A founder president of VHP in Australia, a former president of a Hindu temple and cultural centre in Canada and a president of Ramakrishna Centre in South Africa are among those who won the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awards, which were given away by President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday. The awards were conferred at the valedictory session of this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on the concluding day of the three-day event.
IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath, who criticised demonetisation, won the award, but was not present at the event.
Among the 30 awardees are Nihal Singh Agar, founding president of VHP in Australia between 1990-2005, and Ramesh Chotai, former president of Hindu Mandir and Cultural Centre in Canada.
In 2001, Chotai was instrumental in raising $1.6 million in three weeks as relief fund in the aftermath of the Gujarat earthquake. In partnership with Canadian International Development Agency, the Canada temple outfit contributed $3.2 million to build 802 homes, 32 schools, four community centres and four medical mobile clinics in the earthquake-ravaged areas.
Swami Saradaprabhananda, president, Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa (Phoenix) is also among the awardees.
Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award is the highest honour conferred by the President as a part of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conventions on a Non Resident Indian (NRI), Person of Indian Origin (PIOs) or organisation or institution established and run by NRIs or PIOs.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the criteria includes the role of individuals or organisations in fostering better understanding of India abroad, supporting India’s causes and concerns in a tangible way, building closer links between India, the overseas Indian community and their country of residence; social and humanitarian causes in India or abroad; welfare of the local Indian community; philanthropic and charitable work, eminence in one’s field or outstanding work which has enhanced India’s prestige in the country of residence; and eminence in skills which has enhanced India’s prestige in that country (for non-professional workers).
Two organisations — Indian Community Association of Egypt and Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha — got the award for community service. Himanshu Gulati, a Member of Parliament in Norway, and Shamim Parkar Khan of the UAE were honoured for public service and veteran South African diplomat Anil Sookal was conferred the award in the field of diplomacy.
After giving the awards, Kovind said, “They are the face of India and its identity abroad. We are proud of them… what really makes their contributions stand out are the values that they espouse… These are values that intrinsically remain Indian.”