Indian Diaspora and Issues

Indian Diaspora and Issues

This article deals with ‘Indian Diaspora and Issues – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is important pillar of GS-2 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

What is meant by Diaspora?

  • Indian Diaspora is a generic term 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. 
  • Diaspora is currently estimated to number over 26 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).


  • India has the second largest (first being China) Diaspora in the world.
  • The overseas Indian community estimated at over 26 million is spread across every major region in the world. The major concentration of Indian diaspora is in Middle East (11 Million) , U.S.A, U.K, Canada, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and South Africa respectively.
Indian Diaspora and Issues

Trends of Indian Diaspora

  • Overseas Indian community is the result of different waves of migration over hundreds of years driven by a variety of reasons-mercantilism, colonialism and globalization. 

Changing nature

  • British times => Indentured Labour to Fiji, Kenya, West Indies, Mauritius etc
  • In the last three decades of the 20th century the character of migration began to change and a ‘new Diaspora’ led by
    • High skilled professionals moving to the western world
    • Semi-skilled contract workers moving to the Gulf, West and South East Asia emerged.

View of Various leaders towards Diaspora

JL Nehru Although we want to maintain close relationship with Indian Diaspora but Diaspora should re-affirm their commitment to Country they are settled in and integrate themselves in that country
Present Since 2002 (since formation of Singhavi Committee) , Indian government has started to view Diaspora as their important asset which can help in foreign policy and safeguarding Indian interests abroad.

Earlier Government viewed Diaspora as burdensome & refused to help them in various crisis

  • 1964 Myanmar crisis when 3 lakh India businessmen expelled & their businesses nationalised
  • 1972 : When 70,000 Indians faced  persecution in Uganda by Idi Amin regime

Role of Indian Diaspora in development of country they are settled in

  • They have also contributed to the growth and development of the country of their residence. For example, Silicon Valley represents the success of Indians. 4 out of 10 startups in the region are Indian.
  • Becoming important part of Government and political establishments and helping in nation building  .
    • Canadian Government has 4 Ministers (including Defence Minister of Indian Origin)
    • More than dozen MPs in UK are of Indian origin
    • US representative to UN (Nikki Halley (Randhawa)) is of Indian Origin
    • Portugual PM Dr Coasta is of Indian (Goa) origin (he was Chief Guest at 2017 Pravasi Bhartiya Divas held in Bangaluru)
    • Leo Varadkar – Former Ireland PM

How they help India

They help Home Country ie India in various ways. Instances are 

  • It is the source of large inflows of remittances, which has been helping balance the current account. According to the World Bank Indian diaspora sends highest amount of remittances back home (followed by China)
  • During Indo-US Nuclear Deal, US Indians played part in lobbying for India
  • Many Indians invest in philanthropic activities back in India especially in their AlmaMater
  • Mauritian President is generally of Indian Origin and always act as important ally in Indian Ocean. China has not been able to make deep inroads in Mauritius .
  • They are investing in Indian . States to which they belong try to woo them . Eg : Punjab organises Progressive Punjab Summit and Punjabi NRIs are given special invitation for doing investments
  • Help to re-develop after disasters . Eg :
    • Kerala Diaspora helped Kerala during 2018 floods
    • UAE government proposed to give ₹700 crore to Kerala recognising the contribution of Keralites in building UAE & their importance in country and economy

Remittances send by Indians 

Remittances : World Bank Ranking

India 72 (billion $)
China 64
Philippines 30
Mexico 22
Nigeria 21

Major Issues

  • Dual Citizenship: Majority of Indian diaspora want to retain their Indian citizenship along with the citizenship of the country of their residence.
  • Customs and Immigration Official Issues : The commonest grievance of the Diaspora is the ill treatment, harassment and the demands for illegal gratification it encounters at the hands of our customs and immigration officials at the points of entry.
  • Threat to their employment (Nitaqat Law): It is aims to replacing a large section of overseas workers with locals in Saudi Arabia. Because of this, overseas workers from Kerala, TN etc. affected.
  • Threat to their security by IS: In view of the recent cases of violence in the Middle East, there has emerged a new threat the very security of oversees workers in the region. For example, the recent kidnapping of Indian workers by IS group.
  • Evacuation from War Zones : Explained Below

Side Topic : Evacuation of Indians

  • Various Evacuations done by Government till now
2016 Sankat Mochan From South Sudan (Civil War going on in South Sudan)
2015 Raahat Yemen (Civil War between Government and Houthi Rebels )
2011 Op Safe Home Coming Libya (Civil War after Arab Spring)
2006 Sukoon Lebanon
1990 ——- From Kuwait (Airlift movie made on this)

Do we need Evacuation Policy / Doctrine

  • India has conducted more than 30 evacuation operations across Africa, Asia, and Europe, including its largest-ever civilian airlift of 110,000 people from the Persian Gulf in 1990. However , India does not have a comprehensive evacuation policy to evacuate Indian stranded in conflict zone.

Why We need Evacuation Policy

  • US, UK, and the NATO have institutionalised Non-Combatant Evacuation operations (NEO) doctrine. Among the developing countries, Brazil too has institutionalised a standard operating procedure (SOP).
  • India has more than 25 million strong Diaspora and in that  11 million Indians are in West Asia which is becoming unstable with growth of ISIS   
  • Fast Reaction : Whenever such situation arives, Government and Officials can take steps at earliest to save Life of Indians.
  • Will establish clear chain of command and in case of failure , responsibility can be properly expressed

How to make and what it can include

  • Take lessons from  India’s  previous Evacuation Operations  and best practices  along with Evacuation Plans of US, UK, NATO etc
  • India’s diplomatic cadre must be given specific training to operate in hostile environments. 
  • Assign a greater role to its armed forces, in particular by strengthening the Navy and Air Force’s capacity to operate in tandem with civilian authorities. 
  • Government must establish a permanent civil reserve air fleet that pools aircraft from all Indian airlines based on pre-established requisition and reimbursement process.
  • Invest in new technologies to better monitor the diaspora’s profile and mobility

Steps Taken

  • India setup Dr LM Singhavi Committee (High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora)  in 2002 which gave various recommendations. (Almost all steps taken by the Government are based on this report like starting Pravasi Bhartiya Divas , giving more importance to Diaspora etc

  • For giving special focus to the issues pertaining to the Indian diaspora, the government set up a dedicated Ministry of oversees Indian affairs in 2004. It provides all round services to the diaspora. (Again merged with External Ministry. Retrograde step)
  • Government has started, since 2003, the organization of Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas, to mark the contribution of the overseas Indian community to the development of India. 
  • The government has launched various social security schemes for Indian diaspora living abroad, like
    • Pravasi Bhartiya Bima Yojana, 2006
  • Skilling for Foreign Jobs
    • Swarnapravas Yojana : focuses on skill development of Indians  who want to go abroad  in select sectors that face skill shortages in the international labor market, and increase their employability  
    • Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana : PKVY has exclusive program to train Indians seeking jobs abroad which train them in suitable skill sets 
  • Various online platforms for Diaspora
    • MADAD App : To help NRIs in distress relating to work permit, visa , employer issue
    • E-Migrate Portal : Recruiting Agents have to register here
  • Schemes to know about India  and their roots
    • Know India Programme was launched as a three-week Orientation programme for diaspora youth (aged 18 to 30) conducted with a view to promote awareness on different facets of life in India and the progress made by the country in various fields (latest such program conducted in Dec 2017) .
    • Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs is running a scheme known as “Tracing the Roots” to facilitate PIOs in tracing their roots in India.
  • Oversees Citizenship of India Scheme (OCI): The Scheme provides for benefits comparable to citizens in certain fields, like in economic and education fields etc. PIO Card was merged with OCI Scheme as well
  • State level initiatives : States like Punjab with huge diaspora have started NRI police stations and NRI Sabha to deal with cases and issues of NRIs.

What more can be done

  • To ensure that Diaspora members feel welcomed on their arrival in India and also recall warmly their visits, a friendlier reception at their point of entry; easier procedures for immigration and customs clearances that are marked by courteous service are essential
  • To address the problems of our overseas blue-collar workers, following should be implemented at the earliest possible.
    • Establishing a welfare fund for repatriated overseas workers in distress;
    • Monitoring and supervision of both the employment contracts, and conditions of our overseas workers by our Missions;
    • Launching compulsory insurance schemes covering the risks faced by our overseas workers;
  • Diaspora can make a significant contribution to the growth of tourism in India. PIOs make frequent visits to their home state or  their relatives. There should be greater focus on promoting tourism among 2nd generation PIOs.
  • Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Indian Diaspora could be constituted.This Committee could also act as a focal point for interaction with Parliamentarians of Indian Origin in other countries. Such exchanges are essential in order to bring about greater understanding and amity between them. 
  • Giving Voting Rights to Indians living abroad . Procedure through which it can be done like e-ballot or on Indian Consular office etc can be debated

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