Speaker Sreeramakrishnan backs expat museum initiative

Loka Kerala Sabha addressing issues of Malayalees around world


Saudi Gazette

An initiative to establish a comprehensive expatriates’ museum has gathered steam with a full pledge of support from P. Sreeramakrishnan, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the southern Indian state of Kerala. The Jeddah-based Goodwill Global Initiative (GGI) has made a major headway in setting up a museum in Calicut in the heart of the northern Malabar region in its bid to collect, preserve and showcase artifacts and items of artistic, cultural and scientific significance pertaining to the migration of Indians to all corners of the globe since several centuries.

A delegation of GGI, headed by its President Dr. Ismail Maritheri, presented recently a memorandum to the speaker, seeking his intervention to facilitate the procedures toward establishing the museum. GGI is a platform aimed to focus on academic research on expatriate issues as well as to connect bridges of cultural exchange between the Indian Diaspora and the Arab world in addition to fostering values of tolerance and humanity. Several eminent Saudis of Indian origin have also expressed their willingness to support the move to establish a museum as a storehouse of the rich legacy of their forefathers who came and settled down in the Arabian Peninsula from the Indian subcontinent a few centuries ago.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, Sreeramakrishnan, an avid reader and promoter of cultural exchange, underscored the significance of setting up of a museum to showcase the artifacts and pieces of heritage related to the migration of Indians. He emphasized the need to preserve the rich history of the migration that brought numerous benefits to the state and has been instrumental in boosting cultural exchange between Arabs and Indians.

Sreeramakrishnan, who recently visited Saudi Arabia, specially noted the centuries-old trade ties between the Arabs and India that date back beyond the period of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when the Arab traders sailed to Muziris, the ancient world’s greatest trading center in the East, located on the southwestern coast of the subcontinent. Muziris was the doorway to India for varied cultures and races from all around the world, including Arabs, Chinese, Jews, Romans, Portuguese, Dutch and the British. During those days, spices were cultivated only in Malabar in the world and the Arabs were the main traders, and subsequently, Malabar and Makkah became the major hubs on the Spice Route and the Silk Route.

Sreeramakrishnan, who represents Ponnani constituency in the Kerala Assembly, also drew attention to the historic role of the coastal town of Ponnani, dubbed as the “Makkah of Kerala” in the cultural renaissance. “Ponnani has been a major hub of Kerala’s give and take in the domain of culture. There are 250 pages about the significance of Ponnani in a Dutch history book. There had been strong presence of Arab and Persian culture in Ponnani town, which hosts the largest number of mosques in Kerala,” he said.

A few months ago, Sreeramakrishnan was in the media limelight when he intervened to stop demolition of a 500-year old historic Misri Mosque, built by the Egyptian traders in Ponnani. “There had been extensive media coverage about a non-Muslim legislator’s intervention to preserve a historic mosque,” he said and cited his major initiatives to preserve the unique heritage in and around Ponnani after making it as part of India’s largest heritage project of Muziris.

Sreeramakrishnan is one of the architects of Loka Kerala Sabha (LKS), a remarkable initiative to bring Keralites living around the globe under one platform. In February 2019, a total of 15,000 delegates, including 200 LKS members from across the world, assembled in Dubai, for the maiden regional conference of LKS. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated the conference, chaired by Sreeramakrishnan. “LKS has become a serious and best step to draw attention to the vital issues of expatriates before the government and lawmakers representing the assembly and India’s parliament from the state. Headed by the assembly speaker, LKS is a major step to address ground realities of expatriate issues and address them properly.”

“The discussions and deliberations at LKS were similar to the deliberations in legislatures,” he said, adding, “The regional conference had the stamp of discipline and seriousness of an Assembly session where from the government could collect all the concrete proposals that came up for discussion.”

Referring to the structure of LKS, Sreeramakrishnan said a secretariat has been constituted for the body in the pattern of government and assembly secretariats and there are seven standing committees as in the case of the legislature. “As many as 24 proposals have been drafted by the committees, of which 12 were taken for implementation after the Dubai conference. The duty of standing committees is to collect the proposals and suggestions came up for discussion and present solutions in a clear way before the government, which in turn will implement them,” he said, adding that Dubai has been chosen as the venue of the first regional conference in view of the priority of LKS for the issues of expatriates from the Mideast.

Sreeramakrishnan said LKS has embarked on landmark schemes aimed at ensuring security and welfare of expatriates, and these include initiatives for the creation of Expatriate Investment Company, and Expatriate Dividend Welfare Fund. “Major pressing issues such as coordination of various activities of the government department of non-Kerala residents affairs (NORKA), business facilitation mechanism, employing the talent and resources of expats for the development of Kerala, rehabilitation of NRK returnees and skill development in the changed scenarios that warrant an improvement in the employability of expatriates have come up for discussion,” he said.

The speaker noted that some exclusive investment projects for expatriates are in the pipeline as part of ensuring their security through investments. Negotiations are also under way to reduce exorbitant flight charges and agreement has already been reached with three or four airlines to cut by at least seven percent of airfare for NRIs registered with NORKA, he said. “The handicap faced by expatriates in the higher studies of their wards also came up for discussion at LKS Dubai and the UAE authorities have given a positive reply when it was raised by the chief minister during a meeting. We are also seriously considering to create a hub of institutions for the education of expatriate students in Kerala,” he said, while reiterating the incumbent government’s determination to give back something to expatriates as they no longer have gotten equal consideration and security in return for what they had contributed to the robust growth and development of the state,” he added.