In dossier this month, we profile for our readers a few personalities, who have largely remained in the sidelines of diaspora news. Though each of them have made their mark in their own domains and are known in their communities for the work they have afforded during the course of their lifetimes so far, they have mostly remained out of the public eye. NRI Achievers profiles them for our readers.
KIRAN M. GOSAVI
Nasik, one of India’s age-old cities located in Maharashtra, known for its links to the epic “Ramayana,” and a city of temples and the Singhasth Kumbh is the birthplace of Kiran M Gosavi, a current resident in Nigeria. Kiran’s liberal outlook and non-conformist views of from his young years found resonance with the prospect of travelling to the African continent, which in a way may be called the birth place of Satyagarha. After moving from India to the dark continent, he did a short stint in Ethiopia, before finding himself a place in the sun in Nigeria. As a well-respected political and social activist, Kiran is today considered one of the continent’s top professionals in his field.
Kiran works as the Director (Operations) for a large media house and publishing company, while simultaneously providing his expertise in the form of consultancy services on turnkey basis to large projects in the African printing industry. His thoroughly professional approach, hard work and his adeptness in adapting the latest technologies and global best-practices in the trade are the ingredients of his success and behind his phenomenal rise to the apex of his field over a short span of time.
Despite of his more-than-busy lifestyle, he has never ever relegated thoughts of India to the backseat, rooting and always standing first for subjects close to his heart. Though being in a nation that’s a continent apart from the homeland, he has always remained political aware, and in fact enjoys playing the role of a cultural ambassador of India to African society. In his adopted country, he is ever busy in playing a key role organising Indian festivities and working toward enhancing people-to-people contact between the two countries, for the benefit of increased trade and closer cultural exchange.
Kiran, apropos, is also currently the Vice President and Co-convener of BJP Nigeria. Apart from this position, he is also a trustee and global president of the Vishwaguru Sthapna Mission Trust, an institution that strives to work across borders in several countries and continents for the betterment of mankind. An emergence of a resurgent India, per the ancient wisdom of “Bharatvarsh,” and वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम – the world is one family – is a guiding principle of the organisation that works for economic integration of the global human society, and holds peaceful coexistence and equal distribution of resources and opportunities in the world as their mantra for humankind.
Trained and blooded in the cut and thrust of student politics in Delhi University, Sunil Chopra, who arrived in London in 1979 after completing a law degree from the DU, has many laurels to his credit. Just a couple of years ago, he had risen to political heights in the British capital when he took over as the mayor of the London borough of Southwark. For 2013-14, Councilor Sunil Chopra had been elected as the deputy mayor of Southwark. His election was deemed significant as the percentage of Indian-origin people in the central London borough was a mere 1.5%, and unlike other boroughs where Indians were more in number. Delhi-born Chopra, General Secretary of the Indian Overseas Congress, London, then became the first and only Indian-origin elected councilor in the London Borough of Southwark Council.
Chopra had then said, "I feel really proud to be an Indian (British Citizen). It is not only a great honour for me and my family but for the whole Indian Community. I will keep working with the community".
Looking back at his life, we find Chopra was the president of the Delhi unit of the NSUI in the 1970s. His contemporaries in student politics at that time were Arun Jaitley, Vijay Goel, Anand Sharma, Ambika Soni, Sudhanshu Mittal, and others. He had gone to the SM Jain School in Kamla Nagar, and was the first president of the Delhi University's College of Vocational Studies in the mid 1970s.
Arriving in the UK, Chopra had set-up a retail business, and then entered the wholesale business in children's garments and baby products. He was a founder trustee of the Southwark Hindu Centre, and had successfully contested council elections for the first time in 2010 as a Labour candidate. Chopra's key activities include raising funds for charity organizations through events such as a 'Curry Night.’ He is also credited for his 'Diversity Nights' that tried to celebrate the many cultures represented in the borough with a population of 2.8 lakh. Chopra, happily married and with three sons born in London, says he often visits Delhi to meet his mentors, friends and family.
His former teacher at the College of Vocational Studies, Dr Rajendra Panwar recalls that Chopra was an extremely popular student leader with exceptional organizational abilities who was liked by all his teachers. "On every visit to Delhi, he meets me and others". Senior Congress leader Harcharan Singh Josh, his neighbour at Shora Kothi near Ghanta Ghar, Sabzi Mandi, who saw Chopra grow up says that he always had the potential of doing great things. "He has been in touch with me and we share a very special bond even now".
His passion to help young and unemployed people, senior citizens and to forge close ties amongst citizens from various backgrounds was much appreciated by his borough. "My global passion is to provide education and clean drinking water in developing countries”, says Chopra. Chopra still has one as yet unfulfilled wish, that’s of being a member of the House of Commons. "It depends on my party if they give me the ticket, I will make a bid for it.” Chopra says, "We need more representation for the Indian community in the British parliament, we don't have fair representation yet".
K V SHAMSUDHEEN
Karapam Veettil Shamsudheen, a malayalee from Chavakkad in Trissur, is today settled in Dubai with his wife and two children. We met him during a diaspora meet and got to talking, when in bits and pieces, we came to know of his experiences and achievements … in his own words. We reproduce excerpts of them here, and let his own words tell his story …
“I was an active student member of the BSS (Bharat Sewa Samaj?), and even at age 13, I was working on how to inculcate the savings habit among villagers. So you could say that my way of doing things now has been growing with me since my childhood. Another thing, since almost all male members of our family were living and working in Ceylon and Malaysia, I was, from a very tender age, well conversant with the usual problems and challenges of non-resident Indians. Like many of my other family members, I too after completing my B.Com travelled to the gulf to find employment, arriving in Dubai in the year 1970. On my very first day there, I had occasion to see the pathetic condition of two NRIs, who were struggling to return back after a decade and a half of stay in Sharjah, in the absence of enough money to buy trheir tickets to travel to Bombay by ship. Right then and there I had decided to help Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) solve their various problems and inculcate saving and investment habits in them.”
Jumping the gun a bit, we would like to ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ a bit. Shamsudheen had originally come to Gulf to work with a private company in Sharjah. He did that for 4 years or so, before he joined Govt Service at Sharjah in 1974, and stayed in government service for 16 years.
“It was in the year 1976 when the Unit Trust of India sent out am invitation to me asking me to take up their first Non Resident Agency, after appreciating my diligent efforts over the years to propagate US-1964 – at that time the only Indian mutual fund among NRIs. Those days, investment in Indian Initial Public issues was not possible, and it was only after much continued demand that our government finally permitted NRIs to invest in IPOs. And from the first IPO that opened for NRIs, I started to help our compatriots to invest in IPOs.
“After seeing my contribution in Telco, its merchant banker, M/s J M Finance offered me sub-brokerage. In 1995, when Geojit Securities Ltd decided to go public they invited me to join as an NRI promoter and I accepted. I was on their board till 2002. In 2001, I was instrumental in setting up Barjeel Geojit Securities LLC in the UAE. In late nineties, the condition of Gulf returnees had become aggravated, so I decided to solve that problem in a organized way. For that, I decided to register a charitable trust, with my own financial contribution. So I went ahead and registered the “Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust” in 2001. After registering the Trust, we undertook a survey among NRIs to find out their financial status. One of the alarming findings of this survey was that 95% of all the NRIs from lower, middle and upper middle income segment (blue collar and white collar workers) had little or no financial resources to live comfortably when they return to India for permanent settlement.”
“We realised that in order to change this situation to the better, we needed to mount a mid-to-long-term campaign in a very organised fashion – with a view to inform people and help them cultivate financial discipline, through the adoption of saving and regular investment habits. So advocacy, persuation, handholding and affording financial education to our fellow NRIs became our only solution. I decided to conduct regular classes for NRIs in GCC countries and for family members of NRIs in India.”
So I have ended up conducting more than 400 financial awareness programmes entitled "For a better tomorrow," in GCC countries for Indian expatriates, and out of those 54 were conducted in India for the family members of non resident Indians. I then took to radio and conducted more than 700 live interactive weekly radio programmes titled "Financial Planning and investment opportunities" on Asianet Radio, which has more than 1.4 million listeners in all GCC countries. I also did some 500 odd live TV programmes under the name of "Lifeline" with NTV. Many television and radio channels from across the world have featured me and asked me to speak about the life of non resident Indians in the GCC countries, and on my philanthropic activities.”
“My financial awareness programme "For a better Tomorrow,” usually covered many key factors that impinged on the lifes of the non resident in the Gulf. It asked some uncomfortable questions, and also sought answers for them, often suggesting a way out. For example, we know that all NRIs had chosen the Gulf in the hope for a the better life, and a majority are successful. But few are not successful, why? Each and every one can improve in their life, how? How can we be a disciplined and sincere worker and get respect and career improvement? How and why it happened that many Gulf returnees did so without garnering adequate and proper financial resources, why did it happen? How to avoid such situations?”
“We also covered subjects like the need to save, the various expenditures of NRIs and their dependents, on how to control expenditure – stop extravagances – how to avoid debt and interest burden, how to control greed and miserliness, how to stop bad habits like smoking, alcoholism, over-spending for marriage, house-building, etc., on the hidden trap of credit cards, on how to control suicidal tendencies among Indian expatriates on the advent of financial crisis, and trained people on adopting good expenditure control techniques, family budgets, and explaining how micro savings and systematic investments will give a comfortable retired life.”
“We always promoted the concept of expatriates investing back into India. So we used to convince people on why India is the best investment destination for us, and used to explanain various investment opportunities open to them like real estate, agriculture, gold, jewelry, insurance, fixed deposit, mutual funds and stocks, business, small scale industry, etc. We also used to offer advice on the various investment opportunities, their profitability and risk, procedures, measures to take care while investing et al. Also looked at were the Shariah compliant investment opportunities available in India. I had added demonetization and tax liabilities, and common mistakes made by NRIs in financial handling, etc toward the end, as they were the need of the day. All this used to be followed by a question and answer session.”
“This program is like an interactive class with the help of audiovisuals that lasted all of 2.5 hours. My focus is on the lower, middle and upper middle income segment of expatriates, and I have a different module for professionals and people in the business community. In addition to these activities I have all along tried to get the Government of India’s attention on various issues related to NRIs. I sincerely believe that if I keep on hammering, any stone however hard and strong is likely to crack. So I used to put pressure on our government continuously with the view that the public will ultimately get the benefits. To mention a few of the areas I had initially ignited that the masses took over later are:
- In the seventies NRIs were not permitted to subscribe to Indian IPOs with repatriation. Responding to our demand govt permitted NRIs to invest in Indian Public Issues with repatriation.
- Rooted for simplification of procedure, the government finally did it.
- In eighties the international rate of interest was 24% per annum while in India it was very low, so many NRIs were investing in tax havens, so I pushed for an increase in the interest rate for NRE deposits, on par with international markets, which ultimately got done.
- Requested that NRIs be permitted to participate in the Indian election process and vote in elections, now taken up by community organisations.
- Airlines hike fares for India-GCC destinations during peak seasons. I had advocated controlling it, and now that government has introduced an upper-cap fare-limit for domestic destinations, I am requesting government to introduce similar for international destinations as well.
- We are still governed by a baggage rule that’s half-a-century old. I campaigned for an increase in baggage allowance at par with inflation, and govt has of late increased the duty free allowance.
- All items a passenger may carry without paying duty are mentioned by quantity whereas gold is mentioned by value. I campaigned for parity in this matter, and government has now changed it to 20 grams for males and 40 grams for female passengers.”
“I have some eight voluminous tomes of press cuttings that document the history of expatriate life here. I had started an initiative called "Swandwanam" in 2006 when suicide cases among expatriates suddenly hit the public eye and registered an increase. The intention was to control suicidal tendencies among Indian expatriates. I received more than 1000 calls from those who were on the brink of suicide, and we ensured that none of them did take the extreme step. The “National” news paper produced a documentary on this service and they had titled it "The Debt Cycle." I am still helping people who get into debt traps, by advising them on how to manage their debt.”
“I have also seen many awards and recognition coming my way. In 2012, the Cochin Chamber of Commerce had given an award for my activities. CNBC TV18 gave me an award for my efforts to create financial awarenessamong non resident Indians the same year. For the last three successive years, arabianbusiness.com had selected me as one among the 100 most influential Indians in GCC countries. In 2012 my rank was 51, in 2013 it became 17 and then in 2014 it was 9. In the philanthropic category my name was number one all these years. For the last two years, I have got the “Indian CEO of the year for Philanthropy” award from CEO Middle East magazine.”
“I am not in any way a part of any socio-cultural, religious or political groupings, and so I am getting acceptance from all groups. I am continuing with my work under the strong belief that “If you Show mercy to those who are on earth, then God will show mercy unto you.”