[ SPOTLIGHT ] GOPIO Makes Rapid Strides UNDER INDER SINGH
Inder Singh with PM Manmohan Singh
Promoting India and its interests in the United States of America has been a passion for Inder Singh, president of the Global Organization of the People Indian Origin (GOPIO). As president of this largest global body of the Indian Diaspora, Inder Singh, a Californiabased Indian American, has lived an Indiacentric life ever since making America his home in 1968.
Inder Singh’s involvement with the Indian American community began during his college days and continued along with his professional advancement. "And it has been a great journey in life," says Inder Singh, who was the first president of Federation of Indian Association (FIA) in Southern California and has been the president of GOPIO for the past five years. All through his life, he has been a community architect, a social entrepreneur and dedicated and committed community builder.
GOPIO, through its conferences, Inder Singh says, "provides an active and well recognized platform for dialogue and discussion to the worldwide Indian Diaspora. These conferences have also provided an opportunity for sharing the experiences of international Indian communities on a common platform and have helped foster a feeling of "Indianness" and fellowship among the NRIs/PIOs. They also help bring the Indian Diaspora closer to mother India and strengthen the inherent bonds of history, heritage, culture and tradition."
Inder Singh with President Bharat Jagdeo of Guyana 2007
After Inder Singh was elected President- Elect of GOPIO, he worked to change the organization from delegate based to chapter based. Towards this goal, he has visited many countries and now, GOPIO has chapters in many countries in Europe, the Caribbean, North America and Africa and thus has become more representative global body. During 2008, GOPIO has opened several chapters in Oceanic region (Australia and New Zealand) where there were none.
Describing the achievements, Inder Singh says with a sense of pride; "GOPIO was the first organization to ask for PIO Card, Overseas Indian Citizenship and the creation of Ministry for Overseas Indians by passing resolutions and persistently pursuing with government of India. GOPIO has been demanding uniform admission fee for NRI/PIO visitors to historical monuments in India, such as Taj Mahal. GOPIO has also protested against the illegal grab of NRI properties in India and has been urging the government of India to amend relevant laws for the speedy settlement of the NRI property cases. These are some of the many issues which GOPIO has taken up with the Indian government on behalf of the NRI/PIO population."
Inder Singh with PM Helen Clark of New Zealand 2008
Wherever, there has been a violation of human rights for PIOs, GOIPIO has been there to raise its voice. GOPIO continually promotes awareness and understanding of issues of concern — social, cultural, educational, economic, or political – of the NRI/PIO communities around the globe. GOPIO News reaches over 50,000 people worldwide and has become a regular monthly feature. GOPIO also actively solicits participation by providing many opportunities for involvement and has started eight Councils — Cultural, Academic, Philanthropic, Human Rights, Media, Health Services, Youth and Women’s — to serve the diverse interests of the global Indian community.
While serving as president of NFIA, Inder Singh along with many like minded persons, sponsored the first global convention of people of Indian origin in 1989, which gave birth to GOPIO. "Never in the history, was any attempt ever made to bring mother India’s forgotten children settled in various countries, on one platform, under one banner," says Singh.
Inder Singh has been behind several organizations that flourished across the US today. "Starting FIA was not in picture when I was trying to bring together all Indian associations to jointly organize India Independence Day celebration in Los Angeles area," says Singh. "In 1967, when the immigration laws were drastically changed, Indian professionals immigrated in thousands during 70’s and 80’s. As the numbers of Indians started growing, many religious and cultural groups were formed to serve the needs of growing population and they started celebrating their own ethnic festivals and religious functions. But no serious effort was being made to bring the community on one platform. That prompted me to start celebration of India’s Independence Day."
Inder has lobbied extensively for many issues dear to the Indian American community. At a time when there was no Indian caucus and pan-American Indian organization, Inder Singh rooted for his motherland. ``Once a senator introduced an amendment which would have cut aid to India for some silly reasons. The Indian ambassador and the community had just 24 hours to stop its passage. And we stopped it. I persuaded community activists like Dr. Mahesh Gupta, Dr. Parvin Syal, Dr. Satinder Swarup, Mahesh Parekh to mobilize Indians to inundate the senators with telegrams,’’ says Inder Singh, his face beaming with pride.
In 2001, Inder with the support of committed community activists formed Global Punjabi Diaspora, to recognize the contributions of Punjabis to their new homeland and to preserve and globalize their heritage and culture. He organized a highly successful commemoration event in January 2002, for late Dalip Singh Saund, the first Indian elected to the U.S. Congress.
In 1981, Inder organized the first-ever community celebration of Indian Independence and Republic Days in Southern California, which have become an annual tradition in greater Los Angeles area. In 1982, he joined hands with the East Coast-based National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), which elected him joint secretary in 1984 and vice president in 1986.
Inder is probably the only Indian American who has chaired reception committees to officially host serving presidents of two countries, president of India, Giani Zail Singh and president of the United States, George Bush, Sr., in 1989 and then in 1991. The 1989 "Tribute to President and Mrs. Bush" event was a huge success with about 40,000 people while 1991 luncheon was in celebration of Asian American Heritage Month in Los Angeles.
In 1992, Inder served on the Presidential Rank Review Board that reviewed and ranked senior Federal Government executives for Meritorious Services Award. He also served as a Board Member from 1995 to 2001 and Vice Chair from 1998 to 1999 of the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging, a national body of Asian Americans with offices in many states in the U.S. with Asian population, catering to the needs of Asian seniors.
Asked about the participation of people of Indian origin in the political arena, he says, "People who came here in the 60’s and 70’s were mainly professionals and first wanted to consolidate their position. Unlike the other communities, like the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, who have large blocks or concentrations of votes within their community, Indians do not have similar constituencies," says Singh. "Little Saigon has an elected State Assemblyman and so have Chinese from Monterey Park. Members from the Indian community who are entering politics are raising money and support from the community but do not work in the mainstream in their districts to create visibility and hence do not get many votes. Dalip Singh Saund was the first role model who worked in the mainstream community from where he got elected. It’s not about getting recognition in the Indian newspapers but working for the community that you are standing from."
On issues close to his heart, he said, "We talk about our heritage and celebrate many heroes from India forgetting that our heritage goes back 100 years in the U.S. Our grandchildren will forget the pioneers who struggled to get U.S. citizenship for Indian nationals. They even fought for independence for their motherland in this country and started Gadar Movement. It is high time that we celebrate our Indian American heritage also. We should build institutions to pay proper tribute to the memory of pioneers and patriots who cleared the way for later waves of arrivals from India."
Inder Singh regularly writes articles on Indian Diaspora and speaks at Diaspora conferences in universities and elsewhere. Many of his articles have been published in Indian newspapers in the US and in some magazines in India. He edited and published a monthly Punjabi community Newsletter during 1979-80, which was sent to over 1200 families. He organized and directed the first Youth Summer Camp in Southern California in 1979, and organized and directed the first Hockey tournament in Los Angeles, which has since become an annual event in Los Angeles. He served on the Hollywood Sikh Temple management committee for eight years in various capacities such as vice president, treasurer and secretary.
Inder Singh acknowledges that he was very fortunate to have the support of many committed individuals for various community projects he has worked on. He, however admits, "Without the continued help of my wife, Deepi who was department chair in Home Science College, Chandigarh and had held the position of Director in Kaiser Hospital for many years, it would have been very difficult to devote as much time and effort for community causes as I did. Actually, she shares my sustained passion for community involvement and has herself been devoting time, talent and energy in providing volunteer services on health related subjects."
Inder Singh says, "Community involvement in the beginning was a social pastime; and service for fellow NRIs/PIOs is a fulltime passion now."
[ BY AJAY GHOSH ]