Cover Story : PBD Europe


By Sayantan Chakravarty

President GOPIO Netherlands

When earlier in the year the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs decided to hold the regional PBD in Holland in September, it wasn’t quite sure about the response. The MOIA teamed up with various organizations, and in the end the PBD Europe at The Hague on September 19 turned out to be a sell-out event. The event showed that there is growing interest among overseas Indians in Europe in furthering their connections and contacts with India. Also, the event allowed local Europeans to seek out opportunities in India.

While initially, not more than 300 were expected to attend, eventually more than 600 did, with the organizers forced to stop registration a day before the event. Among those who spoke included Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi, Indian ambassador to the Netherlands Manbir Singh, the Mayor of The Hague Jozias van Aartsen, the Dutch Government’s Minister for Social Welfare Piet Hein Donner, and former Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers. The event was partnered by the MOIA, the Indian Embassy in Holland and the Municipality of The Hague. The organizers included the GOPIO (Global Organization of People of Indian Origin), FCCI (Foundation for Critical Choices for India), IBC (Indian Business Chamber), IES (Indian Expat Society), Ujala and EEKTA.

(Left to right) Mohan Gautam, Raj Loomba, K N Gupta, Rajindre Tewari, K. Mohandas Ashook Ramsaran, Vayalar Ravi, Manbir Singh, Ram Lakhina, Barjinder Sodhi, Ashok Kaushik, Munish Gupta

It was for the very first time that the Dutch PIO community, comprising mainly of the Indo-Surinamese people, decided to attend an event focused on India in such large numbers. This is the community that made its move from Suriname (formerly Dutch Guyana in the West Indies) to Holland in the early 1970s. This was a time when the approach of Suriname’s independence sharpened apprehensions among the people of Indian origin regarding their future status and economic and political rights. More than a third of the PIO population availed of a provision in the Independence Act permitting Surinamese to migrate to the Netherlands before the transfer of power in 1975. Today, the Surinamese Indian community in the Netherlands that calls itself the Surinamese Hindustanis, numbers approximately 200,000.

One distinctive feature of the Surinamese-Indian community in the Netherlands is that even though they left Suriname over 25 years ago, they still speak Sarnami Hindi, the language they spoke in Suriname. Sarnami Hindi is a mixture of Bhojpuri, which they call Hindustani, and Awadhi, with a smattering of Dutch and English (for more details refer to INDIA EMPIRE’s September 2009 issue on


Various recommendations where brought in by the speakers. They included increase in efforts for a global working database of the global Indian, to establish an Indian cultural centre in the Netherlands, measures to protect PIO and NRI property rights in India, empowering the Indian youth in Europe, to protect widows in Indian society who are isolated and less protected both socially as well as financially, to increase the networking facilities for the Indian diaspora in Europe.

Minister Donner stressed on the possibilities and ways in which the Indian diaspora could build stronger economic ties between the Netherlands, Europe and India. He along with Minister Ravi announced a long-awaited social treaty between the two countries in October.

At the end of the conference proceedings, the regional GOPIO leadership led by GOPIO International executive vice president Ashook Ramsaran had an exhaustive session with Minister Ravi ways in which ways to carry forward the initiatives and recommendations that emerged out of the PBD were discussed.

Interview with Rajindre Tewari  President GOPIO Netherlands

“There is a growing desire among PIOs in Europe for involving themselves with India”

GOPIO, Netherlands, played a key role in the organization of PBD Europe. Rajindre Tewari, GOPIO Netherlands President speaks with INDIA EMPIRE.


You were a leading partner for the PBD Europe. Tell us about the significant outcomes of the event held on September 19?
GOPIO was the leading partner for organizing this conference mainly because it represents the Indian Diaspora irrespective of where they come from (Suriname, India or Indians born in Europe). But other associations too played their organizing role in order to make PBD Europe a success.

Was one day enough to deliberate on all the issues concerning the PIOs and NRIs of Europe?
One day for organizing this conference is not enough to deliberate various issues related to the Diaspora. But at the same time a multi-day conference is very difficult for people to attend. Spending more than 1 day at a conference consumes time and money, and it does not necessarily guarantee results that are better than an efficiently focused one-day event. The most important formal announcement was made by Jan Piet Hein Donner, Dutch Minister for Social Affairs and Employment and a Guest of Honour. He emphasized how the Netherlands could act as a bridge between India and Europe and said that in response to the persistent demands from the resident Indian community in the Netherlands, a Social Security Agreement would soon be signed between the two countries. Lord N. Dholakia stressed the role of PIOs in national politics and urged them to participate. Minister Vayalar Ravi from MOIA promised to take up the demand for setting up of a Cultural Centre in the Netherlands with the Indian Minister of Culture.

Initially you were expecting about 300 people to attend. It turned out that nearly double that number eventually came to The Hague. Is there a growing desire among PIOs to learn about the opportunities in India?
The organization was focusing on a maximum number of 350 delegates as it took some time to market the event following the election process in India. This meant we needed to wait for a formal approval from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, which we eventually received in June. We finally had almost 600 people attending this event.
There is a growing desire in the PIO community to involve itself with India. They are eager to tap into the opportunities presented by the growing Indian economy. Traditionally, the PIOs have chosen to find their way directly in India, instead of joining the NRI associations in Netherlands. This is especially because PIOs who have got high-ranking positions in Europe have managed to establish direct links with India on their own. They have Indian partners with whom they pursue their business interests. But, as things stand, the majority of organizations that have an active relationship with India are from within the Non-Resident Indian community. We need more synergy.

The PBD is meant to engage the Indian Diaspora through various networks such as the OIFC, KIP, G-Ink, IDF and others. Are you satisfied with the way things are progressing on these fronts?
Let me mention that we are quite happy with the various institutions and initiatives set up by the MOIA and we welcome the Ministry’s drive in involving the Diaspora. But the Indian diaspora in Europe is still largely unaware of most of the sincere and beautiful efforts being made by the MOIA. We do believe that the Indian embassies in Europe have a greater role to play, especially when it comes to marketing and promoting the initiatives of the Government. This can be done by setting up investment promotion rooms at embassies. This should be a contact point that has the knowledge and information for facilitating all investment queries.

What are the main areas of focus for the GOPIO in the Netherlands?
GOPIO has taken the initiative to ensure that all this information is available to larger numbers by connecting with various institutions and associations. We are working closely with the Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre on this. GOPIO Netherlands also focuses on bringing together all PIOs and NRIs. It is a challenge, because there are prejudices that exist among different generation of migrants.

What is the way forward from this PBD?
The way forward from the European PBD is to give a momentum to the Diaspora network in Europe. GOPIO has already initiated discussions with other associations in Europe for organizing annual diaspora meetings in countries like Germany, Italy and England.

Please let us know about the role played by your key partners in this event…
The key partners in this event were very functional to its success. We had to involve a large number of hard working volunteers since neither the hiring of a public relations firm, nor the appointment of an event organizer, fitted into our budget. As we had difficulty in finding enough sponsorship, we are very grateful that the Municipality of The Hague become a key sponsor for this event along with the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. The FCCI and the IES provided intellectual resources, as did the EEKTA.

October 2009

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