The first ship carrying Indian labours, known as “Girmitiyas” departed in 1873, followed by numerous ships thereafter. The Indian diaspora’s size and prominence have been acknowledged by various following independent sources:
Migration is a development challenge
About 184 million people—2.3 percent of the world’s population—live outside of their country of nationality. Almost half of them are in low- and middle-income countries.
• The ‘International Migration-2020 report’ highlighted by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) said the spatial distribution of transnational populations varied greatly and India’s diaspora, the largest in the world, is distributed across several major countries of destination.
• The Ministry of External Affairs-2022 report said that the world’s largest overseas diaspora consisted of 32 million NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) and PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin), including OCIs (Overseas Citizens of India). Additionally, India witnessed the highest annual number of migrants in the world, with approximately 2.5 million Indians migrating overseas every year.
• The World Bank’s World Migration-2022 Report predicted that India would have the largest immigrant population globally, making India the top origin country, followed by Mexico, Russia, and China.
However, it is important to note that size alone is not enough. Their financial health needs to complement the diaspora’s influence and impact.
The Indian diaspora plays a significant role in the country’s economy through remittance, which amounts to approximately $78.6 billion, which is the largest remittance, as per the Global Migration-2020 Report. NRIs also contribute substantially to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), bolstering India’s overall financial condition. The size of the diaspora and the remittance it generates work hand in hand. Naturally, the Indian diaspora serves as a vehicle for India’s soft power and influences the country’s foreign policy. Despite their diversity, the common thread that unites the global Indian community is their connection to the idea of India and its intrinsic values. Overseas Indians have made significant contributions to knowledge, innovation, and development across the globe, adding value to their countries of residence.
The Indian diaspora’s migration began hundreds of years ago due to various reasons such as slavery under mercantilism (a system where workers were directly denied the right to sell their labour on the market), indentured labour during colonization and post-colonial programs (means bonded labourers who as per contractual obligation has to work for an employer for a specific amount of time to pay off their passage to a new country or home). Such transnational engagements not only aided the process of globalisation but also strengthened the system through global networks of families, friends, and businesses, facilitating the exchange of ideas in various fields. So, the Indian diaspora’s journey so far has been the saga of trial & error, determination, and hard work.
The Overseas Indian community is lauded for its work culture, discipline, and successful adaptation and integration with local communities. They are acknowledged for their outstanding contributions in their countries of residence and are seen as esteemed leaders in the host countries. Having overcome significant challenges, they become an eminently successful diaspora and thus strategic resources for India.
The first major exodus happened after India’s Independence when people, especially workers, and students, went largely for greener pastures. However, this trend got impetus in the 1990s, when highly qualified IT professionals travelled to the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand for better career prospects. Another exodus began when unskilled and semi-skilled workers, largely from Kerala, and other southern states initially and later from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, migrated to Gulf countries and Malaysia following the oil boom. Thus, migration flows have resulted in diverse Indian communities settling across different parts of the world, including East Asia, Middle-East Asia, South and Eastern Africa, Europe, North America, Australia, the northern part of South America, and the Caribbean Islands. Naturally, the Indian community settled across the globe is not homogenous. With their diversities, there are variations in their level and degree of engagement/attachment with India depending on various reasons such as time of separation from their country of origin, generational gaps, and distance from their home country. Consequently, their skills, cuisines, ideas, knowledge, and technology also vary.
Engaging with the Indian diaspora in a reciprocal and mutually beneficial manner is at the core of the Ministry’s policy. Since the diaspora is heterogenous, understandably all members don’t make financial contributions equally towards the development of India.
Hailing achievements of the Indian diaspora while celebrating the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas at Indore, Minister of State for External Affairs Mr. V Muraleedharan said that the Indian diaspora served as a living bridge connecting India to the world. Thus, these Global Indians act as bridges and provide access to markets, make investments, share knowledge and technology, and even influence policies in their countries of origin, although the extent of this varies from country to country.
There is a persistent demand from the Indian community in North America and other advanced countries for dual citizenship. However, as of now, India does not provide dual citizenship to its citizens.
What is Diaspora?
Diaspora refers to the dispersion of a group of people from a common origin having common history, identity, sociocultural background, and common geographic location. The word diaspora comes from the Greek word dia speiro, meaning “to sow over.” Historically, the concept of diaspora has long been used to refer to the Greeks in the Hellenic world and to the Jews after the fall of Jerusalem in the early 6th century BCE.
History has seen the Indian diaspora migrating in various waves and groups, each having its own context and purpose.
• The first group of Indian Diaspora consisted of indentured laborers, known as “Girmitiyas” who were taken to East Pacific and Caribbean Islands. These laborers migrated to British colonies to work as plantation workers, filling the labour shortage caused by the abolition of the slavery system.
• The second wave of migration involved approximately 2 million Indians moving to Singapore and Malaysia to work in agriculture.
• The third and fourth waves saw professionals travelling to Western countries and blue-collared workers to the Gulf and West Asia during the Oil Boom period.
Officially, Overseas Indians (commonly known as Indian diaspora) are currently classified as the following:
• Non-Resident Indians (NRIs): Indian citizens who reside in foreign countries.
• Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs): This category however has been merged with Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) in 2015.
• Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs): Foreign nationals who were either Indian citizens or citizens of its territory as of January 26, 1950. Minor children of such individuals, except those from Bangladesh and Pakistan, are also eligible for OCI status.
The concept of OCIs was introduced as a separate category in 2006, allowing individuals with ties to India to have certain rights and benefits even if they hold foreign citizenship.
Indian Diaspora: Few facts
1. A large expatriate population of skilled individuals from developing countries resides in developed nations.
2. Overseas communities have the potential to be an invaluable resource for their home country. The movement of skilled workers between less developed and more developed economies creates numerous opportunities for growth and progress.
3. Diaspora must not be seen only in terms of remittances and financials. Such a perception is surely very conservative and needs to be broadened. Not all expatriates can be investors, and their contributions to their home countries need not be financial alone but much beyond.
4. Overseas communities serve as crucial bridges for accessing expertise, knowledge, markets, and resources which in turn can contribute to the development of their home country.
India is increasingly acknowledging the need to actively pursue and promote a symbiotic relationship between diaspora and development.
Countries with the largest diasporas
As per the United Nations-2020 report, the following countries have the largest diasporas
1. India leads the list with 18 million individuals living abroad.
2. Mexico stands a distant second with 11 million individuals residing outside the country.
3. Russia has 11 million individuals dispersed across the globe.
4. China boasts of a sizable diaspora of 10 million people.
5. Syria is home to 8 million individuals living in various nations.
Top countries hosting Indian Diaspora
United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosts a large number of 3.5 million Indians.
The United States of America (USA) has 2.7 million individuals of Indian origin.
Saudi Arabia is home to 2.5 million Indian diaspora members.
Countries that saw the highest Diaspora growth (2000-2020)
1. India experienced substantial growth in its diaspora population during this period.
2. The diaspora from Syria notably witnessed a significant expansion.
3. Venezuela too saw a notable increase in its diaspora population.
4. China too claims a considerable rise in the number of individuals living abroad.
5. Philippines also saw notable growth in its diaspora population.
Top destinations having International Migrants
1. USA leads as the primary destination for international migrants, with a staggering 51 million individuals residing there.
2. Germany has 16 million international migrants seeking new opportunities.
3. Saudi Arabia is a destination for 13 million individuals looking for economic prospects.
4. Russia has attracted 12 million individuals from around the world.
5. UK is host to 9 million international migrants.
Types of human migration
1. Economic migrants: Possessed with strong skills, these individuals like migratory birds undertake overseas voyages in pursuit of greener pastures such as IT professionals from India in the US or construction workers in Gulf countries. Some of the top migration corridors globally are India-US, India-GCC, Bangladesh-India, Mexico-US, China-US, Philippines-US, and Kazakhstan-Russia.
2. Talented migrants: This category has people possessed with much sought-after skills who can make meaningful contributions in their destination countries such as Syrian entrepreneurs finding ways to uplift Turkey’s economies.
3. Distressed migrants: This category comprises individuals of limited skills who face distressing circumstances such as the poorly skilled migrants at the US southern border, yearning for better living conditions and hoping for improved livelihoods.
4. Displaced refugees: These brave individuals belong to the community of refugees, forced to flee their homelands due to persecution, conflict, or violence such as Rohingyas from Myanmar finding sanctuary in Bangladesh to escape the harrowing experiences in their homeland.
World Bank’s World Development Report-2023: Migrants, Refugees & Societies
1. The report estimated a 120% income gain for Indians who migrate to another country for work, compared to a 40% rise in the case of internal migration.
2. Under-skilled Indian citizens migrating to the US noticed a hike in their income of nearly 500%, followed by the UAE by almost 300%.
3. On the other hand, Indians migrating to countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) other than UAE stand to gain less.
4. Presenting an overview on Global Migration & Refugees, it says that there are currently 184 million migrants globally, which accounts for a mere 2.3% of the global population. It also says that the number of refugees globally stands at 37 million.
These findings suggest diverse economic landscapes and opportunities that migrants encounter, highlighting a significant income gain for the Indian migrants working abroad. It gives a global context to migration and challenges faced by refugees worldwide.
PM refers to Samosa Caucus as the flavour of the House
A group of Indian-American lawmakers in the US House and Senate, SAMOSA CAUCUS works for legislations of common interests like easier immigration policies. The term ‘SAMOSA CAUCUS’ was coined by Indian American businessman and Congress Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, who has been representing the 8th Congressional District of Illinois since 2017.
There are six Indian-Americans in Samosa Caucus—5 US law-makers of Indian roots from the lower house called the House of Representatives namely Shri Shamal Thanedar (68), who represents Michigan’s 13th District; Dr. Ami Bera (58), who represents the 6th District of California; Pramila Jayapal (57) who represents Washington’s 7th District; RO Khanna (46), who represents the 17th District of California; and Raja Krishnamoorthi (49), who represents 8th Congressional district in the US state of Illinois; and one from the upper house Vice President Kamala Harris (58), who is the leader of the Senate. By a great coincidence, all members of the Samosa Caucus are Democrats.
This Indian-American lawmakers’ group has fought on several issues like inflation, race, gender inequality, sexuality, class, and similar types. What’s more, being into politics and representing their community, they strive hard to make society progressive and a better place to live in.
Lauding the America foundation inspired by the vision of a nation of equal people while addressing the Joint Session of the US Congress for the second time, Prime Minister said, “Throughout your history, you have embraced people from around the world. What’s more, you have made them equal partners in the American dream. There are millions here, who have roots in India.” Referring to the US Vice President Kamala Harris, Prime Minister said, “There is one behind me, who has made history!… I am told that the Samosa Caucus is now the flavour of the House. I hope it grows and brings the full diversity of Indian cuisine here.” In the continued breath, Prime Minister also gave a new definition of AI, ie, America and India, adding that the past few years saw many advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and now it’s time to see even more momentous developments on another Al front, ie, America and India
A cautionary note
While a privileged few gets recognition, name, fame, prosperity, and everything in India as well as overseas, it’s important to acknowledge that a vast majority of Indians residing abroad continue to grapple with the harsh realities of exploitative working conditions and struggle to make two ends meet. It is imperative that policymakers look into their problems and needs and redress them on priority before we proceed with our celebrations and turn optimistic about the Indian diaspora.
The Indian diaspora spread across the world is known globally as India’s Brand Ambassadors, with India being the largest country of origin for the diaspora. Their remittances and foreign investments worldwide significantly contribute to India’s economic prosperity. For decades, approximately 32 million individuals of Indian origin have played a vital role in India’s development and scripted our country’s growth. However, we must also acknowledge the existence of global inequalities and hardships faced by these Global Indians.
According to the World Bank, migration has become an increasingly pertinent issue and needs urgent attention, especially given the stark disparities in real wages, market opportunities for labour, demographic patterns, climate costs, and the lack of citizenship. A considerable number of individuals don’t enjoy citizenship in the countries they reside in. Besides, the fact that less than half of the global migrant population lives in low-middle-income countries speaks volumes about the statelessness worldwide and the need to address this issue urgently.
Furthermore, some migrants move to destination countries without possessing the necessary requisite skills demanded by the new environment despite not being classified as refugees. Such migrants often find themselves in distressing circumstances and endure hardships which go unreported.
Given this, we urgently need to work towards creating a more equitable and just environment for all members of the diaspora, ensuring that few sections are not left behind or marginalised. Till we achieve this, we can’t truly celebrate as a community.
Since 2003, the Ministry of External Affairs has been celebrating Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) where selected overseas Indians are honored with the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award in recognition of their contributions both in India and abroad. The event aims to foster stronger connections between the Indian diaspora and the Government of India while reconnecting them with their roots. Initially, PBD conventions used to happen every year since 2003, the first PBD being organised on January 9, 2003. But since 2015 it has expanded in scope and scale, PBD Convention is organised once every two years under a revised format to strengthen the engagement of the overseas Indian community with the Government of India and reconnect them with their roots. January 9 was chosen as the day to celebrate this occasion since it was on this day in 1915 that Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa and led India’s freedom struggle and changed the lives of Indians forever.
While addressing the 17th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) which was held in Indore and was attended by 3,500 NRIs from 70 countries, Prime Minister Modi called NRIs ‘Brand Ambassadors of India’. Inaugurating the first-ever digital PBD Exhibition on the theme ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav & Contribution of Diaspora in India’s Freedom Struggle’, Prime Minister also released a Commemorative Postal Stamp ‘Surakshit Jaayen, Prashikshit Jaayen’, underlining the importance of safe, legal, orderly and skilled migration. The importance the Union government accords to the Indian Diaspora can also be understood from the fact that Her Excellency President Draupadi Murmu addressed the PBD’s concluding session and honoured various NRIs with the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award in recognition of their contributions in various fields.
Acknowledging our Diaspora as a dynamic and powerful entity recognised world over for their skill, hard work, law-abiding nature, and tenacity, Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, Secretary (Consular and Overseas Indian Affairs) with the Ministry of External Affairs while speaking at the PBD curtain-raiser acknowledged them as an important constituent of India’s soft power diplomacy, contributing in effective dissemination of Indian culture and heritage and traditional Indian knowledge across the globe.
President of Suriname, H.E. Mr. Chandrikapersad Santokhi while addressing the valedictory session at the 17th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Indore as Special Guest of Honour highlighted the celebration as the 150th anniversary of Indian migration to Suriname.
Furthermore, the Indian diaspora celebrates October as ‘Hindu Heritage Month’. Held every year during October, it is a collective initiative of the Hindu community worldwide to celebrate rich and diverse heritage together as one family. Also, it coincides with important Indian festivals such as Dussehra, Navratri, and Diwali. Representing positive aspects of their country of origin, the Indian diaspora in general strives to establish a comfortable niche in their adopted countries. Also, some diaspora members work to bring about social and political change in their home countries and play a crucial role in facilitating economic, social, and political exchanges through transnational networks.
The Ministry of External Affairs’ engagement with the Indian diaspora clearly suggests the role it plays in shaping India’s foreign policy and serves as a conduit for India’s soft power diplomacy as well as dissemination of Indian culture and heritage, knowledge, business, technology both into and out of India, transcending geographical and cultural barriers.
The Indian diaspora’s global spread and their success stories are both poignant and paradoxical. Increasingly, global Indians are seen defying both stereotypes and convention. Their voices now carry an even greater say in resolving various contemporary issues. Needless to say, there is hardly any field wherein the Indian diaspora has not made notable contributions. Listed below are a few sectors where the Indian diaspora has made a global impact:
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, both global Indians, hold influential positions in Silicon Valley and even globally. Sundar Pichai recognised as the world’s most sought-after tech CEO has positioned Google as a leader in artificial intelligence (AI) having made significant strides in areas like machine learning. Not to lag, Microsoft’s Nadella made Windows 10 a success story and shifted the company’s focus to cloud computing and AI, keeping Microsoft as one of the most valuable companies globally valued at over $250 billion.
Rishi Sunak’s remarkable rise within the Indian diaspora from anonymity to becoming the British Prime Minister is a source of pride and hope for Indians worldwide. His appointment on Diwali day was celebrated with grandeur, symbolizing his journey of determination, discipline, merit, and ambition. Sunak’s premiership has reignited hope for the timely conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement between India and the United Kingdom. Kamala Harris, the current Vice President of the United States, is the first Indian-American to have risen to this position. Nimarata Nikki Haley, who was the first woman to serve as 116th South Carolina Governor (2011–17) and 29th United States Ambassador to the United Nations for two years, is considered one of the most influential voices in America to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
As per the World Bank report released on June 13, 2023, India is likely to top as the recipient country for remittances in 2022 receiving $111 billion, followed by Mexico ($61 billion), China ($51 billion), the Philippines ($38 billion), and Pakistan ($30 billion). As per the Ministry of Finance disclosure in Rajya Sabha, India received the highest ever foreign inward remittances in a single year of $89,127 million in FY 2021-22.
The Indian diaspora has a long history of promoting Indian culture and traditions worldwide. Ashoka, the Mauryan emperor, practised soft power diplomacy by sending his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism and strengthen ties with the Lankan rulers (which is mentioned in the Buddhist text ‘Mahavamsa’ written in Sri Lanka). With support from legislative intervention and R&D, India Pride Project has recovered some stolen artefacts and heritage artefacts housed in museums across the world or auctioned off in illicit art trades like a 3rd-century limestone sculpture from Belgium (which was stolen from a Tamil Nadu Museum in 1995 being formally handed over to the Indian ambassador to Belgium in Brussels on March 11, 2022), the Nataraja bronze statue from Australia and the Yakshi bronze sculpture from the US.
An Indian-British scholar and post-colonial thinker, Homi Kharshedji Bhabha, who is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, has significantly contributed to our understanding of culture, migration, and identity as also advocated for the preservation of liberal arts institutions amid growing financial and governmental pressures.
An India-born American astronaut and aerospace engineer who was the first woman of Indian descent to fly to space, Kalpana Chawla was one of the seven members on the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon atmospheric entry, killing all seven in 2003. Also, she first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. Credited to have undertaken seven spacewalks and being the first person to run a marathon in space, the Indo-US astronaut Sunita Williams holds the record for the longest space flight by a woman. Born of an Indian father and Slovene American mother, Williams took a samosa and the Slovenian flag to space to celebrate her Indian and Slovenian heritage.
Yoga & Ayurveda:
Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. It took centre-stage globally after the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took it to the United Nations address and following its adoption in the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, the International Day of Yoga has been celebrated across the world annually on June 21 since 2015. Interestingly, the date of June 21 was suggested as it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Worldwide, there is a growing influence of Indian culture and tradition, especially yoga, Ayurveda, and Indian cuisine.
A 2007 Padma Shri awardee and an Indian writer, Giriraj Kishore, who was also honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1992, the Vyas Samman in 2000, and Ph.D. degree by Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj University in 2002, wrote extensively on the Indian diaspora and penned ‘Pehla Girimitiya’ which has Mahatma Gandhi’s stay in South Africa and his experiments with truth as its theme. Referring to Mahatma Gandhi, “पहला गिरमिटिया” नामक पुस्तक कहता है “इसके नायक हैं हमारे जैसा एक आदमी…एक गिरमिटिया जो रोज़ी-रोटी के लिये दक्षिण अफ्रीका गया…वह पहला गिरमिटिया था जो बैरिस्टर भी था और कुली भी…जिसने दक्षिण अफ्रीका के कुछ गिरमिटियों को साथ मिलकर मुक्ति का एक बिगुल बजाया जिसमें हिंदू, मुसलमान, ईसाई, पारसी, सब एशियाई शामिल थे…” इस पुस्तक की खासियत है कि लेखक ने दक्षिण अफ्रीका के गंध को भी बनाये रखा और उन गिरमिटियों के पसीने के खुशबू को भी नही खोने दिया। Life has come a full circle and successors of indentured labours have come to occupy prominent positions such as Prime Ministers in countries like Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname. Interestingly, many prominent writers of Indian origin have kept India as the locale of their writings, be it Neerad C. Chaudhary, Salman Rushdie or Vikram Seth. Hindi writers of Indian origin settled in Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Fiji, Ghana, Mauritius etc have more or less kept the same setting as they are nostalgic to India. Some noteworthy writers from these countries like Chandra Mohan Ranjeet Singh from Mauritius, Amar Singh Raman from Suriname, and many more aimed at preserving and promoting Hindi and its dialect Bhojpuri while endorsing religious and social reforms. Several eminent Hindi writers went abroad on cultural exchange programmes to strengthen socio-political ties between countries. Hindi writers such as Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan ‘Agyey’, Nirmal Verma, Vidya Niwas Mishra spent considerable number of years in western countries.
A way forward
We need to address the migrants’ problem to align and upgrade their skills in keeping with the needs of destination countries. While their motive may drive them to seek opportunities elsewhere, but what if the migrants’ skills don’t match with the requirements? So, the compatibility between migrants, origin countries, and destination countries is a must for the overall benefits of migration.
For effective management of migration, the Government needs to evolve a strategy. Origin countries need to develop strategies, keeping labours’ migration into account. Destination countries need to balance skill demands and these migrant labours’ social acceptance. If destination countries require and therefore encourage skilled labours’ migration, they must also ensure social acceptance of these migrants amidst their own citizens.
We all must ensure to protect refugees as many refugee situations and camps last for years. Also, international financial aid and social protection must be ensured for refugees’ well-being and resilience.
Also, cross-border bilateral relations must be cordial to align migrants’ skills with the needs of destination countries. Also, this would facilitate effective data management which in turn would facilitate migrants’ well-being.
Transparent official statistics are crucial to assess and understand the Indian diaspora’s significant contributions. The Indian diaspora may well serve as a diplomatic channel. It would correctly display records of remittances that play an important role in the economic development of their countries of origin, promote trade and foreign direct investment, foster entrepreneurship, and facilitate the transfer of knowledge and skills.
Policy decisions are imperative to yield desired results. India owes its position as the world’s third-largest economy to democracy, equality, and dignity. India’s diverse cultural heritage serves as a foundation for the diaspora. Historical instances, such as the Indian community’s efforts in mobilizing support for the US-India Civil Nuclear Energy Deal, demonstrate the potential of leveraging the diaspora’s influence. A human touch should be emphasized to further build upon these positive feelings.
The Indian diaspora has always had a rich history. Their contributions even in the country’s freedom struggle were immense. The Indian diaspora has always kept its culture and tradition at the forefront which were used favourably for soft diplomacy. Diaspora diplomacy also paid rich dividends when the Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera during his US Defence budget speech served a 180-day ultimatum for the US to ink its defence ties with India, resulting in India and the US becoming ‘Major Defence Partners’. Even earlier during the country’s controversial nuclear tests in 1998, it was seen how Indian expats had mobilised the public opinion in India’s favour, particularly in the United States, and the US-India Civil Nuclear Energy Deal was signed in 2008. Then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had even publicly expressed his ‘special gratitude to the Indian community in the US for mobilizing support for Indo-US cooperation’. Indian diaspora has become a focal point of Indian politics. Their influence extends to India’s various domestic policies such as the abrogation of Article 370, the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the farmer’s protests. Even the US Administration’s declaration of Diwali as a national holiday in the US, France hosting European Yoga Fest and US promoting Sanskrit studies testify to the diaspora’s clout and their global impact.
Also, the Indian diaspora played a considerable role by making foreign investments, especially in spheres of education, healthcare, and fintech financial contributions in India, so much so that even Hyderabad-based Indian Business School was funded almost entirely by the Indian diaspora. Even the talk about de-Dollarisation is a ‘future gift’ of the Indian diaspora to the world as the global economy is gradually moving towards de-Dollarisation and the Indian Rupee (INR) gearing up to take the centre-stage. To commemorate 75 years of India’s independence, the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) announced a unique initiative ‘Adopt a Village’ and joined hands to adopt 75 villages spread over the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana, expressing the diaspora’s commitment to offering free health screenings and counselling for anaemia, high cholesterol, malnutrition, kidney disease, obesity, etc and thereby becoming stakeholders in various communities’ well-being.
The chant of Modi, Modi (Modi mania) across the globe wherever the Indian prime minister visits has not only enthused global Indians and galvanised our country, evoking nationalist sentiments, but also created a passion for India worldwide. While working abroad for their livelihood, the Indian diaspora irrespective of their financial health is often treated as workers, whereas in India they are treated par excellence, loved, valued, and welcomed by their families and society. This sense of being special, along with their economic prosperity, earns them respect and admiration from their fellow Indians and society at large. This is what drives their affinity for their home country. Their extravagant spending during trips back home contributes to tourism employment and generates income for those in India. God’s own country Kerala is a living example where NRIs’ financial contributions supported human development and spurred infrastructure advancements. Similar is the case with Punjab, where agricultural transformation needs to be seen to be believed.
With the resolute support of Global Indians, India is poised to acquire a fresh voice at diverse multilateral forums like the UNITED NATIONS, truly exemplifying the core values of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” both in its rhetoric and actions.