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[Sansad TV] Perspective: Contribution of Indian Diaspora

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Context

To mark the contribution of the overseas Indian community in the development of India, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is celebrated on 9th January every year.

Indian Diaspora: A backgrounder

  • Indian Diaspora is a generic term used for addressing people who have migrated from the territories that are currently within the borders of India.
  • From Google CEO to Nobel laureate scientist Har Gobind Khorana, the list of Indians abroad and their contribution to the world goes endlessly.
  • One of the greatest economic contributions of Indian Diaspora has been in terms of remittances.

Historical perspective

  • Imperialism led-migration: The incorporation of the British Empire in India can be linked to the existence of modern Indian Diaspora all over the world.
  • Indentured labor: Dating back to the nineteenth century, Indian indentured labor was taken over to the British colonies in different parts of the world.
  • World Wars: In the post World War II period, most of the Indian labor and professionals got scattered and it was a worldwide phenomenon.
  • European reconstruction: The reconstruction of Europe after the war was provided by Indians and other South Asians, particularly in the United Kingdom and Netherlands.
  • Modern brain-drain: Most recently, Indians have made their presence visibly felt in professions in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Major sections of Indian Diaspora

(1) Indians in the Gulf

  • Around 8.5 million Indians live and work in the Gulf countries, one of the largest concentrations of migrants in the world.
  • The geographical and historical proximity makes it a convenient destination for Indians.
  • Today migrants from across India are working and living in the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait).

(2) Indians in USA

  • In recent decades the population has grown substantially, with 2.4 million Indian immigrants resident in the United States as of 2015.
  • This makes the foreign-born from India the second-largest immigrant group in the US after Mexicans.

Categorizing Indian’s abroad

Overseas Indians, officially known as Non-resident Indians (NRIs) or Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs), are people of Indian birth, descent or origin who live outside the Republic of India:

(A) Non-Resident Indian (NRI)

  • Strictly asserting non-resident refers only to the tax status of a person who, as per section 6 of the Income-tax Act of 1961, has not resided in India for a specified period for the purposes of the Act.
  • The rates of income tax are different for persons who are “resident in India” and for NRIs.

(B) Person of Indian Origin (PIO)

Person of Indian Origin (PIO) means a foreign citizen (except a national of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and/or Nepal), who:

  • at any time held an Indian passport OR
  • either of their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents were born and permanently resident in India as defined in GoI Act, 1935 and other territories that became part of India thereafter provided neither was at any time a citizen of any of the aforesaid countries OR
  • is a spouse of a citizen of India or a PIO.

(C) Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)

  • After multiple efforts by leaders across the Indian political spectrum, a pseudo-citizenship scheme was established, the “Overseas Citizenship of India”, commonly referred to as the OCI card.
  • The Constitution of India does not permit full dual citizenship.
  • The OCI card is effectively a long-term visa, with restrictions on voting rights and government jobs.

Significance of Indian diaspora 

(A) Contribution in the freedom struggle

  • Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for ending institutionalized discrimination against Indians in South Africa became an inspiring legend for enduring sentimentalism about the diaspora in modern India.
  • The diaspora also became a vehicle for promoting the cause of Indian independence among the political elites of major countries.
  • As the independence movement gathered momentum at home, it began to influence many Indian communities abroad.

(B) Diaspora as Cultural extension

  • The act of migration is not just limited to geographical limits; rather it is a cultural extension.
  • Let us take the example of the Sikh community. The Sikhs are one of the largest migrants from India to the UK, Canada and many other countries.
  • They have very well maintained their culture and ethnic existence for decades.

(C) Remittances

  • Money sent home by migrants is one of the largest financial inflows to developing countries.
  • According to a World Bank Report, India received approximately 87 billion dollars in remittances in 2021 with USA being the biggest source, accounting for over 20% of these funds.
  • Without these remittances, India’s balance of payment position would have looked worse.

(D) Diaspora as ‘Agents of change’

  • Diaspora acts as ‘agents of change’ facilitating and enhancing investment, accelerating industrial development, and boosting international trade and tourism.
  • Diaspora’s motives to invest in India are long-lasting as many of them wish to establish a long-term base in India.

 (E) Technological development and entrepreneurship

  • Another tangible long-term advantage in nurturing ties with an active diaspora is an accelerated technological sector and increased socio-economic development.
  • Some examples to illustrate this phenomenon are Bengaluru, Gurugram and Hyderabad as thriving IT hubs that not only house multinational companies (MNCs) but also multiple Indian start-ups.

(F) Enhancing India’s global say

  • India’s permanent membership to the UNSC can become a reality with support from the diaspora.
  • Apart from political pressures and ministerial and diplomatic level lobbying, India can leverage its diaspora to influence states such as Canada and Mexico to support India’s membership

Most Importantly,

(G) Diaspora diplomacy

  • The diaspora’s ability to spread Indian soft power, lobby for India’s national interests, and contribute economically to India’s rise is now well-recognized.
  • A less tangible but important advantage in having a large immigrant group is “diaspora diplomacy”.
  • The recent engagement of Indian leaders in US general elections is a continuation of the extraordinary political investment in engaging the Indian diaspora.

India’s engagement with Diaspora: A policy-wise perspective

  • Many of the themes of India’s contemporary diaspora policy had their origins in the approach of the Indian national movement before independence.
  • The nationalist backlash against the Indian communities in Africa and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s saw Delhi consciously distance itself from the diasporic communities.
  • As India turned inwards, Delhi also took a dim view of the “brain drain” as many well-trained Indians began to look for opportunities elsewhere.
  • It was only in the late 1980s that Delhi began to rethink its approach to the diaspora.

Change in recent years

  • PM Rajiv Gandhi was the first to appreciate the potential role diaspora could play in advancing national development and improving India’s ties with the US.
  • In 2000, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was commenced to be celebrated and also led to the formation of a separate Ministry for Overseas Indians under PM AB Vajpayee.
  • Other innovative initiatives like the Know India Programme (KIP) and Study India Programme (SIP) were launched.
  • These have engaged the youth living abroad and the Tracing the Roots Scheme, through which some Indians have been able to trace their roots in India.

Most recent initiatives

  • India has been following the spirit of 4 Cs i.e. Connect – Contribute – Celebrate – Care.
  • There is a dedicated Diaspora Welfare Officer.
  • The authorities have been ensuring 100 percent grievance redressal through E-Migration Portal, Madad Portal, and CPGRAMS.

Various policy initiatives   

  • Education: NRI seats are reserved in all the medical, engineering and other professional colleges.
  • Voting rights: The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2017 the provision would help non-resident Indians (NRIs) to participate in the electoral process through ‘proxy voting’.
  • Know India Program (KIP): It is a flagship initiative for Diaspora engagement which familiarizes Indian-origin youth (18-30 years) with their Indian roots and contemporary India has been refashioned.
  • Minimum Referral Wages (MRW): A number of policies were announced keeping in mind the protection of welfare and interest of Indians abroad; for example, the 2014 Minimum Referral Wages (MRW).
  • Easing the passport facility: The last three years saw the launch of Head Post Offices as passport centers enabling thousands more to apply for a passport.

Challenges faced by Diaspora

  • Racial antagonism: Rising incidence of hate speech and crimes against Indians by the locals due to racism, communalism emboldened by coming of nationalist and ultra-nationalist governments to power in many countries.
  • Protectionism: Fear of losing jobs and educational opportunities to outsiders has resulted in stricter visa rules in many countries including the USA, Australia, etc.
  • Terrorism: Sectarian crisis, increasing terrorist activities and war in the Middle East countries (Yemen, Oman, Libya, Syria etc) leave our diaspora vulnerable to attacks.
  • Political Polarization: Many Indians abroad are turning against India since the change of government and some extreme right wing factionists.
  • Anti-national tendencies: India has had problems with negative campaigning and foreign funding, coming from abroad, for separatist movements like the Khalistan movement.

Way forward

  • India has enjoyed being viewed more favorably by the world since 2014, and the diaspora can further these perceptions.
  • India needs both additional resources as well as better systems to deal with the recurring challenges of supporting citizens abroad.
  • The diaspora can step up and act as Indian ‘ambassadors’, as it is insufficient and ineffective for a country or its missions abroad to rely only on press releases to change public opinion.
  • The diaspora can provide the requisite strategic impulse, which makes it all the more important to unlock their potential.
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