India and its diaspora

International Conference – New Delhi

The international conference ‘India and its diaspora – A comparative Perspective’, organized by ODI (International) on 29th and 30th March 2013 under the auspices of Jawaharlal Nehru University at New Delhi was a smashing success. The man behind this huge organisation was Professor Ajay Dubey and a team of dynamic young scholars. Different academics coming from the four corners of the globe participated in this international conference covering an array of papers ranging from ‘India’s Engagement with Diaspora’ to ‘Issues and Challenges of Indian Diaspora’.

The keynote address was given by Chief Guest Mahen Utchanah President of GOPIO (International) and former Minister of Mauritius. He delved lengthily on the God-sent contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to the emancipation of indentured labourers and this triggered the subsequent arrival of Manilal Doctor to Mauritius to sensitize the oppressed and the downtrodden to break away the shackles of oppression. He further mentioned about the role of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to cement the Indian Diaspora from different climes and he pledged for a PIO (Secretariat) and university. The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has become over the years an annual event. He earnestly appealed to the Indian government to give more scholarships to countries where the Indian Diaspora is vibrant.

Mauritius was represented by Philip Li Ching Hum, one of the founder-members of ODI (Mauritius). He presented a paper on ‘Indian Diaspora: Beyond the Kalapani’ which was warmly applauded by the participants.

From Azerbaizan to Alaska, covering almost 136 countries, the Indian Diaspora generates almost 70 billion dollars in terms of remittances. Indentured labour in the early days of the Indian Diaspora became a distorted version of slavery. The indentured labourers suffered the same humiliations, cruelty and atrocities as the slaves. They were lured away from different parts of the Indian subcontinent and were made to believe that they would dig gold among the rocks and that Mauritius was an El Dorado. From scratch in their disillusionment and despondency in their search for greener pasture they, nevertheless and in spite of unimaginable inhuman hardships toiled day and night to irrigate the soil with their tears, sweat and blood and metamorphosed it into a paradise.

Philip Li Ching Hum reminded the audience that in the Indian Diaspora Mauritius is an exception and the children of Girmitya have climbed the social ladder from a hoe to a pen under the salvation of education on the road to liberation. It took them only two generations to strive hard to break away from the shackles of tyranny. Their ties with Mother India are strongly felt. “Phirbi dil hai Hindustani,” he exclaimed to the applause of the audience. India has become his second home.

The two-day conference was an enriching experience and has opened up vistas for further meetings among academics. A wide network has been established among the participants. The final session was presided by Philip Li Ching Hum as to give it a special flavour’ as Professor Ajay Dubey said. The valecditory address was given by Professor Kavita Sharma, Director of Indian International Centre, New Delhi. In a brilliant expose she covered a wide spectrum of subjects revolving around the Indian Diaspora.

Organisation for Diaspora Initiatives (Mauritius)


* Published in print edition on 3 May 2013

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