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Speech by External Affairs Minister at International ROMA Conference and Cultural Festival (February 12, 2016)

February 12, 2016

President of World Roma Organization – Jovan Dmjanovik,
President ICCR, Shri Lokesh Chandraji,
President of ARSP, Shri Shashankji,
DG-ICCR, Shri Rajasekhar
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

With great pleasure, I welcome you all to the inauguration of the International Roma Conference and Cultural Festival. I also thank the organizers - ICCR and ARSP for convening this Conference.

It is a pleasant coincidence that the Roma Conference is inaugurated on Basant Panchami, which heralds a New Year in India and is also celebrated as a Spring Festival. The day also assumes great significance as this day marks the birth anniversary of Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj. His life and legacy continues to inspire us.

I am very happy to meet the Roma delegates. You are the children of India who migrated and lived in challenging circumstances in foreign lands for centuries. Yet you maintained your Indian identity. A strong 20 million population of your community, spread over 30 countries encompassing West Asia, Europe, America and Australia speaks of your unique ability of adapting to foreign cultures. You are an example of peaceful co-existence in challenging foreign conditions and are indeed the first flag bearers of the Indian culture overseas. We, in India, are proud of you. Your Baro Than India once again welcomes you with an open heart.

Friends,
v Links between India and Roma community are based on traditional Indian value system and go back to centuries. Many Roma scholars and historians, engaged in conducting research on their origins, are believed to have their roots in India. Romas are considered to be descendants of nomadic groups in India, who traditionally are believed to have been ironsmiths.

There is credible evidence which indicates the migration of Roma community from India towards the west in the 5th century. Some scholars claim that the first wave of migration took place when Alexander made blacksmiths from India part of his entourage. They were iron smelters and experts in making war weapons.

The fact that the Roma community found a term and thereby a place for itself in various foreign languages is indicative of the process of socio-cultural diffusion that was taking place since centuries. Romas are known by different names in different countries, such as 'Zigeuner’ in Germany, 'Tsyiganes’ or 'Manus' in France, 'Tatara’ in Sweden, ‘Gitano’ in Spain, and ‘Tshingan’ in Turkey and Greece. They are known as the ‘Tsigan’ in Russia, Bulgaria and Romania and ‘Gipsies’ in the UK. Dating the origin of these terms in foreign languages would also give us the date when the Romas first arrived in these foreign countries.

Today, the Romas are present in good numbers in the countries where the Roma community migrated. For instance, in Eastern European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, the Roma community constitutes 12% of the population. Other European countries having large number of Roma population include Russia, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Spain and France. Their population is about 2.75 million in Turkey. Though majority are based in Europe, Roma community is present in almost all the continents, including around 1 million in the US and approximately 800,000 (Eight Hundred Thousand) Roma in Brazil.

It is interesting to see how the community which migrated in the times of wars adapted itself to the culture of country it made its home. The saga of the Roma community in human history is known by their countless sacrifices. Approximately 2 million Romas were killed during the European war. However, the community was not involved only in manufacturing of weapons and fighting wars. Their contributions in the countries they made their homes goes beyond warfare techniques and technologies. Roma community has contributed a lot in the field of arts, science and sports as also in the field of politics. The Romas were also involved in training the Princes in countries like Poland and Latvia in warfare techniques.

The Roma community has made unique contributions to the society in a range of fields, thus taking the identity of community to great heights. It has given the world distinguished painters like Pablo Picasso and Antonio Solario, the famous comedian Sir Charlie Chaplin, the Spanish flamenco dancer and painter Micaela Ameya Flores Romanian tennis player Ilie Năstase, and Hungarian violinist Janos Bihari. The list of eminent Romas also includes Greek songwriter Kotsula Glekeria, the artist Yule Brynner, singer-performer Elvis Presley, twice Oscar-winner Sir Michael Cain, and Bob Hoskins.

We Indians are proud of the progress and name that the Roma community has made for itself at the local and international level. More significantly so, because the process of adaptation, diffusion and progress was based on Indian value systems of peaceful co-existence, respecting other cultures and contributing towards growth. Roma maintained Indian traditions in the countries that were unaware of India, and its culture and traditions and thereby maintained Indian identity. It is a remarkable example of how a community can maintain its unique identity even while co-existing within a majority culture that is foreign.

The cultural heritage of the Roma community which reflects the traditions of ancient India has been a topic of research for years. As the External Affairs Minister of India, I want to congratulate all those scholars who have re-written the forgotten history of Roma community and its links with India. This needs to be further augmented with continued efforts and in-depth research. Precious heritage of Roma community and its relations with India needs to be carefully preserved and documented. The research work needs to be enhanced with renewed vigour.

In this context I recall that in collaboration with International Research Organization, Modi Foundation and our Ministry of Culture, a major International Roma Conference was organized in February 2001. The Conference was attended by 33 Roma scholars and representatives from 12 countries. These representatives had extensive interaction with the then Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. During his meeting with Roma leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji said and I quote:

"The belief that the Romani people once upon a time belonged to northern India and continued to show various similarities in their customs and manners with the cultural heritage of India and its people, offers scope for a very interesting study in human development and migration of people from one part of the world to another. The study should be particularly fascinating when one considers that these migrations took place in far–off days across the globe." End of quote.

I need not say that his ideas are still relevant and Conference like this give the necessary impetus to research and study of this fascinating subject.

Friends,

The aim of this conference is in consonance with our own centuries old world view of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" which means that the world is one family. India is not a mercantile nation, pursuing only material objectives but a civilization of values, vision and promoting harmony. We have a natural affinity and concern for the people of Indian origin and their well-being.

I am sure that this Conference will create further awareness globally about the Romas and contribute to this objective. I am confident that the deliberations of the Conference would provide useful pointers towards developing educational and scientific structures, and help in finding solutions for challenges being faced by the Roma community across the world. It would also discuss political, educational and economic challenges being faced by the Roma community. This Conference will create awareness about Indian origins of the Roma community, research studies conducted on them and the vast literature about them available in India.

My Roma brothers and sisters, India today is progressing and developing at a rapid pace. We would like to assure our continuous and unstinted support to our Roma brothers and sisters. We also welcome you all to contribute to mother India’s development and be active partners in this noble and exciting venture.

I wish the Conference a grand success.

Thank you. Jai Hind!

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