Indian nationals who were stranded in Singapore wait to board buses for a quarantine centre at Mumbai International Airport after being evacuated | PTI
Indian nationals who were stranded in Singapore wait to board buses for a quarantine centre at Mumbai International Airport after being evacuated | PTI
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While India is slowly globalising, Indians became global much earlier. Indians reached foreign shores in colonial times, and now have grown to 17.5 million people abroad — the largest diaspora in the world. If you include people of Indian origin as well, then that number becomes 31 million — from Hong Kong to Canada and from New Zealand to Sweden. However, the coronavirus pandemic could now bring this long dispersion of Indian people around the world to a sudden halt.

Indian migration has been driven first by economic reasons and then by family unification. More recently, students from India have flocked to universities around the world. But now the coronavirus pandemic is closing borders in country after country, and forcing large migrant populations to return to their home countries. The flow of Indians around the world is reversing with grave consequences. Lives will be disrupted, economies impacted, and remittances diminished greatly. The world, which seemed so open to us Indians, may well be shutting its doors on us.


Also read: The world needs more immigration after the pandemic, not less


The migration of Indians

The colonial practice of sending indentured labourers to work on plantations around the British Empire created pockets of Indians in many countries. However, the Indian overseas community really gathered pace in the last 50 years, driven by migration to the Gulf countries, doctors and professionals going to the US, and students pursuing their education outside India. The community has been studied and written about extensively. It has been the subject of countless books, movies, and TV series. Overseas Indians have excelled in every domain, becoming: prime ministers, senators, MPs, billionaires, CEOs, movie stars, writers, scientists, cricket captains, and so on.

In the 1960s, when opportunities opened up in the US and the UK, particularly for medical professionals first and then engineers, many Indians migrated. After the Y2K scare and once the Indian IT services companies mastered the use of the H-1B visa, engineers migrated to the US in vast numbers. With rising affluence in India and liberal foreign exchange rules, students also started going to the US and UK in large numbers. There are now over four million people of Indian origin in the US alone, of which over 500,000 are students. The same migration pattern has been repeated in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well.

The Gulf migration has been different since it has included both white collar and blue collar Indians. By some estimates, there are over eight million Indians living in the various Gulf countries. More than 2.5 million Keralites are now working in the Gulf. Unfortunately, Indians in the Gulf have found it more difficult to assimilate and become citizens.


Also read: US curbs could see 200,000 H-1B workers, many of them Indians, lose legal status by June

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Disrupted lives

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the lives of overseas Indians massively. First, many Indians have lost their jobs or are worried about losing their jobs. There are lakhs of Indians in the US, the UK, Singapore, Australia, Canada who will have to leave their host country and return to India if they are not employed. Similarly, in the Gulf countries there are already over 300,000 people seeking to return to India since they have lost their jobs.

Second, everyday travel has been disrupted by the pandemic. Indians have been used to traveling back and forth to the mother country seamlessly. Parents visit their children in foreign lands and help in looking after their grandchildren. Most students travel home once or twice a year. All these routine trips have stopped and there is no certainty when international flights will resume.


Also read: Foreign dream will have to wait as Covid-19 layoffs in US cast shadow on IIT, IIM placements


The question of belonging

Finally, diaspora Indians are not sure where they and their children belong. Those who are still Indian citizens and do not have permanent resident status are doubtful if they can stay on in their countries if they lose their jobs. Those Indians who have switched citizenship and become overseas citizens of India, find that they can be stopped from traveling to India at any point. Most students typically expect that they will be able to find jobs after they finish their degrees in their host countries. With far fewer jobs available and universities switching to online learning, students are rethinking their long-term goals.

India is fortunate to have such a large and successful community abroad. We gain from their many contributions in terms of knowledge transfer, investments, and political support. They are India’s best ambassadors. Most importantly, they contribute more in terms of remittances (some $83 billion in 2019) than we typically get through FPI inflows ($16 billion in 2019) and FDI ($49 billion in 2019) combined. Now these remittances are at risk, which may well create additional challenges for our economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended many aspects of Indian society. We have taken our global migrations and our vast overseas community as being an unshakeable part of our world. Much of what we do – from education to business to movies – is built around an open, welcoming world. With that world appearing to be closing down, it seems that our diaspora too may be facing existential risks.

The author is the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Finance in Parliament and a Lok Sabha MP from Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. Views are personal.

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10 Comments Share Your Views

10 COMMENTS

      • Raaj: As long as Hindutva is an invariant in the BJP ideology, there are no other choices left for the government.

    • Chhotebahi: Well, Jayant Sinha, the garlander of murderous gaurakshaks has no solutions simply because he too is a proponent of violent Hindutva. You can’t promote Hindutva in India and expect other nations to laud the country for tolerance towards minorities.

      The bottomline is: India is going to pay heavily for the bigoted ideology of hate called Hindutva that the BJP espouses.

  1. The blatantly anti-Muslim policies and the humiliation and persecution of Muslims in India that have been the hallmark of the Modi government over the past six years and which nasty projects are being carried out even more rigorously today behind the veil of lockdown vis a vis Corona pandemic, have already done enormous damage to the hitherto very positive image that India had the world over. As such, we are left with no choice but to bear the repercussions that will ensue now. If only Mr Jayant Sinha had thought twice before indulging in his base pleasure of Muslim hatred by audaciously garlanding the criminals involved in the act of lynching of a Muslim man, and who were out on bail that was granted to them favourably. But alas ! The consequences will have to be borne by the “aam Indian aadmi”; be it in India or in foreign countries, where they work. The ministers like Jayant Sinha can still keep themselves engaged in their favourite occupation of divisive and Muslim-bashing politics.

    • Mr Murtada: You do hit the nail on the head Sir !

      Mr Jayant Sinha may have surely understood that his overt garlanding of thuggish, cold-blooded killers of innocent Muslims invited a lot of flak and was not a clever thing to do. I guess, he will never garland them in public. He must have learnt at least that much in Harvard! But the question one needs to pose is:

      “Have the man’s attitudes to such horrendous crimes on his own brethren changed?”

      My answer is NO.

      The Jayant Sinha’s of the world are cunning, wily politicians of the most cold-hearted sort. After all, Mr Sinha, like his boss PM Modi has not exhorted the Hindu fringe to stop these barbaric activities has he ? And in any case, the RSS, the actual alma mater of Mr Sinha and his BJP ilk does not exactly preach tolerance, respect and love to Indian who do not happen to be upper-caste Hindus does it ?

      The gaurakshak garlanding faux pas may have chastened Mr Sinha. But I doubt he emerges as a chaste man.

  2. It is indeed mind-boggling that it is only now that former Union Minister Jayant Sinha realises the importance of remittances from Indians abroad and the vital role these remittances play in shoring up India’s economy. And an economy that was in the doldrums long before the COVID crisis struck.

    But Mr Sinha seems to have forgotten his own nasty role in making life difficult for Indian migrants, particularly in the Middle-East. Whilst Mr Sinha’s Islamophobia and hatred for Indian Muslims is in keeping with the BJP’s and the PM’s poorly concealed dislike of Muslims, Mr Sinha’s demonstrates his hatred rather visibly. In fact, he actually appreciates and lauds violence against innocent Muslims. Yes, Harvard “educated” Jayant Sinha garlanded* and distributed sweets to 8 gaurakshaks who were convicted in the lynching and murder of Alimuddin Ansari (RIP) in Ramgarh in 2017. Bizarrely, our Harvard hero defended** his actions claiming that he was “honouring the law” !!!

    The reader might ask: What has this to do with NRIs ?

    Well, it turns out that the BJP’s Islamophobia could have adverse economic consequences for India. Following a spate of such naked violence against Muslims and a flurry of incendiary and insulting anti-Muslim statements from BJP intellectuals like Tejaswi Surya, Jayant Sinha, Amit Shah, violent saffronistas like Adityanath, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and assorted Hindutva missing links, many Islamic countries have started to take notice. So much so, that Foreign Minister Jaishankar had to intervene recently and reach out to his counterparts in the Middle-East, assuring them that India would not discriminate against Muslims in the provision of medical aid and food to its Muslims citizens.

    Exacerbating matters are the raucous overseas BJP supporters – such as the Indian People’s Forum (IPF) in the Gulf and their closet Islamophobia – which sometimes spills out of their closets. And some of these idiots do manage to get themselves expelled from the Gulf for making crude anti-Islamic posts.

    Indeed, some of my own friends and relatives in the Middle-East have found the behaviour of BJP Ministers and the violent anti-Muslim sentiments they stoke in India not only deeply embarrassing but also a threat to their employment. As a niece of mine who holds a niche white collar job in a British firm in the UAE put it: “There are signs that my firm would be encouraged to hire Egyptians or Pakistanis because some Indians are unprofessional and flaunt their Hindutva ideas to the workplace ”.

    Mr Jayant Sinha should realise that according to the World Bank, 56% of India’s 2017 remittances which were a whopping USD 68.96 Billions came from Islamic countries***. Indian migrants in the Middle East, particularly those engaged in blue collar professions are vital to the Indian economy as they remit a higher fraction of their earnings than white collear workers. Indian blue collar workers can be easily replaced by Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Somalis etc. Thus, deploying Hindutva the crude, fascist, disgusting and deadly anti-Muslim ideology of Savarkar, Golwalkar and the RSS not only jeopardises the livelihoods of these blue collar workers, it also threatens India’s already moribund economy.

    When senior Ministers like Mr Jayant Sinha garland convicted murderers, the world takes notice.

    REFERENCES
    * bit.ly/3c2Hz6Y

    **bit.ly/2zpLv4x

    ***bit.ly/3esO7NT

    • diaspora contribution is being appreciated now so far they were target for loot immigration , custom officials at airport police and taxi drivers enroute to homes etc.. real predators. why did Indian students go abroad even to non-descriptive universities,. when Govt bunched race horses with donkeys to improve donkeys performance, it is race horses who got impaired and had to leave shores . with privatization of education it became out of reach of middle class Foreign universities offered attractive terms including course tweaked to Indian universities at much lower cost .. The LOOTyens rulers still did not understood . now in cities u have beds for corona infected but no doctors as it is third class doctors who are mostly in Govt hospitals

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