At the first-ever sitting of Indian origin MPs representing 23 countries across the world, a disquiet on the rising incidences of intolerance and hostility towards religious minorities in their ancestral land was palpable.
Every year, January 9 is celebrated as Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas (PBD), an annual celebratory day that marks the contribution of overseas persons with Indian origin (PIO) towards their homeland.
As many as 124 members of parliament (MPs) and 17 mayors are participating from 23 countries including UK, USA, South Africa, Canada, Fiji, Kenya, Mauritius, New Zealand, Sri Lanka among others.
While some expressed their concerns subtly at the stage reminding others of the values of pluralism and India’s cultural synthesis, a group of MPs from South Africa and Tanzania reportedly raised the issue during their private meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
They felt that reports of cow vigilantism and open promotion of Hindu nationalism by the ruling party were taking its toll on their spaces in their homelands, as they were also living there as religious and/or ethnic minorities.
The shock for Swaraj was, however, reserved when after the inaugural address, she decided to meet delegations in batches privately to listen to their feedbacks.
An MP of Gujarat descent from Tanzania reportedly enquired steps the government was taking to protect minorities in India. He referred to killing of cow traders in the last few years as well as the creeping insecurity among minority communities.
Some MPs from South Africa also raised the issue. Tanzanian MPs, both Hindus and Muslims, said they were also in minority in their country.
“We read in media that high-level government officials are making statements that are spiteful to minorities. And at many places they are encouraging vigilantes to attack members of minority communities engaged in the cattle trade,” said the MP.
He further added that such acts restrict our initiatives to project India a democratic, multi-cultural, pleuritic and a tolerant society.
Swaraj, who was reportedly taken a back initially gave a detailed briefing to these groups denying any bias or rising insecurity against minority community in India.
She called such incidents an exaggeration.
The minister also counted a number of initiatives launched by the government for the welfare of minority community. She quoted PM Modi’s speech, which mentioned that India’s message of Sarba Dharma Samabhaba (religious harmony) was an answer to the growing radicalism and extremism in the world.