Expectations: The Francophone PIOs want a firm role and recognition

6th Regional PBD in Mauritius

By Sarita Boodhoo

The 6th Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to be held in Mauritius from 26th to 28th October will no doubt set the tone for a broad-based platform, engaging not only Mauritius but other countries with a strong diaspora base. One such region called upon to play a significantly notable role is the Indian Ocean islands and countries of the Indian Ocean Rim.

The very theme of this conference – Shared Roots and Common Destiny — is intensely catching. It has a tremendous significance and impact. The PBD Mauritius is gathering momentum day by day as the preparatory machinery gets rolling and things are being finalized. It is an avant-goût of the big happening of January 7-9th 2013 to be held in Cochin, Kerala, a land reputed for its health tourism. But for those who cannot make it to Cochin in January 2013, India is coming here to them in a big way.

There are great expectations by her “children abroad” from Mother India, more so in the countries of the Indian Ocean Rim.

The PBD Mauritius definitely brings to the fore the role of Mauritius as the Key and Star of the Indian Ocean. And Reunion Island, nearby, with a sizeable Indian population is not indifferent to this fantastic and exciting UTSAV and get-together of the 27-million strong family of the Indian diaspora.

Reunion, Seychelles and Madagascar and other islands of the Indian Ocean are participating in a significant way in the PBD Mauritius. Mauritius thus, has become a pivot, a hub, a launch pad in pulling forces together of the shared roots and shared routes too.

It is important here to mention the key role played by GOPIO over the past two decades and a half in cementing these forces and creating awareness and sensitizing the PIOs towards establishing a common platform for greater inter-connectivity and co-operation. It is good to recall here that it is thanks to GOPIO’s persistent efforts that the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has become a reality.

Neighbouring Reunion Island has been a partner with GOPIO since its inception. The thirst of the Reunion people of Indian origin to bond with their brethren worldwide and reconnect with India is beyond description. I have often participated in seminars and workshops organised by GOPIO or other sister organizations such as L’Association Culturelle Reunion Inde. As far back as 1996, I remember having participated in a regional GOPIO meet in St Denis, Reunion on the theme Indianity which aroused great fervour and passion among the people of Indian origin there. Several delegations from Reunion Island subsequently visited Mauritius for further collaboration.

Four decades ago in the 1970s, Bharati Ramyead, first distinguished Bharat Natyam dancer/artist of Mauritius from the prestigious Kalakashetra Dance School in Madras, run by the famous Rukmini Devi Arundale, chose to settle in Reunion after her marriage to Reunion based well-established businessman Krishna Vayaboury. This family has been in the forefront in reorganizing temples in Reunion and establishing private links with India for temple construction and flow of priests and teachers. Bharati Ramyead’s pioneering efforts ignited a new wave of yearning for classical Indian dance and temple celebrations in Reunion. There have been matrimonial links. Business partnership between Mauritius and Reunion has been an ongoing process. Cultural events such as at Divali have now assumed national proportion. The Reunion PIOs present really grandiose and spectacular ethnic shows.

In December 2011, I was invited by l’Association Culturelle Reunion Inde under the dynamic leadership of Dr Colette Minienpoulle on the theme “Femme d’origine Indienne d’hier à aujourd’hui dans l’océan Indien”, to show the achievements and upward mobility of the Pravasi woman. Similar seminars of cultural and literary interest on Rabindranath Tagore took place a couple of months back where two eminent intellectuals from Mauritius, namely Dr Suchita Ramdin and Mrs Soorya Gayan, former Director-General of the MGI/RTI participated.

Credit goes to Mr Mahen Utchanah, current Chairman of GOPIO International for his dynamic move in getting the Francophone PIOs a consequent voice within the PBD and GOPIO. GOPIO opened Francophone chapters in Reunion Island, France, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Madagascar, Switzerland and Belgium.

It is largely at his initiative that the Francophone PIOs are getting a meaningful and considerable hearing from the Government of India. He managed to organize a POST PBD meet for the Guadeloupe delegation in Jaipur, earlier this year with Mr Vayalar Ravi, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs on 9th January 2012. The meeting was very positive and fruitful, and Mr Vayalar Ravi promised to attend the Youth Conference in Guadeloupe which was held from 10th to 15th August this year, at Pointe-a-Pitre. Mr Vayalar Ravi unveiled a monument there, to mark the 150th years of the advent of Indian Indentured workers in Guadeloupe. This was a historical event. Also noteworthy is that for the first time the Indian flag was raised and the Indian National Anthem sung at the 65th year of India’s Independence Day Celebration there. The speech of the President of the Republic of India was read in its French version.

In this context, the recent manifestation in Reunion under the title Ahimsa on 2nd October to mark the International Day of Non-Violence decreed by United Nations including an international seminar by l’Association Reunionaise des Relations et Créations Culturelles (ARRCC) was a revealing activity showing how deeply and profoundly the Reunion PIOs cherish Indian values and heritage and its iconic personalities.

Dr Karan Singh, Chairman of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and an eminent Indian personality was invited to lay a wreath at the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in St Denis and to address and honour the gala cultural programme and Ahimsa Celebration organised with the support of the French Government and several socio-cultural organizations and PIOs of Reunion Island. Mrs Sabine Armoudom-Paulic, the driving force behind the ARRCC has shown that by inter-connectivity with India through the ICCR, Mauritius (Ministry of Arts and Culture and the MGI) and with cultural co-operation and motivation, the PIOs spread in the Indian Ocean Islands can aspire to wider horizons given the support that such projects necessitate. The show was successfully reproduced at the MGI on Friday 12th October.

The earnestness of the PIOs of Reunion to search for their roots in Mauritian archives and ship records and eventually obtain a PIO card that would enable them to visit, do business, and invest and have greater cultural exchanges in and with India will be one of the major aspirations of the PBD Mauritius.

The visit of Shri Vayalar Ravi immediately after the PBD Mauritius to Reunion Island to meet and interact with the PIOs heralds a new era in this respect. It is a historical occasion when for the first time an Indian minister will visit Reunion. It is the beginning of a new cultural script written between India, Reunion and Mauritius.

* Published in print edition on 19 October 2012

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