Our great representatives abroad

Updated: Feb 09, 2019, 09:36 IST | Lindsay Pereira

If you think non-resident Indians portray our country in good light you clearly havent met enough of them

Our great representatives abroad
The Indian diaspora in China welcome PM Modi to Xiamen in 2017. file pic

Lindsay PereiraI usually avoid writing about what politicians say or do because, like a few million Indians, I don't take them very seriously. I would if they were to spend a little more time in school, of course, or offer us signs of intelligence more often, but they rarely do, so I tend to dismiss their pronouncements as little more than minor irritants.

One thing said by our minister for external affairs earlier this month caught my eye though. She was referring to the diaspora community and praised them for changing the world's perception about Indians.

I can't speak for the minister, or others who have interacted with the Indian diaspora, but I must humbly beg to disagree with that comment. The minister pointed out that people of Indian origin are currently heading large multi-national corporations, raising our country's global profile in the process. That is probably true, even if we have a tendency to rush and claim as ours people who may not necessarily wish to identify as Indian after they move away. She went on to say that Indians are leading the world today, which came as a bit of a surprise to me because I simply hadn't noticed. Then again, that memo may have slipped past me while I was getting a real education. Our ministers often rely on WhatsApp for knowledge.

Almost all my interactions with non-resident Indians have ended in disappointment. There was that man from the North, for instance, who boasted about how he had entered America illegally two decades ago as part of a dance troupe, eventually becoming a citizen. He expected me to congratulate him. There were the software engineers who wanted to give me tips on how to exploit the return policy of stores by using goods for a week before asking for refunds. There are the hundreds of others who ask for my name and surname first, making assumptions about my religion and background instead of simply accepting me as a fellow Indian.

There is something inherently wrong with the way most NRIs embrace everything that is despicable about our culture when they find that they have been rejected by any foreign country they have chosen to settle down in. Among the best examples of this are the matrimonial websites that continue to perpetuate the petty obsessions that thrive within our borders. They continue to be full of software engineers looking for fair brides belonging to specific castes, happy to sacrifice education and accomplishments at the altar of bigotry. It never ceases to amaze me how Indians leave their country for the West, but continue to insist on traditions, rituals and ideas that have no place in modern, civilised society.

Support for regressive practices back home is another great indicator of how our great NRIs cause more harm than good to India. Governments that come to power by dividing us in order to rule us, almost always find waves of support from those who have given up on India but obsess over it nonetheless. This support, often financial, is frequently aimed at marginalising and isolating communities by faith or caste, which is hypocritical coming from people who no longer live in countries as divisive or bigoted as our own.

To accuse all NRIs of being poor representatives is a sweeping generalisation, of course, and should be treated as such. It also discounts the thousands of Indians who really are a credit to the country and bring something genuinely positive to whichever corners of the globe they move to. I believe it's important to call out NRIs who don't do this, though, and let them know that their behaviour causes more harm than good. Every NRI is, in effect, an ambassador for the rest of us, and they need to understand that their actions, thoughts and behaviour have an effect on how the world paints a picture of the rest of us.

The saddest thing about NRIs is how they always have the option of leaving behind the baggage related to class, caste and religion when they choose to step onto foreign shores. They always have the option of embracing new ideas, people and culture, but end up regressing instead of progressing. It's as if their disappointment at not being welcomed as demigods compels them to embrace their Indianness more vehemently, as a sign of protest. What they do, in the bargain, is take the worst of India with them, poisoning every country they set foot in. The tragedy is theirs alone.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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