New Delhi: Calling Romas "children of India" External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday pitched for preservation and documentation of the links of the now 20 million strong migrant community spread over 30 countries with India.
"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," Swaraj said after opening International Roma Conference and Cultural Festival here.
Organised by ICCR - the cultural wing of External Affairs Ministry and Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad-Bharat (ARSP), the three-day conference aimed at revisiting and reviving what is considered as a "lost page of Indian history" is hosting 33 scholars and 12 cultural performers from 12 countries and 15 scholars from India.
The Romas, said to be descendants of nomadic groups who migrated from India to the West in the 5th century, count among themselves famous personalties such as comedian Charlie Chaplin, artist Pablo Picasso and rock-and-roll king Elvis Presley.
Said to trace their ancestry to groups in India like Dom, Banjara, Gujjar, Sansi, Chauhan, Sikligar, Dhangar etc. And other nomadic tribes from North West India, the Romas are traditionally believed to have been ironsmiths.
Some scholars claim that the first wave of migration took place when emperor Alexander took blacksmiths from India to make weapons.
They are called differently in different countries -- Zigeuner in Germany, Tsyiganes or Manus in France, Tatara in Sweden, Gitano in Spain, Tshingan in Turkey and Greece, Tsigan in Russia, Bulgaria and Romania and as gypsies in Britain.
In order to overturn negative perceptions about itself in Europe and other parts of the world the community wants India to accept it as diaspora and as linguistic and cultural minority.
"Romas are the indigenous people of India, there are many scholars and researchers who trace the orgins of Rromanis to India. We use same Indian words and we come from the great India. We want India to accept Romas as its diaspora and give us nationality," Jovan Damjanovic, president, World Roma Organisation- Rromanipen.
Damjanovic who has come from Serbia said accepting origins of the about 15 million Rromani people can help India give a boost at all levels be it political, economic or cultural.
Commending the Roma population's unique ability to adapt to foreign cultures, Swaraj termed them the "first flag bearers of Indian culture overseas," and an example of peaceful co-existence in challenging foreign conditions.
"We, in India, are proud of you. Your 'Baro Than' India once again welcomes you with an open heart," she said.