By Bharat Gupt
At the very start of the 21st Century, not only the demise of Sociaism but also the inadequacy of Consumerist Globalism is becoming increasingly evident. Most Western strategists portray the conflict scenario as a cultural clash, a well known model being that of Samuel Huntington. His strategy was basically to create a West versus the Rest, paradigm which one way of the other, wishes to preserve a non-democratic hegemony of the Euro-American technocrats with leukoethnic (white-ethnic) and Christian overtones. Hence his portraiture of Islam as a consolidated force and that of India as a
"lonely Hindu nation" without a strong diasporic support dependent for its survival on American goodwill. Barely two years after a lecture by Huntington expressing the above sentiments delivered at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (Feb1998), India demolished not only the myth of its loneliness by convincing the world its need for a nuclear deterant, but also , its diaspora, demonstrated its major push in global economy through info-tech and other skills. Far from a lonely nation, India is being recognised and sought after as a vast repository of skilled labour of all levels.
The 19th century migration of indentured labour was meant to fill the gap created by the abolishment of slavery in the British colonies of Africa, Pacific and South America. The same trend continued till in the fifties migration to Europe emerged as a new trend. This became a significant impact on recipient societies in the seventies when a fresh
generation of professionals and semi-professionals entered the technological and medical streams in Europe and North America and achieved many eminent and enviable positions.2 This change makes the Indiaspora, only 0.5% of the total American population a socially visible group that can influence public life , at least to a some degree. It is also a permanent change as the large educated high degree holders will continue to make their places not out of mere financial need but the stong desire to carve a place of eminence in the technocratic societies of the world. What was once called the brain drain has proved to be a brain implant.
The Closet-Cultured Diaspora of Nehruvian Era.
Before the Independence there was an expectation fom the diasporic or expatriate Indians to speak forth strongly and even work for the Freedom Struggle. But in the fifties under the approach to the international affairs as forstered by Nehru, the diaspora was advised to be a quiet law abiding mass politically in low-key and faithful to the established norms of the adopted societies. India was too weak till the sixties to even protest against the displacement of its people in Africa or to anything but agreeable to the policy of the Melting pot in America. The diaspora was in any case too insecure to think beyond making the two ends meet. As a result, a whole generation adopted a schizophrenic life-style in which the public space became oppressively alien and the private home stagnantly native. Culture was relegated to a cupboard status as survived as nostalgia and heirlooms. The gap between the adopt-ed country and the home country was very wide.
Nationality, now less Topographic, more Emotional.
In the so called new world order, the concept of nationality has undergone a sea change. With the emergence of the European Union, nationalism has been redefined not only for the nation states of Europe but even for the people of Asian and African continents. In the very Euro-American societies that developed the concept of nationalism, the construct of ethnicity has come to almost replace the basic building block of nationalism.
We have a situation in which borders may be defined by the older nationalism, while the social fabric is divided in into 'ethnic', categories. Every nation is therefore, seen as multi-ethnic conglomerate. With this devaluation of the nationhood and the privileging of ethnicity, the new communication technology is making the cultural-ethnic bonds so strong that expatriate populations can now live in a close emotional proximity to the native land though physically on the other side of the globe. The emotional bonds are easier to maintain in the age of internet, TV, emails, faxes and phones than of letters and newspapers. In this new scenario, it all depends upon GOI, whether it is able to reawaken the emotional links of Indiaspora or continue with the Nehruvian apathy. I hope that the newly formed panel by the Foreign Ministry on NRIs and PIOs who are believed to about 25 million in all, will take major steps in this direction which are better though out that the erstwhile "Festival of India" fiascos.
Diasporic transition from economic to cultural workforce.
The migration of the work force from the so called ethnic world into the West has taken place at a very large scale. The "natives" are no longer out there in the lands where the white man could have borne their burden at a safe distance. They are now permanently lodged in London, New York, Paris, Chicago and in so many other bastions of Western commerce. What is worse, they have brought with them not only the cultural Other, but also a host of political conflicts that rage
in their lands of origin. This redistribution of populations is taking place not only on account of the adventurous seeking greener pastures but much more so on account of populations getting displaced by war and internal strife. There are an estimated one and a half million refugees, mostly from Asian countries, now residing in Europe, says a report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There is little doubt that in coming years, though the developed nations may close their doors on immigrants, they would not be able to contain the number of refugees which is going to increase as internal conflicts within the nations on their borders or even across sea straights are on the rise3. Not only the wealthier nations but the the poorer ones are also going to receive refugee populations. A slow trickle of migrants from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka into India has been an irreversable trend in the last two decades.
As the older notion of national loyalty is breaking, in the coming years people would not hesitate to apply for refugee status when the going gets tough or insecure in their motherlands. They will depend more and more on members of their community settled in better off nations to support them directly or covertly. Formation of NGOs at a large scale, with infotechs at their command has begun to play a major role in private and non-governmental group communication. This has rapidly brought about a politicisation of the ethnic communities who are paying less attention to updating the practices of their living cultures but more to institutionalized agitation to seek advantages within specially within the Eurocentric cultural mileu of standardized and individualized consumerism. Power of the information technologies has provided new political strategies. To strengthen their political push, these communities will increasingly highlight their cultural heritage and besides being economic they will become cultural work forces. The GOI and the Indian people have now has to stand up to the challenge of providing cultural support to its diaspora in an unprecedented way.
If it merely looks upon them as bankers , investors and creditors, it shall be a grevious pitfall. We have already started to reduce them into economic milk cows. If the relationship is merely economic it not shall it be an enduring as markets are not upbeat all the time. Besides it does not give them a special status different from investors and creditors of other nationalities.
Indiasporas: of Africa, Far East, Gulf and Euro-American Space. The Indian State policy of relating to the diaspora has not been need specific but only a vague treatment of them all as nostalgic expatr-iates. The kind of equations that African Indiaspora needs to establ-ish is very different form that required by the East Asian or American Indiasporians. Once the GOI has located their specific needs, the various State Governents in India will need to act differently also involving the state NGOs. Everything should not be left to the Centre and the MEA as this tends to create too generalised
solutions that reduce effictiveness. States like Punjab, Kerala, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu need to make special efforts as people from these regions have a major presence abroad. The states can benefit most from their ex-citizens in the field of education who can help revive many institutions from schools to Universities. The diasporians themselves have a lot to gain from better educational centres for sake of their own children. Seeing the pitiable conditions of Universities in Gujarat, I have always wondered why no money has never been invested by the billionaaire expatriates. The same applies to Kerala. The kind of pride that diasporians feel in their regional identities can be made more meaningful if specific projects of cultural involvement are realized.
The movement of the skilled Indians to other lands has barely begun to gather momentum. As the number of educated unemployed Indians continues to rise, the Push to move shall mount. But so will the Pull from post-industrial societies of Europe and America as the laboring age-group is declining in the local populations. But the Cyber-Rush can
be as dehumanizing as was the Gold-Rush of wild West, if adequate protections are not sought for the people through new nondiscriminatory and humanitarian immigration laws of the receiving countries. The GOI must take this task seriously and ask for safeguards through diplomatic channels and global forums. One can clearly see a backlash in the
offing against migrants and steps to handle must be worked out in advance. In the Gulf region, the treatment meted out to Indians is already in contravention of human rights. The custody of passport with the employer, restrictions on communications, near inhuman behavior with women working as house-help, are some of the issues that need to
be taken up internationally without fear of souring diplomatic ties with Gulf nations.
Establishing Indian Heritage in Global Space.
The Indiaspora needs to be convinced that in order to survive as independent people in the adopted lands they need to grow with their heritage not just merely cling to it. Apart from many strategies for hightening their security-comfort, they need to intervene in the educational systems of adopted lands. So far only parallel tracks of cultural visibility such as temples and gurdwaras have been established. But the real dialogue with the inhabitants of land can come after some room has been made in the curriculum for Indian philosophies and cultural beliefs. This is going to be a major task
that calls for persistent and planned effort using the latest technologies for a long time.
Cultural Consonance or Sanskriti Samvaada.
The above plea for establishing Indian heritage must not allow any cultural evangelism to creep in. On the contrary it should rest on the idea of a cultural consonance and a policy of give and take. But this enterprise must also seek to establish a positive pluralism as against the contemporary negative relativism, that there exists a common ground between cultures because commonality and not differences are the raisond'etre of all communication and coexistence. If communication is to be something more than exchange of goods or info-commodity, then we may benefit most from turning to an old Indian definition of communication, called 'samvaada'. "Ekatrasya tu anyatra darsanam samvaadah" ( Reflection of a thing in one space when seen in another space, is called samvaada ). This is done by locating a core of vibrant similiarity between diverse cultures that exists beneath all differences and which, instead of being wiped out by the individual differences, sustains itself and the differences as well. To provide a simile, it is like the consonance between many musical notes, which are always independent but are always capable of generating a mutual resonance by virtue of their common grounding in a given scale. Within our pluralism we need to explore our common scale. The diasporic role in this endeavor should never be underestimated.
1. Gupt , Bharat . "West Versus the Rest is the New Cold War Rhetoric." Times of India , Edit page, 23-4-97.
2. Radia, Chandu , a IT professional from Texas gave me the following list of the business successfulls in the USA :
+ Victor Menezes is the President of CITICORP, the world's largest bank and financial institution.
+ Rono Dutta is the CEO of United Airlines, the world's largest airline
+ Rajat Gupta is the Managing Director of the management consulting conglomerate, McKinsey & Co.
+ Vijay Goradia is the CEO of a very large petrochemical co. in Houston
+ Shailesh Mehta is the CEO of Providian, a billion-dollar plus U.S. Financial corporation
+ Jamshed Wadia is the Managing Director of Arthur Anderson & Co., one of the western world's premier accounting and consulting companies
+ Rakesh Gangwal is the CEO of U.S. Airways, the 6th largest airline (out of 400+) in the U.S.
+ Rana Talwar is the CEO of the international behemoth banking empire, Standard Chartered Bank, PLC
+ Gujuraj Deshpande is the CEO of Sycamore, a $30 billion communications company
+ Ramani Nayar is the CEO of Hartford Insurance & Financial Group. One of the world's largest Insurance carriers and financial services companies for the past dozen or so years.
+ In the sciences arena, Arun Netravali is the President of Bell Labs, recognized for decades as the biggest and one of the most prestigious research & Development Center in the world
+ In the field of arts, Walt Disney paid Manoj Shyamalan $2.5 million for the screenplay of Bruce Willis starer, Sixth Sense.
+ In the "literary" world, the Managing Editor of the prestigious quarterly, Foreign Affairs, is Fareed Zakaria.
3. At present per day 800 US visas are being issued to Pakistani nationals and an equally large number of illegal persons are leaving country through various channels. Indian Express ( 22.9.00).
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