I once heard an interesting story during one of the official visits abroad as part of a high-level delegation. The story was narrated by a retired political leader of Indian origin. Several years ago, in one of the closed-door multilateral meetings (with representatives of a number of countries), the representative of India’s western neighbour made some very derogatory but false reference to India. Then-Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was in the meeting did not raise his flag for a right of reply, but leaders from three other countries raised their respective flags and gave a satisfactory and comprehensive response. After the meeting, the three leaders approached Atalji and enquired why he had not responded to the anti-India remarks. Atalji gave a classic response and said, ‘Mother India has many sons (and daughters) to defend her honour’.
Over the last few months, I have often written about the contribution of the Indian diaspora to the efforts being made in India to fight the onslaught of Covid-19. Mother India’s children, living outside their motherland, have not been idle during this fight. I was in London at the beginning of the pandemic. Soon after the lockdown in the UK, I received a call from my doctor. An excellent physician, with roots in Gujarat, he wanted my help to link up researchers from Imperial College of UK with the concerned experts in the Indian Council of Medical Research to enable collaboration and sharing of information between the UK and India. I have already written about the role of BAPIO and Indian community organisations.
Given the quick upsurge of Covid cases in the second wave in India and the consequent distress, the Indian diaspora has come forward to assist the efforts being made in India against the pandemic. The Confederation of British Industries, under the leadership of its Chairman, Lord Karan Bilimoria, has also joined forces with these efforts. The CBI has been rallying UK businesses and trade associations to support Indian companies, in pursuit of ‘ensuring a resilient global recovery’. It in touch with a number of companies and trade associations who are showing an interest in joining the overall effort, just as they did in the UK throughout the crisis. He said that the CBI’s goal is to help amplify the overall response, and make it relevant and focused to address the needs in India. CBI is also working with the British Asian Trust in this effort.
Indians have been sailing across the seas over centuries. Evidence has been found of the trade from the Indus Valley and Harappan civilization in distant lands. Lord Gautam Buddha’s message was spread as far away as Japan. Hinduism spread to Southeast Asia about 2000 years ago through Indian traders who traded across the seas. The Pallava and Chola empires of southern India played an important role in spreading Indian culture to Southeast Asia. The navy of the Chola dynasty was a strong maritime and diplomatic force across Asia and at its peak, was Asia's largest navy, with blue-water capabilities, and is said to have had a personnel strength of a million men. In more recent times, Indians were taken across the oceans as indentured labour to faraway lands, from Fiji in the east to Guyana and Suriname in the west. In modern times, Indians have migrated in search of greener pastures. Throughout history, Indians seem to have moved across the globe for business, work or simply for a better life. Today, the Indian diaspora has a strong presence all over the world.
In the UK, the Indian diaspora constitutes the “living bridge” that links the two countries through a constant flow of positive energy. A report by Grant Thornton UK brought out in 2020, in collaboration with the High Commission of India and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), found that the 650 companies with turnover of over £100,000 that were researched, were generating a cumulative annual turnover of £36.84 billion and together, provided jobs for more than 174,000 people in the UK.
It is this global diaspora that was described by Atalji as the ‘children of Mother India’. Whichever part of the world they may call home, they look towards India for cultural and spiritual roots. And no matter how many generations separate them from their mother country, a majority of them still feel the suffering of their brethren in India. It is this sentiment that is driving these supportive efforts.
India is stronger for its diaspora, strong and rooted to their cultural heritage.