It’s That Time Of The Year To Celebrate Pravasi Bharatiya Divas


By Zile Singh


Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a Celebratory Day observed on January 9 every   year by the Republic of India to mark the contribution of the overseas Indian community towards the development of India. It also provides a platform to the overseas Indian community to engage with the government and people of the land of their ancestors for mutually beneficial activities.  Individuals of exceptional merit are honoured with the prestigious Pravasi Bharitiya Samman Award.  The day commemorates the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa to Mumbai on January 9, 1915.


The salient features of this year’s PBD are that it would be celebrated from January 21-23 in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, one of the ancient cities of the world on the bank of  River Ganges.  Afterward, the participants would be transported to be a part of the Kumbha  Mela at  Prayagraj (old name Allahabad) for a  dip in the Holy Trinity of the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati ( now almost extinct) rivers called Sangam.  Finally, the Diaspora would be taken to  New Delhi by a Special Train to show  the ostentatious Defence and Diversity Display Parade  on the Republic Day at the  Raj Path on January 26.   Celebrated from January 7-9 every year, this year the dates, January 21-23 have been chosen to facilitate participation of  overseas citizens  in the Kumbha Mela and the Republic Day Parade.


Leaving aside the migration of Indians as indentured labourers in different countries over  the globe, ( thanks to the British Empire),  the main and voluntary migration from India  started sometimes in the  late 19th century.  In addition to the African and European continents, the North American continent also remained a major  attraction for the Indians to migrate. There is a long history of  this treacherous journey of migration from the banks of Ganga , Yamuna and Satluj  to the banks of Fraser (BC) and the Don and Humber rivers (Ontario) in Canada.


Canada has a  chequered history of  peaceful co-existence and progressive ideology of international peace and cooperation. According to the Global Peace Index 2018, the ranking  of Canada is Sixth after Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal  and Denmark. On the other hand, India’s claim to be an ancient peace-loving country having given several proponents of non-violence and peace loving personalities deserves recognition. .  Mahatma Gandhi’s name finds a place of prominence  among such personalities.  That is why the Government of India decided for the  first time in 2003 to celebrate Pravasi Bharatiya Divas ( Non-Resident Indians Day ) from January 7-9 every year to recognise  the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi as well as the Non-Resident Indians for  earning a good name  for  India.   Now the event is biennial.


Canada, as a multi-cultural country and an  upholder of  a  high standard of  democracy and human rights,  gave equal  opportunities  to  the  Indian immigrants to flourish by dint of their honest and hard work.   Initially the immigrants  faced the scourge of  Racism.   However, time is the great healer.  With a relentless struggle, the Indian immigrants   carved out a niche in the Canadian society in almost all walks of life, whether it is politics, business, language, entertainment, media, charity, fundraising, blood donation and  volunteerism.  These achievements have certainly made Canada as well as India proud of these immigrants.  What an excellent  and vibrant example was it that the Prime Minister of Canada could  genuinely boast of having more Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers of  Indian origin than  the Indian Parliament and the Indian  Cabinet have.  So far the following Indo-Canadians have been awarded the PBD Samman: Vasdev Chanchlani, Indo-Canadian Chambers of Commerce, Ms. Lata Pada, Dave S. Hayer and Ujjal Dosanjh


On this occasion when we are celebrating this auspicious day, it is our duty to introspect and  look into our shortcomings as well. For the last few years the involvement of the Indo-Canadian community in various unpleasant  issues  has become   worrisome  and needs an   introspection.  As a community member, to me, it looks like that the community is being targeted, on the ground  “Give a dog a bad name and hang him”.  We, as  South Asian community, have to think and  work collectively to stop the community being ascribed as “  Rapist Hindu  Priests and  Sikh  (Khalistani) Terrorists’.  Recently one of the Punjabi intellectuals, in the penultimate paragraph of his column in The Link  has penned down  his pain as follows:  “The worst thing is that many, who come from decent families, are taking a life of crime such as joining gangs, becoming drug pushers, engaging in human trafficking and becoming prostitutes.  This is seen more in Canada which is the biggest destination for the Punjabi youth.”


Of late, some  stray incidents of hate crime on the basis of caste within the Indian Diaspora  have caught attention of the Canadian authorities.  India, as a mother country,  expects  her sons and daughters to  take with them  a good legacy instead of a   bad one.  Mention of the caste  in matrimonial advertisements overshadows other qualifications of    the bride and the bridegroom.  The notion that “India is the home of a lost cause as far as the Sikhs are concerned” has to be wiped out from the minds of the separatists.


PBD and Mahatma Gandhi are synonyms.  Gandhi said, “ There can be no Ramraj in the present state of iniquitous inequalities, in which a few roll in riches and the masses do not get even enough to eat”.  Loyalty to Motherland is worth more than money.


Mr. Zile Singh is much respected Link Columnist, writer, a Vipassana Meditator and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Rights.  He can be reached at zsnirwal@yahoo.ca

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