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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2737

Sri Lankan Diaspora Day A Worthwhile Proposition

Sunday Discourse by Philip Fernando in Los Angeles

Sri Lankan Diaspora grew exponentially over the last two decades. Nearly two million Sri Lankans now live outside their country of birth. Their influence is a felt increasingly in many areas. Sri Lankan student enrollment in schools and universities abroad has quadrupled during the last decade. We just inaugurated a faculty and student exchange program between ITI Chennai and Georgia State University.

Foreign exchange contributed by Sri Lankan expatriates in 2006 was $ 3.4 billion, according U N reports. Web sites run by the Diaspora are increasingly influential in drawing attention to a Sri Lankan point of view on a daily basis. Having a special Sri Lankan Diaspora Day every year has been proposed by many Sri Lankans. India’s example in having a successful Diaspora Day every year is the topic discussed here.

January 8th is “Indian Diaspora Day” for nearly 25 million Indians living abroad and is observed in a special way. It is reported that the day Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from his exile in South Africa falls on that day. India has emphasized the task of getting the Diaspora enthused in a variety of ways. Tapping the resources of the citizens of a country living abroad could be a worthwhile effort for promoting important events and needs. The best example of the Diaspora getting involved was when the Tsunami hit Sri Lanka in December 2006. Sri Lankan generosity was amply shown then. Sri Lankans in the Middle East, U K, France, Germany, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand contributed generously to help those affected by the Tsunami. Similar assistance could be sought whenever there is an urgent need for rehabilitation work in areas like the East recently won over from the LTTE control. The large domiciled Sri Lankan communities as well as those with resident work permits in the Middle East, and European countries like Germany, Italy, and France, Netherlands and Belgium as well as those in USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are a readily available avenue of help.

The recently concluded Diaspora Day for Indians known as “Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas” (PBD) on January 8 in New Delhi was a great success. This was the sixth year of the PBD that brought a sense of accomplishment and joy. Here they felt that the Diaspora was wanted not only for investments but as a source of strength to bolster the nationalistic fervor. Some even felt that these NRIs were pampered.

One purpose of the BPD according to the Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi was to bridge the gap between those living abroad and people back home.

The focus of this year's event was creating greater awareness about social issues, education and healthcare and the empowerment of rural women and children through microfinance. Investment guidelines to attract foreign capital were another goal there were over 6,506 development blocks in the country that could thus be serviced. The investment effort is headquartered in New Delhi and has charters in various states.

The main objective of these actives was to create an opportunity for people to interact and contribute through philanthropy apart from investments. The Sri Lankan Foundation headquartered in Los Angeles expressed its whole-hearted support for getting the Diaspora enthused about the idea of a Diaspora Day. Dr. Walter Jayasinghe, Head the prestigious Sri Lanka Foundation said that you have to take the very large number of Sri Lankans working in the Middle Easy as a major contributory source. It is rewarding to know how generously these workers help their motherland, he added. There are many other voluntary associations in the US working towards the goal of giving back generously to their motherland.

The Indian Diaspora day showed how the ordinary Indian living abroad made their presence felt. Another milestone was the idea of a People of Indian Origin University in which Indians from the lower strata living in other countries who might find it tough to provide good education to their children can send them to the University.

Voting rights and how to provide an easy way of getting people to vote was another idea. The availability of an Overseas Citizenship of India card has enabled overseas Indians holding foreign passports free access to the country and also gives them a lot of other benefits. As far as voting rights for people born in India and residing abroad is concerned, the proposal is still in its infancy. Sri Lanka has yet to plan a similar legal framework for allowing the exercise of the voting right.

Finally the need to protect the working Sri Lankans in the Middle East is a serious matter. India as studied this matter in order eliminate or lesson the hardships encountered by those working abroad. The situation is very similar to what the average Sri Lankan endures in the Middle East where the working conditions have to be assessed realistically.

Any steps taken for the betterment of people living abroad will in turn bring in greater degree of stability to their families depending on them. Conversely, their betterment will enable them to in turn help their folks at home.

As I write, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to Indian Diaspora to canalize their investment potential into development projects. Form a think-tank to pick their brains, Dr. Singh added.

He said that an India Development Foundation to serve as a “credible institutional mechanism to direct overseas Indian philanthropic propensities into human development efforts” was planned.

The proposed foundation — an autonomous non-profitable trust — would assist the overseas Indians in contributing for the development of education, health and infrastructure in their native villages, districts or States. It would partner with credible NGOs and philanthropic organizations to provide a strong public-private partnership bridge between the overseas Indians and the beneficiaries.

Dr. Singh announced the establishment of a Prime Minister’s Global Advisory Council of People of Indian Origin. It would comprise those recognized as leaders in their fields not only in their countries of residence but also globally. It would serve as a high-level platform for the Prime Minister to draw upon the experience and knowledge of the best Indian minds based anywhere in the world.

He, however, pointed out that the bulk of resources for the country’s development must come from within.

Describing the overseas Indians as “global citizens” of an inter-dependent and inter-connected world, he thanked the Indians in the U.S. for their efforts in mobilizing the support of the political leadership there for cooperation in civilian nuclear energy.

He said the security and welfare of Indians abroad was the priority of the country’s diplomatic missions. Community leaders must have better coordination with the missions to make them more responsive to the needs of the overseas Indians. The Indian Diaspora was a pluralistic community and they should inspire the world to live in peace with each other, despite diversities, he added.

- Asian Tribune -

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