New Delhi should declare Roms as a national minority of Indian origin, as it has nothing to lose by admitting that these are people of Indian descent, feels Jovan Damjanovic the president of the World Roma Organisation- Rromanipen.
The Roma are gypsies who are believed to trace their origin to nomadic communities like the Dom, Banjara, Gujjar, Sansi, Chauhan and Sikligar from the North West parts of India.
Damjanovic who is in the Capital to attend a three-day conference on the international Roma community being organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in collaboration with the Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad Bharat (ARSPB) told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview that recognition from the Indian authorities will be the first step towards countering the negative perceptions about the Roms.
Mainly concentrated in Central, Eastern and Southern parts of Europe, the Roms are counted among the most discriminated people in the world and considered as people with criminal propensity.
“We are expecting after all these years India should recognise the Roms as Indian national minority. There is anthropological and physical evidence that we belong to India. Indians could win at cultural, economical and political level by accepting the origins of these 12-15 million people,” Damjanovic told HT.
Damjanovic who has been a Minister Without Portfolio, in the Government of Serbia was critical of the European Union for failing to stem the discrimination faced by the Roms in several countries, including forced eviction.
“European countries have double standards, while they welcome refugees from one country, they are treating Roma people in a different way. They are not making a mistake; they are doing it on purpose. All member states of the UN are compelled to host refugees from any country, but for Roma the rules are different,” he said.
On the allegations that Roma are not keen on assimilation and integration, and prefer to remain in ghettos and on the margins, he said it is a deliberate attempt at creating misinformation about the community. “All Roms are models of integration everywhere they are given an opportunity, the truth is that we are excluded. We have the Indian spirit of respect and integration.”
To change the perceptions about Roms and to create an atmosphere of inclusion, where equal rights can be afforded to the community, Damjanovic said governments and the international community has to treat them seriously as nation of culture and not as a social problem.
“We need to open the door for dialogue, leading to the solution within framework of existing legal provisions. We also need patience, commitment and political will,” he underlined.
The three-day conference being inaugurated by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on February 12 is aimed at connecting the Roms with sister communities in India especially in the states like Rajasthan and Punjab.
The conference seeks to study political, social and economic challenges being faced by the Roma community in different countries and to examine existing constitutional safeguards available to them; to review the existing scholarly studies and literature on the connections of Roma with India and for creating awareness within India about them and to encourage more research about Roma/Sinti cultural roots in renowned institutions in India.
There is also a proposal to set up scholarships for Roma students for their higher studies in India and to re-establish cultural links and promote cultural studies among the Roma youth spread across many countries.
“India is committed to all people of Indian origin, we celebrate their cultural links. Such conferences help us to understand and create awareness,” Ambassador C Rajasekhar, director general of ICCR said.
In India conferences on the Roma people have been held in the past as well; the first Roma conference was organised in1976 in Chandigarh which was attended by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; she also inaugurated in 1983 the International Roma Cultural Festival. In February 2001, 33 Roma scholars and representatives from 12 countries attended a conference where they interacted with former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.