Interview with OdishaDiary

annapurnaDr. Annapurna Pandey is a trained sociologist, anthropologist and teaches Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz as well as at San Jose State University. She was born and brought up in Odisha and did her undergraduate education at Ravenshaw College (now University) and graduate and post- graduate education at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

After her post-doctoral research in Social Anthropology at Cambridge University, she moved to the United States in1989. Her research is primarily on women’s activism in the process of globalization in India, particularly in the state of Orissa, India. Based on her research on the Diaspora community of Odias in the Bayarea of Northern California, she has been engaged in film making on the development of Jagannath Centers among the Odias in the Bay area, California. Currently, she is the president of the Orissa Society of the Americas (OSA), the most influential Odia Diaspora Organisation in the world.

Dr. Pandey discusses issues related to the Odia diaspora and role of OSA with Editor-in-Chief Rashmi r Parida.

OdishaDiary: Being an Anthropologist and also a scholar who is working on diaspora issues, how do you assess the role of diasporas in general and Indian Diaspora in particular?

Annapurna: During the colonial period Indians from different regions were taken to the British colonies and dominions to provide labor. Forces of globalization have impacted the present form and shape of Diaspora. Now there are over 20 million Indians who live in the Diaspora in different parts of the world. There are almost 4 million Indians in the United States alone. The constant immigration of people to far away land and the issues of cultural citizenship, multi-culturalism and varied experiences of the immigrants connecting with their homeland has made the diaspora more important to their homeland like India.


OdishaDiary: Over the last few years there is growing systematic engagement of diaspora through institutionalized platform. How do you think the diaspora community organizations can play a constructive role in home country’s development?

Annapurna: Diaspora is already playing a very constructive role in the home countries. Diaspora is a two way process. As you know, the Indian government has learned from the Chinese experience and following the Chinese model, is encouraging the Indian Diaspora to participate in the development of India. The introduction of PIO (Person of Indian Origin), NRI (Non- Resident Indian), OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) among other categories are definitely welcoming signs for the Indian diaspora in relation to their home country. It is really heartening that the Indian state has been celebrating Non-Resident Indian Day (Pravasi Bharatiya Divas) organized by the external affairs ministry in January every year. The Diaspora community organizations like Orissa Society of the Americas (OSA), a forty-four year old organization, is also connecting with its home state Odisha in order to contribute meaningfully to the development of the state.


OdishaDiary: What is your view on development potential of Odia Diasporas? Keeping in view the challenges back in Odisha, what are the thrust areas where they can contribute better?

Annapurna: The diasporic Odias have been very successful in various European and North American countries. I am President of a 44-year-old Diasporic Odia organization, OSA, and my goal has been to promote various development activities in the field of higher education for the students in Odisha. Also, as a disporic organization, we have been actively promoting Odia heritage and culture by inviting Odia artists and scholars to share their specializations and educate the Odia diaspora in North America.


OdishaDiary: What are the activities your organization has initiated with Odisha? What is your plan of action in the future?

Annapurna: Since I became the President of OSA, we have been focused on a few issues. Firstly, to have a center for the Odias in the USA. I gather that the state of Odisha is collaborating with the Odisha Society of UK to have a center for the Odias in London. Similarly, we should really have a place like that in the United States as well. We are working with the Odias in Houston to establish an Odisha Cultural center with a physical address for OSA and an archive for all the documents related to OSA. Secondly, we are trying to reach out to our people back home by initiating higher education opportunity projects.

We organized a workshop on the Higher education opportunity at the Utkal University, Bhubaneswar in Dec 2011. We had a preliminary Higher Education opportunity symposium at the OSA 2012 in Seattle and it was well attended. We just held a Higher education opportunity Open House at the Ravenshaw University as well as in Sambalpur University in Dec 2012. There were six USA universities involved and participated in the Higher Education symposium. It mainly focused on attracting talented students to apply to the USA in various fields in Arts and Sciences, and to facilitate opportunities for collaboration between universities in Odisha and the USA. Thirdly, we are also working on a cultural exchange program between students from the USA and Odisha. Fourth, following a successful symposium on Buddhist heritage in Odisha at the OSA 2012 in Seattle, the Odisha government is organizing an international Buddhist Symposium from Feb 1- 3, 2013 to showcase the Buddhist treasures of Odisha.


OdishaDiary: Recently there was an annual convention of Odia diaspora in Seattle, Washington in July 2012. The convention focused on issues related to higher education, culture, development issues etc. Is there any action plan that followed afterwards?

Annapurna: I just mentioned about various activities OSA is engaged in relation to Higher Education, promotion of Buddhist heritage and culture among other activities.


OdishaDiary: You have been actively engaged in mobilizing the Odia Diasporas and engaging them with home state. What difficulties you find in engaging the diaspora in home country?

Annapurna: I am very encouraged by the full-fledged support of the state of Odisha and its bureaucracy in supporting our endeavors to improve the life of the people in the state of Odisha. The only advice I have is a wish to make the administrators more proactive and decisive for an ongoing collaboration between OSA and Odisha.


OdishaDiary: Do you think Odia Diasporas are not active like other Indian communities for the development of their motherland?

Annapurna: Orissa Society of the Americas is a 44-year-old organization and has been predominantly focused on socio- cultural activities for the Odias in the North America. Only recently, it has shifted its focus to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people in Odisha.


OdishaDiary: Experts say Odia Diasporas’ activities limited to cultural activities. They are less involved in influencing policy making and economic development of the state like other communities in India. What is your comment over this?

Annapurna : They are more or less right. But at the same time, Odia diaspora has played a very important role in introducing the IIT, NISER among other national institutes in Odisha.


OdishaDiary: Do you think Odisha Government facilitating Odia Diasporas in their aspiration to invest in their homeland?

Annapurna: As I had mentioned earlier, the state government and its bureaucracy have been very supportive and have been facilitating Odia Diasporas to invest in their home state.


OdishaDiary: Do you think that the state government should create a cell or department to deal with Non-Resident Odia like Gujarat government set up the same to deal with Diasporas?

Annapurna: Absolutely! It would be mutually advantageous to have such a cell set up in Bhubaneswar. The Odia diaspora would be very encouraged to have a home base and direct access to the decision makers in Odisha.

Share This