BENGALURU: Bengaluru, Jan 8: In what will give a permanent link to the descendants of the Indian colonial slave workers shipped by British and French colonisers to work in their colonies, the Indian Government on Sunday announced to give them Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards that will facilitated them to visit India without needing a visa. T
he labourers, known as girmityas, were taken away by the colonisers as early as 1820s and are spread across east Africa, South East Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean (called girmitya countries). The government has started the scheme from Mauritius and in the long run it will be beneficial to their eight million descendants.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2017 organised in the city. “We have a special bond with the Indian Diaspora which is living in the Girmitiya countries – who are deeply and emotionally attached with their place of origin. We are aware of difficulties faced by Persons of Indian Origin/ from these countries in obtaining an OCI Card if they moved abroad four or five generations ago.
I am glad to announce that starting with Mauritius, we are working to put in place new procedures and documentation requirements so that the descendants of Girmitiyas from this country could become eligible for OCI Cards,” PM Modi said. He further added that the government will be addressing similar difficulties of PIOs in Fiji, Reunion Islands, Suriname, Guyana and other Caribbean States. The OCI scheme was started by the UPA Government and was offered till the fourth generation descendants of the Indian emigrants.
However, the girmityas are a special case as they migrated over two centuries ago and most of them have traveled to 25 nations and four French islands in the Indian Ocean. OCI does not give citizenship benefits to its holders but do give a visa free entry into the country.
The first wave of the Indian workers being shipped by the British abroad is recorded in 1820s that was found by a team of experts formulated by the foreign ministry to study the archives in Mauritius, which are very well documented. The change of policy for the girmityas is in sync with the Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy where Indian diaspora is the cornerstone. Modi has been harping on connecting the Indian diaspora with the “economic and social transformation” of the country. He said that $ 69 billion have been channeled into India by Non-Residents Indians (NRIs) that will be boosting Indian growth.