New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Wednesday that India has raised the recent incidents of violence with Indian citizens in the US at the highest level and assured that the government will ensure safety of diaspora.
The minister was making a statement in the Lok Sabha, where she made an appearance for the first time since her kidney transplant surgery three months ago.
The minister assured the House that the government was giving highest priority to the safety of Indian diaspora.
"Safety and security of Indian diaspora abroad remains a top priority for this government. We are in a continuous dialogue with the U.S. 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 U.S.
The members were voicing concern over the killing of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas on February 22 in an apparent hate crime, and of another Indian Harnish Patel a week later.
A Sikh man, Deep Rai, 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 government has taken up this issue with the U.S. 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."
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 U.S., she said.
"The US authorities have responded strongly and assured us that they are working with all concerned agencies to ensure speedy justice," Swaraj added.
Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar was in the US from February 28 to March 3.
The minister said there had been widespread condemnation of these incidents by the U.S. 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 U.S. stands united in condemning hate in all its forms," the minister said.
She also 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 would remain "a welcoming, hospitable place" for Indians.
"Several Senators and Congressmen have also expressed their condolences and regrets 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-U.S 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."
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 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.
The minister, responding to queries raised by the MPs on March 9 on whether India would issue a travel advisory to its citizens against travelling to the U.S., said: "The government plans to issue an advisory for Indians travelling to or residing in the U.S.
"I would say that prompt and clear response of the U.S. political leadership and the law enforcement authorities to these incidents and the widespread messages of sympathy and support from all quarters in the U.S. give us confidence that these incidents are acts of individuals and do not represent the overwhelming sentiments of the American people towards India."
This was demonstrated by the American national Ian Grillot, who suffered serious injury while helping the two Indians. "I saluted his heroism and am sure the House joins me in wishing him speedy recovery."
Since this was Sushma Swaraj's first appearance in the Lok Sabha after recovering from a kidney transplant surgery, as the minister walked into the lower House, members welcomed her with thumping of desks.
She was wearing a green sari with matching jacket in her usual style.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Congress Leader in the House Mallikarjun Kharge and other members welcomed the minister and wished her long life and speedy recovery.
Mahajan welcomed the Minister on "behalf of everyone", and wished for her good health. Kharge also wished the minister a "long life" and "good health", before jumping to putting forth a question on the attacks on Indians in the U.S.
Sushma thanked everyone, and said: "I want to thank the entire House for their good wishes. It is because of your blessings and my faith in Krishna that I have completely recovered and returned to be here."