If the Jews were the target of Nazi Germany, the burgeoning neo-fascist elements in the Italian society and police have found a new whipping boy?the Gypsies or the Romas, as they are known in Europe.
The aggressive racial attacks against the harmless minority, who are people of Indian ancestry, and the passive position held by the Italian authorities have strengthened fears and apprehensions about an organised and orchestrated anti-Roma campaign in that country. There are an estimated 90,000 to 110,000 Romas in Italy alone.
The recent spate of violence had its genesis on May 11 when a Roma camp in Novara, in Milan, was put on fire with several Molotov cocktails bottles thrown by extremist groups.
Two days later, anti-Roma riots exploded in the Ponticelli area in Naples, and several hundred Romas had to flee from their camps because of the violent attacks from angry local Italian citizens. These attacks were provoked by the alleged attempt of a Romani girl to kidnap a six-month-old baby from its Italian parents.
On May 12 and 13, in Florence, more than 400 Romas were arbitrarily arrested, registered and fingerprinted and obviously prepared for deportation.
According to Roma organisations in Italy, the aforesaid events and other incidents in different regions of Italy which took place recently are results of a long-time tension between local Italians and Roma people, fostered by anti-Roma statements from high-level politicians and state representatives.
However, most unfortunate is the justification sought to be given by Italian decision-makers and right-wing extremist for their anti-Roma attitude by slamming and generalising the action of an individual as a collective responsibility of the entire community.
Roma community in Italy is mainly made up by European citizens yet they are subjected to social, economic and political discrimination and are treated like dirt and second-class citizens.
The European Union is bound to ensure that the Roma not only enjoys the same rights and protection against discrimination like other European citizens residing in Italy and elsewhere but are also provided damages and compensation worth billions of dollars.
Roma organisations, both in Italy and Europe, have called upon the Italian government to take urgent measures to stop anti-Roma attacks and ensure security and protection to Roma communities.
They have demanded that the Italian police authorities should investigate and take legal action against those responsible for the violent attacks against Romas, with utmost priority.
These organisations have also demanded that while designing its immigration regulations, Italian government ensure that the legislation is in conformity with: the European Directive 2004/38 against Discrimination, the Race Equality Directive 2000/43 EC, the EU Migration Package which will be adopted soon and other European human rights documents subscribed by Italy.
Unfortunately, the Indian government has chosen to remain a mute spectator to these incidents. Unlike many Indian nationals who refuse to acknowledge their Indian ancestry, the Romas have always been proud of their Indian origins and linguistic and cultural affinity with their mother country.
There is an estimated population of at least 15 million Romas worldwide. The largest population of Romas is found in the Balkan peninsula while a sizeable population exists in the Americas, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa.
Both linguistic evidence and genetic information have confirmed the Indian origin of the Romas. In 1782, Johann Christian Christoph Rudiger published his research that pointed out the relationship between the Romani language and Hindustani. Subsequent studies have supported the hypothesis that Romani shared a common origin with the Indo-Aryan languages of Northern India.
Further evidence for the Indian origin of the Romas came in the late 1990s when it was discovered that Roma populations carried large frequencies of particular Y chromosomes (inherited paternally) and mitochondrial DNA (inherited maternally) that otherwise exist only in populations from South Asia.
While the exact cause of the Roma migration from India has not yet been established, the most probable conclusion is that the Romas were part of the military in northern India. When there were repeated raids by Mahmud of Ghazni and these soldiers were defeated, they moved West with their families into the Byzantine empire.
Banjaras, the Indian counterparts of the Romas, too are Gypsies and number around 2, 274,000. They too maintain that many of their ancestors left India through the Himalayas and never returned.
Many historians believe that the Muslim conquerors of northern India took the Roma as slaves and marched them home over the difficult terrain of Central Asia, taking a heavy toll on them and consequently giving rise to naming of mountains such as Hindu Kush (slaughter of Hindus). Mahmud of Ghazni reportedly took 500,000 prisoners during his invasion of Punjab and Sindh.
There are also historians who hold the view that Romas were originally low-caste Hindus recruited into an army of mercenaries, granted warrior caste status and sent westward to resist Islamic military expansion.
Though most of the Romas outside India have converted either to Christianity or Islam, their social behaviour even today is strictly regulated by Hindu purity laws.
Romas are India'sancient ambassadors to the West and they continue to be proud of their origins and traditions. It is for us as a nation to revive our links with our lost children and there cannot be a better opportunity than supporting them in their hour of need.