23 August :Highlighting the gravity of the situation of Roma people of Europe, Hindus have strongly urged His Holiness Pope Benedictus XVI Joseph A. Ratzinger to immediately come up with a White Paper on their plight.
Rajan Zed, acclaimed Hindu and Indo-American leader, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that Roma were facing blatant injustice and discrimination right under Pope’s nose in Europe. Being the biggest religious leader in the world, it was his moral obligation to come out in support of this largest minority of Europe and work to stop human rights violations suffered by Roma, who numbered around ten million and were the most disadvantaged.
Moreover, as Pope enjoys a strong influence throughout Europe, his office is the right forum to publish this authoritative Paper addressing the problems of Roma people and listing the solutions, action program and implementation schedule, Zed argues and adds that Pope should also establish a monitoring body for programs and projects involving Roma upliftment.
Zed, who is the president of Universal Society of Hinduism, says that Roma live in deep poverty even in most prosperous parts of the world. Many of their children study in segregated schools offering inferior quality education and many do not attend school at all.
Their alarming condition is a social blight for Europe and the rest of the world as they reportedly regularly face social exclusion, racism, substandard education, hostility, joblessness, rampant illness, inadequate housing, lower life expectancy, unrest, living on desperate margins, language barriers, stereotypes, mistrust, rights violations, discrimination, marginalization, appalling living conditions, prejudice, human rights abuse, racist slogans on Internet, unusually high unemployment rates, etc., Rajan Zed argues.
Zed further says that there is reportedly brazen structural discrimination of Roma in education, housing access, property rights, etc. Anti-Roma attitude even shows sometimes in official speeches. According to an estimate, less than one percent of Roma children attend postsecondary education. Recent fingerprinting issue brought their plight in the open again.
It is like an undeclared apartheid and it is almost total societal exclusion of Roma. The maltreatment of Roma is outside even the European Union norms. Roma issue should be one of the highest priorities of human rights agenda of Europe and Pope. Strong political will is needed to resolve this, Zed points out.
Roma inclusion and integration programs need to immediately take off the ground providing them with better health and education avenues, higher economic opportunities, sources of empowerment and participation, etc. Expand their access to preschool education, let their children attend mainstream schools and launch awareness campaigns. Available Roma workforce, if utilized effectively, can bring unexpected economic gains to Europe, Zed says.
Rajan Zed stresses that a comprehensive, sustainable, cohesive and integrated Europe-wide policy with strategic focus is needed to target discrimination against Roma and their integration; providing them equal access to education, employment, public services, housing, and health care; empowerment through participation; increased transparency of authorities; improving their material and human rights situation; etc. Involve Roma in policymaking and its implementation and assessment.
Zed says that in addition to Pope, all world religions, denominations and religious leaders should also come out in support of the cause of this distinct ethnic and cultural group of Roma, because religion teaches us to help the helpless.