India's Diaspora Policy: Evolution, Challenges and Prospects


The Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT), organised its irst lecture of ‘Distinguished Lecture Series’ on April 21, 2012 at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. The lecture was delivered by Ambassador J.C. Sharma, former Member Secretary, High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora on the topic ‚India's Diaspora Policy: Evolution, Challenges and Prospects‛. Dr. Smita Tiwari, JMI, New Delhi and Kamala Kanta Dash, Research Scholar Monash University, Australia were the discussants of the lecture. The programme started with the welcome address by Kshipra Uke, Joint Secretary of GRFDT followed by an introduction about GRFDT and about Shri J.C. Sharma. Ambassador J.C. Sharma began his lecture with a relevant observation that the academic studies on diaspora have not yet made adequate progress due to lack of multidisciplinary approach to the subject. He said that the Indian diaspora policy making faced tremendous challenges since beginning, the reason being that the policy had to deal with diverse groups of Indian emigrants across the globe. Providing a comprehensive history of the various waves of Indian emigration since 1834 till date, he detailed the subsequent diaspora policies of India, stretching from preindependence to postindependence in response to the needs of the speciic point of time. He analysed various policies in detail, especially, how the initial policy on indenture labourers neglected the Indian emigrants’ interests and the resultant debate among the Indian national leaders who stood agagainst that exploitative system of recruitment; how various post-independent Indian governments dealt with the issues afecting Indian emigrants at diferent parts of the world including Tamils in Burma and Srilanka, Indians in East Africa             and Caribbean, for instance. He discussed the inluence of post- 1973 oil boom and the economic reforms in India in 1990s upon the aspiring emigrants and their emigration pattern and how the diaspora policy of India became a ‘remittances centric’ since. To him, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) governments’ policy characterised a complete paradigm shift as they adopted a diferent take on diaspora policy based on the ideology of ‘cultural nationalism’ and the issue of dual citizenship was addressed in their election manifesto. Later period witnessed a multitude of policy initiatives in the ield including PIO card, Overseas Citizenship (with no political rights), Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (PBD), to mention a few from his lecture. J.C. Sharma, offered a critical assessment of the MOIA and its functioning, pointed out certain negativities - gulf oriented policy initiatives and also the politicisation of the PBD. He ended his lecture with a hope that GRFDT could efectively engage with the issues on diaspora and transnationalism. Discussant Dr. Smita Tiwari clariied some of the key issues related

to  diaspora policy making and she also highlighted the inadequacies of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Afairs (MOIA) and the poor data base management of the ministry and the challenges of policy making owing to the heterogeneity  of Indian emigration routes to Gulf, Europe and other western countries. Dr. Tiwari critically made a point that gender issues should also be addressed in the diaspora policy making and also asserted the need for those policies and programmes which focus diferent sections of emigrants,

youth for instance, like Know India Programme etc. Kamala Kanta Dash demonstrated the importance of impartial observers and stake holders in the diaspora policy

making and aspired that the GRFDT could be one with high credentials. Elucidating where GRFDT could be located in the larger global scene, he situated the role and potential of the GRFDT as a think-tank, stake holder and an active forum supporting the diaspora policy making in a viable manner.

The discussion was followed by the Question-Answer Session. Various critical questions were raised on international organisations’ involvement in the PBD, on rules of NRI marriages so as to deal with the issues of marital absconding and exploitation, India’s role in negotiating the position of Indian emigrants in Malaysia, and the position of the NDA government on the non-Hindu Indian emigrants in the wake of their policy based on cultural nationalism. Dr. Mahalingam thanked Ambassador Sharma for his intellectually enriching and ably encapsulated lecture. 

Report by Divya Balan , Research Scholar, JNU, New Delhi

Time and Place:

Date:   Sunday, Nov 11, 2012
Venue:   Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi
Address:   Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi
City/Twon:   New Delhi
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