Indian Diaspora World Convention Trinidad and Tobago, March 2017

To commemorate the 100th year of the end of Indian indentureship —

It is really with great enthusiasm, determination and pride that Indians in the Western hemisphere assume their Indianity. A call for papers for an Indian Diaspora World Convention in March 2017 at Radisson Hotel in Trinidad and Tobago sent by Dr Primnath Gooptar the Chairperson of the Academic Committee is revealing indeed of the intense intellectual engagement of people of Indian origin in the Caribbean countries.

This convention is being held in the context of the celebration of 100th anniversary of the abolition of Indian indentureship to highlight shared heritage, aspirations and interests.

Convention Sets the Tone

The theme of the Convention sets the tone: Global Indian Diaspora : Charting New Frontiers.

The major stakeholders of this Conference are the Indian Diaspora Council of New York, USA, the Indian Diaspora Council of Trinidad and Tobago and their affiliates, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha of Trinidad and Tobago and other stakeholders. The organisers want to create awareness of the termination of Indian indentureship by the British Parliament’s Defense of India Act in March 1917.

It would be interesting to recall here that the British Raj had sent around the same period Kunwar Maharaj Singh from India to conduct a commission of enquiry in the same context to Mauritius. And the system was definitely terminated on 31st March 1924.

Writes Primnath Gooptar, a well-established scholar on Indians in the Caribbean, “While the Defense of India Act 1917 was an official declaration to abolish Indian migration, that did not bring an immediate end to the indentureship system; instead it was gradually phased out until it finally ended in 1920.”

This conference is a meeting of diasporic scholars and researchers to engage in a genuinely global dialogue.

The Conference will treat three major migrations of the Indian Diaspora – 1) The Plantation Diaspora which was the first migration, 2) The second Migration – the migration of mostly free skilled Indians to various parts of the world such as Europe, Canada, Australasia, the Americas as from the 1960s, 3) The Third Migration – will focus on the movement and advancement of the second, third and fourth generations of diasporic people to other locations.

Global Perspective of Indians in the Diaspora

The aim is to “offer insightful experiences, innovative ideas and solutions” to benefit scholars and researchers in a global perspective.

Another highlight of the Conference is “to encourage or challenge organizations, individuals and community advocates to utilize their skills and talent not only to advance academic excellence, but also to launch various projects such as building new schools, technical colleges, and conduct humanitarian initiatives in their respective countries and beyond…”

The Conference will focus on 8 subtopics including Historical Perspective, Labour in the Indian Diaspora, Youth and Gender Issues, the Movement for the end of Indian indentureship, Documenting the Indian Diaspora, Identity in the Indian Diaspora, Technology and Entrepreneurship, Challenges facing Diasporic Indians and Contemporary Issues, the Global Indian Diasporic Community in the 21st Century.

It is noteworthy that the Convention Sponsors include several local and American organisations of which some have been mentioned above but also the Indian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago and the Mayor of the Borough of Chaguanas, Trinidad.

This Conference is indeed a parallel to the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. It brings to our notice that the Government of India has been celebrating Indians in the Diaspora since 2003 with the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas of which the15th issue will be held this year in Bangaluru (Bangalore) India from January 7th to 9th 2017. While big efforts have been deployed to make of this celebration a binding force of over 28 millions diasporic Indians, it is only last year that the Modi Government under the determined drive of Shrimati Sushma Swaraj, Indian Foreign Minister as well as Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs established a session of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, earmarked for the Girmitia Diaspora, i.e. the Plantation migrants, who were generally not accorded much attention vis-à-vis the NRIs.

It is also a great stride forward and matter of pride that the PIO Card has been now converted into the OCI i.e. Overseas Citizen of India with lifelong visa and other facilities in India. Not only that. It is of great historical significance and pertinence that the OCI card is a valuable document that establishes a direct and remarkable link of the people of Indian origin with their ancestry and roots.

Vibrancy of Caribbean Diasporic Scholars

The High-Powered Committee from the Ministry of External Affairs India, headed by Shri Dnyaneshwar Mulay, Consul General of India in New York recently visited Mauritius in the light of extending the OCI to 5th generation of Indians. Views were voiced out by the sociocultural organisations that the OCI E card application should be made easier to accede to. Moreover, it was strongly felt that it should be extended to younger generations of PIOs too.

It is heartening too to note that the Government of India launched the “Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children” (SPDC) in 2006-2007, a result of proposals made in Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Conferences for the wards of persons of Indian Origin and NRIs to assist them in pursuing undergraduate courses in Indian Universities/ Institutes. In addition to NITs and IIITs students can also be admitted to other prestigious Indian Institutes under this scheme. The monthly income limit has been raised to US $ 4000.

In Mauritius, the Indenture Labour Route Project, a highly academic venture is yet to take off, though having received the green signal from the Cabinet. The Rabindranath Tagore Institute too will be hosting in May 2017 an International Diaspora Conference. This will give local scholars the opportunity to assert their scholarship and intellectual vision in the field of Indian Diasporic Studies and Identity.

The Diasporic scholars and Researchers of the Caribbean countries including small communities of the French Indian Diaspora such as Guadeloupe are indeed very robust, dynamic, energetic and vibrant. It would be good to note that this is despite the fact that they avail of very little government support in their locations unlike the Indian community in Mauritius which benefits heavily from the support of Government for every venture. The Indians in the Caribbean countries and in South Africa have produced a good number of scholars and researchers and independent thinkers at University level and individual levels who are articulate, forthright in their views and statements without fear or favour. They are indeed very independent. They have produced a very rich array of academic materials, papers, books and journals that do them pride.

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