Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reflections on Non Resident Oriyas, specially of the USA variety

Like the rest of India, many of our better off Oriya brothers have moved to easier and more lucrative careers abroad. We have a thriving NRO community with a number of common platforms and listserves. Most of them, specially the first generation NROs who grew up in Orissa, are deeply concerned about Orissa, and many of them try to put their concern into concrete terms, both through words and actions. Due to their intellectual and financial capacities they also have a deep influence on Orissa's fate - this is no different from the relationship between diasporas and their original homeplaces.

Living in developed countries, many of the NROs seem to feel extremely uncomfortable, and probably humiliated that their ancestral home is so backward and poor. If they had the capacity, they would transform Orissa into California or Taiwan or South Korea in a generation. Some even seem to prefer the fate of China for Orissa rather than continue in the current situation. They want to see Orissa "developed". I appreciate their concern for the state.

Unfortunately, they would like to develop Orissa like the "USA", but seem to be unwilling to share the same enthusiasm about democratic, human and citizen's rights that USA confers on its citizens (and not to rest of the world). In their impatience to develop Orissa, they almost seem to subscribe to a semi-fascist and authoritarian state.

One particular gentleman who has come back to develop Orissa (I wonder if it is fulltime or parttime) has specially strong opinions. In his opinion it is stupid to block economic development because of environmental reasons. I am not sure what he means by economic development - maybe he is thinking of the russian roulette that the Wall Street played with derivatives and CDS; or of the financial flows and ebbs across the world which have provided corporate entities like Vedanta with enough capital to purchase our democracy itself. As far as I know, he is going to turn the whole agriculture in Orissa into hydroponics, which, along with GMOs, is something he touts to the poor farmers of Orissa. Also, the anti GMO and anti-vaccine activists make him really angry.I like his blind faith in science- after all it is science and technology which gave us the atom bomb and the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka

I am also amazed at another Professor from a famous uinversity in USA who suggested that the Chief Minister use the police to ensure that land acquisition for the Vedanta university (promoted by our current favorite fatcat Shri Agarwal) proceed smoothly. I am sure he knows what that means - with his huge website on Orissa, he must be aware of Kalinganagar and Maikanch, where police were used to "smoothen the land acquisition process". If I know the people of Puri, I can imagine the same outcome if police is used to force the land acquisition. Does he think Orissa has become a province of China? I was amazed. Then I found that he doesn't even know the basics about the Land Acquisition process in India. I went to his website (appreciate his genuine efforts at many things which will help Orissa). But with this twisted, undemocratic notion of development- he has one section called "Exposing Anti Orissa Growth Scheme". Two major entries relate to the Kalinganagar movement and the POSCO movement, depicting these as being the part of a larger conspiracy against Orissa. My own suggestion to this gentleman that he should shift with his family and baggage and settle down in either the hexavalent chromium polluted area in Sukinda or in the midst of the coal mines in Talcher or Belpahar or below the red mud pond of Vedanta. With this he will set an example for all the people affected by environmental pollution in Orissa to grin it and bear it.

There is another NRO- a whole hearted supporter of Sangha Parivar. You can get a taste of his taste by looking at the Jharkhand listserve. He loves baiting environmentalists and so called social activists - but his lack of knowledge of Orissa and India is even more apparent than others. His love for fascistic tendencies is quite apparent though.

On more serious note - diasporas, specially those who have access to both finances and knowledge, can deeply influence their places of origin. In India we have had both good and bad influences. Even in Orissa we have had very good initiatives by NROs, including by gentlemen mentioned above. However they must also learn more about their state and its ethos and have greater respect for democracy and democratic processes. Orissa will not be Singapore or China - its people have a deep fortitude and patience - but they also love their land too much to allow it to be despoiled by a greedy, extraction based industrialisation financed by international finance capital, which externalises all its environmental costs for profits.

There are NROs who understand this, and are sensitive to the contexts of Orissa, and the needs of our common people. I think the main difference is in the manner one views and understand the notion of development and its relationships with democracy and human rights.



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