An estimated 30 million people of Indian origin live outside India, although estimations vary greatly. For most “Indians” living abroad, for more than 3-4 centuries, many have never been there, or if they have, it has been as ordinary tourists, without particularly making any effort to visit the region where their ancestor came from – whose very name they may no longer recall.
Uniting them, bringing these people of Indian origin now, spread around the globe, in as many nations as they exist today, and reminding them of their ancestry, and reuniting them with their motherland, is no doubt, a huge uphill challenge. Dr. Thomas Abraham dreamt of uniting them all under one umbrella, connecting them with their sisters and brothers living in as many as 200 nations.
When PIOs were only a handful in the United States and had fewer cultural, religious and linguistic groups, Dr. Thomas Abraham, dreamt of uniting them all under one group. He founded the Federation of Indian Association (FIA) of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut (1977). After seeing its grand success, he dreamt of bringing the numerous FIAs from around the nation, under the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIA) in 1980.
Dr. Abraham’s public service and Indian community involvement started in 1974 at Columbia University where he mobilized the Indian student group under India Club of Columbia University. He was elected as its president in 1975. Later on, he became the Chairman of the Joint Committee of India Organizations in 1976 which he transformed as the Federation of Indian Association (FIA) of New York. He served as FIA president from 1976-81. It was one of the biggest achievements to bring all community groups spread around the New York Metropolitan area under one umbrella of FIA and simultaneously initiating FIA umbrella organizations in all major cities of the United States. The New York based FIA organizes the largest India Day parade outside India. Other FIAs initiated by Dr. Abraham organize Indian Day Parades and Festivals all over the US.
In 1980, Dr. Abraham organized the first convention of Asian Indians in North America in New York City and subsequently formed the National Federation of Indian – American Associations (NFIA). Today, it is the largest Indian organization in America, and has over 200 Indian organizations as its members. He served as the NFIA President from 1980-86; and Chairman of its Board of Trustees in 1988 and ’90. He continues to serve as an advisor to it. As president of FIA and NFIA, Dr. Abraham has organized large community meetings, honoring former Prime Ministers, Morarji Desai, Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Dr. Abraham also served as the National Coordinator for the American Committee for the Rehabilitation of Cyclone Victims in India in 1978, Chairman of the Committee to Honor the Prime Minister of India in 1978 and 1983, Vice-President of the Indo-American Council which was responsible for promoting the Festival of India in 1985-’87, and National Coordinator, Asian Indians for Liberty which raised substantial funds for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Not satisfied with bringing the people of Indian origin under one group within the United States, this visionary embarked on a journey to unite PIOs living around the globe. Dr. Abraham has been justifiably credited to be the founder of Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) in 1989.
Today, no doubt, we can justifiably give credit to the Non Resident Indian or the People of Indian Origin movement in the last three decades to Dr. Abraham, who coined the word PIO (people of Indian origin) in 1989, when he put together the First Convention of People of Indian Origin in New York. The greatest achievement of Dr. Abraham is initiating and building several NRI/PIO Indian community institutions in the last 42 years of his career.
“I served as the first president of the Federation of Indian Associations of New York in 1980 and the National Federation of Indian American Associations,” recalls Dr. Abraham. “At that time when we were taking broader issues of the Indian American community, the major concern that was affecting the global community was the human rights issue in different parts of the world. The advantage that Indian Americans had was that we were different from the groups in the other parts of the world. Education level was high and there were more people interested in civic and community activities. So we decided to take up some of these issues and set up a committee to explore them. Finally, all these efforts led to a conference in 1989 in New York City and the Government of India extended its support and sent a delegation headed by Madhav Rao Scindia. We had around 3,000 delegates from 26 countries and that is how GOPIO (Global Organization of People of Indian Origin) was born.”
Some of the other major contributions in establishing distinct groups/organizations by Dr. Abraham include: Indian American Kerala Cultural and Civic Center (1993); Jagdish Bhagwati Chair for Indian Political Economy at Columbia University ($4.0 million endowment, (1992-2000); National Indian American Association for Senior Citizens (NIAASC, 1998); South Asian Council for Social Services (SACSS, 2000); The Indus Nanotechnology Association (TINA 2011); and, The New Kerala Initiative to promote new technology to Kerala’s development in since 2014.
In addition to creating these organizations, Dr. Abraham has helped build a solid base for Indian American community as well as the Indian Diaspora spread around the world. As a community activist, Dr. Abraham has taken up several issues of the global Indian community for the last 35 years. A follower of Gandhian principles of peace and non-violence, Dr. Abraham had taken several initiatives for organizing programs of community harmony in the New York area since the 1970s.
As the founder, first president, and currently serving as the Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), a worldwide organization founded in 1989 looking after the interests of Non-Resident Indians and People of Indian Origin living outside India, has been instrumental in bringing the concerns and aspirations of the Indian Diaspora before the Indian government.
Dr. Abraham says, “We had several issues that we brought to the attention of the Government of India. GOPIO monitors issues that are of larger interest to the community. Some resolutions that we adopted were Voting rights for Indian Citizens living outside of India, Price Differentiation for PIO’s for hotels and archeological sites, restoring ‘not ordinarily a resident status from two years to nine years on global tax of returning PIO’s/NRI’s and a demand for Rajya Sabha seats for NRI’s. Other issues were repealing the new VCA clearance rules for adoption of orphaned children from India and protection of real estate investments. We initiated the PIO card and Dual Nationality resolution. It took some time but in 2001 PIO card was introduced and after a long times, dual nationality (Overseas Citizenship) was recognized in early January of this year.”
In early 1980s, he was invited by the Select Commission on Immigration to testify on behalf of the Indian community on the various rules governing the new immigration law. This along with efforts by other organizations helped to preserve the family reunification clause of the new immigration laws ratified by the US Congress. In 1988, NFIA under the leadership Dr. Abraham testified in the US Senate to stop the supply of sophisticated military equipment including AWACS to Pakistan.
Dr. Abraham also edits the publication “GOPIO News” which currently has the largest circulation among the Indian Diaspora online publications. Some of the achievements of the organization include campaigning on PIO Card, Dual Nationality and GOPIO being admitted as an NGO at the UN Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination.
Dr. Abraham was the co-chair of the managing committee to establish Jagdish Bhagwati Chair for Indian Political Economy in 1990s. In 1998, Dr. Abraham initiated a conference on Indian senior citizens resulting in the formation of National Indian American Senior Citizens Association. Another conference by him in 1999 resulted in the formation of South Asian Council for Social Services in 2000. Dr. Abraham is also the Founder President of The Organization for Universal Communal Harmony (1990) is currently a Board member of the American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin (ASEI).
Very youthful in his thinking, Dr. Abraham hears and understands the needs of the young. “College students have developed a network and after they graduate they have professional groups for activities of their interest. It is the high school children that are not well organized and we thought it a good idea to cultivate this group by providing services to the local community or even helping in charities in India, cities, villages and schools in bringing a civic awareness among the people. We have just started this initiative from New York and we feel it has great potential for expansion,” he says.
If public life has been a huge success for DR. Abraham, his professional life has been exemplary. Dr. Abraham is an expert in advanced materials and nanotechnology, and is the President of Innovative Research and Products (iRAP), Inc., a Stamford, CT (USA) based technology and market research firm. Before, starting iRAP, Dr. Abraham served as Vice President for Research at the Business Communications Co. (BCC), a market and industry analysis company in Norwalk, Connecticut. Dr. Abraham is experienced both as a materials scientist and technical economic analyst in the field of advanced materials and nanotechnology. Dr. Abraham has chaired BCC’s annual Nanomaterials Conference since 1998 to 2005. Since 1986, Dr. Abraham has been directing the market and industry analysis of advanced and nano materials, and related areas at BCC. In this capacity, Dr. Abraham also served as editor of a monthly publication, “High-Tech Ceramics News,” for over seventeen years. A graduate of Columbia University, Dr. Abraham had worked earlier for the Univ. of Denver and Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Dr. Abraham has been a frequent invited speaker on the state of the nano and advanced material industries at several professional society meetings. Dr. Abraham was part of the US delegation to the US-Australia Cooperative Workshop on Sustainable Nanomanufacturing held in Brisbane and Melbourne from February 22nd to 25th, 2008.
Dr. Abraham has organized over a dozen ten international conferences in High Tech Adhesives, Fine and Nano Powders, Nanoparticles, Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials. A graduate of Columbia University (MS and PhD.), Dr. Abraham had worked earlier for Brookhaven National Laboratory and the University of Denver. Dr. Abraham has written over 50 papers that are published in the various professional journals and magazines.
In recognition of his leadership and service to the Indian American community, Dr. Abraham has been honored with several community service awards. Dr. Abraham was presented with several awards in addition to several other community service awards by various organizations, institutions and the State of Connecticut. He was the proud recipient of the Bharatvanshi Gaurav (Person of Indian Origin Pride), presented Award by former Vice President of India Bhairon Singh Sekhawat on Janaury 4th, 2008.
He received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman (Overseas Indian Honor) Award, presented by the President of India on January 9th, 2008 for his outstanding service to the Indian communities worldwide and India.
Other awards include, Asian American Lion Club Award, Federation of Indian Associations Award, India Tribune’s Gandhi Community Service Award; International Malayalam Conference Award; Federation of Kerala Associations of North America Award for Outstanding Community Service; Asian Who’s Who Award; Outstanding Community Service Award from the National Indian Americans Association for Senior Citizens; Outstanding Alumnus Award by the Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT) at its annual convocation in November 2008 and the Life Time Achievement and Service Award from India Abroad, June, 2012.
Dr. Abraham is married to Susy, a physician, specialized in Geriatrics. Abrahams have two children, Nitya, a female urologist and assistant professor at Montefiore in the Bronx. New York and Jay, an aircraft engine design engineer currently working for Pratt &Whitney in East Hartford. Abrahams live in Stamford, CT, USA. Nitya is married to Terrance, General Manger at OpenX while Jay is married to Jessica, an accountant executive with Cigna.
According to Dr. Abraham, “Now the most successful and emerging Diaspora is the Indian Diaspora, and we play a major role in the world. To bring them together, you have to tell them what it is in it for them. That is where we come in GOPIO – pooling our resources and networking that will help our country professionally as well as financially and help communities wherever they need help. To me, that is the only way we can join this movement. It is a challenge, because there is no issue on a personal basis for a successful Indian American. But, here is something that we can accomplish as a global community whether it is a charitable issue, or a humanitarian issue, or a human tragedy as a Katrina here or an earthquake in Pakistan. And those are some of the compelling issues that has brought the people of Indian origin under the GOPIO umbrella.”