By-K Mohandas :India has the second largest Diaspora in the world befitting its own size, variety and depth of civilization. The overseas Indian community estimated at over 25 million is spread across every major region in the world.
Yet, it is difficult to speak of one great Indian Diaspora. The overseas Indian community is the result of different waves of migration over hundreds of years driven by a variety of reasons – mercantilism, colonialism and globalisation. Its early experiences make up a saga of trials, tribulations and the eventual triumph of determination and hard work. In the last three decades of the 20th century the character of migration began to change and a ‘new Diaspora’ led by high skilled professionals moving to the western world and semi-skilled contract workers moving to the Gulf, West and South East Asia emerged.
The overseas Indian community thus constitutes a diverse, heterogeneous and eclectic global community representing different regions, languages, cultures and faiths. The common thread that binds them together is the idea of India and its intrinsic values. Overseas Indians comprise People of Indian Origin (PIO) and Non Resident Indians (NRI) and today are amongst the best educated and successful communities in the world. In every part of the world the overseas Indian community is recognised and respected for its hard work, discipline, non-interference and for successfully integrating with the local community. Overseas Indians have made significant contributions to the economy of the country of residence and have added in considerable measure to knowledge and innovation. No wonder, several Overseas Indians are among the world’s who’s who in all conceivable fields.
Appreciating the above, the Government of India has taken up the Mission to promote, nurture and sustain a mutually beneficial and symbolic relationship between Indians and Overseas Indians. The Ministry of Overseas Affairs is guided by four key principles to achieve this end. The first is to offer customized solutions to meet the varied expectations of the overseas Indian community. The second is to lend a strategic dimension to India’s engagement with the Diaspora. The next is to tap the investible diasporic community in terms of knowledge and resources. The last is to anchor all diasporic initiatives in the States
It is worth mentioning some of the Ministry’s programmes/initiatives for the betterment of the overseas Indian community, who are spread across the length and breadth of the globe.
Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre
Indian has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. India’s growth process creates enormous opportunities for providing cross-border flows of trade, capital and technology. An Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre (OIEC) – a Not for Profit Trust – has been set up to serve as a single window to promote Overseas Indian Investment in India as well as to provide a variety of business advisory services to Overseas Indians. The OIFC is focused on the economic engagement of the overseas Indians in the country of their origin for mutual benefit. It is set to take up several investor promotion meets for this purpose.
Overseas Workers Resource Centre
The Ministry has undertaken a Multimedia Awareness Campaign for educating intending emigrants, particularly the vulnerable category, about the risks involved in irregular migration and the precautions to be taken while seeking overseas employment. The Prime Minister officially launched an Overseas Workers Resource Centre (OWRC) on 8th January, 2008 during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. The Centre provides need based information and assistance to emigrants. It operates a toll free helpline for the purpose. The functions of the OWRC will be expanded in future so as to convert this into a one-stop shop for emigrants.
Council For Promotion Of Overseas Employment
An important segment of the Overseas Indian community is the Overseas Indian workers. Estimated at over 5 million living and working mostly in the Gulf and South East Asia, these workers remit nearly 50% of the total remittances received by the country and estimated at about USD 26 billion in 2006.
The Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs has formed a Council for Promotion of Overseas Employment (CPOE). The Council – a strategic think tank, will conduct market research, identify employment opportunities in the international labour market, disseminate market information to stakeholders, do skill profiling to identify skill gaps and plan appropriate interventions for addressing such gaps, devise strategies to respond to the market dynamics and enable intending emigrants to reap the demographic dividends of globalization. It is expected that CPOE will succeed in searching out new opportunities and untapped areas in overseas employment.
Bilateral Labour Cooperation
The government attaches highest priority to the protection and welfare of Indian workers abroad, particularly in the unskilled and low skilled category. Protection of emigrants against exploitation and abuse is not possible in the absence of explicit commitment of the Government of the host country. To secure such commitment, India has signed labour agreements with Jordan and Qatar, UAE and Kuwait. The Ministry is finalized MoUs with major labour receiving countries like Bahrain, Oman and Malaysia for bilateral cooperation towards protection and welfare of our emigrants. The Ministry proposes to sign MOUs with important labour receiving countries of the Central and Eastern Europe and Asia to forge bilateral partnerships to expand the overseas employment market for Indian workers particularly for the skilled category.
Bilateral Social Security Cooperation
Bilateral social security agreements protect the interests of expatriate workers on a reciprocal basis by providing for exemption from social security contribution in case of short-term contracts (provided the worker is covered under the home country’s social security system), exportability of pension in case of relocation to the home country or any third country and totalization of the contribution periods pertaining to both countries. Such agreements also make respective companies more competitive in each other’s territory since exemption from social security contribution in respect of their employees substantially reduces costs.
The Ministry has already signed a bilateral social security agreement with Belgium and negotiating similar agreements with other countries of the European Union. Agreements with Germany, Netherlands, and Czeck Republic have been finalized. Discussions are on with France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Norway and Cyprus.
A PIO University
The High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, appointed by the Government in 2000 had visited various countries with large concentration of Indian Diaspora and had recommended, among other things, the setting up of new Universities and professional institutions offering courses of international standards in Management, Information Technology, Media, Agricultural Research, Medicine, Food processing, etc. The Government has decided to establish PIO/NRI University at Bangalore by the Manipal Academy of Higher Education Trust, Manipal The University will have the status of “Deemed University” under Section 3 of the UGC Act. It will have 50% seats earmarked for PIOs/NRIs and the remaining 50% for resident Indian students. The Ministry is engaged in consultation with the Manipal Academy for finalization of the project.
Know India Programme
In less than a month from now, 35 foreign youths of Indian origin will embark on a three week journey to see and understand the development and achievements of India. These Diaspora youth drawn from several countries will come to India under the Know India Programme (KIP) of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are the two partner states for the programme this year. The youth will have interaction with Indian youths, women organizations and will visit Gram Panchayats. They will visit various prominent places and institutions before leaving for their homes. The three-week internship programmes is designed to promote awareness about India, its socio-cultural diversities, its emergence as an economic powerhouse, a centre of higher education and the ongoing developments in the infrastructure, technology and other sectors.
The ‘Know India Programme’ (KIP), is implemented in partnership with a State Government and the logistics support of the Nehru Yuvak Kendra and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The last KIP was held from 26th December 2007 to 18th January, 2008 in partnership with the State of Tamil Nadu.
Overseas Citizenship Of India Scheme
The scheme came into operation from December 2, 2005 in response to a long and persistent demand for “dual citizenship” particularly from overseas Indians in North America and the western world. The decision was also based on the Government’s deep commitment towards fulfilling the aspirations and expectations of Overseas Indians. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had announced at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2005 held in Mumbai the grant of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) to all Persons of Indian Origin where local laws permit “dual citizenship” in some form or the other except Pakistan and Bangladesh. Any Overseas Indian applicant who is comfortable with his present citizenship status in the country of his residence can apply for OCI.
The number of India’s Overseas Citizens is about to touch the three lakh figure. Out of them, over 1, 20,000 are from the United States. Other countries where sizeable numbers have been given overseas citizenship of India are UK, Canada, Australia and Sri Lanka.The grant of such status to these many overseas Indians has taken place within less than three years time. Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) facilitates life-long visa-free travel to India and certain economic, educational and cultural benefits.
Scholarship Programme For Diaspora Children
The scheme seeks to make higher education in India accessible to the children of overseas Indians and promote India as an education hub. Under the scheme, the Ministry provides 100 scholarships for undergraduate course in Engineering, Technology, Humanities/Liberal Arts, Commerce, Management, Journalism, Hotel Management, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry etc. (except medical courses) to partially fund the tuition and hostel fees each year. Children from developing countries with inadequate educational facilities, lesser opportunities for higher studies and where there is a significant concentration of the Diaspora population have been targeted. 50% of the scholarship would be reserved for PIOs. However, in the event of non-availability of suitable PIO candidates, the unfilled slots could be assigned to NRI candidates.
Overseas Indian students wanting to avail Indian Government’s Scholarships for pursuing under graduate courses in India will have to take a common entrance test on 26th of October. The test will be held in 40 selected countries where there is a large concentration of persons of Indian origin and NRIs. This is a major change from the schedule followed in previous years when the entrance test used to be held in April-May. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has brought in such change to make it possible for the selected students to join their educational institutions from the academic year beginning July/August, 2009. The Ministry has decided to complete the whole selection process for the scholarship by November 2008. The move is expected to help the applicants to take a timely decision regarding their educational career.
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (including the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman) continues to be the flagship event of the Ministry. It is celebrated in recognition and appreciation of the constructive, economic and philanthropic role played by the Indian Diaspora, on the 9th day of January every year. The Programme aims at bringing the expertise and knowledge of the overseas Indians on a common platform and integrating it with the country’s development process. The Ministry is systematically working to make the forthcoming Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Chennai.
Besides the above specific programmes, the Ministry is continuously engaged in helping out the cause of the overseas Indians and fostering a close bond with them. The other initiatives of the government include setting up Overseas Indian Centres; Pravasi Bhartiya Kendra; awareness campaign on NRI marriages; amendments to the Emigration Act, 1983; reforming the Emigration System; E-Governance in Emigration Management; Pre-departure Orientation & Skill Upgradation for emigrant Workers; setting up an India Development Foundation to channelise the contribution of overseas Indian into human development efforts in India; creation of an Overseas Workers Welfare Fund for the benefit overseas Indian workers etc. The Indian government is committed towards working together and closely with the country’s Diaspora.
*Secretary, Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs