• 07 Feb, 2023

Indian Caribbeans and Emergence of PBD in India

Indian Caribbeans and Emergence of PBD in India

Indian Caribbeans and Emergence of PBD in India

President Irfaan Ali is the Chief Guest at the 17th  edition of the Pravasi Bharatya Divas (PBD) to be held in Indore. (Research conducted by this writer of ship records in Guyana archive show some indentured laborers came from Indore and other areas like Gwalior and Jabalpur of Madya Pradesh state. This means that several Indian Guyanese have roots in those cities of MP). Other Guyanese Presidents were also chief guests in PBD. Several Guyanese championed the PBD.


The PBD was launched in 2003 with the Mauritian Prime Minister Sir Aneerood Jugnauth as the Chief Guest. President Bharrat Jagdeo was Chief Guest at the second edition in 2004, also held in Delhi.


PBD has been the signature event rolled out by India for overseas based Indians (PIOs, NRIs) like Indo Guyanese, who are now conferred with Overseas Citizenship of India. The annual (changed to bi-annual in 2015) PBD and its various programs (like KIP for youths, Seniors, Pravasi Kendra, Proposed PIO University, etc.) have been developed for the Indian diaspora. Many Guyanese took advantage of these subsidized trips to and studies in India. The PBD was initiated by then Prime Minister Atal Beharri Vajpayee and Deputy PM Lal Krishna Advani. Although the PBD and its affiliated programs were the final product of the work of a High Level Commission headed by distinguished Member of Parliament Dr L.M. Singhvi, that visited diasporic countries on their views on engagement with India, the concept to engage and honor diasporic Indians as well as to establish an Embassy for continuous interaction with the diaspora and various programs was suggested by Guyanese. It was proposed by (Dharamdatt Sukhai Durjan, Ramesh Kalicharran, and myself to Vajpayee at Salaam Bombay Restaurant in Manhattan in 1995. Dr. Mukund Modi hosted the meeting for an engagement between Vajpayee and the diaspora. Prominent attendees included H.R Shah, owner of TV Asia, and then Mayor of Woodbridge Jim McGreevy, who went in to be elected Governor.


Vajpayee-ji had a long history with Indo-Guyanese and Indo Caribbean people and other diasporans.  He engaged Guyanese several times in New York and New Jersey, and Delhi from as far back as 1977 when he was Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy . Vajpayee-ji or Atal-ji as he was fondly called, had a special affinity for diaspora, engaging them at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan in September 1977 and again in September 1978 at the Hilton. He also engaged them again in 1990 in Manhattan when he accompanied then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to the UN. Vajpayee belonged to his own party, BJP.


At the Salaam Bombay Restaurant meeting, Vajpayee endorsed the idea proposed by Durjan Sukhai for a regular global conclave of Indians that would give out honors and that would have a diasporic office to interact with Indians overseas. A follow up exchange with Vajpayee occurred and the Durjan team that included Guyanese Patanjali Rambrich and Andrew Satyanand. The discussion reiterated the idea of a global forum of people of Indian descent, honors for overseas Indians who made outstanding contributions to the diaspora, programs for Guyanese youths and seniors to visit India, and a university in India for PIOs.

Dharamdatt proposed the idea of a Kowsilla Bravery Award (named after that courageous Leonara freedom fighter) for those who courageously champion the interests of the Indian diaspora.


When Vajpayee became Prime Minister, a commission headed by Dr Singhvi was established to engage the diaspora. The commission visited several diaspora countries and NY and met Indo Guyanese and Indo Caribbeans and also traveled to Guyana , Trinidad, and Suriname engaging prominent members of civic society including Yesu Persaud. The commission, in a published report, proposed an annual PBD, conferring honors, and establishment of an Embassy for the Diaspora. The PBD started in 2003, held on Jan7, 8, 9 (latter) to coincide with the date Gandhi returned to India from South Africa.


The Indian Embassy of Overseas Indians was established with Dr. Bhishma Agnihotri as Ambassador was set up in Manhattan around 2001.  The Ambassador regularly met with the Diaspora (PIOs) of several countries. PIOs were invited to social and cultural events hosted by the Embassy and for interactions with the visiting PM, Minister of Government, and high-level delegations from India.


Members of the Vajpayee administration (Vajpayee himself, Advani, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, and other Ministers) routinely met with Indo-Caribbeans in New York and New Jersey during visits. As a result of intense lobbying by Guyanese New Yorkers, the government authorized an increase in cultural, economic, and educational benefits onto Indo-Caribbeans (Trinis, Guyanese, Surinamese, etc.).  By 2005, Scholarships more than doubled from 2003.


Guyanese and other members of the girmitya diaspora are most grateful to Vajpayee and Advani and the BJP government for the interest shown in descendants of girmityas and for initiating the PBD. Succeeding governments continued and strengthened the PBD and engagement with the diaspora.


In 2016, Ravi Dev and myself and other indentureship scholars were invited by the Indian government to Delhi with an exchange with the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to strengthening links with diaspora. Current Foreign Minister Jaishankar, who had served as Ambassador to Washington, was there as Foreign Secretary. Dev and I recommended a subsidized senior visiting program for the diaspora. The government accepted our recommendation and initiated it in 2017 along with other proposed ideas. Several Guyanese, Trinidadians, Surinamese, and Jamaicans visited India under this virtually free senior program. Youths also visited India under the KIP .


The PBD has helped to strengthen links between India and Guyana and other diaspora countries.


Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr. Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a holder of multiple degrees in the natural sciences, social sciences, and education. He taught for over forty years in the US. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling globally to research and write about Indian communities.