Tag Archives: citizenship

The Non-Redundant Indian

5 May

This piece was originally published in this month’s issue of India Currents magazine.

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As a keen follower of Indian politics and the upcoming national elections, and someone who is very active on social media year-round, I have lately been confronted by an interesting phenomenon: The tendency of resident Indians to a) diss NRIs and render them irrelevant by virtue of not residing in the country anymore, and b) actively criticize and debar them from having an opinion about their home country. The logic: You left, therefore you have no right to a voice. So that you understand exactly what I mean, here is a sampling of comments about non-resident Indians by people ostensibly living in India:

NRI types who would go out on a limb for foreign citizenship are the first to invoke patriotism.” (This tweet has been retweeted 15 times and favorite 4 times, so clearly others share this sentiment.)

No one will give you more concerned perceptive and farsighted advises (sic) on how India should be ruled than a NRI who has no plans to return ever!” (7 retweets and 6 favorites.)

All these NRI types vote for Modi, they’re the ones funding him, and we’re left to suffer.” (125 comments on Facebook, of which 83 were in agreement with the sentiment.)

Nasty comments and raging debates on Facebook apart, I and several of my fellow NRIs sense a thinly-veiled resentment directed toward us. Past what may or may not be jealousy of about perceived better living standards, or a residual sense of abandonment, there is the not-so-subtle accusation of betrayal and it scowls “You left.”

Let’s get some basic facts first: Of the 22 million Indians living outside India, at least 10 million still hold an Indian passport. Remittances to India totaled to $70 billion at last count, amounting to 4% of the country’s GDP. Yes, NRIs fund political parties they believe in. And yet, how many Indians in India do you know who would do the same? If you think being an NRI is all political money talk, think again: more than 50% of the funding for India’s top education nonprofit comes from the US, Indians abroad work beyond their full time jobs to actively volunteer for causes back home that range from education to disability to maternal health issues. I am likely to be an exception in that I volunteer for no less than 4 nonprofits working in India. But working right alongside me are Indians who have been here anywhere between 5 and 35 years. Those who form part of the “stop complaining and get it done brigade”. Those who put their money where their mouth is and ensure that millions can access the basic rights that we enjoy in our new countries—ones that successive governments have failed to provide Indians. For this, we are not even given our basic right to vote through consulates, and have to either spend on flying ourselves down to do it— a very expensive proposition, and not always logistically possible—or watch in silence as our country goes to polls and our voices are deemed irrelevant.

I have been on both sides of this apparent divide. As someone who has spent 5-year chunks of time in the US and then India and now the US again, I have been witness to plenty of non-resident Indians and Indian non-residents, a term I used to describe the many people encountered who complain loudly about the state of affairs, won’t move a finger to change them, and, while physically present in the country, won’t even bother to visit a polling booth. “What’s going to change,” I am defiantly asked, and labeled a sentimental fool for hoping.

When it comes to chowing down the latest New Zealand rack of lamb recipe that costs the equivalent of the working class’ monthly paycheck or going berserk at the Zara sale, plenty of Indians will be the first to declare that with the world going global now, it doesn’t matter where we live. Why then this discrimination against those who choose for whatever reason to live away from their homeland? Our money is gladly accepted, Indian-origin celebrities and achievers are proudly touted by the motherland as one of their own, but when it comes to having an opinion about the country we grew up in, we’re suddenly pariahs? It is all very convenient to declare oneself a global citizen and then deny a fellow Indian the right to a voice about his/her country based on their location—rest assured it reeks of hypocrisy.

One argument against non-resident Indians is that we are unaware of the ground realities by virtue of being physically removed from them. This is certainly true of some part of the NRI population. It is also equally true of some part of the resident Indian population. But in this age of global connectivity, instant news updates, round-the-clock media, and Twitter frenzy, the premise does not hold true anymore. Gone are the days when we would land in India after a span of several years, only to find we were serious misfits and the country of our birth was unrecognizable to us. More than ever, with the first generation Indian migrant population ballooning, especially in places like Silicon Valley, service providers, both Indian and local, have worked toward bringing the land into our homes on a daily basis. Our passports are perceived as unavoidable inconveniences, temporary pit-stops on the way to other colored ones, and our very nationality is questioned for our audacity in getting on a plane out of the country.

Over the last decade, there have been waves of NRIs returning to their home country, not just to visit, but to establish roots and make a life where they started theirs. There are others who divide their time between lands. Whether we choose to return or stay on, our cultural and emotional connection is, believe it or not, stronger than the iron-clad US immigration system, and no, we don’t all come down in droves every December to whine about smog and dug-up footpaths and the myriad failures of state that seem to especially embarrass you in our presence. Our ties to India are primarily emotional. Almost all first-generation Indians still have some family there, and, as is human, we worry about their safety, comfort, and peace, as they worry about ours each time there is a mass threat. The sheer number of phone plans and calling cards and now video conferencing options are testimony to our efforts to remain connected to our loved ones, and the land of our birth and heart.

It is time our opinions are heard and considered—if only for the unique perspectives we bring from being exposed to various governance systems around the world. We live in 205 countries and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. We have learned to discard that sense of entitlement that many in our old home still carry, and build lives and families and meaningful existences in all corners of the globe, while a piece of our heart remains where you live. No Indian, resident or otherwise, has the right—moral or legal—to tell another their opinion is irrelevant. If we are to raise India to new heights, and truly make her an equal, competent world player, can we really afford to discount 22 million of her people?

 

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Together

24 Jul

At the beginning of this month, I announced an unusual ‘giveaway’, where we were jointly involved in contributing and none of you knew who the recipient(s) would be. To my base pledge of $50, I would add $1 for every comment received on this post.

67 unique visitors to that post left their comment (one squeaking past the midnight deadline by 5 minutes 😉 ) and together, we raised $117. Sadly, 80% (yes, you read that right) of the unique visitors to that page chose not to share our enthusiasm, and I can only hope it was a logistical issue vs. one of attitude.

Why did I open this up to everyone when I could have quietly slipped my check in the mail, you ask? Why did I invite people from the blogosphere to share, knowing there would be some cynics, naysayers and indifferent folk? Put it down to a case of chronic optimism. Of knowing that it may be my money, but I need it to be OUR attitude. As much as I dislike being preachy and usually save my rather strong views on citizenship for other spaces, I know that alone, I am merely one person contributing to another’s life. Together, that effect multiplies manifold. You may not dash out with your checkbook or sign up to build stacks of sandwiches for the homeless just because of this small effort. You may already be doing things far greater than I will ever dream of. The money you may have raised for worthwhile causes will very likely have exceeded this humble amount we have gathered. But if I got you to think–for even a minute–about sharing yourself with the world, planted a seed about doing something similar or paying it forward in other ways, I’m going to bring out my giant feathered boa and do the chicken dance in circles. (No, I’m not ridiculous in the least, why do you ask?)

Our $117 will be pledged to Ummeed Child Development Center in Bombay, India. The stellar multidisciplinary team at Ummeed (consisting of physicians, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, mental health counselors, special educators, caseworkers, etc.) works to serve the needs of children with disabilities across all economic strata. Not only do they work with existing disabilities, they work toward early identification and remedial measures, since disability is a gradient. Nobody is turned away for their inability to pay, and a sliding scale based on income helps families give what they’re comfortable paying. Autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, mental retardation, emotional/behavioral concerns, attention deficit disorder, and occupational and speech disorders are among a wide range of disabilities they assess and assist. Inclusion is a goal, as they aim to integrate children of all abilities into the social mainstream. Ummeed serves the needs of thousands of families in my home city that have nowhere else to turn. Try this statistic for size: One therapist can comfortably manage a caseload of 35 clients. In the city of Bombay, a megapolis where levels of healthcare far exceed the rest of the country, there are 500 children with disabilities per available therapist. The need exists acutely, yet funding is hard to come by.

I have worked for Ummeed in the past. Some of my closest friends continue to serve there. Which is why I have an insider’s view of a truly wonderful organization that has, for the past 12 years, been the ‘ummeed’ (hope) of so many families.

Thank you for visiting my blog, for joining in, for inspiring me with your comments, and for being the vocal 20% that acted to make a difference.

Together is better. Together, we’re better. Give yourselves a round of applause. And now jump in for a group hug! 😀