STATEMENTS FROM GOPIO OFFICERS AT THE PRAVASI BHARATIYA DIVAS 2007, NEW YORK

 

SESSION ENGAGING THE DISPORA FOR EDUCATION AND HEALTH SERVICES FOR THE MASSES

 

Question to Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chairman, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin

 

As the Chairman of GOPIO, you represent one of the largest collective voices of NRIs in the US. What in your opinion is the largest issue faced by the Indian community and what is a collaborative solution that we can work towards with the Government of India, specifically the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs.

 

There are number issues we can talk about, where we need collaborative solutions with Govt. of India. I will limit to a few points.

 

Indian American community numbering over 3 million people has done quite well economically and in education. Last years Merrill Lunch survey showed that over 10% Indian Americans are millionaires. That are over 300,000 -400,000 millionaires amongst us, although a survey by South Asian Council for Social Services in New York City has shown that there are pockets of our community struggling to manage with their minimum wage jobs and lack of medical insurance coverage. But overall the community has done quite well. Although, we are the second fastest growing immigrant group, we are yet to achieve the political and social standing consummate with our economic strength. For the Indian American community to be successful and influential, our second and third generations have to identify with our community and be part of the larger Diaspora. Although they do attend our temples, churches, Mosques or Gurudwaras or participate in Garba and Bhangra Blow Out, as Americans, born and brought up here, their attachment to India is limited. This is where a collaborative effort from MOIA and Indian community groups can help bring them closer to India. Since the PBD was initiated in 2003, groups of youngsters have been brought to India during that time and other intervals, as late as early this month in a program called Know India Program. I propose that this program be expanded as well as initiate other programs. Increase the number of programs in Indian colleges for semesters away, help institutions such as American India Foundation and Indicorps to expand their activities and develop an extensive program for Indian American medical students to spend a few months during their summer vacation. I am sure AAPI and British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) and other Diaspora medical groups should be brought in to launch such massive programs. Currently, all these programs combined may be limited less than a couple of thousand students compared to about half million strong high school and college going Indian American students. We need to cultivate future generations so that we can create more successful Indian American social entrepreneurs such as Dr. Abraham George or Dr. Bahuleyan who took personal commitments to make a change in the education and health services to the masses in India by contributing as much as $20 million of their own savings and spending full time now to implement these causes. I also bring this, because my own daughter went to Hoduras with a medical team from New York University School of Medicine to help in a clinic in a remote place. If there was a program in India, I would have asked her to go over there. Such programs will help our new generations to realize their global civic responsibility. Cultivating them when they are young will expand the Indian Diaspora base and helps the larger Indian American community to seek their help in mobilizing community and India related causes such as immigration, discrimination and in the recent legislative issues such as US-India Nuclear Deal. I hope that MOIA and OIFC will help to launch several new programs for the new generations growing outside India.

 

I would like to take a few minutes to talk about some other areas where we need cooperation and remedial steps from Govt. of India.

 

Overall I dont see any pressing issue of the Indian community where Govt. of India has to be involved. In fact, we do have many national, regional and service organizations who are very dynamic to take up such local issues as legalization of illegal immigrants numbering as much as 300,000 Indian people in the US, discrimination, occasional civil and human rights violations. In fact, rather than taking anything from India, we want to give to India whether in education and health services for the masses, investments or infrastructure development in India, to support charitable and philanthropic causes in India. For us to be effective and for massive participation, I propose the following steps from Govt. of India.

 

  1. Simplification in Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and charitable donation of goods by NRI NGOs for Indias developmental and educational activities. The current procedures of Indias Ministry of Home Affairs and the agency handling FCRA clearances were unnecessarily long, time-consuming, secretive, bureaucratic and costly, thereby discouraging necessary development and educational aid flows to the motherland. The simplification of rules, regulations and procedures relating to FCRA so as to expedite FCRA approvals through a streamlined fast track mechanism for acceptance of funds by the applicant organizations and their affiliates, branches, and subsidiaries in India. The new rules and procedures should lead to a quick, duty-free, hassle-free, and friendly release of goods to the intended nonprofit beneficiary/recipient person, institution, organization or government body such as schools and colleges, clinics and hospitals.

 

  1. Set Up NRI Advisory Committees Ministries of Education, Health in the Central and State Levels These ministries should have separate NRI/PIO Advisory Committee which should meet on a regular basis to seek ways to involve NRIs/PIOs. Such advisory committee existed informally in Finance and Commerce Ministries before. If you make a commitment, regular meetings could take place with members in India assembled in a conference room and those from outside joining them in a teleconference. Our Diaspora groups would help in identifying right candidates who would take interest in such advisory committees.

 

  1. NRIs TO BE APPOINTED TO THE DISTRICT DEVELOPMENT BOARD

We feel that in the each of the 600 plus districts board should have one NRI who should be above party politics. Although most of the district development funds come from govt. agencies, NRI representative could identify certain specific needs of the district especially in the education and health services and mobilize resources from NRIs and Diaspora organizations from outside.

 

  1. Set Up NRI Ministry or NRI Coordination Office with all state governments - Many states such as Kerala, Gujarat, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh have such set ups already. This will help each of the states to reach out their NRIs living all over the world and help to channel the resources to their respective states.

 

  1. Support NRI/PIO NGOs Involved in Educational and Health Areas - Support activities of organizations such as Pratham, American Indian Foundations, Asha for Education, AAPI Charitable Foundation, regional medical groups such as AKMG and Karnataka Medical College Associations. There are alumni association of most of the established Indian medical colleges in North America and UK. MOIA officials must interact with these groups whenever they meet. For massive participation of these groups in healthcare and education, I suggest that MOIA identify community volunteers who may be appointed as liaison with such groups in different regions of North America and UK starting with major cities. These groups need to be motivated to do more in education and health service for the places they come from or for a program providing health services to the poor from their own medical schools.

 

  1. Helping Govt. Run and Non-Profit Health Service Providers - Looking back at the telecom revolution initiated by Mr. Sam Pitroda in the 1980s, it was a huge success, not only in providing wider and better services and reach out to the larger population of our country, it also provided jobs 100s of 1000s of people. If we look at another success story, NRI remittance to any remote place in India can be done in a matter of day by a joint venture of Western Union and Indian Postal Service, with a small service fee of only $10. Similar to thee success stories, we need to develop a new idea where NRIs are somehow involved in the remotest village in India in health care and education for the masses. NRIs and PIOs have the resources and the willingness to help. We need to motivate them and make it easy for them to be involved. May be the Overseas Indian Facilitation Center (OIFC) take up this challenges and pool resources from Central and state Governments as well as from the non-profits and private agencies to make this happen. In this regard I want to mention a program from the Kerala Center, where one committee member supports a few Aganvadi pre-schools in Kerala. If we provide the information of the need to a large number of NRI organizations and individuals to directly get involved in the education and health service activities of the places they come from, they would get involved.

 

  1. Provide Networking Coordinators - MOIA may appoint NRI/PIO Education and Health Service Coordinators who can identify the needs in India and find the appropriate funding agencies and/or individuals among the NRIs/PIOs.

 

  1. IDENTIFY AND RECOGNIZE NRIs/PIOs AND ORGANIZATIONS WHO HAVE DONE OUTSTANDING WORK IN PROMOTING EDUCATION AND HEALTH SERVICE FOR MASSES Individuals and organizations providing exemplary services should be considered for Padma and Pravasi Summan. Recognizing such people as role models for our community go a long way in motivating others to initiate and get involved in these projects.

 

  1. MEDICAL AND EDUCATION SUMMIT - Once in two years, MOIA in cooperation with Ministries of health and education in the central and state levels should host separate educational and medical summit for all service providers and NRI support organizations. This will help all these organizations to share their experiences and bring out issues they face in implementation. Organizations such as GOPIO, AAAPI, BAPIO, NFIA and AIF could help to organize such summits.

 

  1. UTILIZE CELEBRITIES TO PROMOTE THE MOVEMENT - As a proactive effort, our senior political leaders and leading personalities such as former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam should be requested to help in promoting this movement of involving NRIs and PIOs in Indias development and in delivering education and health services to the masses.

 

  1. MOIAS PUBLICATION AND WEBSITE - MOIA website should be a source of information. It needs to be updated every day with happenings in the Diaspora. The MOIA publication, Overseas Indian is an excellent publication and should carry in depth and breadth of the Diaspora activities especially those success stories in education and health services by the NRIs and Diaspora organizations.

 

  1. NEED TO SET UP OBJECTIVE BASED CELLS IN MOIA SPECIFIC TO INDIA DEVELOPMENT (a) Services to the broad based NRI/PIO Organizations, GOPIO, NFIA, TiE, AAPI, AAHOA, Engineers Asso., British Indian Medical Council, Indian Associations around the world, India/NRI/PIO Chambers of Commerce. (b) Services to language based organizations, FOKANA, FOGANA, Federation of Tamil Asso., World Malayalee Council, Intl Punjabi society, TANA, ATA, Brihan Maharashtra Mandal, National Bengali Conference, etc. (c) Services to NRI/PIO foundations and individuals to get involved in educational, charitable and social services in India. Help groups such as Pratham, Asha for Education, CRY, Share and Care, Care and Share, George Foundation, Sehgal Foundation, American India Foundation, AAPI Foundation, NFIA Foundation, Children of Hope and many others.

 

NRI/PIOs as global citizens have done a great job in building good image for their Motherland in their respective countries. NRI/PIOs have worked behind the scene to create interest among companies to take interest in India. Similar to what China has accomplished to become powerful country in the world with the help of its Diaspora, Indian Diaspora is also contributing to make India a powerful country. In the last 250 years, three successful diasporas were the British, Jewish and lastly in the last 20 years, the Chinese. The Indian Diaspora is emerging now as the newest successful Diaspora and I am very optimistic that India and its Diaspora work closely for mutual benefits.

 

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STATEMENT BY GOPIO PRESIDENT INDER SINGH ON NRI/PIO ISSUES AT THE INTERACTIVE SESSION

 

RAJYA SABHA SEATS FOR NON-RESIDENT INDIANS (NRIs)

There are about 9 million Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) living outside India, who constitute an important force and represent a tremendous resource in intellectual, technical, scientific, professional, economic, trade, and entrepreneurial excellence with high potential and interest to contribute to the well-being and prosperity of their motherland. They have emerged as an important factor in promoting India's interest, in shaping relations between the "home" and the "host" countries and in steering a dynamic shift in India's economic and political advantage in the world affairs. However, they have no representation in the decision making process of the country of which they are citizen of. We urge the Government of India to nominate a few prominent NRIs as members of the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Parliament) so as to reinforce and further integrate the bonds between India and the overseas Indian community. 

 

VOTING RIGHTS FOR INDIAN CITIZENS LIVING OUTSIDE INDIA

Most of the countries provide opportunities for their citizens living outside their countries to participate in the election process of their countries. More than 40% of the Indians living outside India are still citizens of India but India has yet to establish a mechanism to provide an opportunity for its citizens numbering about 9 million.

 

The Non Resident Indians (NRIs) who have been building Indias image and enthusiastically contributing to the economic development of India, should be allowed to exercise their right of franchise as enshrined in the Constitution of India and should be able to vote in an election, particularly for the election of Members of Indias Parliament.

 

GOPIO urges the Government of India to take appropriate steps to initiate amendment to the current procedure to enable Indian citizens living outside India to vote in the election.

 

PROTECTION OF REAL ESTATE INVESTMENTS

PIOs & NRIs have substantial investments in the residential and commercial real estate in India and the investment is rapidly on the increase. However, the practices and the laws in India do not provide enough relief to the investors when the tenants refuse to honor their agreements to pay the rents or vacate the premises. The PIO/NRI investors find themselves helpless in protecting their investments.

 

The NRIs/PIOs, in order to seek justice, take the cases to the courts where they stay for a considerable long time causing more frustration as they cannot stay in India until the case is settled.

 

Considering the plight of Punjabi NRIs/PIOs, t

he Punjab government has decided to set up fast-track courts for the speedy settlement of property cases involving NRIs/PIOs. The Government will also amend the Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act and the East Punjab Urban Rent Restriction Act, which would save NRIs/PIOs from land grabs and protracted litigation.

 

GOPIO urges the Government of India to get laws similar to the ones in Punjab passed in other states as well.

 

POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS OF NRIs/PIOs

In some countries with large NRI/PIO population, there are instances of extraordinary level of infringement of human and political rights including racial discrimination and unconstitutional means to suppress rights of the persons of Indian origin. GOPIO urges Govt. of India to evolve an effective and comprehensive policy and take proactive stand in accordance with the UN Charter on Human Rights, where ever and whenever such violations occur.

 

MARRIAGE ABUSES

There have been numerous cases about the spousal abuses where unsuspecting young ladies from India got married to overseas males and then are tortured in various ways. GOPIO has been urging the Government of India to protect its citizens from being abused for quite some time. We are glad that the Government of India is creating a mechanism to help these abused and deserted brides.

 

However, we have also heard of many cases of misuse of Anti-Dowry Law (IPC - 498a) by unscrupulous women to extort money and harass their husband's family. The gender based law may have been enacted with good intent but when such laws grossly violate the liberty and dignity of an average man and his family members, we urge modification of the law to eliminate the element of harassment in its application.

 

IMPLEMENTATION OF UNIFORM ENTRANCE FEE FOR ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES

About two years ago, the prime minister of India, through a press release, made entrance fee to monuments and the archeological sites such as Taj Mahal, uniform for all -- citizens of India, NRIs/PIOs and the foreign visitors. GOPIO urges the government to implement uniform entrance fee throughout India including monuments under the jurisdiction of the states.

 

REHABILITATION OF POOR INDIAN WORKERS FROM GULF STATES & OTHER COUNTRIES

There are many Indian workers in the Gulf States who have been cheated through "mistaken belief" of good jobs in the Gulf States. The employers in the Gulf States have abused and harassed these poor Indian workers by taking advantage of their helplessness to the extent that some of them have landed in Jails. Many helpless workers neither get any legal help nor they own resources (in fact, some of them even mortgaged their houses in India to pay for the travels to the Gulf States).

 

GOPIO urges the Government of India to take measures to help in the rehabilitation of these poor workers through financial and legal assistance.

 

**

 

STATEMENT FROM GOPIO SECRETARY GENERAL ASHOOK RAMSARAN AT THE INTERACTIVE SESSION

 

Hon. Minister Vayalar Ravi, Hon Secretary Nirmal Singh, Ambassador T.P. Sreenivasan, Consul General Neelam Deo, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

 

Firstly, I express my thanks to MOIA for allowing me to make these few remarks. I wish more time would have been accorded because the topic of ISSUES AND CONCERNS OF THE CARIBBEAN PIO COMMUNITY is dynamic and becoming ever more important.

 

My name is Ashook Ramsaran, born in Guyana as a third generation PIO, now residing in the USA. I am the Secretary General of GOPIO International, founding director of Guyanese East Indian Civic Association and director of the Global Indian Diaspora Foundation, as well very active in several New York City civic and community associations and groups, including New York City Board of Education.

 

Because of my background from the Caribbean region, active involvement and current extent of community and PIO activities, I believe I am qualified to speak with some measure of knowledge and experience on this subject. I make this presentation as an advocate of Caribbean PIOs in the Caribbean and North America.

 

Caribbean PIOs are predominantly the descendants of indentured laborers who were brought from India starting in 1834 and they are scattered in many countries large and small. Their population range from 500 in the smallest to 500,000 in the largest country. They speak English, Dutch, French and even Spanish, with Suriname PIOs fluent in Hindi even calling themselves Hindustanis. They all live among many other ethnic groups, predominantly the descendents of slaves from Africa. It takes an enormous amount of everyday resilience, determination, understanding and perseverance to cope and live peacefully in those societies. It is not an easy thing and all Caribbean PIOs can vouch for that.

 

Unlike NRIs, Caribbean PIOs take pride in national identity and promote national loyalty, being 3rd and 4th generation citizens. For them dual citizenship with India is not of interest in fact, it is a distraction and an issue of contention that can be used by other ethnic groups to further alienate Caribbean PIOs in their own countries. Only a very few have acquired PIO cards fur business and travel. But, of course, Indian movies are the key to connectivity and are cherished.

 

The contributions of Caribbean PIOs are many and cover a varied spectrum: Kanhai and Kalicharran of cricket; Nobel writer Naipual; Jagan, Panday and Jagdeo of political renown; international legal experst Luckhoo, Ramphal and Ramsahoye; scientists, entertainers, business entrepreneurs, airlines, manufacturing, and many, many others in various other disciplines.

 

 

The following is a summary of the primary issues and concerns of the Caribbean PIOs, not necessarily in order of importance:

 

1.      The need to retain the inherent bond with India and the ability to be able to trace ones roots back to their ancestral villages. I have made the proposal to MOIA for a global database and would like to pursue that to completion.

 

2.      Need to be accorded a sense of belonging, be given recognition as PIOs and be given equal access to take shelter under the same Global Indian Diaspora umbrella.

 

3.      Bring more awareness to Indians so that the NRI-PIO divide can be reduced.

 

4.      Continue the effort to establish the PIO memorial in Calcutta.

 

5.      Establish Caribbean PIO historical museum and Cultural Center that can preserve and promote the history of Caribbean PIOs

 

6.      Increase the number of exchanges with India in Academic, Cultural and Technical disciplines.

 

7.      Keep a watchful eye on the treatment of Caribbean PIOs, especially infringement of rights and seek prompt redress from the respective governments and international agencies, using Indias clout as influence.

 

8.      Recommend that India establish a conflict resolution task force to promptly respond to related issues help to Caribbean PIOs as well as to Indias international stature.

 

9.      Increase in Indian investments and bi-lateral trade so that entire economies can benefit at the time as Caribbean PIOs do and India as well.

 

10.    Need to be more inclusive in PBD sessions planning.

 

11.    Support a regional network of Caribbean PIOs which is in progress now: a regional conference in Guyana (May 2008 -- 170th IAD); completion of the Caribbean PIOs handbook that I have undertaken to do with some others.

 

12.    Give due consideration to Caribbean PIO countries as viable and lucrative platforms for Indian business expansion.

 

I trust I have been able to provide some insight to you and bring more awareness of Caribbean PIOs and their interests and concerns.

 

Thank you.