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Why India needs Young Pravasis

By T P Sreenivasan
January 24, 2013 23:00 IST
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Subsequent generations of Indians abroad are free from the baggage of the past. They may be intolerant of the mosquitoes and the heat when they come to India, but they are proud of their heritage and the achievements of their parents abroad.

India, to them, is a brand, which gives them added advantage in their highly competitive environment, says retired ambassador T P Sreenivasan.

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, PBD, conclaves are fast becoming an old boys club. The average age of the delegates should be over sixty, with a smattering of curious young people.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, awarded to 15 veterans every year, comes with a perennial fully paid invitation to future PBDs. This will ensure that half the hall will be filled by those with a glorious past, but unable to contribute to the future. Minister Vayalar Ravi, a veteran himself, in an effort to rectify the situation, devoted a session of the Kochi PBD to 'Engaging the Diaspora Youth'.

Speakers lamented that the youth was indifferent to India, that they could not unravel the complexity of Indian culture and that the contradictions of the present Indian scene bewildered them. They were alienated beyond redemption.

The second and third generation Indians in the United States was American Born Confused Desis, ABCD, they said.

The speakers failed to see the reality that the younger Pravasis may have no nostalgia for India, but they are able to see India without the prism of past prejudices, frustrations and disillusionment that constitute the psyche of the first migrants from India.

They are able to see that India's growth and development add to their value abroad and that they have the best of both worlds as inheritors of a legacy and beneficiaries of the opportunities and affluence abroad.

The future generations of Indian immigrants are likely to provide the anchor to India in many countries. This is not to detract from the historic contribution of the first generation, but to affirm that the Diaspora youth is not being alienated.

The biggest difference between the first and the subsequent generations of Pravasis is that the first generation went through the traumatic experience of uprooting and resettlement. They left India in a quest for the Promised Land as they felt that they had no opportunities at home. Disillusionment with the homeland was a part of the process.

However much this experience has benefitted them, the reality is that the readjustment was painful. On arrival in a foreign land with nothing but their clothes and a princely sum of seven US dollars, disillusionment awaited them there too. The picture that the tourists see is often different from the world of the migrants.

Many, who migrated, particularly in the early years, felt that they had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. The migrants to Fiji used to say that they were promised swarag, but given narak. But they persisted and toiled, not only for their own benefit, but also for the country of their adoption.

Indian migrants faced untold hardship, discrimination and prejudices in different stages of their lives abroad. These have been recorded in the rich Diaspora literature. The psyche of the first generation migrants has a touch of disillusionment even about India, which did not give them enough opportunities.

They are often torn between their nostalgic attachment to India and their duty to their land of adoption. They are also often impatient about the slow growth, corruption and inefficiency in India.

When nostalgia brought the original migrants, now prosperous and patriotic, back to India to do their duty to their families and to feather the nests for the future, they met with exploitation and lack of warmth. Their remittances were welcome, but they were not and their visits became less frequent.

Some lost their investments and homes, which they built for their eventual return. Many of them opted for foreign citizenships, took away their relatives with them what remained in India was only their man (mind), with tan (self) and dhan (wealth) in foreign lands.

The more they followed Indian developments on live television, the more disillusioned they became.

The subsequent generations of Indians abroad are free from such baggage of the past. They may be intolerant of the mosquitoes and the heat when they come to India, but they are proud of their heritage and the achievements of their parents abroad.

India, to them, is a brand, which gives them added advantage in their highly competitive environment.

They use the new opportunities available to them in India for their own benefit. With a few exceptions, the younger Indians abroad are sympathetic and supportive of India's efforts for modernisation. They have greater tolerance of India and greater appreciation of India's strength.

At crucial moments in history, it is the youth that showed greater determination to safeguard their interests by working with India.

When a military coup in Fiji resulted in discrimination against the Indians there, there was a mixed reaction in the Indian community. While all of them were hurt and aggrieved about the developments, many in the older generation were willing to accept the situation stoically and to move out of the country gradually.

But India's efforts to counter the coup and to restore democracy were much appreciated by the young generation. They were willing to stay and fight for their rights in cooperation with India. They demanded military training and arms from India. Some of them even blew themselves up for a cause.

Democracy came full circle in Fiji in ten years because of their heroic struggle and determination, while the older generation took refuge in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

In the US, the second and third generation Indians stood solidly by India in the crucial days between the nuclear tests of 1998 and the signing of the nuclear agreement in 2008. While some in the older generation were doubtful about the wisdom of the tests, the younger generation saw it as the emergence of India as a world power and extended whole-hearted support.

The young Indian staffers of United States Congressmen and Senators lobbied with their bosses to shed their misgivings and to support India and the nuclear deal. They became more proud of their links with India and prepared themselves to use the new opportunities the warmth in India-US relations had generated.

Many have returned to India permanently to pursue their careers. Others stayed back, basking in the glory of a resurgent India. They joined political action committees, modeled on the work of the Jewish Diaspora and drew up plans for greater India-US cooperation.

The PBD conclaves do not attract the young Indians, as it is the older ones who go for a nostalgic extravaganza. To bring the youth to India, even to a Youth PBD, if held as proposed, there should be ingredients that attract them. The forum should become a true show window of opportunities.

Those below 35 years of age, who are now in key positions in politics and industry must be attracted join the PBD discussions. The younger ones should be brought in large numbers for interaction with young Indians. Investments in the youth will be most valuable.

In the area of culture, the movement of artists should not be only in one direction. Indian art forms have evolved abroad over the years and the innovations made by overseas Indians must be exposed to the Indian audience.

The time has come to cultivate the younger Pravasis, who may not be sentimental, but committed to a modern and vibrant India.

T P Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA, Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala, State Higher Education Council, Thiruvananthapuram, and Member, National Security Advisory Board, Member, India-UK Roundtable, and Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.

For more columns by T P Sreenivasan, please click here.

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