NRIs, PIOs and INDIA—Mutual Expectations

Former GOPIO Chairman Thomas Abraham presented a paper in 2007 in Kolkata’s Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies. It throws up interesting issues on how the diaspora can better leverage from India’s rise, and is more valid today than at the time the lecture was delivered

 Thomas Abraham Past Chairman, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), Inc.

(Invited paper at the conference on “India and Her Diaspora: Evolving Relationship” organized by the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, January 11-13, 2007, Kolkata, India)


People of Indian origin constitute a global community of over 25 million people. It is bigger than many countries of Europe. It has been estimated that, PIOs living outside India has a combined yearly economic output of about $250 billion, about one third of the GDP of India. While India government would like to attract business and investments from the Indian Diaspora, there are other areas where India government should take interest and need to address issues such as those related cultural, economic, political and social. The presentation brings out some of these issues and discuss mutual expectations between NRIs/PIOs and India.

Indian Diaspora Spread

People of Indian origin constituting a global community of over 25 million people are emerging as the newest successful Diaspora. Whether they come from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia, the Caribbean or Europe, they are Indians in body and spirit. Almost all of them maintain their Indian cultural traditions and values. They seem to have meaningfully integrated in their countries without losing their ethnic identity. Indian Diaspora population according to the region is provided below:

Indian Diaspora Numbrs

North America (Mostly USA & Canada): 4.0 Million, South America (Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Surinam, Jamaica, etc.): 1.6 million, Europe (U.K., Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc.): 2.5 million, Africa (South Africa, Mauritius, East African countries, etc.): 2.7 million, Middle East (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc.): 3.6 million, Far East & South East Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, etc.): 5.0 million, Pacific Island (Fiji, Australia, New Zealand): 0.7 million, Sri Lanka and Nepal: 4.9 million, Total: 25.0 million.

Note: Since hard numbers have not been available, these are approximate estimates and obtained from individual country statistics and from the report of the High Level India Diaspora Committee appointed by Govt. of India

With over 25 million people of Indian origin living outside India, a new global community of Indian origin has been developed. Most people of Indian origin living in developed countries have become highly successful in business and professions. If their professional expertise and financial resources are to be pooled together, it will benefit not only people of Indian origin but also their countries and India. In addition, people of Indian origin could assume a new role in providing help in case of crisis to their communities around the world. That has been the perspectives of the community leadership in the last in the last two decades.

Of the 25 million, about 50% constitute the first generation immigrants from India and their immediate families, generally termed as non-resident Indians (NRIs). This is the group one should reach out for investments and for business and technology collaborations in India. This group also has taken great interest in India’s developments. Where are these communities? They are spread across the Middle East, USA, Canada, U.K. and other European countries, Australia and Southeast and Far Eastern countries.

Need for Mobilizing the Community

As a first step toward bringing our communities together, the Indian American community, under the leadership of the National Federation of Indian American Associations, took the initiative to organize the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in New York in 1989. The triggering point for the global Indian community to come together was, when an elected Indian dominated government in Fiji was thrown out by a military dictator in 1987. At the First Global Convention, the major issue of concern to everyone was human rights violations, be in Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Sri Lanka, U.K. and even in the U.S.A. with “Dot Buster” issue. The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO, was formed at this convention to help in networking our communities and take up issues such as human rights violations of Indians around the world. GOPIO filed petitions at the UN on the issue of human rights violation of PIOs in Fiji and Sri Lanka. Further, GOPIO continued a concerted effort to fight these issues. GOPIO had also again taken up the campaign to support the cause of Fiji Indians since the overthrow of the Indian dominated democratically elected government in Fiji in May 2000.

Changing Objectives

Since the early 1990s, the whole world has changed, so are the people of Indian origin (PIO) communities. Since our first global convention of people of Indian origin, Indian dominated parties were elected to power in Fiji, Guyana and Trinidad. South Africa has several Indians as ministers in the government. The late Dr. Chheddi Jagan, former President of Guyana, Mr. Basdeo Panday of Trinidad and Mr. Mahendra Chaudhry of Fiji were present at GOPIO’s first convention who went on to become the President and Prime Ministers of their respective countries. For a while, in the 1990s, we in the GOPIO felt that human rights violations or being in political sideline are not major issues for global Indian communities. After several brain-storming sessions and conferences, GOPIO concluded that creating economic opportunities by pooling our professional and financial resources is a platform to bring our communities together. Economic progress of countries with large PIO population and India should be one of the priorities of PIOs as global citizens and that of GOPIO. Our ultimate goal should be to make our movement working toward on issues of poverty, education and social justice of our people. As we network globally, it should not only help our communities to achieve economic progress, but also help India.

GOPIO had set up a Business Council in 2001 to cater the needs of small and medium businessmen from our PIO community to network and promote collaborations. The Busi8ness Council organized the Third global Indian Entrepreneurs Conference in New York in the year 2002 and will organize such meetings in the future. GOPIO has also set up GOPIO.Connect to help and promote NGOs who are involved in India developmental activities. GOPIO has Health Service Council and Philanthropic Council

The last decade also saw PIOs becoming enormously rich, thanks to the information technology revolution and professional background of Indians in Western countries.. Although many of them left India with a meager amount of dollars or pounds in their pocket, with their dedication and hard work they became successful in the West and in particular the USA, Canada, U.K. and other European countries. A recent Merrill Lynch study showed that in the USA alone there are over 250,000 millionaires. Now our community is growing in large number in Australia and New Zealand. The PIO populations in all these countries are expected to increase in this decade. The US will see that largest population growth, i.e. 100,000 every year for the next 10 years. Therefore, PIO communities will have important roles to play in all these countries and for India’s development.

While talking about the positive roles of the PIO community in many of the countries where PIOs live in, the community in some countries have become targets by other communities with violations of civil and political rights in countries such as Fiji, Trinidad, and some African countries. The PIO worldwide and GOPIO in particular have an important role to play to campaign internationally to stop such attacks. The PIO communities have an opportunity to approach their respective governments to take up such issues of such human rights violations.

Global Contributions

NRIs/PIOs have become a most sought group to be attracted for investments, whether it is developing countries such as Guyana and Uganda, whose presidents have been personally meeting NRIs or even developed countries such as U.K., Canada and Australia who want new investments. With the emerging economic influence of the Overseas Indian community, in 1992, the then Prime Minister of India P.V. Narasimha Rao announced the position of NRI Commissioner to look after the interests of the NRI/PIO community, although the Commissioner was appointed only in the year 2000. Also, in the year 2000, a High Level Indian Diaspora Committee chaired by Dr. L.M. Singhvi, was set up by the government of India to look into the issues of NRIs and PIOs. The committee after visiting several countries submitted a report with several recommendations.

The best news to NRIs/PIOs was provided by the Vajpayee administration in January 2002, i.e. to accept the some of the recommendations of the committee.

—Thomas Abraham has been serving the NRI/PIO community for the last 32 years

May 2011

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