Report of the Founding Congress of GOPIO Belgium held on 2nd. October 2002 in Brussels

The founding Congress of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Belgium was held in Brussels (Belgium) on the 2nd. October 2002, coinciding with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Over 100 persons representing various cross section of the Indian Diaspora (Non-resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin) attended the Congress. Representatives of cultural and social organizations in Belgium also participated.

The Founding Conference took place in the background of almost two years of preparation to establish a GOPIO National Chapter in Belgium when during the year 1999 a small delegation of NRIs and PIOs had visited Netherlands to consult the GOPIO Chapter there.

The Congress opened with a welcome Spiritual Sanskrit Sloka of communal harmony and wellbeing of everyone by Ms. Uma Hardikar.

Agenda Item No. 1: Welcome address

In his opening address the Convener of GOPIO Belgium Mr. Sunil Prasad said that the 2nd October has a special significance in India's modern history and what else could have been a better day to launch the GOPIO Belgium Chapter than on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. He welcomed the representatives of the South African Embassy, the Mauritius Embassy and the Indian Embassy for their attendance.

The Convener spoke about the background of the proposed establishment of GOPIO Belgium and why there was a need to form the GOPIO Belgium Chapter. He said that the President Elect of GOPIO International Mr. Inder Singh had visited Brussels in June and had discussions with few persons. Mr. Singh asked and encouraged us to set up GOPIO Chapter in Belgium knowing pretty well that Belgium being the nerve centre of Europe required an organization to serve the interest of NRIs and PIOs. The Convener said that the journey from June to 2nd. October when finally the Founding Congress is meeting was not a victory of any individual but this was a collective celebration of collective efforts and a long-standing need for having this Organization in Belgium. He said that GOPIO would be a non-partisan, secular global organization engaged in promoting the well being of non-resident Indians and the People of Indian Origin.

He said that the Indian Diaspora today constituted an important, and a unique in the world's political and culture sphere. It was estimated that the Indian Diaspora numbered about 22 million across 110 countries. He said that since the birth of GOPIO International in 1989, the organization has achieved many successes and is being widely viewed as the most powerful and representative organization of the Indian Diaspora. It was GOPIO which campaigned for better appreciation and reorganization of NRIs and PIOs.

The Convener said that the people of India and People of Indian Origin wherever they come from, are Indians in body and in spirit and share common heritage and values. India lives within each of them in their hearts, souls and feelings. It is for this reason the GOPIO Belgium will work to connect them, to protect them, defend their rights, fight for equal opportunities and usher a new chapter to encourage them to seek recognition of their achievements here and in India. India needs faster economic, social and technological development and GOPIO Belgium would work towards encouraging investment and development of entrepreneurship by NRIs and PIOs.

Agenda Item No. 2: Report of the Pro-tem Committee

The Convener then asked Mr. Shashank Sapre, one of the Pro-tem Committee Members to read the Brief Report of the Pro-Tem Committee which was the basis of the foundation of GOPIO Belgium. Mr. Sapre described genesis of the GOPIO establishment and various factors that led to the decision of the pro-tem members to form the GOPIO Belgium. He said that in between June and August after the visit of Inder Singh, the issue of setting up of GOPIO Belgium was discussed in private and after several interactions a Pro-tem Committee was set up which finally met on the 31st August 2002.

In the Pro-tem meeting the draft Constitution of the proposed GOPIO Belgium was discussed and several suggestions were made. Accordingly, the pro-tem Committee representing various cross sections of NRIs and PIOs with Sunil Prasad as Convener was formalised.

Mr. Sapre said that the meeting unanimously agreed that a GOPIO Belgium Chapter be set up and requested the Convener to take all steps required to lead the legal set up of the Chapter.

Mr. Sapre further said that the Committee asked the Convener to send a Letter of Intent to the GOPIO International, which has been done.

Agenda Item 3: Establishment of GOPIO

The Report of the Pro-tem Committee was unanimously accepted by the delegates with the decision that the Pro-tem Committee members will serve as the Members of the First Executive Committee.

a. Endorsement of GOPIO Belgium Constitution

The Convener then introduced the Draft Constitution and asked for the views. At the outset, one member moved that in between the Bi-annual Convention there should be an Annual General Meeting in order to provide a forum at least once a year to GOPIO members, Belgium being a small country. This was supported by many. This change was approved unanimously.

There were suggestions about enlarging the Executive Committee to include and represent the younger generation. The President said that although it has been decided that Pro-tem members would serve the First Executive Committee and the Constitution provided only 15 Executive Members, if required this issue would be discussed further in the executive Committee.

One participant (a Belgian citizen) who has been doing pioneer humanitarian work amongst the adopted Indian children in Belgium wanted to know if he could be a member of the GOPIO. He said that he himself has three adopted Indian children, most of them now young, and although they have been living in Belgium they still miss their motherland and one day would like to return. The President said that according to GOPIO Constitution it was difficult to make him a member but he would welcome his three adopted children to become GOPIO members. It was suggested that since the person has been doing humanitarian work, the GOPIO Belgium should make him an Associate member as a special case. This was agreed by the house.

Another issue that came up for discussion was the discrimination with respect to payment of entrée fees by foreigners for visiting Art Galleries, Museum, Monuments and other things of historical importance. It was pointed out that Foreigners are asked to pay higher entree fees compared to Indians which is discriminatory in nature. It was further pointed out that the Government of India should evolve its tourism policy which should attract visitors and not discriminate them. One participant said that although it was easy for a European to pay these fees, yet this amounts to discrimination and GOPIO should take up this matter with the Government to remove this discrimination.

To a suggestion by the Convener that the Executive Committee could be enlarged above fifteen members, it was decided to keep the executive Committee only to fifteen members. The Convener invited the delegates to come up to serve the Executive Committee. He also said that the Executive Committee will meet soon to co-opt members to the vacant positions.

The Draft Constitution was adopted with the above amendment(s).

b. Founding Act of GOPIO Belgium

The Convener then read the Founding Act of GOPIO Belgium which was approved unanimously.

c. Election of the President

The delegates unanimously elected Sunil Prasad as the President of the GOPIO Belgium.

The President thanked the participants for their trust in him and said that he would try his best to prove worthy of their appointment.

Agenda item No.4: Fraternal Greetings

Welcoming Mr. R. P. Agrawal, the Dy. Ambassador of the Indian Mission the President said that he had no hesitation to speak about the support the GOPIO Belgium received from the Indian Ambassador, His Excellency P. K. Singh in crystallizing the efforts. To thank them is simply not enough. They have been a source of inspiration and their cooperation and support made it possible for us to set up this organization. He expressed his deep gratitude to Mr. R. P. Agrawal, the Dy. Chief of Mission, the Minister Mr. Chakravarti and our Counsellor Mr. Jyoti Kalash for their continued support.

The Dy. Chief of Indian Mission Mr. R. P. Agrawal in his fraternal greetings thanked the organizers for launching this organization and hoped that GOPIO will live to its promises and dreams and fulfil its aims and objectives. He further reminded the audience of the importance of 2nd. October and hoped that GOPIO and its members will follow the principles of harmony and brotherhood in achieving their objectives. He assured all help from the Indian Embassy. He said that he has every hope that GOPIO will embark upon a wide range of activities and will truly represent the interest of NRIs and PIOs and fight for their rights.

The First Secretary of the South African Embassy Ms. Suhayfa Zia also delivered fraternal greetings. She mentioned the importance of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and said that organization of this nature of Indian Diaspora can play an important role in bridging the cultural and social gap between Indians and PIOs in Belgium and also between India and other countries. She said that the Ambassador of South Africa was earlier her country's High Commissioner to India and South Africa has special interest in the Indian Diaspora; the country being the home of several millions PIOs.

The Mauritius Embassy was also represented by Mr. Bhagun, its First Secretary.

Agenda Item No 5: Discussions on GOPIO Belgium Programme of Actions

The President said that there are several issues that needed to be taken up by the GOPIO and one such issue was taxation policy of the Belgian Government. He said that when a person from India come here to work even if he has worked for two years and left the job his social security fund is not returned to him/her. And according to the Belgian law he/she would be eligible to get this money only when he/she attains the age of 65. Due to this process millions of Euros are left without being returned to the person. The President said that the Indian Government does not have a reciprocal arrangement with the Belgian Government which would have been helpful to the persons who worked here. Mr. Prasad said that GOPIO would take up this matter with the authorities and would work towards a solution. At this stage Mr. Sapre said that he has collected some interesting documents and he would be willing to work on this issue.

The meeting ended with thanks to the Chair.