'E-governance, science and technology projects in India an eye-opener'
For the 40 young non-resident Indians, who participated in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Jaipur, their visit to the country has been a bitter-sweet one. They were floored by the vibrant culture and impressed by e-governance projects, but disturbed by corruption and other scams plaguing India, says Priyanka
The second day of the ongoing Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2012 at Jaipur on Sunday started with the usual hustle and bustle, characteristic of the largest congregation of non-resident Indians living abroad. And a group of youngsters, conspicuous by their sheer excitement of being present at the event, was difficult to miss.
They explored the exhibits put up by various states, observed carefully the display of paintings and photographs of the colourfully rich cultural lives of people. At other times, they gleefully clicked photographs of each other, visibly cherishing the friends they had made within a short span of three weeks.
This group of students and young professionals are a part of the Know India Programme, an initiative by the ministry of overseas Indian affairs. About 40 students are selected each year from the Indian diaspora from across the world after being nominated by their embassies.
What follows is a three-week long whirlwind journey across a few Indian states, where they are introduced to the cultural and socio-economic lives of the locals. The journey for these 40 youngsters started in Delhi, took them to Agra, Jaisalmer, Ajmer and Jodhpur and culminated in Jaipur with the 10th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
"In Delhi, a few sessions were organised for us by the Indian Institute of Public Administration. We learnt a lot about various e-governance and science and technology projects in India and they were an eye-opener," says 25-year old Navim Mohammad, a supervisor at a cardio-vascular hospital in Trinidad and Tobago who heads that country's Know India Programme chapter.
He has been actively involved in organising meetings for his peers, which comprises students of Indian origin now settled in Trinidad and Tobago.
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Image: Some forty students and young professionals attended the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas
'There is huge disparity between the rich and poor here'
Like most members of the group he too is visiting India for the first time. Poised as one of the fastest growing economies in the world and having a steadily increasing GDP growth, Navim is aware that India has a huge potential to grow and establish itself as a world economic power.
"While in Trinidad and Tobago, we always read how India has a huge potential to grow and how good the country is doing when it comes to GDP growth," he said. Navim had come to India hoping to get an insight into its economic growth. But after having spent just three weeks, he is beginning to ponder how inclusive the purported growth really is. "I have now come to believe that there is huge disparity between the rich and poor here," he says.
While the sessions were very informative, he wonders how many of the schemes actually reach the people in far-flung villages or if it is indeed uniformly spread across the country.
"You know," he argues, "India is a huge country, and I get the impression that the rich are getting poor, while the poor are sliding down. The distribution of wealth is skewed."
Image: Navim Mohammad heads the Trinidad and Tobago chapter of the Know India Programme
'It's easy to blame the government in India'
His fellow member and now a friend, Balaganesh Ponniah listens intently. He nods occasionally and offers a different point of view. "India is such a huge country," he says. "And I feel one needs to absorb a lot, and understand so many things before one starts to make an impression of what's going on in the here."
A 25-year-old from Malaysia, Ponniah is the national programme coordinator of a local non-government organisation in Malaysia called Sri Murugan Centre. Founded in 1982, the organisation provides tuitions to young students of Indian origin in Malaysia at a minimal cost.
"I also teach at the centre," he says. Ponniah hails from Thanjavar in Tamil Nadu and had first visited India as a nine-year old. "Since then, I have always wanted to come back," he narrates. "But I felt that I should wait till I was mature enough to understand and process the intricacies of India. And now is the right time for me to be here."
"As we say in Malaysia, no matter what one does, one has to come back to Bharat Mata at least once. And so, here I am," he adds.
What has really impressed this youth is the architecture of the temples in Rajasthan and Delhi, especially the Akshardham Temple. "The effect the magnificence of Akshardham had on me was immense. I was humbled," he says. The excitement in his tone soon begins to wane off as he starts talking about the problems in India.
He starts off by citing a lecture on disaster management the group had attended in Delhi. "We also learnt about recycling wastes, and it is very easy to blame the government for all the problems. It comes naturally when you are a citizen and you think you have had a raw deal. But a lot of responsibility also lies with each individual."
He thinks that as a good citizen each one should be responsible for his action and encourage recycling. "Also, basic human values should be a part of the school curriculum, both in the primary and the secondary sections," he says.
Image: Balaganesh Ponniah from Malaysia
'India truly is incredible'
A few members of the group now join him, and they look back on their visit.
Pranav Ramnath, a 23-year-old student of clinical psychology from South Africa, says the journey has made him believe India truly is incredible. But he soon adds, "It's been a mix of bitter sweet memories."
"Surprisingly, I had expected people to be lot friendlier," he says. "And it is not about the delegates we met. Of course, they will be friendly. But it's about the people we have met on the streets and they were not so friendly."
The youngest member of the group, 18-year-old Divesh Prakash, was all praise for India. A first year student of psychology, his great grandfather migrated to New Zealand from a small village in Uttar Pradesh. He has visited other countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States. But nothing beats India, he says affirmatively.
"The kind of diversity I have seen in India in a short duration is hard to find in any other place," he says. He narrates how visiting a small village near Jaisalmer has been an eye-opener for him. On his first visit, he says he had always been eager to know about India, and gain first-hand experience of how things are, rather than studying India by merely watching television.
"It is hard to explain in words, but being in that village, seeing how people lived, was an enriching experience for me," he says.
"I want to come back to India and learn more about it. It is just not possible to understand its complexities in one visit," he says as a few other members add that they too would visit India again.
Poonam Hira, a 25-year-old attorney from South Africa says she loved travelling to Rajasthan, Delhi and visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra. "I loved the vibrant colours of Rajasthan -- the bright display of colours. It is simply enchanting."
Image: Poonam Hira, Pranav Ramnath, Shakthi DC and Divesh Prakash at the PBD
'Hazare is today's Gandhi, he will put an end to corruption'
Most of the youth agree that it has been a fulfilling journey nonetheless, but one that has raised a lot of questions. "We learnt a lot about e-governance projects but I wonder how many of these are required in rural areas. Don't they need basic drinking water, shelter and schooling facilities in place first," asked a concerned Shakthi DC, a 25-year-old communication major, also from Malaysia.
Corruption and scams in the country have drawn the attention of these young NRIs as well. "We believe that Anna Hazare will bring an end to corruption in India. He is today's Mahatma Gandhi," said 23-year-old mathematics graduate Shivesh Kumar from Myanmar.
"There are very few people in the world today who are willing to put their lives at stake for the benefit of others," says Dipankar Paul. "We think very highly of him and think we will play a major role in India," he adds.
Image: Dipankar Paul and Shivesh Kumar at the Jaipur PBD