In August 2014, Huffington Post carried an article “Indians: The Most Connected Diaspora”. The author Pawan Khera a Political Analyst, says: “Today, the world over, Indians and communities of Indian origin consider themselves as one large civilization — a polycentric, transnational population”.
With about 25 million people of Indian origin now scattered across the globe — including more than 5 million in the Arabian Gulf and 3 million in United States — are we really one large entity?
Yes, I think, we are. The fact that it is large, polycentric, and transnational is undoubted. And this large diaspora’s connectivity today, is mainly attributable to the rise of Internet and social media.
Unlike in the past when units of diaspora functioned in isolation, with sluggish interaction, it is now possible to garner the huge potential of overseas Indians, with a speed and efficiency, that was hitherto impossible.
The definition of ‘Social Media’ that I am borrowing, for this presentation, is of R.Buettner’s. “Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people to create, share, or exchange information, career interests, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.”
Social networking in the past meant the cordial parties and get-togethers, where people met, and talked.
But today, social networking is largely online, with individuals – and virtual communities – interacting with one another through computer-enabled social media.
Native Indians, and those abroad, are now connecting with one another using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked-In, Pinterest, YouTube, and others. And at an individual level even on WhatsApp groups, and with SnapChat friends.
So how are the various tools of social media affecting the Indian diaspora?
I wish to highlight three ways Social Media is helping the Indian diaspora to connect. And three ways it can be enhanced.
Three Ways Social Media enables Diaspora Connectivity
- Bringing Indians Together
Facebook groups of Indian organizations, wherever they are in the world are enabling a smoother and faster interaction between members of the groups. A quick search online showed me that Facebook groups for Indians exist in Africa, Europe, Caribbean, Far-East and Arabian Gulf.
There are Facebook groups of Indians in even unlikely places, like in Romania and Sudan.
Long before Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, we have seen him interacting with his twitter followers and Facebook community, constantly updating them on not only the progress he made, but also on the thoughts he had on various issues.
In fact, it is pertinent to mention that some of his electoral success can be directly attributed to his engagement with the younger generation on social media.
Launched in July last year, the ‘Digital India’ initiative by the Government of India ensures that Government services are made available to citizens electronically – by improving online infrastructure and by increasing Internet connectivity. And, I believe, that it will bring India together, and also benefit Indian families residing abroad.
- Engaging Citizens. Enabling Wisdom
Thanks to the secular and democratic values that India upholds, India’s many issues –economic, political or social – quickly generate viewpoints and debates that now quickly rage in cyberspace, on social media.
People from all over the diaspora can be seen voicing their opinions and arguments, on subjects that concern the state. Social media, therefore, gives enormous feedback to Indian administration on the voice of its citizens.
We can see how newspapers and television channels are engaging their audiences to interact with them on important issues, by giving them twitter handles and asking them to hash-tag posts.
So, in these days of low-attention spans, “Letters to the editors” are slowly making their way out, and twitter feed and Facebook posts are coming on, to the forefront.
- Arousing a Sense of Belongingness
Even if they are far-removed from their native country, Indians living abroad seem to possess a strange sense of belongingness. A belongingness that makes them rally around any cause that shows them as integral beings of India. But nationalist views of overseas Indians are often misunderstood.The political commentator Swapan Dasgupta, once lambasted NRIs. He said, “No Indian website is free from the voluminous but pernicious comments of the know-all, ultra-nationalist NRI banging away on the computer in splendid isolation. From being India’s would-be benefactors, the meddlesome NRI has become an intellectual nuisance, derailing civil discourse with his paranoia and pseudo-superiority. It’s time he was royally ignored”.
But, I believe, Mr Dasgupta’s viewpoint is wrong. Opinions of overseas Indians should not be termed as intellectual nuisance but must be considered as vital as a bird’s eye-view. As a saner picture from a wider perspective.
And social media offers those Indian perspectives from abroad. They reflect a concern which should not be ignored, and a oneness that must, in fact, be encouraged.
Three Ways Social Media can enhance Diaspora Connectivity
- Use by Indian Embassies and High Commissions
Indian Embassies and High Commissions must be quick in updating the Indian residents of their respective countries on matters that relate to Indians abroad. Issues that need the attention of the diaspora, and advices that need to be given to the people can be quickly and efficiently done through social media.
While websites need updating by webmasters, social media posts are easy to post. They can be easily updated by any member of office staff.
Large corporate houses are seen employing social media managers to engage in effective corporate communications. Similarly, government organizations can also consider effective social interactions, through the employment of human resources with requisite skills.
Especially because on platforms such as twitter, brevity is important. And writing skills matter. The essential thought must be communicated; often using the least number of words possible.
Ambassadors and High Commissioners can not only give their followers information on consular services, but engage them on subjects of common interest.
- Engagement For Electoral Franchise
Though not a social media issue, a long pending one for the overseas Indians has been the issue of participating in India’s electoral franchise. Social media engagement with overseas Indians shows that Indians abroad wish to be a part of the electoral process, and that debating on social media enables them to have a wider and clearer picture of Indian politics.
Indians abroad are well-aware of the developments in the Indian political arena. And sometimes, more than those in India. Thanks to Internet and satellite television, India is really ‘not’ far anymore.
So, with technology now available, it should be possible for non-resident Indians Overseas to vote online.
- Battling Information Indigestion and Security Issues
Long before the advent of Internet and Social Media, Alvin Toffler popularised the term “information overload” in his 1970 book, Future Shock.
And in ‘Megatrends 2000’, a 1990 book by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, the authors predict the inevitability of ‘Information Indigestion’.
Today, we are well-aware of the phenomenon of 1.8 billion search results on Google, in just 0.75 seconds! Information indigestion is right here.
So, ensuring that only what is essential is said, is the new challenge, on social media. Perhaps, that is why twitter stills restricts the number of characters one can use to post their views.
There is also the issue of how security can be managed on Social Media accounts.
Organization with social accounts must be extremely careful.
In January 2015, the Twitter account for U.S. Central Command was hacked by ISIS sympathizers. A series of unusual tweets were then published with apparent warnings from ISIS, as well as links, images and Pentagon documents.
Luckily, for US Central Command, no classified information was stolen and no military networks were compromised. And soon the account was reclaimed by the owners.
Proper security measures are therefore needed when organizations of the diaspora handle social media accounts.
In summary, we can conclude that social media can be actively used by groups in the diaspora to connect and engage members on India-relevant issues. It can help embassies and high commissions to reach Indian citizens abroad with updated information on all essential matters.
With good care and effectively planning social media that is here to stay can connect the Indians abroad with those in India and thereby strengthen the bonds.
‘Unity in diversity’ is not merely a slogan of the past but a maxim ingrained in the Indian ethos, and social media can further the truth the phrase proclaims.
The fact that India’s Sabeer Bhatia had sold the world’s frontrunner Hotmail to Microsoft, and the fact that two of the biggest players in the cyber world, Google and Microsoft have Indians at helm, shows the enormous potential Indians have, in this field of computers.
I wish Indian investors would encourage home –grown talent before the talent flies abroad to generate revenues for large foreign corporations.
And the fact that large global companies are eager and willing to set shop in India is indicative of huge prospects India offers today.
As Pawan Khera , the author of the Huffington Post article I mentioned in the beginning states, “The most binding element for the Indian diaspora is no longer just Bollywood or cricket. Bollywood represents India as much as chow mein represents China. For the new generation of Indian origin, who have not visited India often enough to know their parents’ country, social networking sites have become their major gateway to India”.
 Buettner, R. (2016). Getting a Job via Career-oriented Social Networking Sites: The Weakness of Ties. 49th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Kauai, Hawaii: IEEE. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.3249.2241.