NRI Achievers have been after Vayalar Ravi, who steers the ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, for quite some time to interact with us on an exclusive session and talk about his ministry and its various institutions, and the various aspects and issues that concern the Indian Diaspora, both the old and the new. The Minister finally consented, and we present excerpts here from the conversation Rajeev Gupta had with him.

On the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs
“My Ministry, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, wants to be a true friend and guide to overseas Indians across the world. With that in mind, I have always been trying to take new initiatives for the benefit of the large and diverse overseas Indian community. I am ensuring that my ministry makes all efforts to further strengthen the strong bond between India and overseas Indians, we want to address their concerns and problems, and we want to create an enabling environment, where overseas Indians will engage with and benefit from the opportunities in our rapidly growing economy. During my last tenure in this ministry, I had worked to establish an institutional framework that can support sustainable and mutually beneficial engagement with the diaspora. I think all these have been helpful in the endeavors of overseas Indians. “All this has been good, so overseas Indians are enthusiastic, be it they want to explore their past, the present opportunities, or their future prospects with India. They come forward themselves. And why do they come forward? Because I encourage them, my ministry is encouraging them, we recognize them, we talk to them, and we facilitate them. Overseas Indians, they are people living in different countries, and we have made an effort to reach out to them and there is a feeling among the Diaspora now that somebody is there in India for them, and we available for any kind of problem they may face. So the ministry’s acceptance by overseas Indians that it is our ministry, that is the great achievement of mine. Did you know, this ministry was earlier headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh.”

On Saudi Arabia’s new job-law, “Nitaqat”, and steps being taken to insulate Indians working in the Gulf:
“This is not something new, every Arab country in the Gulf, they are taking steps like this. In the Saudi case, the law says that for every 10 foreign workers a company hires, it has to hire one Saudi national. They are doing this to combat local unemployment, and also because they consider that some of the immigrant labor is working illegally. It’s not just Indians, many other countries are also impacted. Indians are in good numbers but there are people from other countries as well. In Saudi Arabia, our estimates suggest that with the implementation of this law, some 1~2 Lac people might have a problem. So it is not that big an issue. I and my ministry have given so much of details, we have run so many campaigns which said DON’T GO WITH OUT PROPER DOCUMENTS. A document is not just the visa, but also the proof of genuine sponsors. Who is the sponsor, where do you work, all the details must be there. But still, people have gone without proper documents, and the point is they are not legally taken by anybody, any employer, that’s the point. “The Indian Embassy had been asked to help Indian workers with documentation and other issues if
they wanted to shift base or look at job opportunities in neighboring countries. We have also decided to provide air tickets to deserving people who want to come back from the country. I have asked the ambassador to extend all possible help to our citizens affected by the law. “The naturalization process in the Gulf countries would have its impact on Indian expatriates, but of the 2.4 million expatriates in Saudi Arabia, only a Lac would be affected by Nitaqat. Our aim is to protect the employment of the Indian expatriates there and we will do everything possible in this regard. However, we cannot continue to depend on the Gulf job market for our employment needs. We will have to provide our people with jobs in our own country.”

About recruitment agencies and their unscrupulous practices:
“State police should launch criminal cases. For the past four years, my Ministry has been carrying out advertisement campaigns in various languages. I am sad such campaigns have not delivered results. The Union government had already de-recognized some overseas manpower agents responsible for the current plight of Indians affected by this naturalization process in Saudi Arabia. To take things to their logical conclusion, these agents should be proceeded against for their criminal action. It is up to the State governments to initiate prosecution measures against them. I have no police or police stations for this, it is the responsibility of the state government. So what I do is I write a letter to the chief ministers, and we must tell them “treat my letter as an FIR.”, because when I receive petitions by the people regarding cheating by recruitment agencies, they are writing me, then I forward this to CMs asking them to prosecute. Some state governments do prosecute, some do not. Andhra & Kerala are more active. And also if they are wrong I take action.”

About his office routine, personal life and his family:
“I spend most of my day in office, except I go home for a meal, as I prefer to eat at home. Usually I like to have rice, dosa on occasion, sometimes it is idli. I have three children, one son, two daughters. They are here sometimes. My son, he is a lawyer, one of my daughters, the elder one, she is a dentist. We call her Chukky. My other daughter, she is Liza. My wife, Mercy, she’s no more, she passed away in 2009. She was a well-known malayalam writer, she was also an MLA in Kerala. The Sunday Times, once or twice in a week she also used to write for it, she was their regular columnist.”

How they met and got married:
“We used to go to the same college, she was my junior by a few years … Maharaja College, very famous college in Kerala. Because I wanted to meet her every day, I even joined MA in the same college. Then after graduation she had to join the women’s college for her MA, and she used to come all the way to Maharaja’s College to meet me. Then one day we decided to tell my family, my mother & father, that we are getting married … I picked her up from the women’s college after getting my father’s assent and took her home. Her family came to know later in the day. So that’s the story …”

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