October is the month for the Annual Meetings of the World Bank/IMF, held this year in Marrakesh in Morocco. It is also the time when key reports on global economic and financial health are published.
Our young men and women migrating to other countries should not be looked upon as a brain drain, which has hitherto been the term used to describe the overseas residence of Indians.
The term Indian Diaspora is a generic one to describe the people who migrated from territories that are currently within the borders of the Republic of India. It also refers to their descendants.
The Diaspora is currently estimated to number over twenty million, composed of NRIs (Indian citizens not residing in India) and PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin who have acquired the citizenship of some other country).
It covers practically every part of the world and numbers more than a million each in eleven countries, while as many as twenty-two countries have concentrations of at least a hundred thousand ethnic Indians.
The very substantial Indian Diaspora has played an important role in promoting India’s interests abroad and act as its unnamed ambassadors. This is more so in the fields of culture, education, economic development, health and arts.
Indians have emerged as leaders in areas like information technology and largely contribute in this. Above all this community can help India by investing in Indian industry and infrastructure to encourage its economic growth. Many use the phrase “brain drain” to bemoan the flight of India’s talent and calibre to the developed countries of the West. But this fear of a brain drain is misguided.
The fact is that a brain sitting in an uncongenial environment can drain away faster than if it goes to a stimulating interference-free environment abroad. It is decades of Nehruvian socialism which forced the best brains to migrate abroad.
The critics seldom appreciated that the emigrants went because of paucity of career scope in India at the time. It is therefore, futile to cling to the outdated notion of emigration being a brain drain. On the contrary, the process should be encouraged as one of service to the world. In the past we often approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for loans and were grateful for obtaining them. Indian institutions still borrow from the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, which are subsidiaries.
Getting a loan is welcomed but the arrival of immigrants is often seen as infiltration by the host countries. What is required by a modern organized world is a procedure whereby migration is seen as export and import.
It should be welcomed by the receiving country and equally satisfactory to the country whose citizens emigrate. Otherwise, unhappiness must result. Such a procedure already exists in a number of, shall we say, importing countries. Canada, for instance issues a list every year as to the kind of qualified or experienced people the country needs during the following twelve months.
The applicants are duly interviewed and those found suitable proceed. One does not hear of hassles thereafter. The immigrants also do not face any problems in Canada. Several of my relatives have migrated to Australia, New Zealand, the U.S.A., apart from Canada.
About a decade ago I came across the case of a niece and her family, a total of five.
They had obtained a resident visa in a country in the far east. This was good enough for the five to settle in the new country for good. One afternoon suddenly she phoned me from Mumbai that their passports had got stuck, most possibly in Delhi.
After a number of inquiries for some twelve days, they were found in the embassy visa office of the country from where they were sent to Mumbai post haste. This was a genuine case of delay but a travel agent later told me that if offered for sale, that set of five passports would attract a price of up to rupees 20 lakh.
That was ten years ago. Touts hang around the embassies of a number of popular countries, attractive from the viewpoint of migration.
Those opportunists who do not have much money and are keen to emigrate, resort to paying the touts three or four lakh rupees, which enables their entry into a foreign country sans passports, visas or any documents.
This is nothing but the crass equivalent of smuggling.
Little wonder they create heartburns between strict immigration departments and the visitors, not always as hard as customs barriers for goods coming in as imports. It is seldom realized that infiltration is far more serious than smuggling of goods.
The former should be seen as an invasion; for infiltrators are unlikely to perish soon and are likely to procreate. In such an event, they could prove to be perpetual and not perishable or consumable like goods.
The emigrant, after being well settled in his new country, should gradually turn into an envoy or ambassador. Supposing he or she is an Indian and he and his family conduct themselves well in the new country, they would make India be perceived as a good country of good people.
No doubt, equally if they misbehave, pick up fights, steal their neighbour’s possessions, they would earn a bad name for India, which could be difficult to erase. A bad message goes much farther and endures longer than a good deed.
That is why the home country’s foreign affairs department should take care to train or briefly educate their citizens before issuing passports to them.
Similarly, before issuing a visa the embassy of the country to be visited should briefly acquaint the visitor with the essential do’s and don’ts of its culture.
Training and education in the local language should be much more thorough for visitors proceeding for a long or permanent residence, than for a quick, casual tourist.
From this the point can also be made that population is not uniformly distributed across the different counties of the world. Migration therefore, is necessary whereby the thickly peopled countries could send some of their citizens to the thinly populated places like for example, Scandinavia and Russia.
There is a general impression that Europe is thinly populated whereas Asia is densely peopled. This may not be so everywhere; for example, Holland has far many more people per square kilometer than India. But many an Indian would be ready to migrate there because of its level of prosperity.
The key factor should be whether the country targeted has economic potential and whether its population is declining, steady or increasing.
Russia should be an attractive proposition except that its culture is unfamiliar to Indians and the country is reputed to be extremely cold. For Muslims, north Africa stretching from Libya in the east to Morocco in the west may be attractive. Japan’s population is declining despite a significant number of its citizens having crossed a hundred years in age. But the country has a strict immigration policy.
Oceania namely Australia and New Zealand have a great deal of space although they follow a procedure similar to Canada’s.
The Scandinavian countries are advanced countries but it is a moot point what they must have been like in the preelectricity decades. Half the year would have been more winter and the other half more summer.
That is why Norway is called the land of the midnight sun. With the progress of time and technology, Siberia may offer much greater economic potential.
The Indian Diaspora is the most integrative anywhere, and yet does not seek to aggressively and fundamentally alter the host country’s culture and way of life. If anything, it only enhances and enriches it.
The West fears the growing number of West Asian migrants within its borders. For example, in Switzerland, they demanded special Islamic facilities like eternal graves; each burial to be exclusive on a spot. But Indians are welcome everywhere and are looked upon as role models, especially in the matter of family and cultural values.
More significantly, India enjoys a kind of soft power image that even China, despite its long monocultural history, does not have.
For example, the Chinese language has not penetrated even a single one of China’s neighbours, whereas Sanskrit is venerated universally. So is the case with the Bhagwad Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Yoga, Ayurveda, et al.
The writer is an author, thinker and former Member of Parliament.