Dubai: More than 800 Indian expats from the UAE, including around 200 students and 100 blue-collar workers, are making waves at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), a convention for the Non Resident Indians (NRIs) at the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
The Indian delegation from the UAE is the largest group of overseas Indians from any country to attend the 17th PBD Convention, which received over 3,500 registrations from nearly 70 countries, at “India’s cleanest city”, Indore.
For the first time, a large group of students and workers got a chance to fly to their home country for representing the 3.4 million-strong Indian diaspora in the UAE. The rest of the delegation comprises of businessmen, professionals and representatives of expat community groups.
Speaking to Gulf News from Indore on Sunday, some of the participants from the UAE said they felt honoured and connected to India after the warm reception they were accorded. The students and workers were particurly excited after receiving a red-carpet welcome along with marigold garlands. They thanked the Indian missions, managements of schools and companies and community members who facilitated their travel.
Jitendra Vaidya, the UAE president of the community group Indian People’s Forum (IPF), said the UAE team witnessed an incredible welcome by the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan. “The reception he hosted was magnificent and memorable and our presence as the largest delegation was appreciated. Around 650 of us came on three flights. Others came separately.”
Treated equally, feeling motivated
Bharat Prasad, a driver from Bihar, is part of the largest group of 51 blue-collar workers from EFS Facilities in the UAE. He said he was a bit nervous about attending the mega event, but that changed once he reached there.
“It has been a wonderful experience so far. We are getting a lot of respect from the time we landed at the airport. I have been working in the UAE for 28 years. I am very grateful to my company for sending me to this event where all expats are treated equally. For the first time, we workers also feel that we are also part of the NRI community.”
Jagdish Chander, a senior technician from Punjab, said he felt motivated after hearing the speeches of the Indian ministers at the first PBD event on Sunday. “We feel that we should do better for ourselves, our company and our country,” he said.
Nagalaksmi, the only female worker in the UAE delegation, was proud to represent the female expat workers. “For me, this experience is like getting a big award. It is a proud moment and I will always cherish this,” she said.
Purnima Sabnis, manager, who is leading the workers of EFS Facilities, said none of the other countries had a representation of the blue-collar workers like the UAE delegation.
“It is important that the workers get a voice in the PBD as they are among the expatriates in the Gulf countries who send the highest remittance to India. They are getting a lot of attention from the organisers, participants and national media here. Our workers are getting treated like celebrities and they got featured in television interviews and they are very excited,” she added.
The manager said the event has helped provide in-depth insight into the growth and vision of India.
The workers said they were all looking forward to meeting and greeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is scheduled to present a keynote address at the official inauguration of the convention on Monday.
Meeting ministers, planting saplings
Some of the students also spoke about their desire to meet the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, some of them were excited about the chance to interact with India’s Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, Indian Minister of Sports, Youth Affairs, Anurag Thakur, and the Chief Minister.
Students of Al Ameer English School in Ajman were particularly elated after Muraleedharan shared a photo with them on social media.
One of the students, Ann Maria, said: “It is an absolutely beautiful feeling to know more about India, especially Madhya Pradesh, first hand. Meeting and interacting with the minister was a big surprise to us. We are also so happy that we got a chance to plant saplings under our school name along with the Chief Minister at the ‘Global Garden,’ which will be a monument site of the PBD.”
Meanwhile, another student from the same school, Poornasree Ratheesh, had a different experience. The Grade 7 student lost her passport soon after reaching Indore.
“It is very difficult to get a new passport issued before we return as her parents are in the UAE, the passport was issued from Kochi and police verification also has to be done. But Minister Muraleedharan has given special orders to expedite the procedures to help her fly back with us,” said Saifudheen Hamsa, academic coordinator, who is leading the students.
“Everyone here is excited to see people from Dubai and we feel very honoured to represent the UAE. It is important that expat students attend such events because most of them don’t want to come to India for higher education. This will help them know about India’s growth and the opportunities they have when they come back home,” he added.
What is PBD?
A celebration of overseas Indian expats, PBD Convention is held to commemorate the return of India’s Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi to his homeland from South Africa on January 9, 1915, since 2003.
The 17th PBD is being held from January 8 to 10 under the theme ‘Diaspora: Reliable partners for India’s progress in Amrit Kaal’.
The three-day event includes Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which took place on Sunday. Five plenary sessions are on the themes: diaspora youth in innovations and technology, Indian diaspora in promoting healthcare ecosystem, soft power of India—craft, cuisine and creativity, global mobility of Indian workforce and women diaspora entrepreneurs in nation building.
The valedictory address will be by the Indian President Droupadi Murmu who will confer the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards to this year’s winners. Dubai-based Indian businessman and philanthropist Siddharth Balachandran is the only winner from the UAE and other GCC countries this time.