NEW DELHI: The Centre is reviving a somewhat tenuous romance with the Roma people as the forgotten children of this country. In February, the ICCR in collaboration with an NGO, Indian Council for International Cooperation, will organise the fourth Roma conference here to encourage academic research into the origins of this largely European nomadic community who, many historians believe, are originally Indian.
The Roma are largely described in pejorative terms in the countries they live in — gypsies, “gitanos” (Spain), “tsiganes” (France) — and have battled discrimination for centuries. From 1976, India has occasionally brought Roma scholars and performers over from several countries (1983, 2001 and 2008) to discuss their problems and attempt to establish cross-cultural links.
In the present government, the head of ICCR, Lokesh Chandra is known as a scholar of the Roma civilisations, and is taking a personal interest in the conference. Prof Shashi Bala, the academic coordinator of the conference told TOI the objective of the conference is to study the political, social and economic challenges faced by the Roma community in different countries. The aim is to encourage more research about the community; revive Roma folklore and re-establish cultural links.
The conference is being conceived on the principle that people of Indian origin could be treated as Indian diaspora. However, the Centre is not about to extend PIO privileges to them yet, said Shashi Bala. The government will bring in scholars from Delhi University and JNU, though nobody from other educational institutions in the country have been called in, which is curious given the government apparently wants to popularise the study.
In the four decades that India has highlighted its connections with the Roma people, no Indian educational institution has been persuaded to conduct research or set up a chair on Roma studies.
The Modi government’s diaspora policy is also predicated on the role that Indian diaspora communities can play in support of India in their different countries. But for the Roma community, it would be interesting to see whether the Indian government takes up cudgels on their behalf with their respective governments. The scholars would be coming from Serbia, Austria, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Australia UK, France and Turkey, countries that have some history of these people. But the conference organisers are keen to connect the Roma people with “sister communities in Rajastan and Punjab”.
In 1976 and 1983 the Roma conferences were held in Chandigarh, while the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts was the host in 2008. This time, ICCR, the official culture arm of the MEA will be in charge. The NGO in charge of the conference, ICIC, is led by Shashank, former foreign secretary.
times of india