The original NRIs and OCIs : One hundred years since servitude

The digirati in online forums like Quora, Rediff frequently wonder about ‘the first’ Non-Resident-Indians, Overseas Citizen of India and the original Indian diaspora. An interesting article in the Economist magazine “One hundred years since servitude”  traces the history of Indians migrating overseas a century ago.

Article and image credit: The Economist, Sep 2nd 2017

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DOOKHEE GUNGAH, born of Indian migrants, began life in 1867 in a shed in Mauritius and worked as a child cutting sugar cane. By his death in 1944, he was one of the island’s richest businessmen. He is a notable example of how some indentured labourers prospered against the odds.

Between the 1830s and 1917 around 2m migrants signed up for ten-year terms (later cut to five) in European colonies (see chart on next page). Most were from India, with smaller shares from China, South-East Asia and elsewhere. Some “coolies” were fleeing poverty and hunger; others were coerced or deceived. In British colonies from 1834, and in French and Dutch ones from later, they replaced freed African slaves on sugar and coffee plantations.

“Slavery under a different name” is how The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society described the indenture system in 1839. It had a point. Many migrants died en route, and at first plantation owners, used to slaves, treated their new workers hardly any better. But conditions gradually improved. When the Indian Legislative Council finally ended indenture, a century ago, it did so because of pressure from Indian nationalists and declining profitability, rather than from humanitarian concerns.

The indentured labourers’ fortunes varied from place to place, according to their numbers, who else lived there, and laws about land tenure and race. But a shared post-colonial identity is now emerging, combining pride in India’s economic rise, religious and cultural traditions—and, increasingly, commemoration of their ancestors’ struggles to establish themselves.

Indo-Mauritians are among the richest and most politically powerful of those descendants. As a British colony, Mauritius took the greatest share of indentured migrants: some 450,000. Their descendants are now two-thirds of the island’s 1.26m inhabitants. Many of the largest businesses are owned by Franco-Mauritians whose ancestors dated from the earlier French colonisation, though they make up just 2% of the population. But Indo-Mauritians dominate the public sector.

Local legend has it that Dookhee (pictured with family, third man from left, around 1912) owed his meteoric rise to finding buried treasure. The true story, says his great-grandson, Swetam Gungah, is that “whatever little he had, he would put it aside.” Unlike slaves, indentured labourers were paid, and since most were unable to leave their plantations, they spent little. Aged 21 Dookhee bought land and started growing sugar cane. “He was savvy enough to diversify. He planted an orchard, started a bakery and much more,” says Mr Gungah. When the price of sugar plummeted in the 1880s most plantation-owners went broke. Dookhee got richer. Other former indentured labourers were also able to buy broke colonists out. By 1933 Indo-Mauritians owned almost two-fifths of all land planted with sugar cane.

Land also gave indentured labourers a start in South Africa, where many were granted plots after their servitude. Koshir Kassie’s great-grandfather arrived in the province of Natal and worked on a plantation and then in a gold mine. He saved enough to pay his employer to end his contract early, and bought land. But under apartheid many Indian South Africans, including Mr Kassie’s family, were forced off their land and into Indian townships. “After indenture, Indians built themselves up,” says Mr Kassie. “Then came apartheid and they had to start again.”

Many managed to rebuild. Today, Indian South Africans’ average income is three times higher than that of black South Africans, and they are nearly twice as likely to have finished high school. But these days they are politically marginalised. In the first democratic elections, in 1994, two-thirds voted for the National Party, which had previously defended apartheid. Those with less education particularly resent South Africa’s new system of racial preferences in jobs and education for blacks.

Seeds in fertile ground

Indentured labourers in Trinidad and Guyana (formerly British Guiana) were also granted land. That was less generous than it seems: much of it was ill-suited to growing sugar cane. The Indians, however, discovered it was perfect for rice. Many prospered. But in both places, though people of Indian origin are the largest ethnic group (35% and 40% respectively), they have struggled to gain the level of influence that Indo-Mauritians have.

In Mauritius the departing British colonists regarded Indians as the heirs to power. In Trinidad, however, the mantle was passed to Afro-Trinidadians, who were settled decades before the indentured labourers arrived. Politics and the public sector operated through a patronage system, which kept Afro-Trinidadians in charge. Even after independence in 1962, Indo-Trinidadians were largely excluded from government and public-sector jobs.

Today, politics is still divided on ethnic lines, with the People’s National Movement supported by Afro-Trinidadians and the People’s Partnership coalition supported by Indo-Trinidadians. But socially, the groups are mingling more—and increasingly intermarrying. Nearly a quarter of the population identifies as mixed-race.

In Guyana ethnic divisions cut much deeper. Compared with Trinidad, its sheer size meant ethnic groups formed more segregated communities. A fragile inter-ethnic harmony, nonetheless, prevailed for the first half of the 20th century. That ended in 1964, when a pre-election conflict broke out between the largely Afro-Guyanese People’s National Congress and the largely Indo-Guyanese People’s Progressive Party. “I had Hindu friends, African, Portuguese, Chinese friends,” says Khalil Ali, a Muslim Indo-Guyanese novelist, of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. “Then suddenly my black friends stopped speaking to me and I stopped speaking to them.” The resulting violence led to hundreds of deaths and thousands fleeing abroad.

Ethnic divisions persisted after independence in 1966, and were worsened by economic hardship. Even as Trinidad boomed because of oil, disastrous left-wing policies reduced resource-rich Guyana to one of South America’s poorest countries. But in 2015 a multi-racial coalition came to power, promising unity. Although change is slow—the government is still mostly Afro-Guyanese and Mr Ali says Indo-Guyanese who joined the coalition have been called traitors—elections in 2020 offer another glimmer of hope. Younger Guyanese are further distanced from the events of the 1960s. The mixed-race population, now around 20%, is growing.

Indentured workers’ descendants have done least well where their ancestors could not own land, as in Fiji. Its indigenous population resented the new arrivals, and the British made promises about land ownership to their tribal chiefs. Many Indo-Fijians became tenant farmers, and for part of the 20th century did quite well, says Crispin Bates, who leads a project funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council entitled “Becoming Coolies”. But when their leases came to an end, starting in the 1980s, their status declined.

Sporadic attempts to improve their position after independence in 1970 ended with a coup in 1987. A new constitution reserved majorities for ethnic Fijians in both houses of parliament. Over 10,000 Indo-Fijians left the island as a result. Two further coups centred on their rights. Finally, in 2013 Indo-Fijians were given equal status in the constitution. And, in 2014, in free elections, Frank Bainimarama (who led the most recent coup, in 2006) won with an anti-racist message. His task is considerable: though land has been made easier to lease, holdings by ethnic Fijians still cannot be sold. Indo-Fijians are still excluded—and ethnic Fijians are newly aggrieved. Anti-Indian sentiment is rampant.

Pride and prejudice

In most places that took indentured labourers, racial animus persists. Their arrival was “a real trauma” for indigenous and former-slave populations, says Mr Bates. In Trinidad and Guyana “coolie” is used as a slur (and the Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trinidadians have plenty of racist terms for their compatriots of African origin). In Fiji and the French Caribbean “z’Indiens” are stereotyped as money-grubbing, and mocked in expressions such as “faib con an coolie” (“weak as a coolie” in Guadeloupian creole). In the 1970s a Fijian politician, Sakesai Butadroka, said in parliament that “people of Indian origin” should be “repatriated back to India”. As recently as 2014 a popular song by the Zulu band, AmaCde, called on black South Africans to confront Indians and “send them home”.

 

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Strangers in strange lands, indentured labourers and their descendants preserved some traditions, from caste practices to recipes. From the 1880s the Arya Samaj, a religious group, attempted to reinstate Hindu culture in the diaspora—which rallied, in turn, behind Gandhi’s Indian nationalist movement in the 1920s and 1930s. During periods of ethnic strife in the 20th century hyphenated-Indian communities turned inwards for self-protection.

In recent years, though, a new kind of “Indian pride” has begun to take form. Mauritius has had strong links with India since post-independence tax and trade deals. But of a recent visit to Mauritius, Ashutosh Kumar, the author of a new book about indenture, “Coolies of the Empire”, says “the way Mauritians were discussing Indian politics: it was like I was back home in India.” In Trinidad, which got its first Indo-Trinidadian prime minister in 1995, there is “a new sense of Indian cultural pride”, says Andil Gosine, an Indo-Trinidadian academic in Canada. “When I go back now I see loads of people wearing saris, which they wouldn’t have done before.”

This cultural revivalism is, to some extent, the work of Hindu nationalists, particularly the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council). It has recently devoted more attention to the diaspora—and stirred up tensions between Hindus and Muslims. More is due to India’s rise as an economic power. Diaspora Indians are seeking to “bask in the reflected glory of their motherland”, says Mr Kumar.

Khal Torabully, a Mauritian poet of mixed Indian descent, has coined the word “coolitude” for a new identity, which mixes heritage from India and the other sending countries with a century of history in racially diverse former colonies. Acknowledging their ancestors’ servitude as part of that can be uncomfortable. Indian South Africans are “proud to be Indian”, says Mr Kassie, but “don’t like to talk about indenture much”. Mr Gosine recalls his grandfather describing his own grandfather: “A Brahmin, riding around the plantation on a horse, dressed all in white. But then my grandmother chipped in: ‘What on earth are you talking about?’”

Making sense of displacement and difference, struggle and success, is also a work in progress for host countries. But some have started to weave the history of indentured labourers into their national narratives. In 2006 Aapravasi Ghat, where they first arrived in Mauritius, was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site. In the same year the Indian Caribbean Museum opened in Waterloo, Trinidad. Last year the 1860 Indian Museum, dedicated to indenture, opened in Durban. “We still have a lot of problems to think of ourselves as Mauritians,” says Mr Torabully. “But remembering indenture, just as we remember slavery, is at the heart of that identity.”

You may also be interested in GaramChai.com section on Indian Statistics 

 

 

 

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Indian Tom Hanks: After a 48-Hour ordeal, Bahrain-bound NRI reaches ‘home’

In a story that seems to mirror that of  Tom Hanks’ plight in the hollywood movie “The Terminal,” a Non Resident Indian (NRI) living in Bahrain, Satyendra Singh was stranded at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport for over 48 hours.

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Mr. Singh had traveled to India to meet his parents in Lucknow. While returning to Bahrain, he arrived in the national capital from Lucknow on Saturday. After he went towards the international security check in Delhi, he put his handbag with his passport in the security scanner. While clearing security, he realized his bag was missing. Another Canada bound passenger had mistakenly taken his bag and boarded an Air Canada flight.

By the time Satyendra Singh discovered his loss, the Canada bound flight had departed. Satyendra was not allowed to leave the terminal due to ‘security reasons’ since he had already cleared immigration check.

Singh had to spend two days at the airport while the airlines tracked his handbag and routed it back from Canada!

He finally reached ‘home’ in Bahrain after a 48-hour ordeal at IGI airport. “My wife was crying and was relieved when I finally reached. They panicked and I just want to thank my wife and her relatives for rallying around me,” said Singh.

Moral of the story: Head the oft-repeated warnings you hear at Airports around the world “Keep your documents and valuables with you at all times”


The Terminal,”  is a moving tale, where Tom Hanks plays the victim of the modern world. That a man could spend months stuck in diplomatic limbo living in an airport may seem far-fetched, but in fact, the movie is inspired by a real-life character who is living at terminal one of Paris Charles De Gaulle airport.

Indian Origin NRI arrested and charged with sexually assaulting woman on plane in Michigan

A 34-year-old man of Indian-origin Prabhu Ramamoorthy was arrested by federal authorities in Michigan after a woman co-passenger complained of being sexually assaulted by him after falling asleep on the flight.

Prabhu allegedly groped the 22-year-old seated next to him on a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas which landed in Detroit early on January 3, the Washington Post reported.

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Image from Facebook

The man, Prabhu Ramamoorthy, who prosecutors said is an Indian national living in the United States on a temporary visa, was charged with aggravated sexual abuse and held without bail after an appearance in federal court in Michigan on Thursday.

The victim told investigators that she woke up to find her pants and shirt unbuttoned and the man’s hand inside her pants.

Federal prosecutor Amanda Jawad said that Ramamoorthy sat between his wife and the victim. He stopped after the victim woke up, and the woman went to the back of the plane to report the incident to a flight attendant, the criminal complaint said.

Two flight attendants told federal investigators that the victim was crying and that her shirt was untied and that her pants were unbuttoned when she reported the incident at about 5:30 a.m., 40 minutes before the plane’s landing, Jawad said. The attendants kept the woman in the back of the plane and offered her a different seat, and while they were talking to the victim, Ramamoorthy’s wife came to the back to see what was going on, Jawad said.

Ramamoorthy was arrested after the plane landed, according to court documents. He told agents in a written statement that he had taken a pill and fallen into a deep sleep, Jawad said, and that he hadn’t done anything besides learning from his wife that the 22-year-old woman was sleeping on his knees.

Magistrate Judge Steven Whalen, who said it was a “very unusual case,” ordered Ramamoorthy to be held pending trial after Jawad successfully argued that he was a flight risk and a potential danger to others around him. The prosecutor said that Ramamoorthy’s wife, who was also living in the United States on a temporary visa, would not make a suitable custodian for him.

Prosecutors said Ramamoorthy, who hails from Tamil Nadu was living in the United States on a temporary visa. He was charged with aggravated sexual abuse and held without bail after an appearance in federal court in Michigan on Thursday.


 

In another unrelated news, Times of India reported that an Indian doctor has been sentenced to 10 months behind bars in the US for groping two teenage female patients and faces deportation to India after the completion of his jail term.

Arun Aggarwal, 40, was sentenced on Thursday after pleading guilty to four counts of gross sexual imposition.

NRIs, foreigners and Senior Citizens without Aadhaar can re-verify their mobile services says DoT

There is a lot of debate among the non-resident Indian community about Aadhaar Verification required for some of the essential services like bank accounts, financial transactions and even telephone service and SIM. The challenge is that many of the NRIs who left India years ago may not have an Aadhaar Card.  They may not be eligible to apply for an Indian Unique ID during short visits back home.

Recognizing this challenge, the Indian Government’s Department of Telecom (DoT) has clarified a procedure for re-verification of mobile connections of foreign nationals, as well as NRI subscribers who either do not have Aadhaar or their mobile number is not registered with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

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Image courtesy: Shutterstock

NRIs with elderly parents back home will be happy to note that the DoT has also extended the re-verification procedure for senior citizens above 70 years who do not have an  Aadhaar and are unable to complete a biometric authentication

The DoT also added that various representations had been received from Non Resident India (NRIs) Overseas Indians and foreign nationals citing difficulties being faced by them in re-verification of their Indian mobile connections.

Details of the DoT announcement can be found on its website (link). You may also call the customer service of your phone’s service provider.


Previous articles on the topic:

NRI finance roundup for November 2017

Last week we saw an announcement regarding “PPF accounts to be closed, interest  lowered to 4 per cent if you become an NRI”.  This has obvious implications for NRIs who were planning to continue holding their Indian investments in PPF and other funds.

Photo: iStock

An article in TOI this week focuses on “How NRIs can get past their tax worries”

  • TDS can be a pain – Tax deduction at source (TDS) is a major pain point for NRIs. Resident investors in stocks and mutual funds are not subjected to TDS, but NRIs are. Short-term capital gains from stocks are subject to 15% TDS, while those from debt funds and debentures, gold and property are slapped a higher rate of 30%. Even longterm gains from property and gold are subject to 20% TDS. The TDS on the interest on bank deposits is only 10% for resident Indians, but NRIs have to cough up 30%.
  • How to avoid TDS – One way NRIs can avoid the high TDS is by being the second holder in joint investments. For all investments, the tax liability is always that of the first holder’s. If the first holder is a resident Indian, the gain will not be subjected to any TDS. Similarly, if the NRI is the second holder in a property, the TDS will not apply unless the rent is above Rs 50,000 a month.
  • Claim tax benefits – Though NRIs are beaten by the TDS stick, they also get some carrots. The interest earned on NRE account is tax free and continues to be exempt for two years after the individual returns to India. It’s best to retain deposits held in foreign currency in the NRE account to earn tax-free interest for two more years. After two years, when the tax status changes, these deposits can be moved to the regular savings account.

Economic Times also reviews “How NRIs can avoid tax troubles”

A livemint article – While filing tax in India, NRIs do not have to state overseas income – examines a few Frequently asked questions:

  • I am moving to Cambodia for a long-term assignment. I am told that India does not have a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with that country. Please let me know how that will impact my tax outgo. I have interest income in India and will continue to file tax return on that. Will I have to include my income in Cambodia in the India tax return as well, and pay tax on it again in India?
  • I am an NRI and I had purchased some land in a rural area of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, in October 2014. I am now planning to sell it to buy a new plot in an urban part of the city. We had bought this property for Rs15 lakh and will be selling it for Rs35 lakh. Please tell me my tax liability on this, considering that I am an NRI.
  • I am an NRI, and I want to buy a car in India, without taking any loan. I will be using funds from my non-resident external (NRE) account. Can you explain the tax implication if the car is in my name or somebody else?

 

You may also be interested in GaramChai.com section on Finance 

PPF accounts to be closed, interest lowered to 4 per cent if you become an NRI

Non Resident Indians are continually looking for investment opportunities in India. A few weeks ago, we blogged about “NRIs for real estate investment in India – Know the simple Rules” The Government of Indian recently announced new rules under which select small savings schemes like Public Provident Fund (PPF) and National Saving Certificates (NSC) will not earn you the same rate if you become non-resident Indians (NRI).

A summary of changes to rules and what it means to NRIs:

  • NRIs will no longer be permitted invest in small savings schemes like NSC and PPF. In the past they were allowed to retain their PPF account if they had opened it before becoming an NRI.
  • PPF and NSC currently fetch an interest rate higher than bank savings rates. Some of it is subsidized by the Government of India. (Current rate of PPF is 7.8 per cent while Post Office savings account get 4 %)
  • PPF accounts would be deemed to be closed prior to maturity in case the holder becomes a non-resident Indian (NRI). The investor will be then paid interest at the rate applicable to Post Office savings accounts till the date the PPF account is closed.

The Indian government notification on PPF dated October 3 states,

“Provided that if a resident who opened an account under this scheme, subsequently becomes a non-resident during the currency of the maturity period, the account shall be deemed to be closed with effect from the day he becomes a non-resident and interest with effect from that date shall be paid at the rate applicable to the Post Office Saving Account up to the last day of the month preceding the month in which the account is actually closed.”

The finance ministry notification adds:

“Provided that if a resident Indian having purchased a certificate, subsequently becomes Non-Resident during the currency of the maturity period, the certificate shall be encashed or deemed to be encashed on the day he becomes a non-Resident, and interest shall be paid at the rate applicable to the Post Office Savings Account, from time to time, from such day and up to the last day of the month preceding the month in which it is actually encashed.”

Other media accounts

Singapore’s Passport is the most powerful in the world

Middle class Indians, especially educated younger class aspire to migrate west for work and to live. The eventual goal is to acquire a foreign citizenship and an Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status. For middle class Indians, a foreign citizenship, like American Naturalization is not only a status symbol but a sense of having arrived!

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Image: flickr.com/photos/ikkoskinen

This trend is not restricted to Indians alone. Rich and famous people from around the world aspire to get a second passport or citizenship to enable them Visa free travel as and when they please.

Companies like advisory firm Arton Capital frequently track and rank passports that can enable one to travel ‘visa free’ around the world. This year’s 2017 Global Passport Power Rank (link) lists Singaporean passport with a score of 159 as the highest, followed by Germany at 158 and Sweden and South Korea tied at 157.

Arton Capital’s Passport Index is the world’s most popular online interactive tool, which collects, displays and ranks the passports of the world. The real time global ranking of the world’s passports are updated as frequently as new visa waivers and changes are announced. Passports of 193 United Nations member countries and 6 territories (ROC Taiwan, Macao (SAR China), Hong Kong (SAR China), Kosovo, Palestinian Territory and the Vatican) for a total of 199 are considered.

Arton’s report ranked all of the passports of the world for their “total visa-free score,” where a point is given for each country that their holders can visit without a visa, with a visa on arrival, or using electronic travel authorization.  What this means is simple: Singaporean Passport holders can travel to 159 countries visa free or requesting a visa on arrival.

 

Afghanistan ranks at the bottom with a rank of 22 preceded by Pakistan and Iraq tied at 26.  The Indian Passport’s Visa Free score is 51.

In case you plan to rush to acquire a Singaporean Passport, keep in mind it is not going to be easy. According to Wikipedia

Singaporean nationality law is derived from the Constitution of Singapore and is based on jus sanguinis and a modified form of jus soli. There are three ways of acquiring Singaporean citizenship: by birth, by descent, or by registration. Citizenship by naturalisation is no longer granted.

A person can apply for registration as a Singaporean citizen if he or she has been a Permanent Resident for at least two years and is gainfully employed or married to a Singaporean citizen.