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Sushma returns to LS; makes statement on US attacks

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who was greeted with loud thumping of desks by members as she made her first appearance in the Lok Sabha after recovering from a kidney transplant surgery, made a detailed statement on the recent spate of violence in the United States of America against Indians and assured the House that the government was giving highest priority to the safety of the Indian diaspora.

Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Congress Leader in the House Mallikarjun Kharge and other members welcomed the minister and wished her long life and speedy recovery.

Giving a detailed account of the incidents of attacks on Indian citizens in the US, Swaraj said India has raised it at the highest level.

"Safety and security of Indian Diaspora abroad remains a top priority for this government. We are in a continuous dialogue with the US government. Close contacts with the local Indian community groups are being maintained through our embassy and consulates to address any emergent issues.

"We will remain vigilant to developments impacting the lives of Indians abroad and do everything possible to safeguard their interests and welfare," Swaraj said.

The minister's response came a week after the Lok Sabha members raised concern over hate crimes against Indians in the US.

The members were voicing concern over the killing of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas on 22 February in an apparent hate crime, and of another Indian Harnish Patel a week later.

A Sikh man, Deep Rai, who was an American citizen, was fired at in a racial attack last week, and is out of danger now.

"In all three cases, the government, through its embassy and consulates, immediately reached out to the affected persons and their families for extending all possible help and support. I have personally spoken to the families of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Deep Rai," Swaraj said.

The minister said the Foreign Secretary discussed this matter in his meetings with Cabinet Ministers and senior functionaries of the US Administration as well as with the Congressional leadership during his recent visit to the US.

"The US authorities have responded strongly and assured us that they were working with all concerned agencies to ensure speedy justice," Swaraj said.

The minister said there had been widespread condemnation of these incidents by the US leadership. "President Donald Trump referred to the Kansas shooting in his address to a joint session of Congress on February 28 and said that the US stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms," the minister said.

She said Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan issued a statement expressing the House's condolences on the killing of Kuchibotla and the House also observed a moment of silence over the incident.

Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback also offered his condolences and assured thorough investigation, the minister said, adding that in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Governor Brownback praised the "ingenuity, hard work and determination" of the Indian diaspora as well as their contributions to the State of Kansas. He assured that Kansas will remain "a welcoming, hospitable place" for Indians.

"Several Senators and Congressmen have also expressed their condolences and regret over the tragic incidents. They have been deeply appreciative of the contribution and role of the Indian community in the US," she said.

"People-to-people contacts are the foundation on which the Indo-US strategic partnership has been built. The fact that broad sections of the American society have expressed their deep sorrow and regret over these incidents reassures us that despite these individual incidents, the American society values the people-to-people engagement between our two countries," she said.

Swaraj informed the House that the killing of Kuchibhotla was being investigated by the FBI as a hate crime. On the killing of Patel, the minister said according to the Sheriff and family, it may have been an incident of dacoity, but a probe is on to ascertain if it was also a hate crime.

On the attack on Rai, the minister said it had been reported that he was asked to leave the country, but added that agencies were probing if it is a hate crime.

She asserted that these incidents did not reflect the sentiment of all Americans as the incidents had been widely condemned in the US.

Responding to queries raised by the MPs on 9 March on issue of travel advisory to its citizens, she said "the government plans to issue an advisory for Indians travelling to or residing in the US.

"I would say that prompt and clear response of the US political leadership and the law enforcement authorities to these incidents and the widespread messages of sympathy and support from all quarters in the US give us confidence that these incidents are acts of individuals and do not represent the overwhelming sentiments of the American people towards India," she said.

"This was demonstrated by the American national Ian Grillot, who suffered serious injury while helping the two Indians. I have saluted his heroism and am sure the House joins me in wishing him speedy recovery," she said.