by Anubhuti Madan Singh
Melbourne: In an attempt to make the two-day Pravasi Bharatiya Divas more efficient, the event was held in Melbourne on February 21. The event was earlier held in different cities of India featuring discussions on important topics and concerns of the Indian diaspora.
Felicitation of exceptional works by people of Indian origin living abroad is also done.
However, from this year onwards the Indian government experimented with a new format. Many felt the old arrangements weren’t giving the expected results and that issues raised by the Indian diaspora weren’t being addressed to satisfaction.
Henceforth, every alternate year PBD will be held in New Delhi, India with all the associated pageantry, while every other year it will be celebrated on a small scale in India and individually at all the embassies and missions across the world. This new format is aimed at the inclusion of a larger audience while the issues raised in each individual centre will be collated and forwarded to the Indian government for resolution.
The Consulate General of India in Melbourne marked its version of PBD 2016 on 21 February. The event kicked off with a welcome note from Manika Jain, Consul General of India. This was followed by a moderator-driven group discussion with six speakers: Dr Rajkumar, Mr Vasan Srinivasan, Dr Ravi Bhatia, Mr Srinivasan, Dr Manjula Datta O’Connor, and Prof Suresh Bhargava.
Vasan Srinivasan spoke about the sanitation project in India and about the potential for creating an app to collect funding from the NRI community and making sure it reaches the right places in India.
Mr Srinivasan highlighted the issues being faced by Indian exporters of jewellery and diamonds since there is still no Free Trade Agreement between India and Australia.
Dr Ravi Bhatia talked about how the government is making is easier to “Make in India”. Dr Manjula O’Connor talked about the role of welfare and the steps being taken to improve the status of women. Prof Suresh Bhargava touched upon the importance of education for the growth of Indians.
This was a short session and audience inclusion was limited. The speakers were asked to stick to their scripts which left very little room for an open discussion and Q&A.
“The session could have been delivered more innovatively,” said Ajit Singh, Founder, Oorja Foundation. “There could have been more audience inclusion instead of lecture-style presentations. Only a few skills were discussed and many other topics like tourism weren’t even covered by any speakers. There was no youth involvement and only group leaders were present.”
The general purpose of the event was to highlight current projects initiated by the government in India and explore how the Indian diaspora can contribute to their progress.
Prabhat Sangwan, Consul Officer said, “This new format for PBD is intended to include a larger audience who weren’t making it to the event being held in India each year. Each embassy or mission will collate the major points of discussion and hand it over to the Indian Government.” However, she noted, they were certainly expecting a bigger turnout for this event.
Consul General of India, Melbourne, Manika Jain said, “It was very encouraging to hear what the speakers had to say. The ideas are in the nascent stages but there is a lot of enthusiasm by the Indian diaspora here. They (NRIs) want to give back to India.”
Jain is optimistic about the future of PBD. “This new model will be more beneficial as more people will be able to contribute with their ideas,” she said. Though the turnout was low this time around, she expressed hopes that next year there will be greater awareness and participation.
There were a plethora of topics but only a few were discussed. Some were very specific to particular industries so it wasn’t relevant to everyone present. For a more insightful discussion, perhaps only a couple of themes could have been shortlisted prior to the event.
“It was a great initiative and a commendable effort by the consulate for holding this event,” said another attendee Sunny Chandra. He added, “There should be more such events and Indian business leaders should be invited which seemed to be missing today.”
Molina Asthana, Principal Solicitor, Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office pointed out, “There was no diversity in the speakers (with only one female to five male speakers), or amongst the audience either.”
The event could have been better advertised for a bigger turnout.
The Melbourne Indian community is vibrant and has already established itself as one that the Australian government and its various agencies pay close attention to. There is much that the community can offer to the Indian government as well, and the desire is always there to contribute to the homeland. Here’s hoping the PBD becomes a more effective platform next time round.
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