Among the vast global expanse of the Indian Diaspora, non-resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs) in the United States of America constitute the largest national community of NRIs and PIOs. The NRIs and PIOs in USA are a rapidly increasing population exceeding 4 million with unparalleled upward mobility and significant achievements in all segments of US society. Their average per capita far exceeds other recent immigrant groups as NRIs and PIOs have made enormous strides in economic progress, science and technology, businesses, hospitality, medical profession, media, academia and politics. In addition, the recent advances in strengthening of the relationship between India and USA further enhance the importance of NRIs and PIOs in the USA.
Despite the remarkable advances and levels of assimilation in US society, from time to time NRIs and PIOs are victims of attacks and harassment perpetuated by other Americans as well as law enforcement. Some of these actions may be silent while others are physical in nature. These are harsh realities, to those who are victims and those who view these attacks in the larger perspective. These experiences are rude awakenings which can jolt the NRI/PIO community to take notice, to understand the motivations, be aware, be vigilant and take steps to alleviate and prevent such incidents. Many of the issues are institutional, ingrained in the US society from its inception, and it would be logical that solutions would have to be institutional in order to be effective – at all levels of society: political, civic, economic, academic, social, religious and media.
Individually and collectively, NRIs and PIOs must be actively engaged as part of the fabric of American society, participating in multi-ethnic organizations and contributing to social programs benefiting all Americans -and not be viewed as isolated groups. America is the “great melting pot” and NRIs and PIOs are part of that mix. The lessons of Uganda can be stark reminders of unexpected outcomes by those who view NRIs and PIOs as outsiders or isolated.
The events of recent months clearly show how widespread disparities have evolved into a national problem of enormous proportions which beg for an urgent solution or a series of solutions, examining the underlying causes, confronting perceptions versus reality. The urgency is to examine and asses the disparities in educational opportunities, economic opportunities, law enforcement and risks, perceptions which dictate actions perpetuating misplaced beliefs and actions, and developing partnerships for social and social progress.
It is important that the NRI/PIO community in USA be engaged on these issues on a national level. The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) is embarking on this national agenda with all its chapters in USA in collaboration with other Indian-American organizations, other US (non-Indian) organizations and agencies, municipal, state and national agencies, elected officials, Indian consular officials and others. The objective is to bring about more awareness, education and information, understanding, expectations, cultural differences, Indian immigrant language as hurdles to overcome, immigrant customs, religion, traditions, laws and policies to prevent similar incidents in the future. It must be noted that misplaced perceptions and incorrect assumptions by others can contribute to brutal incidents such as immediately after 9-11 when several Sikhs were attacked when mistakenly grouped among the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks.
In the near term, GOPIO is coordinating a panel session on “Indian Migration to USA: Assimilation, Contributions, Opportunities & Challenges” as part of a Multidisciplinary Symposium “Looking Beyond the Fence: Politics, Power, and the Future of U.S. Immigration” to be held on March 27-29, 2015 at St John’s University in Queens, New York. In addition, GOPIO is organizing a conference on “Indian Diaspora: Assimilation and Co-Existence in Multi-Ethnic & Multi-Cultural Societies” scheduled for the day preceding GOPIO’s annual general meeting late May 2015 in New York, USA.
GOPIO is also taking the lead role in developing a national agenda in engaging the NRI/PIO community in the USA to collaborate closely with India’s Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and Ministry of the External Affairs on a national agenda to engage the office of the Indian Ambassador in Washington DC and all Indian Consulates in USA, the US State Department, US Department of Justice, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), MLK Foundation and others. The NRI/PIO community has a responsibility to be proactive in this national dialogue and must inclusive of all segments: media, academia, politics, businesses, science and technology, hospitality, medical professionals, philanthropy, cultural and religious, youth, women, seniors and others.
There is urgent need for a national dialogue among the NRI/PIO community in USA and respective elected officials, civic groups, institutions and agencies to bring about more awareness, education, expectations and understanding to avoid conflicts and misperceptions which can have unintended consequences. Any further delay on this national agenda would be lost opportunity.
(The author is president of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO International) and very active in New York and US national deliberations on migration, assimilation, partnerships and inclusivity for good citizenship. He is founder and president of Ramex, an electronics manufacturing company based in New York where he resides with his family. Ramsaran is the recipient of India’s Pravasi Samman Award for his contributions to the Indian Diaspora. He may be reached at : Ramsaran@aol.com)