Indian diaspora bridging two nations
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas events a chance to reflect on then and now
The Indian diaspora has been present in Thailand for over 150 years and now as their descendants enter a fifth generation, they continue to serve as an important bridge between both nations.
"They are still close to India, but they are Thai in every sense of the word. They get involved in trade and politics, spreading Indian culture along the way," Indian Ambassador to Thailand Suchitra Durai told the Bangkok Post.
"As travel times get shorter, they have strong ties both to India and Thailand," she added.
She was talking as the Indian community gathered to celebrate Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, or Overseas Indian Day, which falls on Jan 9 every year. She praised the contribution of the community to the development of both India and Thailand.
India's External Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said Jan 9 is a historic date for Indians because on that day in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi returned to India after spending two decades fighting for civil rights and freedom in South Africa.
"He did so, not just for the Indian community, but for all oppressed people everywhere," he said at a video conference.
"His return to the motherland was such a momentous event that it was with good reason that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee began the practice of observing the day as Pravasi Bharatiya Divas."
Mr Jaishankar said members of the Indian diaspora from different walks of life have achieved great success and helped redefine India's image.
"The Pravasi Bharatiya community is more than 30 million strong and they can be found in every continent and virtually every nation," he said.
"They represent what India can offer, whether it is in the field of science or creative arts, technology or medicine, enterprises or engineering, as well as culture, traditions and values."
Time to remember
Mukand Singh Babel, a lecturer of water engineering and management at the Asian Institute of Technology, said the day allows Indian expats to come together and reaffirm their ties to their homeland.
"I came here 30 years ago to pursue a PhD and eventually became a teacher. It is the best moment to reflect on my contributions to both the Indian and Thai communities," he said.
"I don't miss India because I have my compatriots here, and I visit my family there twice a year."
Jubilant Arora, a retired missionary, came from northern India to Thailand 33 years ago and now lives in Thailand with her children.
"As a missionary, I told people how God loves and does good things for everyone and I made friends along the way," Ms Arora said.
"Thais are very amiable. Whenever I miss India, I visit my family there."
Architect Bhargav Kaushik, said Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebration binds the diaspora community closer together and reminds them that they always have a home to return to.
"I've been here 15 years but I always think of India. We may live abroad but we are Indian at heart," he said.
Mr Kaushik went on to explain how the expat community helps develop the cultural bond between the two countries.
"We will be holding the Northeast India Festival on Feb 22-23 at CentralWorld for the second year running to show our way of life to Thais," he said.
"At the same time, we are also learning about Thailand. I can speak and write in Thai too."
Mr Kaushik met his wife, teacher Archana Joshi, back home before they moved to Thailand. Together, they welcomed their son, Agastya Joshi-Kaushik six years ago.
The first Indian to be born in Thailand in their family, Agastya studies at a bilingual school here and has been to India twice.
"I went there when I was five and six. I miss my cousin," he said.
Ambassador Durai said that for the first time ever, online links were set up so Indians living abroad could communicate directly with Mr Jaishankar.
"We streamed the event from India to diaspora communities all over the world, so those in New York, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and other cities could ask him questions directly," she said.
According to her, there are about 250,000 people of Indian origin in the country, even though some of them are now Thai nationals or citizens of other countries.
To support the large community, New Delhi offers a number of programmes for Non-Resident Indians living in Thailand.
"We launched the Know India Programme specifically for young overseas Indians to learn more about our homeland," said Ms Durai.
"We also provide numerous grants to diaspora associations abroad to help them keep our culture alive and promote mutual understanding between Indians and Thais."