India and its Diaspora

This article talks about the Indian diaspora and its significance today. It is a topic that is featured in the news quite frequently and is hence, important for the civil services exam. The Indian diaspora is quite a heterogeneous group and is comprised of people from different economic and social classes, speaking a diversity of languages, professing a multitude of cultural practices and can also be divided along the lines of the time of their migration into foreign lands. Read on for an insight into the Indian diaspora for the IAS mains exam.

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In the theatre of development, the competitiveness and growth of an economy is determined by its capacity to acquire and apply new knowledge. In a rapidly globalizing world, learning new ways of doing things depends in no small measure on the ability to integrate with the larger world outside. We live in a world in which the free movement of goods and capital across borders is seen as a virtue. Arguably, it is seen to reinforce the principle of competitive advantage and help spur savings, investment and demand. What is less recognised is that International migration of human capital: the movement of knowledge, talent and skills across borders is central to learning and development.

The rise of significant Diasporas has in the past few years, brought into the limelight a couple of key facts. First, there is a huge expatriate population of skilled people from developing countries in developed nations. Second, overseas communities can form a major resource for the development of the countries of their origin. The movement of high and low skilled workers from less to more developed economies and back brings about a great many new opportunities for development. Talking about diaspora only in terms of remittances and financial flows is a narrow approach and needs to change. It is not necessary for all expatriates to be investors, and their contributions to their countries of origin need not be solely financial.

An overseas community serves as an important ‘bridge’ to access expertise, knowledge, markets and resources for the development of the home country. The success of this bridge often depends upon 2 conditions: the ability of the Diaspora to develop and showcase a coherent, intrinsically motivated and progressive identity and the capacity of the home country to develop conditions and institutions for a maintainable, tenable, symbiotic and mutually rewarding engagement. Home countries are now beginning to recognise the need to pursue and promote the dynamic of Diaspora and development.

India has the second-largest diaspora in the world. 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 and Non-Resident Indians 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.

Overseas Indians share a strong bond with their country of origin. This is reflected in their language, cultures and traditions that have been maintained, often over centuries, and continue to be vibrant and unique. It is now being witnessed in the growing popularity of Indian films, dance, music, arts and culture on foreign shores, the strong surge in remittances back home, the return of many to live and work in India and in their increasing engagement with India’s development. The relationship between India and its overseas community is growing, new partnerships evolving and newer multi-faceted dimensions being explored.

India’s engagement with its Diaspora is symbiotic, the strands of both sides of the relationship equally important to create a resilient and robust bond. To engage with the Diaspora in a sustainable and mutually rewarding manner across the economic, social and cultural space is at the heart of the policy of the Ministry. To create conditions, partnerships and institutions that will best enable India to connect with its Diaspora comprehensively are central to all our programmes and activities. As a new India seeks to become a global player of significance, the time has come for strong and sustained engagement between India and overseas Indians. The time has also come for overseas Indians to benefit from the exciting opportunities that India provides. The time is now.

India, Diaspora And Migration: An Overview

India is one of the pioneers in recognising the importance of its overseas population and establishing an institutional framework for sustainable and mutually beneficial engagement with its Diaspora. By creating an independent and effective Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, India has given mainstream attention to its estimated 25 million-strong Overseas Indian community. This experience too has helped us develop appropriate and well-calibrated institutional responses, through bilateral and multilateral engagements, to meet the challenges of capacity-building for better migration management.

India And Its Diaspora

The Indian Diaspora is a diverse, heterogeneous and eclectic international community, representing a diversity of types, forms, geographies and formation periods. Hence, it requires diverse and distinct approaches to engage them and connect with India. The common thread that binds them together is the idea of India and its intrinsic values. Overseas Indians — comprising People of Indian Origin and Non-Resident Indians, stretching across all oceans and continents — have considerably added to knowledge, innovation and development across the globe by making significant contributions to their countries of residence.

Historically, the dispersion of people from India and the formation of Indian Diaspora communities is the result of different waves of migration over hundreds of years driven by a variety of reasons: slavery under mercantilism, indentured labour under colonisation, and guest work programmes post-colonialism. This transnational engagement of people, riding on the processes of globalisation has been reinforced through global networks of families, friends and businesses, which are symbiotic and which enable the exchange of shared ideas of cultural, social and economic interests.

In retrospect, the formation of the Indian Diaspora makes up an engaging saga of trials, tribulations and the eventual triumph of determination and hard work. It pleases all Indians when the Overseas Indian community is respected for its work culture, discipline, and successful integration with the local community as much as being counted for its outstanding contributions in their countries of residence. This community having overcome considerable adversity represents an eminently successful Diaspora in the host countries with several of its representatives occupying leadership positions there. We look at them as a significant strategic resource for India.

Contemporary flows from India are of two kinds. The first is the emigration of the highly skilled professionals, workers and students with tertiary and higher educational qualifications migrating to the most advanced OECD countries, particularly to the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This flow started after Indian independence in pursuit of better career prospects and living and gathered momentum with the emigration of IT professional in the 1990s. The second was the flow of unskilled and semi-skilled workers going mostly to the Gulf countries and Malaysia—following the oil boom in the Gulf countries, mainly from Kerala and other south Indian states. Of late, northern states in India like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have emerged as the leading states of origin. Put together, these migratory flows have resulted in diverse communities of people of Indian origin in various parts of the world: East Asia, Middle-East Asia, South and Eastern Africa, Europe, North America, Australia, the northern part of South America and the Caribbean Islands. These distinct communities of people of Indian origin, as well as Indian nationals living abroad, constitute the vast Indian Diaspora. There is no single homogeneous Overseas Indian community; there exist diversities within them as well as in the level and degree of their engagement with India, defined by the lapse of time, generations and distance that separate them from their country of origin.

The Diasporas provide important links and contact points between home and host societies by building transnational networks which transact not only emotional and familial bonds but also cultural, social and economic interests. With advances in information technology and cheaper transport services, the Diasporas, as compared to situations prevailing earlier, are able to maintain connections with people and networks back home more effectively.

Such Diaspora associations in host countries impact and influence local businesses, even political decisions, thereby ensuring a friendlier environment and outcomes for the existing and prospective migrants. At the same time, these Diaspora associations also help to channel remittances, capital and investments to benefit not only home communities but also by developing partnerships with the host-country counterpart, benefit both. The same can be said of the exchange of skills, cuisines, ideas, knowledge and technology.

As such, we can assume that such exchanges between a host and home countries, leveraged through the Diaspora, are never unidirectional or temporary or limited in scope. What remains a work in progress, however, is the formation of mechanisms or patterns to engage the Diasporas to its full potential. We cherish our relationship with the Indian Diaspora. Engaging with the Diaspora in a sustainable and mutually rewarding manner across the economic, social and cultural space is at the heart of the policy of the Ministry. We, a small team of officers in MOIA, continually seek to create conditions, partnerships and institutions that will best enable India to connect with its Diaspora comprehensively.

Such engagement has to take into account the fact that the Indian Diaspora, like India itself, is not a homogeneous group of people. And for this reason, it needs diverse and distinct approaches to engage them and connect with India. It is not necessary for all Overseas Indians to be a part of the development process. Not all of them need to make financial contributions, nor do they need to relocate to India.

These ‘Global Indians’ can serve as bridges by providing access to markets, sources of investment, expertise, knowledge and technology; they can shape, by their informed participation, the discourse on migration and development, and help articulate the need for policy coherence in the countries of destination and origin.

All of this requires not only the home country to establish conditions and institutions for a sustainable, symbiotic and mutually rewarding engagement with the Diaspora—which are central to our programmes and activities; but for the Diaspora to project itself as an intrinsically motivated and progressive community.

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