Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia remains connected to its roots

Updated 01 April 2016
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Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia remains connected to its roots

JEDDAH: The Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia has a unique status among non-resident Indians (NRIs) who live all over the world. In terms of numbers, according to the Indian Embassy in Riyadh, there are 2.96 million of us living and working in the Kingdom.
We are the largest group of Indians living outside India and there are 11.37 million NRIs worldwide.
There are apparently more Indians in the US but only 1.2 million are NRIs with about 3.1 million persons of Indian origin (PIOs).

Though in the Kingdom, we are mostly in semi-skilled and unskilled jobs, we rank third in remittances to our home country. Most of us are earning a modest salary while supporting a big family at home. The other aspect of NRIs in the Kingdom is that we will remain Indian until our last breath as we are not in the queue to relinquish our nationality in exchange for another. Thus we live as Indians and die as Indians.
In our daily struggle for our near and dear ones who are separated from us by thousands of miles, we give our best efforts to the host nation. We remain connected to our roots in spirit and emotion; we hold fast to our heritage, our culture, our land and our villages. We stand firm with our country through thick and thin and will continue to do so; we pray for its progress and its people, for alleviation of their poverty and for their health and safety. We keep ourselves abreast of the latest developments back home. Our television is like a window looking at the crossroads of big and small cities across India. We weep with every tragedy, laugh with every amusement and take pride in the march of progress. Here we are Indian first — Keralites, Hyderabadis, Biharis, UP-wallahs, Tamil and Maharashtrian later.
At times we hope that the people back home acknowledge our part in nation-building with the contributions we have made. The concept of nationhood truly lies in the welfare of its people, especially those from the marginalized sections and the poor. A country should prioritize improving the lot of its economically weaker section as the rich can usually take care of themselves. It is for this reason that national policies should be drafted taking into consideration the poor as the central piece. The affluent classes do not count on their leader as much as the poor do, and the poor desperately need to look up to their leader and wait with patience for resources to be distributed in the hope that one day their turn will ultimately come. It is this confidence of the poor in the leader that gives him or her strength to represent the nation as a whole, and it is this very power of the people that guides the leader in policy decisions and makes him or her all the more powerful.
As we take pride in India’s emergence as a leader in economic development and technological advancement, we also expect our government to provide welfare services on a par with our relative position in the world. Our representation on government-run programs for “Aprawasis” should be more than what it is at present. There should be a separate section in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to look after the welfare of NRIs from Saudi Arabia. There is need for a social security scheme for returning Indians after their superannuation and of medical insurance as NRIs need more support from their government. The Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana (PBBY), a compulsory insurance scheme for overseas Indian workers having ECR passports, covers death, permanent disability, medical needs, litigation etc. but it should also be extended to cover non-emergency situations for a larger group of NRIs.
In the voluntary social security scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Surakhsha Yojna (MGPSY) for ECR passports holders, the government contribution is negligible. There is a need to increase the government contribution and to include others too so that in the event of an unexpected return, people can get a reasonable amount for resettlement.
Our concerns are also related to the education of our children beyond Grade 12. The Direct Admission of Students Abroad (DASA) scheme in which admissions are based on SAT, GMAT or GRE scores caters to students entering mainly technical education. We need a quota in disciplines such as medicine and management studies as well.
Embassy-run schools are doing a commendable job but they need more resources and space to accommodate growing numbers of students. With nearly three million Indians living in Saudi Arabia, there is also a need for Overseas Indian Community Centers on the embassy and consulate premises so that the community can be better served.
We are the peace ambassadors from India to our host country and are blessed with respect and love from the Saudis because of our devotion to work and discipline. Our trust and respect for each other is further cemented with the Kingdom being our fourth largest trading partner. We feel happy when we hear the phrase, “Hindi kuwais,” i.e. “Indians are good people.” This trust will result in further strengthening of bilateral ties between our two countries, God willing.

— Mubin Raza Khan is a Jeddah-based Indian academic. He teaches English at King Abdul Aziz University.


Umrah pilgrims now free to move around Saudi Arabia

Updated 5 min 7 sec ago
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Umrah pilgrims now free to move around Saudi Arabia

  • Previously, Umrah pilgrims were restricted to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah and the port city of Jeddah
  • Nearly 8 million Muslims are likely to perform Umrah this year

JEDDAH: Millions of Umrah pilgrims are to be granted the freedom to visit anywhere in the Kingdom during their stay, the Saudi Cabinet decided on Tuesday.

Muslims making the holy pilgrimage will be allowed to tour anywhere in the country as part of Saudi Arabia’s plans to boost tourism and the economy.

“The Cabinet has decided to exclude people coming to perform Umrah and to visit the Prophet’s Mosque (in Madinah), of the prohibition of movement outside Makkah, Madinah, and Jeddah. A royal decree has been prepared to this effect,” the acting media minister, Issam bin Saeed, said in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Previously, Umrah pilgrims were restricted to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah and the port city of Jeddah.

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Vision 2030 aims to increase the country’s capacity to welcome Umrah visitors from 8 million to 30 million every year.

Nearly 8 million Muslims will perform Umrah in the Kingdom this year, and the Cabinet’s move will enable them to enjoy a broader experience of Saudi Arabia by visiting key landmarks, historic sites, tourist attractions and shopping centers.

“We are looking to enrich the experience of pilgrims and facilitate their arrival,” Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, told Arab News. “Traveling around the Kingdom is an opportunity for pilgrims to visit cultural and tourist sites.

“At the same time, they will be allowed to arrive at any port in the country which will facilitate their arrival and expand the capacity to receive more pilgrims.”

Ministers hope their decision will help toward reaching Saudi Arabia’s goal of receiving 30 million Umrah pilgrims by 2030.

In the past, pilgrims were allowed to convert their visas into a tourist visa on the condition that they were registered with a tourism program. “This is no longer a requirement,” said Al-Maddah.

He added that they would now be free to plan visits to other Saudi cities, tourist destinations, festivals and events, within the period of their visa validity.

Al-Maddah said: “We want to make it available to everyone in order to enrich the experience of the pilgrims, which is one of the goals of Vision 2030.”

He noted that the authority responsible for implementing the Cabinet’s decision would be the Interior Ministry.