Despite Being Celebrated, NRIs Face a Lot of Flak Just For Being Away from their Home
The highest executives at the Central and State governments celebrate the contributions of Non-Resident Indians. The media goes gaga over the growing influence of Pravasi Bhartiya’s (NRIs) and PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin) – be it the First Female Vice President of the USA Kamala Harris, Anita Anand as the Defence Minister of Canada, or Rishi Sunak who was in the race of UK PM.
The captains of Indian industry assert that the growing size of the Indian diaspora makes it easier for them to do business. The soft power that the Indian diaspora exerts is undeniable and opens gates for the rest of the Indians.
But behind all this glory and celebrations, there is hidden but real trouble in paradise.
NRIs, especially the ones who have been living abroad for very long and have made a mark for themselves, find that they are not welcome in society.
They often feel that their relationship managers want them to invest in the latest scheme but are reluctant to answer a simple query. They feel cheated when they go shopping in local markets, and find that the cab or auto driver has taken them for a ride.
The relatives also treat them like snobbish, rich ATMs who come bearing gifts every once in a while. If they do not spend their “easy” money to treat the local relatives, then they are no good. Read: Financial Blunder – NRIs giving money to friends and family members
If you are feeling that we are narrating a high-tension drama movie, then you are not so wrong. It takes all kinds of people to make this world.
We wish to highlight some of the social and cultural problems that NRIs face in India as there are plenty of articles already on the financial hardships. But we think that the overall environment must improve to cheer these daughters and sons of the soil who are living overseas.
On the Surface, NRIs are treated as an Asset
Enough has been written about this worldview. We stated at the beginning of our article how everyone – at least in the public eye – lauds the contributions of the NRIs.
Therefore, we would present the major contributions as briefly as possible:
- Despite being only 1% of India’s population, they contribute a healthy 3.4% to the country’s GDP. In 2019 alone India received close to $90 billion as inward remittances from NRIs.
- They add to the depleting foreign exchange reserves of the country which is otherwise a net importer.
- They not only form a large chunk of the tourists visiting India they are also the brand ambassadors for Indian tourism and culture all across the world.
- The NRIs in prominent positions as executives, scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs, politicians, bureaucrats, and activists have helped increase the global clout of India. Today India enjoys far more heft in the USA or the UK than many other emerging countries in part because of our NRIs’ contributions.
- The soft power of India and Indians as hardworking, entrepreneurial, innovative, and pluralistic people is due to our large NRI population.
- They not only send money back to their families, but most of them also contribute to societal upliftment. Many NRIs have funded educational institutions, started hospitals, sponsored education of the underprivileged, and become a force of positive change.
- In the more globalized and connected world, the NRIs provide India with the link that is missing for most other countries. This again gives all Indians an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the world.
But the Reality Does Not Match Proclamations
The reality on the ground is very different from what the newspaper headlines would like us to believe.
Here we list some of the most common behavioural aspects that NRIs face when they visit India. In some cases, they are targeted even if they are not here.
You Have Overstayed Your Welcome
A very common attitudinal shift is seen when the NRIs are visiting for a function or official program. For example, many NRIs who were participating in the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas event were welcomed as guests – not as family members!
And who wants a guest overstaying?
Many NRIs also feel a similar attitudinal shift in relatives and neighbours when they are visiting for a local or family function.
People think that by staying for long, the NRIs will assert themselves and try to boss around everyone. They will continue to flaunt their riches and, in the process, make others look bad.
But that’s not the case. They just want to relish and savour the local festivities, culture, tastes, and warmth for a few more days to last them the next few years.
NRIs Dollars are Welcome, Not Their Suggestions!
Many of our NRI clients have also complained that many state governments and even successive central governments have wanted them to remit to India, invest in India, and do many things for India.
But when NRIs make constructive suggestions that go against the grain or vested interests of the powers that be, they are completely ignored. No one would respond to their emails and the calls would not be returned. And even when they are ready to fly down to have a meeting, appointments are not given.
It seems NRIs must give their money to the authorities here in India – at village, city, metro, state, or even central levels – and rely on the honesty and ingenuity of the official babus and netas to implement the projects.
So much so that a prominent NRI Physician in the USA had this to say: [at the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas] … it typifies the ‘official’ Indian attitude to NRIs: “You left India and went away so it’s your own fault you are guests. Give us your dollars and we’ll tell you how to spend them.”
They Are Snobbish
Another common behavior that NRIs face is being labelled as snobbish or arrogant.
You must wonder why?
Well, here are some of the reasons:
- They refuse to eat at a roadside outlet near the open nullah (sewage line).
- They will drink only bottled water.
- They will refuse to use any restroom/toilet screaming “it is filthy.”
- They are obsessed with using sanitizer and masks everywhere.
- They will fuss over how the travel and health facilities in the country of residence are far superior to those in India.
Now you must be wondering, “if this is the attitude of the NRI visitors, then yes, they are arrogant!”
We would like to present a different view to you.
Most likely you travel by car with AC on. If for some reason, you are required to take the Metro, you will use it, but not enjoy the ride. At least if it is imposed on you for many days.
And we can guarantee that if you were to travel by the city bus service or the Mumbai local trains, then you will not find it in your heart to travel for the next few days. This is even though you live here amid all this chaos daily.
The human body and mind adapt and adjust to new conditions, but it takes some time to do so. In the meantime, they resist and make you do unimaginable things.
Therefore, next time calling an NRI relative snobbish, just run this thought experiment in your mind.
Moreover, by implementing the suggestion to improve the general sanitation, travel, and hygiene in public places India can attract more foreign tourists than it does today. Singapore, a city-state of roughly Delhi-NCR’s size, attracts more tourists than the entire country of India.
Survey – Best bank for NRIs
The Official Apathy and Antipathy
The notorious Indian Babudom does not stop on Indian shores but extends far beyond to overseas embassies and consulates.
NRIs often complain about the apathy of the Embassy and Consulate officials towards the issues of the expatriates in the host country. Whether it is much-needed handholding that is required to attract their investments or common routine issues like attesting a Power of Attorney, the embassy officials are hard to find.
Many NRIs find it easy to reach out to the local politician in the host country, then to get an appointment from any officer at the Indian Embassy. Even if an NRI wishes to come back to India after spending many decades abroad, they find it hard to get proper, adequate, and correct information.
When compared to the proactive attitude of the officials at the Embassies of Israel or China, NRIs are made to feel like second-class citizens in an Indian Embassy!
Even when they are in India – temporarily or for good – they are not treated with the courtesy that they have become used to overseas. Not even their legitimate complaints are responded to by government officials at local, state, or central levels. In fact, many NRIs feel that the government officials treat them like criminals for they have made it good with their hard work and perseverance.
The Uneasy Assimilation
If you think that adjusting to the local culture and establishing strong bonds with their Indian relatives is easier for NRIs, then you are absolutely wrong. Just recall how it took you a few days to adjust to your routine after returning from a weeklong trip from Goa, Kashmir, or North-East.
The situation with NRIs is worse as they have spent the majority of their lives abroad in an entirely different culture, with completely different customs. No doubt, they put in extra effort to follow all the customs and traditions. They make sure to participate wholeheartedly in all festivals too – cultural or religious.
Sometimes, this extra effort is not appreciated rather insensitive people stare at them, snicker behind their backs, and even laugh down at them.
Must Read – Why do NRIs want to return to India?
Education and Healthcare
The two areas where most NRIs cannot and do not wish to compromise are education and health care.
Coming from the Indian subcontinent, they are already prone to many diseases and have become accustomed to superior medical facilities. In India, except for a few metros and Tier-I cities finding even a good doctor is a challenge, let alone good treatment.
Similarly, the kids of the NRIs face a similar situation at schools and colleges. They are accustomed to being frank and candid even with their teachers. They interact and behave in a manner that is totally normal in diverse schools abroad, they talk fluently in English, and hardly know the local language.
Other kids at school either make fun of them, mostly due to envy, bully them, or simply ignore them altogether. The teachers who are accustomed to the unconditional reverence of their pupils are also taken aback by the candid replies from NRI kids and their refusal to budge at seemingly unjust demands.
Another problem that students face is the mismatch of the curricula at all levels. NRI kids also face problems in adjusting to the second local language requirement by most school boards, the pedagogy, and the over-emphasis on marks.
The Dream Sequence
The Yashraj movies have presented a very romanticized version of the NRIs and their seamless integration into Indian society.
If we also want this dream sequence to come true, then obviously we must first admit that there is a problem. Only then are we going to genuinely identify the problems and start working on them individually, socially, officially, and politically.
India has been a country that believes in the mantra of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्), embracing the entire world as one family. But if we fail to embrace even our own people and give them the respect they deserve, we cannot claim to be their first home and final adobe.
I hope you can relate to this post… please share your experience in the comment section.