As far as mega events go, this did not invoke much excitement or attention. Yet, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which has just concluded, is meant to examine the potential and problems of India’s vast diaspora, most notably its migrant workers in other countries. Year after year, this event is hosted by the ministry of overseas Indian affairs.
If we do hear of it, it is about the rich NRIs who grace the occasion. They are generally feted by our leaders, their words listened to with rapt attention. It is a different matter that most of them are unwilling to put any money into projects in India and we cannot blame them for this.
Stories of rampant corruption and red tape, which hamper setting up businesses, are enough to drive off even the most patriotic and courageous. In the past, we have seen the government hyperventilating over the prospect of industrialists like Lakshmi Mittal investing in India. But canny businessmen like Mr Mittal think very carefully before committing their money to a system that is not exactly conducive to business.
This year, the minister for overseas Indians affairs has actually decided to take up an issue that directly concerns India’s most loyal pravasis, those who actually send their earnings back home month after month — those in the Gulf.
They are worthy of much greater attention from the government as their savings pooled together make up the bulk of remittances flowing into India. And they are the most neglected. Recently, we saw the heartrending plight of a young widow with three children who has been trying for seven months to get back the body of her husband who fell from the roof of a construction site in the Gulf. So far, no one has come to her aid. The plight of many workers in the Gulf is pitiful.
Yet, the government, which breathed fire and brimstone over the ill-treatment of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, seems to be totally apathetic to their plight. They are often stranded in the Gulf doing menial jobs after being promised white collar ones. Touts prey on them even before they leave India. In Kerala, a huge catchment area for Gulf pravasis, many have come home to penury with nothing to show for their labours in poorly paid jobs in the Gulf.
There should be some scheme to find them gainful employment, but they are usually left to their own devices. The more well-off NRIs in the West may have an emotional connect with India, but they don’t necessarily come home as the Gulf ones do. So, while pondering over a theme for the next pravasi divas, maybe the minister in charge could spare a thought for the small pravasi who keeps the remittance economy running.