Meet Sayantan Chakravarty, the editor of India Empire, the magazine of and for the Indian Diaspora.
Sayantan, since you are not a NRI (Non Resident Indian) or PIO ( People of Indian Origin), what motivated you to create India Empire?
There are hundreds of magazines that deal with politics, current affairs, movies, sports, health, and so on. But there are practically no magazines from India that talk about the diaspora and connect the diaspora to India and provide them with opportunities in India and other countries where diaspora is present.
The motivation has also something to do with my Past Life. We are all here in this lifetime to pay debts, then heal and gain the understanding and knowledge of this lifetime. I think this was meant to be.
I left mainstream journalism to start a magazine on the Indian Diaspora of which there are hardly any out of India. But I really feel for the diaspora. I really feel for that diaspora that was removed from India during the times of colonial emigration. I just feel there is a connect somewhere, and I write about them also, whenever I can.
Also, this is a new territory, this engagement with India’s diaspora. Remember, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) was set up in 2004. Our magazine was started the same year. India Empire is about the Indian Diaspora, and a diaspora that is spread across the world. They used to say the “Sun does not set on the British Empire.” Do I have to say anything more for the Indian diaspora?
I’m still finding ways in which to make the magazine more meaningful, because the diaspora is actually very diverse. On one hand you have the diaspora in Guadeloupe whose expectations from India are more cultural. On the other you have the diaspora in say Australia whose expectations are more economic. Finding a way to balance these two expectations and being a bridge is the key to making the magazine more meaningful. At the same time it is essential that circulation goes up, and subscriptions go up. Only then can one sustain this project.
What are your links with the GOPIO (Global Organization of PIO) International and the MOIA ?
My link with the GOPIO started in January 2005. I think it was also the year that the GOPIO was doing its first convention just before the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Mumbai. Ever since, our association has grown. I have come to realize that there are splinter, breakaway groups that are harming the interests of not just GOPIO, but also of a vast section of the diaspora. Instead of promoting the interests of sections of diaspora in India, these splinter groups are busy jockeying for positions among themselves.
But the GOPIO International as a whole has a large mandate. I am happy that a man who is a descendant of indentured workers is at the head of GOPIO International today. He will be able to relate with the descendants of such workers. At the same time, being based in New York he’ll be able to network with the more recent immigrants and take GOPIO forward.
About two years ago, I was appointed co-chair of GOPIO’s Media Council. Today, we are working on what will be GOPIO’s first book, a coffee table one. It is being published by India Empire.
My association with MOIA is since its inception, at a time when it was called the Ministry of NRI Affairs. The name was changed in order not to hurt the sentiments of PIOs and Overseas Indians. The Ministry has informally used my advice, such as before PBD 2012. I’ve had a close link with the MOIA. At PBD 2012, a special publication on Reunion Islands was released by Minister Vayalar Ravi. We are also Media Partner for Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre, which is a Public Private Partnership between MOIA and Confederation of Indian Industry.
About Kolkata Memorial?
I was part of the launch team and I published souvenirs and brochures and am happy that Kolkata has a Memorial for Indentured Workers who left the shores of India in the 19th and very early parts of the 20th century. Kolkata happens to be the city of my birth, and I was born in a hospital (President’s General Hospital, now SSKM) that is very close to Garden Reach, the place from where thousands of indentured workers sailed to faraway lands under the colonial emigration system. Certainly, it makes me believe in a Past Life connect.
Why this special issue about Reunion Island?
For several years I was watching the Francophone diaspora attending PBD events. I always felt they were lost in the sea of the English speaking diaspora from USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa and many other countries that speak English. Somehow, they would come, attend the event, and return, without their voice being heard in the places that matter.
A thought came to my mind, to write about the Reunion Island diaspora. I knew that a special publication on Reunion Island would be well received and many would show interest. Actually, that is exactly how it panned out. Today, after the launch of the publication at the PBD, many people are asking about Reunion Island. They are frankly surprised to hear the name, and then even more surprised to know that there is such a large Indian presence in that island. I am sure this will begin new dialogue between Reunion Island and India.
Also, I could help the Reunion Chamber of Commerce and the OIFC (Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding.
Your next project?
I would like to do a similar project for Guadeloupe and Martinique, as it has the same history as Reunion Island. The difference between the two departments is the same as the difference between Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago. The distance factor made it even more difficult for people in Guadeloupe and Martinique to maintain any kind of contact with Mother India. Over time, they got cut off completely. It is once again important to write about the diaspora in these two places, of course with the help of the same logistical support we received in Reunion.
More information on www.indiaempire.com
Propos recueillis par Christelle Gourdine