The government has conveyed its "deep concern" to the US administration over attacks on Indians there, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said today, asserting that the safety of Indian diaspora was a top priority.
As Lok Sabha members thumped their benches to welcome her to the House following her absence due to health issues, she highlighted the steps taken by the government following three recent incidents of attacks, including suspected hate crimes, rejecting opposition criticism that it had kept mum.
"To say that we did not take any step or maintained silence is absolutely wrong. This government can never keep silent over such incidents. This is not in our work culture. We always do more that what is expected of us," she said, responding to Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge's critcism.
The Minister said that even when she was convalescing, she had spoken to the family members of the victims and officers of Indian consulate general had reached out to them.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is being accused of silence, sought daily updates from her ministry amid his busy election campaign, Swaraj said.
"The government has taken up this issue with the US government at very high-levels and conveyed our deep concerns. We have called for necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of Indian diaspora and expeditious investigation into these incidents," she said.
Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar discussed the matter with ministers and senior functionaries of the US administration as well as with the Congressional leadership during his recent visit there during February 28-March 3, she said.
"I would like to reassure the House and the members that safety and security of India diaspora abroad remains a top priority for this government... We will remain vigilant to developments impacting the lives of Indians abroad and do everything possible to safeguard their interests and welfare," she said.
Swaraj also referred to President Donald Trump's condemnation of Kansas shooting in which Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla (32) was shot dead by an American in a suspected hate crime and condolences from other top US officials including House of Representative Speaker Paul Ryan.
"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 told the Lok Sabha.
People-to-people contacts are the foundation on which the India-US strategic partnership has been built, she said.
Rejecting Opposition charge of inaction, Swaraj said the
government has tried to solve problems of any Indian living abroad "within 24 hours".
She said the prompt response of the US leadership and law enforcement authorities to these incidents, besides widespread messages of support from all quarters in the US, gave her confidence that these incidents are acts of individuals and do not represent overwhelming sentiments of Americans towards India.
She informed the House that the FBI was investigating Kuchibhotla's murder as a case of hate crime. The murder of Harnish Patel, a US national of Indian origin, in South Carolina was in all likelihood a case of robbery gone wrong, the Minister said.
The investigation agencies are yet to establish that the attack on Deep Rai, a US national of Indian origin, on March 4 was a hate crime. He has been discharged from hospital, she said.
"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," she said.
These families members have conveyed their thanks to her ministry, she noted.
She also spoke about American national Ian Grillot, who was also shot while trying to save Kuchibhotla. "I have saluted his heroism and am sure the House joins me in wishing him speedy recovery."
She also sought to address the concerns raised by Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD) and Mohammad Salim (CPI-M) over the travel advisory issued by the US advising US nationals against travelling to India.
"I would like to inform members that there is no travel advisory in force for India at present. A reference to India has been included in their 'worldwide caution' report which the US state department releases every six months. These are in the form of broad assessment of threat perceptions.
"Such references to India have been included in previous reports as well and do not reflect the change of administration in the US. In fact, India-specific references were far more detailed in previous reports," Swaraj said.
Earlier, in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha on whether hate crimes and acts of bigotry have risen against Indians in various countries, especially in the US, in the last three years, Swaraj said there are no clear indications to suggest that.
She also gave out details of 14 incidents of Indians being attacked, fatally in some cases, for various reasons since January 2015.
Such incidents are immediately taken up with the authorities concerned to ensure that the cases are properly investigated and guilty punished, the Minister said.