France offers to help Indian diaspora get PIO cards

Paris, Jan 19: France has offered to collaborate with India to resolve the question of persons of Indian origin not getting their PIO or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards for want of the necessary documents demanded by the Indian government.

This assurance was given by French Ambassador to India Francois Richier to the Francophone Indian diaspora that had gathered in New Delhi for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas earlier this month, it has been disclosed here.

Addressing the gathering of PIOs from France, Reunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique and some other parts of the world, Richier said he had already discussed the issue with the officials of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and he hoped that a solution would be found quickly to enable the nearly 500,000 PIOs living in France and its territories overseas get the cards.

The Indian government wants the PIOs to furnish documents that prove the Indian origin of their ancestors. This is especially difficult for the PIOs living in Reunion, Guadeloupe and Martinique as all the archives of records and data have been destroyed in natural catastrophes like volcanic eruptions, floods and fires. This has left the diaspora in a lurch as almost none of them have been able to provide these documents.

The Francophone Indian diaspora counts nearly 1.2 million and, of this, nearly 500,000 live in overseas French territories (former French colonies) in the Indian Ocean as well as the Caribbean. The Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and neighbouring French territories like Mayotte and Comores account for over 400,000 PIOs, while the Caribbean French territories like Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guyana account for about 100,000 PIOs.

Most of these people are descendants of the indentured workers taken by the French in the mid-19th century to work on sugar plantations, replacing the slaves after the abolition of slavery.

Richier told the gathering, organised by Media India Group and GOPIO International in collaboration with the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, that his suggestion was that the French administration issue certificates showing the Indian origin of the PIOs and that the Indian government should accept them.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi said he recognised the significant presence of the Francophone Indian diaspora and has been engaging more often with this part of the world. Each year during the PBD, on January 8, a special meeting – Francophone Evening – is organised on the margins of the PBD which allows the Francophone diaspora to interact with the minister and senior officials of the ministry in French, a language that they understand.

“Since most of our delegates do not speak English and as the proceedings of the PBD are entirely in English, the Francophone Evening is a very crucial event as it allows us to ask questions that matter the most to us in our language and also to have an immediate response from the government and the minister in French. Without this interaction, our participation in the PBD would be incomplete,” said Mahyendra Utchanah, president of GOPIO International.

President of GOPIO Reunion Island, Jean Regis Ramassamy, who was leading a delegation of about 25 PIOs, said there are many problems for the PIOs to get the PIO card.

“Mainly we aim to have more information and ease for our people to get their PIO cards. The Indian government has made some moves and made it easier to an extent as now the fourth generation is allowed a PIO card. But this is not enough for us as in our island we have PIOs stretching six or seven generations. Also, we are still awaiting the visit of the minister to Reunion,” he said.

Ramassamy added that the Francophone meeting should be enhanced and a Francophone Day could be planned at future PBDs. He also said that the Reunion Island should get the opportunity to hold a regional PBD.

(19.01.2014 – Ranvir Nayar can be contacted at ranvir.mediaindia@gmail.com)

IANS