GOPIO and the PIO Diaspora
(Report to GOPIO International, Dec 2001)

cooliesThe PIO Diaspora is slowly but surely rising as a collective world community.The dynamics of globalization is a major cause for this new thinking for a global grouping among the people of Indian Origin or PIOs.

This global grouping is a relatively new thinking, despite the efforts for networking among the PIOs being a little more then a decade old now.

The vision of GOPIO (Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin) is to bond the PIOs as a global community.

GOPIO is non-political and non-sectarian by design and the emphasis is on social, economic and cultural cooperation and exchange.

The diversity within the PIO community is immensely varied, and this diversity is also our strength. Avoidance of party politics and sectarian activities in GOPIO is an effective means to hold the diversified community together as a united PIO community.

 Why GOPIO and why a global community?

gopio-history2This is a common question that pops up, soon after a short period of “feeling good and being part of a world PIO community” through the activities of GOPIO.

Getting to know and meeting the PIOs in different countries that have similar histories of migration and where the people have been able to pull through huge socio-economic difficulties to live much better lives in the present has given the “Feel Good” and the sense of being “One People”.

There are many similarities and cultural practices that can be shared among these migrant communities and this leads to a  natural tendency to recognize that the International PIO community is a single community.

This happiness lasts only for a short period of few years. Sustaining global networking among the PIOs calls for much more systemic efforts and the continued holding of hands.

 Common Histories

The forefathers of the PIO people of South Africa, Reunion and the Southeast Asian countries mostly left India from the then Madras Presidency region in the south and the same goes for the PIO people of Mauritius, Fiji and the Caribbean countries, who are mainly from today’s State of Bihar, in the north. Together, all these PIOs from India have similarities in the many phases of their socio-economic histories of more then 100 years.


Their separate histories in the various countries are littered with identical sufferings and almost similar struggles to arrive at their current status of being much better off than their forefathers.

When they meet, their feel good and bonding is grounded in their common histories of phases of struggles. GOPIO was formed on the synergy of this oneness of the PIO communities from the various countries.

Today, together they make up a community of more than 25 million people. GOPIO expects the PIO community to rise to become a major global community for the well being of themselves as well as for all peoples of the world. This is not merely a laudable guideline, but one of the entrenched principal objectives of GOPIO: that PIOs, network globally, shall together aspire of the well-being of the PIO community and all peoples of the world.

As of now, there is in GOPIO a tendency for the “feel good” to diminish, relative to the period of disappear, as the pains of pioneering work for a global community is recalled. On the balance, the PIO community is still a nation-bound community. The average PIO is very much a local, identifying his strengths and opportunities within his own country.

The current trend of going global is still very much a “concept” for the PIOs and far from reality. That the world is to become a “global village” was taken note of in the late 1970s.

The Formation of GOPIO

gopio-history1GOPIO was conceptualized in 1988 in the United Kingdom, flowing along with the Mega Trend thinking of a global village.

That the Diasporas will be natural groupings of people, in a closely networked global village, is currently quite well understood by the public and politically acceptable to governments.

The PIOs need to understand that they have much to gain by actively participating in the global village process.

For instance, is there a possibility to identify, within this on-going process of globalization, the next phase of dynamic economic growth and development for the PIO community?

PIO Image – past and present

Mahatma Gandhi, a role model PIO

At times, the current period seems to be a world of desperation. Terrorism is the answer for some. But the irony is that this same prevalent terrorism was foreseen by quite a few and reasoned out in numerous writings. The “Clash of Civilizations” by Samuel Huntington is only one of such cautions, followed with detailed explanations. However, looking around at the current happenings, obviously equability is not going to arrive peacefully, on a golden platter. And if humankind is not careful, more communities could end up in desperate stand-offs.

In this environment of violence and potentially more violence, there is a dire need to promote the ethics of Ahimsa or non-violence. It is heartening to observe that in the history of more than 100 years of the PIO community, the PIOs have largely abhorred any recourse to violence and have sought peaceful means to resolve their many problems.

To be heard and to find resolution to their problems and issues, they protest; organize protest rallies; lobby; pray and they fast. Ahimsa or nor-violent action is PIOs cultural strength. The passage of the PIOs from the past to the present has been through civic actions and such form of actions will remain their choice means for their future tasks and objectives. Mahatma Gandhi is an excellent role model from within the PIO Communities, for it is during his fourteen years stay in South Africa, he first experimented with Ahimsa or non-violence protest and succeeded.

Immigrant Community Image

coolies4The PIOs in various countries, and particularly those in the poor and developing economies, are at times still perceived as immigrant communities. They may have been migrants more than 100 years ago, but in a few countries, they are deemed not good for government leadership, such as in Fiji, Suriname and Guyana.

Nevertheless, during this period of 100 years and more, the PIOs have contributed tremendously to the growth and development of their countries. They and their descendants have made enormous contributions to the political, social and economic life of their adopted countries. There is also the intellectual contribution by the PIO community. This aspect has been felt in the academic and professional fields and more importantly, in the the political field. And yet, in some countries, they are not accepted as an integral part of the nation.

The current environment of drastic global changes in social, economic and political ideologies are more than “constructive destruction”, and few can stomach the consequences. While some national leadership point out the arbitrary and discriminatory rulings arising in the new global scene as a result of globalization, the actions and local responsibilities of this same leadership to fairness and equity in their own countries are another stories. The argument seems to be that the racists leadership is responsible to the country’s mainstream or indigenous population. Rabuka as Fiji’s President after a couple is only one of such gross anomalies.

The PIO community, dispersed as minorities in many nations, are furthest from the agenda of the international institutes of proponents of democracy. The world has other preoccupations. In the order of priority, the PIOs are not in the radar. In most of these countries, where PIOs are a substantial number but still a minority, they are subsumed by the so-called “necessities of a new nation” that has emerged from their recent colonial history.

There is only a token acceptance of participation of PIOs in national governments. At times the PIOs selective and acceptable “leaders” participation is a mask with which these governments show to the world that there are equability and democracy but in reality, they are more of accomplices for exploitation. Soon, the PIO leaderships participation become just a protocol necessity.

coolies7It is not that the PIOs are not interested in the governance of their countries. It is to be observed that around the world, given the chance, the PIOs are natural socio-political activists. The community by nature are civic society liberals. (This observation ought to be looked into in detail). There is no lack of active interest in participating in the development of their countries. The PIOs love their civic activities and demonstrate a keen interest and willingness to participate in the social-political activities of their countries.

PIOs are active proponents of social equability. They have taken the lead in evolving the workers’ unions and sustaining them with their voluntary work in almost all the developing countries they settled in. As unionists, they lobbied their governments for fair deals for the working class of all the peoples of their countries. Some continued further and moved into politics.

The current political leadership of Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Fiji, SriLanka and even South Africa are the leaders and sons of trade unionism. A little longer ago, it was also in countries like Singapore and  Malaysia, where PIOs were once active trade unionists and provided the leadership and collaboration for today’s governments and civic organizations.

Social Clubs are not the Alternative

coolies3This Socio-political leadership role-play has changed drastically in recent times. The PIO generation spanning the last about 25 years has faded out of the mainstream Socio-political organizations. As numbers are important as vote blocks in the political set-ups, the PIO leaderships have been replaced by the majority races.

Being the minorities in most of these countries, the PIOs have therefore been edged or pushed out of mainstream politics and governments, or will soon be out. Being left out, the PIOs who are on the balance still civic-oriented, have of recent channeled their civic interests and energies into non-political activities, such as the Rotary and Lions clubs. They do not channel their energies to radical actions. Today, there is an undue overweight participation of PIOs in these civic clubs in most of the countries where they are settled.

This is not a coincidence. But the end result is that the minority PIO communities in the various developing countries have lost out in their own self-help and community development activities. These civic clubs are not alternatives for PIO community development. There is confusion within the youth of the community, and they are lost for want of firm ideas and actions for productive participation for their community development.

Their participation is direly needed. Service to their Community needs to be highlighted as wanting strong civic-minded participants and leadership.

Lost Generation

lost-genThe PIO generation that spanned the 25 years ending about 2000 is yet to give meaningful contributions to the collective development of the PIO communities. The earlier generations have contributed substantially, and in much more dire situations, to the collective development and well-being of the PIO communities.

In countries like Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Reunion and Fiji, the earlier PIO generations have provided social and cultural institutions like schools, temples and buildings for the civic associations of their people. They also worked hard and invested in the major transition from a non-literate PIO community into a huge pool of educated PIOs. Now there are a substantial number of professionals.

These professionals now form a majority of today’s PIO middle class and they contribute substantially to the increased wealth of the Community and the nation. The earlier working-class generation’s sweat and sacrifice have produced this middle-class community that continues to enjoy the socio-cultural institutions like schools and temples that the earlier generations provided. Today, the middle-class PIO community finds it an uphill task to even maintain and sustain their inherited Socio-cultural public institutions like the schools and temples.

The question is, are they incapable or are they being hindered? However meanwhile, they are lost, and for the PIO Community, they are a lost generation with the very little contribution of new institutions for the common well-being of the PIO Community.

New Synergies and New Opportunities

indians-srilankaWhat is the path forward? Where to from here?

It definitely is not re-migration to new third countries, a path that a few families and individuals have tested. The PIO communities are apparently at a crossroad, especially in the developing economy countries. The past has demonstrated that the PIOs are a resilient people, who have the collective intellectual ability to transcend their many difficult periods.

At present, there is a leadership vacuum, and this is more due to the lack of clarity of direction. The denials of facts are a symptom of failure. To know and understand one’s roots and history is a necessity. But to learn and understand the current environments is similarly essential to have clarity. A well-informed community will be able to identify both the opportunities and the sustainable path to the future. The sustainable path must lead to the growth and development of the individual, the PIO community and the country.

1. Global Network

globalGlobalization is not anyone’s making, and neither is it a choice of the people. More so, it is the common progress of the collective human civilization, arising from the universal education policies for all. Universal education policies bloomed soon after World War 2, across most countries. Today to have a fully literate population is taken as a natural national goal.

But this education for all is a huge new social phenomenon, in the whole history of Mankind. Now with the convergence of more knowledge and technology, the world becoming a global village is a natural flow of events. The impact of globalization is like a juggernaut and the changes will naturally be drastic.

There are gains as much as damages. Much needs to be done to manage the damages. But the fact remains that the train has left the station. Everyone, individuals, institutions and governments are trying to make the best in this new circumstance.

 The PIOs need to believe the new catechism, “Think Global Act Local”. To network globally is relatively a new activity for the PIOs. And by networking in this globalized world, the PIO Diaspora can emerge as a group of people who will progress collectively. As one global community, the synergies are many.

The newly synergized PIO Diaspora will then be able to meet GOPIO’s objective that the PIO community arise into a major global community for their own well-being and for that of all peoples of the world. Including the countries in which they are settled.

 2. Diversity is Fundamental to PIOs

diversitySustaining the rich diversity of the PIO community is important for long-term achievements. Diversity creates creativity and is the natural means for a rich civilization. Diversity is a way of life for a community of wholesome richness. Diversity is an ethical cultural practice for the PIO community and is a wonderful value for propagating to all communities of the globe.

 3. Accommodative Constitution

 To sustain the creativity in the PIO Diaspora, GOPIO and similar global organizations will need an organizational structure that is flexible, accommodative and accountable. As an organization, there is also the need for rules for good governance to achieve ethical results.

Mahatma Gandhi’s often repeated guidelines, “major achievements are a result of major efforts”, and “rights and responsibilities go together” should be the spirit of a global organization in this changed new world. With these broad guidelines, GOPIO will have to restructure the operational rules in its constitution to accommodate the new dynamics of the “global village” and utilize the numerous new facilities, such as ICT or information and communications technology, and encourage new work modules, for example, knowledge-teams.

 4. Towards one-third Entrepreneurship

awardsThe PIO community needs to become a bigger commercial community. If the community is one-third in entrepreneurship, their mere economic strength will help resolve many of their social and cultural needs. The PIOs will then be able to provide for better education for their youth by themselves and further provide for institutions for their cultural needs.

GOPIO has an import role to play in this transition of the PIOs into becoming a bigger commercial community and going international in their economic activities. Possibly, this will become an important factor in the next phase of the historical growth of the PIO community.

 There is a need for the PIOs to think and feel more international in their economic activities. Their playing field is much larger than their home countries. The inter-economic activities now taking place between the PIOs of different countries is almost negligible.

Much needs to be done to tap this latent economic dynamics. The beneficiaries will be the PIO communities and with their collective economic growth, their countries will see an increased international trade. The growth of cultural exchanges and the like will be much more enhanced under increased smart partnership businesses among the PIOs.

 5. PIOs and India’s New Economy

Similarly, GOPIO must assist the PIOs to enhance their activities with India from the social and cultural relationships to active entrepreneurship. In the past, India was an effective source and support base for the PIO socio-cultural reach-out. Some of the current popular fine arts PIO artistes received their training in India.

In fact, India provided much for higher education for the PIO communities of many countries and even now India’s medical courses are popular with the PIOs around the world. However, the gains that can come from economic activities would be multiplied many times more.

The most beautiful aspect of this is that the PIO countries will be equal beneficiaries. India has begun to open up and liberalize for international trade. It is about 12 years now. At the rate of India’s present rate of economic liberalization, it can become a huge economic dynamo in the next 10 years, just as it is happening with China now.

 The opportunities in India’s new infrastructure development and international trade that is opening up to the world business community are massive. The PIOs can become and must become natural partners and agents of change in this massive transition of India’s economy. This is a historic opportunity for the PIOs. The PIOs, for their own economic stakes, must participate in India’s new economy. India’s New Economy is a bottomless well of prosperity.

 6. PIOs Capital Nation.

mauritiusThese are times of new ideas, new creations and new concepts. One such concept is that of “Capital Nation”. The trend among diasporas is to adopt, or at least “tag”, a country as their Capital Nation for all their people spread around the globe.

The Capital Nation is different from their Mother Country. By identifying a country as their Capital Nation, the Diaspora does not accrue any additional political rights. The Diaspora concentrates in this Capital Nation their institutions and the logistics and infrastructures for their International Secretariat. Singapore is being used by the Overseas Chinese Diaspora as their Capital Nation, and Malaysia is the likely destination for the Malay Diaspora. PIO Diaspora has  Mauritius as the PIO Capital Nation.

 The government of Mauritius will always be a PIO government since the PIOs are the largest community there. Mauritius has for many, many years been having a matured, democratic government in power and the literacy rate of the local population is high.

The political environment is that of good governance based on democratic foundations and the people are peace-loving. Further, the island is a beautiful world tourism centre. The people are bilingual, in French and English, and most of them are also educated in their mother tongue. This is suitable for the needs of the Francophone PIO communities in Reunion, St Louis in the Caribbean and in France.

The people of Mauritius are liberal and civil in their way of living and in their governance, and the country has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Mauritius is also geographically situated in the middle of the international time zone, suitable for both East and West communities. In recent years, the Mauritius Government has implemented a liberal economic policy, targeting to transform the country into an International Financial Services Centre. Their own cyber cities are now being developed. The active participation of the PIOs and their acceptance of Mauritius as their Capital Nation will assist and enhance this transformation.


gandhi-1The current chain of changes, locally and globally, has had an impact on all governments of the world, on institutions as well as individuals. As noted earlier, some have gained but some have felt more damages then gains. But on the balance, it is an unavoidable forward process, an outcome of the universal education policy.

If at all, the same universal education policy is getting more emphatic with more youth going for tertiary education. But this has not reached its peak, for the impact of continued education is yet to be felt. More youth want to be professionals.

 Mega trends indicate that the changes will continue at least into 2025. In other words, we are yet to see and feel much of the changes and their full effects. The PIOs, and particularly the PIO youth, need to understand this huge transition and position their lives meaningfully to cope with the New World.

A paradigm shift is needed to become an international PIO Youth. Mahatma Gandhi had rightly said, “be the change that you would want in the world”. As an International PIO, you will contribute to the growth and well-being of your country, your community and to your wholesome individual growth. Such an environment will then, among others, give rise to many PIO multi-national corporations or MNCs in all the sectors of commerce. GOPIO would then have done its job.

Selvarajoo Sundram, Malaysia
Secretary General, GOPIO International
Dec 2001