The invisible bonds that connect the nearly 30 million strong Indian diaspora are culture, traditions and the shared heritage. This is the biggest link that keeps generations of People of Indian Origin still feel deeply connected with their mother nation, reports Deepthy Menon
At every PravasiBharatiyaDiwas, there is immense focus placed on keeping India’s cultural ties with its widespread diaspora alive and thriving. The seminar on India’s culture and heritage moderated by India’s Union Minister for Human Resources, Dr ShashiTharoor proved to be a global forum in representation too. Apart from eminent personalities of the Indian diaspora from world over that included legislators from the United Kingdom and Malaysia, politicians representing the national governments of Nigeria and Canada provided the outsider’s narrative to the story of assimilation of the Indian Diaspora into their host countries, even while preserving the customs, traditions and culture of India intact in their chosen lands.
“The Diaspora has truly taken more of India abroad and kept its culture and traditions alive, retelling ancient fables to foreign shore along with popularising Indian cuisine and even fabrics. Bollywood cinema has been one of India’s major cultural exports”, explainsDr.ShashiTharoor. There were several vignettes in his well-received speech that demonstrated how widespread India’s cultural soft-power is. For instance, Indian curry houses in the UK, Dr.Tharoor pointed out, hired more people than the iron and steel and ship building industry there. Similarly, the success of the Indian Diaspora in the US led to the IITs of India being considered on par and as sought after as the MIT.
As a New Zealander born to Fijian parents of Indian origin, Sir Anand Satyanand epitomises the Person of Indian origin, who has had nothing but cultural affinity with the homeland of his forefathers. The PravasiBharatiyaSamman winner in 2011, Sir Satyanand describes his Indian heritage as one with ‘elements that are intangible but incontrovertible. It is not a thing of the past. In fact, tomorrow’s heritage is created today. We should actively look for more opportunities to recognise our culture world over’.
The strong influence of India and its culture on popular discourse of culture like films, literature and music was stressed upon by several speakers in the forum. Malaysia’s minister of human resources, Dr.SSubramaniam raised the example of Ramayana as an enduring example of India’s cultural export that has been told and re-told largely by word of mouth across Indian diasporas that settled in South East Asia. ‘As a result, Ramayana as a story, when told across South East Asia is quite different in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. ‘, says Dr.Subramaniam. However, the Indian culture is so intertwined into the national discourse of countries like Malaysia which boasts of an ethnic Indian population of nearly 1.9mn people that he says the nations have adopted a philosophy of acceptance than assimilation. Indian holidays are now national holidays in many countries of the region and several South Indian festivals like Kavadi and Thaippoosam are celebrated with the same fervour here. Singapore’s Ambassador at Large, GopinathPillai, another popular speaker at the session also referred to the Indian heritage as the factor of resilience that helped several waves of Indian immigrants to South East Asia face the severe hardships they had to endure during and post their migration.Panellists like Baroness SandeepVarma, a minister in the David Cameron government in the UK spoke of the role of women in retaining and preserving India’s spiritual and religious culture in their adopted homelands.
These points were raised from the perspective of ancient India and its culture by the former Indian Ambassador to Bhutan and reknowned author Pavan K Verma, who drove home the point to the audience that India is distinguished and revered by the power of original thought or MaulikSoch. He appealed to the vibrant and diverse Indian diaspora spread across the globe to propagate Indian culture and heritage and the authenticity and originality of ancient Indian knowledge.
Each panellist had a clear vision of how they saw the Diaspora taking India’s cultural story forward by partnering with Indian associations and businesses to popularise them in their new homelands. “We need to promote Indian businesses and ventures helmed by people of Indian origin as part of bilateral trade and commerce deals.” suggests Baroness Verma. However, a totally diverse perspective was raised by two foreign panellists, Nigerian MP AbikeDabiriErewa and Canada’s Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney who looked upon Indian Diaspora to show the way to the world on how to achieve unity in diversity. Kenney called India the ‘deepest wellspring’ of this phenomenon. DabiriErewa marvelled at India’s efforts to engage with its Diaspora through its Ministry of Overseas Affairs and annual PravasiBharatiyaDiwas and said Nigeria had been inspired by this model to engage with its own diaspora, making it the first African nation to have a Parliamentary Committee for Diaspora in Africa. While recalling an old African proverb that no matter how far a river flows, it does not forget its source, she lauded the role that the Indian Diaspora played in the country’s economic growth and said Nigeria was actively interested in emulating the remittances model that Indian NRIs have adopted, which in turn contributed to India’s rapid economic progress. AbikeDabiriErewa called for renewed efforts to build bridges between Indian and African Diaspora to improve business and knowledge exchange so as to create lasting links. Sir Anand Satyanand called for improved connectivity and exchanges between India and its diaspora spread across the world as he believed connectivity was the key to spreading India’s cultural vastness and rich heritage across the globe.
However, the evidence of severe factionalism and regional affiliations amongst the diaspora too came in for cautious warning from eminent diaspora speakers which became their final messages to the diaspora delegates present. “Don’t factionalise, don’t owe allegiance to communities but engage with India and as Indians”, said Baroness SandeepVerma. “Among the diaspora of the same ethnic roots of South Asia, shared heritage must become a common bond that forges greater economic integration. Diaspora needs to help forge regional economic integration to propel the Indian sub-continent to rise to a higher geopolitical status.”addsGopinathPillai.